Trends in Retrofitting Commercial Buildings Sustainably

Green building will continue its strong growth in 2014 with the continuing expansion of construction in commercial real estate alongside projects for the government, universities, nonprofits and schools. This will build on the fact that in 2013 green-building project registrations in new construction accounted for more than 20 percent of all new large construction projects in the U.S. But retrofitting existing buildings provides a huge opportunity for sustainable design and building practices, and that’s a statement that’s not falling on deaf ears.

In 2014, there will be faster growth in energy-efficient green building retrofits than in new construction. We’re going to see this most prevalently in corporate and commercial real estate, along with the “MUSH” market (Municipal, University, School and Hospital) projects, given the proliferation of relatively inexpensive financing and the increase of new players in the building energy retrofit market.

The continued growth of retrofit will spur the engagement (and the industry’s embrace) of new technologies. This includes new window design, variable refrigerant flow and volume (VRF and VRV) systems for HVAC, metering and sub-metering systems tied to cloud-based data analysis and visualization platforms. In residential construction, a great example of this is the Nest Thermostat, which is expanding beyond the home.

The number of green building rating systems will grow, inciting competition from less expensive and more nimble competitors that more closely mirror the priorities of building owners and managers. In Europe, for example, the UK’s BREEAM rating system is aggressively marketing itself in other countries and in larger nations/markets that may mean multiple rating systems, especially for existing buildings. In the U.S., the Green Globes rating system has taken on new life as a faster and cheaper alternative; in 2014, the sponsoring organization, the Green Building Initiative, will be updating its retrofit standard to accommodate new technologies and approaches to building retrofits.

The green building industry will continue to shift its primary focus from new building design and construction to greening existing buildings. This trend visibly began 2010, and we expect it to accelerate in 2014. My book, Greening Existing Buildings, documents the strategic and tactical components of this trend.

Green buildings will increasingly be managed by information technologies, especially those in the “cloud”. This trend is reflected by the large number of new entrants and new products in fields of building automation, facility management, wireless controls and building services information management over the last three years.

The debate about healthy building products, the value of Environmental Product Declarations and the composition of various “Red Lists” of “chemicals of concern” to healthy building advocates will become increasingly contentious. We predict that building product manufacturers will increasingly try to gain or maintain market share based on Environmental Product Declarations. We also foresee that industry-developed disclosure systems will compete with systems offered by third-party rating software.

Solar power retrofits in buildings will continue to grow, primarily due to the increasing focus on the move toward zero-net-energy buildings. As before, in the U.S., third-party financing partnerships will continue to grow and provide capital for larger rooftop systems on low-rise commercial buildings, parking garages, warehouses and retail stores, as well as on homes.

About the Author

Jerry Yudelson
Jerry Yudelson is president of the Green Building Initiative, a leading sustainability and green building organization based in Portland, Ore., a position he assumed in January 2014. A professional engineer and LEED Fellow, he is widely acknowledged as a leading green building and sustainability expert. He is the author of 13 books on green building, water conservation and sustainable development. For more information, contact Yudelson at (520) 243-0996.

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