Greening Up Existing Buildings

This article appears in the February 2011 edition of Florida Investor.

By Paul E. Beers

Sustainable design has been defined as buildings that are accessible, secure, healthy, and productive while minimizing their impact on the environment. A related issue is building resiliency. Building resiliency is the capacity of a building to continue to function and operate under extreme conditions, such as (but not limited to) extreme temperatures, sea level rise and natural disasters.

The exterior building envelope can play a significant role in a sustainable building. Most existing commercial buildings that were built before the year 2000 have building envelopes that are not as energy-efficient as today’s buildings and are not resilient. Many building envelopes are reaching the end of their useful life and are in need of repair or replacement.

Exterior envelopes can be retrofitted to incorporate sustainable designs. Options include adding insulation to cladding systems, new paints and sealants, roof coatings and retrofitted glazing systems. These upgrades can improve durability and the lifespan of the exterior while adding better energy efficiency and hurricane resistance. A side benefit is that any problems, such as water or air leakage can be solved as part of the upgrade process. An upgraded building envelope will result in a better looking building with improved comfort and security for its users.

Finding available funds to pay for upgrades is always an issue, particularly in today’s economy. Depending upon the condition and design of a building, there can be a payback of dollars invested in upgrades. Some projects can even be funded based upon anticipated savings. Lower energy costs offer the best opportunity for savings with reduced utility bills. Buildings that meet today’s  design requirements enjoy lower property insurance premiums. And, upgraded buildings that have been modernized are more desirable to tenants and prospective purchasers, potentially increasing income and property values.

A due diligence survey is the best place to start in identifying possible building envelope upgrades. The survey should document the existing conditions of exterior walls, glazing and roofs, and identify areas in need of repair, upgrades or replacement. The cost of the upgrades can then be budgeted, along with a cost benefit analysis developed based upon projected savings and improvements to the property. If done wisely, upgrades to the building envelope can provide years of improved performance and savings for building owners and users