Barriers to retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency | Inquirer Business
Green Architrends

Barriers to retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency

/ 12:01 AM August 02, 2014

As we focus on the evolution of the design and construction of new energy-efficient green buildings, one sector that remains in the background is the large stock of existing buildings that are in need of a comprehensive upgrade for energy efficiency.

Their telltale signs clearly identify them. From the outside of buildings, you see all kinds and brands of air-conditioning equipment lined up on balconies and steel supports, or old window-type air-conditioners that jut out of windows, including compressors and cooling towers, that are badly maintained.

As you go inside some of these buildings, you will notice the use of an excessive number of air-conditioning units, perhaps to ensure that the building occupants are comfortable.


Actually, a comfortable temperature is not the only item to consider in air-conditioned buildings. While it is true that we often complain about the temperature, whether it is too hot or too cold, we also need fresh clean air, humidity control and noise control in a properly designed air-conditioned building.


Considering that air-conditioning consumes on an average 50 to 60 percent of energy in a typical building, it makes sense to focus on upgrading this major component of buildings.  Lighting consumes about 20 percent and the rest goes to elevators, pumps, motors, etc.

The first barrier why building owners are hesitant to upgrade their properties for energy efficiency is the initial cost of retrofitting, even with the knowledge that over time the savings from reduced operating costs far outweigh the upfront investment.

In many cases, building owners simply do not have the financial resources to replace their inefficient chillers and lighting system.

Innovative approach

In San Francisco, California, they have come up with an innovative voluntary approach to address this problem. They call it Property Assessed Clean Energy, where the local government lends money to building owners to cover investments upgrading existing buildings in order to make them more green. The loan can be used to fund widely differing improvements to the building, such as high-efficiency lighting, alternative energy generation and air-conditioning retrofits.

These loans are payable within 15 to 20 years. Financial institutions and investors would fund these loans by buying local bonds, on condition that the upgrade is significant and permanently attached to the building or property. The process for application is also simplified to help generate support from building owners, with a simple application process using the property itself as collateral.


In the end, as more and more buildings are retrofitted for energy efficiency, there will be less demand on the electrical grid and an increase in the local economic activity.

Business as usual

Each year, many conferences and workshops on energy efficiency are conducted with local and international experts sharing their knowledge and expertise. Innovative energy-efficiency strategies are shared and are made available to both the government and private sector during these conferences. Some sectors are quick to capitalize on what they learn and start applying the technology in their businesses. But for most of the delegates, they go home and resume “business as usual” operations.

What we need is a comprehensive program that will entice a large sector of the existing stock of old buildings to undergo a major upgrade.

We need to design a program to address the issue on how to finance the green retrofitting of buildings on a barangay-, city- or nationwide scale. This is the only way we can see a significant improvement in reducing energy use in the country.

Our country has a lot of financial and energy experts.  There is no better time than right now for these two disciplines to sit down and study how we can address our energy problem by providing an attractive easy-to-pay financial scheme for building owners to retrofit their buildings for energy efficiency.

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TAGS: energy efficiency, property, retrofitting

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