background image

Retrofitting for resilience to maintain modern infrastructure

author image

By Bethany Sersion

· 3 min read

The importance of buildings

Infrastructure is the basic blueprint of communities and a key cornerstone of society. Roads, bridges, airports, communication networks, water systems, power systems, and buildings are at the heart of U.S. infrastructure. Conventionally constructed buildings, prior to Passive House and Net-Zero requirements, were built to comply with set standard codes that varied from state to state. The bottom line was to meet these standards to pass code, but it was common to simply meet the minimum standard without going above and beyond. Because of this, there are many existing buildings that can’t fulfil today’s standards without retrofitting.

Buildings are critical infrastructure. Every year in the United States, we construct about 6 billion square feet of new buildings (Carbon Leadership Forum), but existing buildings remain for many years. Retrofitting existing buildings generates 50% to 75% less carbon emissions than new construction (American Institute of Architects). With advancing energy efficiency codes, retrofitting simplifies the path to passing code.

Buildings and energy usage

Two-thirds of global buildings that exist today will still exist in 2040. This ageing building stock will have to adapt to building performance and energy efficiency targets as they become the rule rather than the exception. Chasing codes for airtightness can be a hard battle when trying to find undetected leaks located throughout the air duct system.

Commercial, residential, and industrial buildings constitute about 40% of all energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. Upgrading infrastructure is common in the maintenance of any infrastructural system. Investing in the building stock for retrofitted energy-efficient buildings will push opportunities for meeting energy requirements through energy improvements. 

To withstand extreme temperatures, high winds, high waters, wildfire embers, and climate change’s consequences, the building must be structurally sound with an airtight envelope. Contaminants can grow in large building ventilation systems and home heating and cooling systems. These can then get into inhabitants’ airways, causing sicknesses. This can lead to lung infection, respiratory illness, and breathing difficulties. A well-functioning ventilation system will help prevent dirty air from infiltrating the envelope.

Addressing energy efficiency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that indoor air has, at times, a higher concentration of contaminants and pollutants than outdoor air. Airborne contaminants and indoor air pollution can be exacerbated by the use of inefficient and polluting fuels and technologies. Smoke causes issues in dwellings that aren’t well-ventilated, and even the combustion processes of some HVAC equipment can pollute internal air. Biological contaminants, such as mould and mildew, and toxins from microorganisms are cleared out through the ventilation system. Ventilation systems are also imperative for temperature regulation and thermal efficiency for the structure itself and for quality of life.

The energy needed to power and heat buildings comes at the expense of the environment. Buildings expand high quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. Electrification, energy conservation measures, and energy-saving technologies, such as heat pumps and advanced air and duct sealing technologies, will raise energy performance by reducing energy demand, thereby lowering emissions. High-performing HVAC equipment will enable the system to work smarter, not harder, with air pinpointing areas of the building it is intended to instead of being lost out of the ductwork.

To stand by the decarbonization effort, we must address energy efficiency by retrofitting. Targeting energy weaknesses and prompting momentum for the building retrofit effort to reinforce infrastructure helps support GHG reductions. Building green and retrofitting for green outcomes will lower the adverse impact of the building stock on the environment and maintain the resilience of the built environment over time. 

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Bethany Sersion is an associate at Aeroseal, a climate technology company implementing breakthrough technologies for the future of the built environment.

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)