Retrofitting – A Sustainable Alternative

Retrofitting has become a major trend in construction in recent years. Retrofitting is defined as “the addition of new technology or features to older systems”. In construction, it is used to bring new life to buildings that need renovating by utilizing the existing infrastructure to accommodate a new business. The trend of retrofitting has taken off in the construction industry due to the opportunity it presents to preserve historic sites, its sustainability perks, and the long-term benefits it offers. However, there are several things to be considered before deciding to retrofit rather than build a new structure.

Preconstruction Considerations

There are many factors to consider before beginning the process of retrofitting including the structural soundness of the building, local code requirements, and the possibility of hazardous material removal. If the building is either not structurally sound or a large amount of materials used in the building are hazardous and must be removed, retrofitting may be more costly than constructing a new building.

Retrofitting Historic Buildings

While retrofitting is not solely used for historic purposes, it is a great way to preserve historic buildings. It allows historic buildings to be renovated and reused, preserving the building while allowing it to be used for new purpose.  Historic preservation is vital to a community because it allows the culture of a city to remain intact while retaining the building’s intrinsic value.  For more information about the benefits of historic preservation, see The Importance of Historic Preservation (<- link to this blog post).


Retrofitting is a sustainable alternative to building a new building. Energy is conserved through the process of retrofitting, since it generally takes less time and resources to renovate a building as opposed to constructing a completely new structure. There is also less of an environmental impact.  Construction leaves a carbon footprint, meaning that there is carbon dioxide and other carbons emitted by the consumption of fossil fuels during construction.  Therefore, there is a “carbon debt” that should be repaid in the form of carbon payback.  Carbon payback is how long it takes for an entity to make up for its environmental impact through the benefits it brings through its business operations.  It takes anywhere from 10 to 80 years for a building to complete its carbon payback.  There are far less fossil fuels consumed when retrofitting than when constructing an entirely new building, meaning that the carbon payback period is much shorter.

Retrofitting as A Long-Term Investment

Not only is there an initial cost savings of retrofitting because it requires less materials than new construction, there are also numerous long-term cost benefits. One benefit of retrofitting is tax incentives, such as Bill AB 2392 that is in effect from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2021.  This bill allows a qualified taxpayer a credit of 30 percent of qualified costs of seismic retrofit construction of at-risk properties.  While this bill does not include retrofit construction to bring a building into compliance with local building codes, it does allow for retrofit construction such as anchoring the structure of the foundation, bracing crippling walls, and anchoring fuel storage.  Along with the tax benefits, retrofitting also increases property value.  A study by Energy Star claims that each $1 invested in energy efficiency increases the value of the property by up to $3.


Works Cited:

Melton, Paula (2012, February 28). Retrofit (Usually) Greener Than New Construction, Study Says. Building Green.  Retrieved from

N.A, (N.D). What are the Benefits of a Retrofit? Graybar.  Retrieved from

Nazarian, (2016, February 18). Analysis of Original Bill. Franchise Tax Board.  Retrieved from

Schultz, Robbie (2015, July 29). Commercial Construction: Retrofitting vs. Building from the Ground Up. Winkelman Building Corporation.  Retrieved from