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Merve Nur Doğan

Published Apr 14, 2021

In a world that changes rapidly, the old sometimes cannot reach the necessities of the new. At this point, the improvement of the old becomes compulsory particularly at building scale. It is estimated that by 2050 for some 70% of today’s buildings will still be in use, with 40% having been built before 1985 (Better Buildings Partnership, 2010, p.6) which means focusing on the improvement of the existing building stock is a key point for the future, as the number of old buildings will be excessive in comparison to the new ones.

The improvement is possible with retrofitting. The dictionary definition of the word ‘retrofit’ is to add a component or accessory to something that did not have it when manufactured or provide something with a component or accessory not fitted during manufacture (Lexico Dictionaries, 2019). The term originated in the USA in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, which is a combination of the word ‘retroactive’ referring to the past, and ‘fit’ which means to equip (Dixon, 2014, p.444). In the built environment, ‘retrofitting’ refers to main interventions to adjust, reuse, or upgrade a building to suit new conditions or requirements (Douglas cited in Wilkinson, 2012, p.399). Some other terms like refurbishment and renovation are sometimes confused with retrofitting. However, ‘refurbishment’ is the general improvement of a building at some periodic interval, and ‘renovation’ is the broad improvement of buildings, potentially more comprehensive than refurbishment and retrofitting (IPEEC Building Energy Efficiency Taskgroup,2017, p.6). All three terms refer to improvement, but at different levels. The term retrofitting is also used in different areas such as furniture, machinery, and urban systems. Some examples of retrofitting at urban scale could be to integrate new facilities such as transportation and public space to the city; whereas retrofitting in machinery could mean replacing the gas tank of a car with multiple battery packs and transform a car from gasoline-powered to electric-powered.

The application areas in the building environments may also alter dwellings, bridges, historical buildings, and so on. This addition can range from added mechanical systems, column wraps, façade covers, to structural interventions. The circumstances causing a need for retrofitting is the key point here. The building obviously cannot serve properly in its first form, as a result, a fundamental change is needed. Lack of strength is the primary reason for retrofitting. Providing health and safety is the most important target while providing energy efficiency and amenity comes as second.

The structures could be weakened by natural disasters such as earthquakes, natural aging, material deterioration, poor workmanship and supervision during construction, climate change, pollution, etc. (Christou, 2019, p.97). Moreover, many existing houses were built, when little was known about how buildings should be protected against hazardous events. As a result, retrofitting became a necessary and important tool in hazard mitigation (The Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2014, p.2). The building should be strong, safe, and be prepared for upcoming threats. Retrofitting could be implemented to provide safety against hazards such as high wind, earthquake, flood, fire, and so on. For example, seismic retrofitting is very common and is used to strengthen buildings against earthquake forces. Surface treatment, grout, and epoxy injection, as well as external reinforcement, are some of the techniques used in seismic retrofitting. Another example is retrofitting against fire. For instance, the tragic fire in Grenfell Tower in 2017 caused the modification of similar buildings, quickly to add fire suppression sprinkler systems, additional fire escape routes, and replacement of flammable materials (IPEEC Building Energy Efficiency Taskgroup,2017, p.22).

The second important reason for retrofitting is to provide energy efficiency and to increase the comfort levels of the inhabitants. With the implementation of the new technology, the performance of the new houses increases in terms of energy use, cost-efficiency, and comfort. This also helps old buildings to meet current energy consumption restrictions and building legislations. In addition to the physical improvement of buildings, retrofit projects also have social, economic, and environmental benefits. One of the most important benefits of retrofitting is in economic development. It provides new opportunities for jobs, new business opportunities, and attractiveness for investment (Pardo-Bosch, Cervera and Ysa, 2019, p.11). Moreover, it is essential to tackle energy poverty, one of the most important social problems faced by our society (Pacheco-Torgal cited in Pardo-Bosch, Cervera, and Ysa, 2019, p.2). As a result, retrofit programs have critical contributions to many areas as job creation, quality of life, fuel poverty, and energy security (Eames et al, 2014).


Better Buildings Partnership. (2010) Low carbon retrofit toolkit: A roadmap to success. [online] Available at [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

Christou, P. (2019) Existing Structures: Assessment and Retrofitting. The Open Construction & Building Technology Journal, 13(1), pp.97-98.

Dixon, T. (2014) Commercial property retrofitting. Journal of Property Investment and Finance, 32(4), pp.443-452. 

Eames, M., Dixon, T., Lannon, S. C., Hunt, M., De Laurentis, C., Marvin, S. et al (2014) Retrofit 2050: critical challenges for urban transitions. Cardiff University, Cardiff. 

IPEEC Building Energy Efficiency Taskgroup. (2017) Existing Building Energy Efficiency Renovation [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019]. 

Pardo-Bosch, F., Cervera, C. and Ysa, T. (2019) Key aspects of building retrofitting: Strategizing sustainable cities. Journal of Environmental Management, 248, 109247. 

Lexico Dictionaries. (2019) Definition of Retrofit by Lexico. [online] Available at: (Accessed 3 Nov. 2019). 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2014) Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting: Six Ways to Protect Your Home from Flooding. [online] Available at (Accessed 3 Nov. 2019). Wilkinson, S. (2012) Analyzing sustainable retrofit potential in premium office buildings. Structural Survey, 30(5), pp.398-410.

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