The business case for Retrofit Co-ordinators

 

This guide introduces the role of Retrofit Co-ordinator, arguably the key contributor to the successful delivery of low carbon refurbishment projects. Encompassing a range of responsibilities that might extend to assessment, analysis, design, specification, technical project management and occupant liaison, the Retrofit Co-ordinator is a position to which the skills of the practising architect are well suited. This briefing is intended to provide background on:

 

The need for such a role in retrofit projects

The broad scope of services

The business opportunities these represent

and possible routes to acquiring the expertise necessary to undertake them.

 

This document provides an essential summary of this area of specialist work, and acts as a gateway to further related information on-line. 

 

This guide covers:

 

Background to Retrofit Co-ordinators

 

Why talk about it?

What is a Retrofit Co-ordinator?

Why should architects want to be Retrofit Co-ordinators?

 

Retrofit Co-ordinators in practice

 

Business benefits for architects of being a Retrofit Co-ordinator

The RIBA and Retrofit Co-ordinator training

RIBA Chartered Practice case study

Where to go for more information and help

 

 

Why talk about it?

 

In response to climate change, the UK Government is committed to stretching reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, seeking an 80% decrease compared to 1990 levels by the year 2050. In 2012, the residential sector accounted for around 24% of all carbon dioxide emissions by end-user and 29% of total energy use. In terms of energy used for heating purposes nationally, the residential sector accounts for more than half (54%). These figures reflect the fact that, in the UK, we have some of the oldest housing stock in the developed world, with poor standards of energy efficiency in the fabric of our homes. The need to refurbish all our existing buildings, both domestic and non-domestic, with measures to reduce these emissions is therefore high on the national agenda. This represents an opportunity to make significant advances towards national targets, and a growing source of business for architects.

 

Retrofit is now the established construction industry term for the refurbishment of our domestic and non-domestic building stock to improve energy efficiency and deploy measures to reduce associated carbon dioxide emissions. With low rates of demolition and replacement, it is likely that we will need to retrofit some 20 million homes and non-domestic buildings over the coming decades, in turn pointing to a market worth £500 billion over that same time period. Indeed, within the domestic sector, the Low Carbon Route Map for the Built Environment published recently by the Green Construction Board estimates that annual spending on domestic retrofit alone could reach £4-4.5 billion.

 

 

What is a Retrofit Co-ordinator?

 

Whole building retrofit can be a complex operation requiring multiple processes and trades coming together in a coherent fashion to deliver the refurbishment scheme. This complexity means that there are many areas where retrofit can fail to reach the desired outcomes, either as a result of inadequate analysis, inappropriate design decisions, supply chain obstacles, poor quality installation practices on site or ineffective occupier engagement and handover regimes. The Technology Strategy Board’s ‘Retrofit Revealed’, which reported on its pilot social housing single-dwelling retrofit programme identified the need for dedicated, knowledgeable co-ordination of the retrofit project, preferably by someone who could be on site frequently. The report identified that a Retrofit Co-ordinator can help bring expertise and efficiencies to the planning, delivery and handover of a project, potentially reducing the costs associated with delays and re-working. With the more open and integrated approach to communication that a Retrofit Co-ordinator could provide across the design team, contractor, site team, occupants, neighbours and the client organisation, there is improved potential for establishing commitment to the process and creating a set of shared goals, ensuring successful retrofit outcomes.

 

 

Why should architects want to be Retrofit Co-ordinators?

 

Radically reducing emissions from the UK’s existing housing stock will require interventions that go far beyond filling cavities and loft spaces with insulation. Insulation of solid-walled properties is going to have significant implications for the appearance and architectural integrity of our homes, either through internal dry-lining or external cladding with render or rain screen systems. The attention to detail that an architect offers will be of enormous value in ensuring the necessary continuity of insulation, improvement in air tightness, control of moisture or incorporation of renewables in a low carbon retrofit, not least by communicating clear solutions to the workforce. With 1.2 million homes lying within conservation areas, we also need to preserve our built heritage while giving all households a fair opportunity to reduce their energy needs and costs. In this context, an architect’s broad skill base makes them well suited to delivering successful retrofit outcomes in the round, by first identifying retrofit opportunities as they arise across our built environment and then integrating technical building performance with high quality contextual design.

 

The 68% of UK dwellings that are privately owned are a much larger and more fragmented challenge. In time, these will have to be tackled on a street or neighbourhood scale to achieve the retrofit rates necessary. In the meantime, green-minded homeowners will be looking for independent advice on the best approach to eco-retrofit. In many cases, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is seen as a trigger for a comprehensive transformation of the condition and appearance of a property. At the same time, the staple diet of many a small practice or sole practitioner – extensions, loft conversions and the like – will be trigger points for low carbon retrofit of many homes. The market for accredited Retrofit Co-ordinators is therefore wide-ranging, and the skills that architects can contribute are equally broad.

 

The key to proper integration of improvements is synchronisation of the specification and installation of the package of improvements by a Retrofit Co-ordinator taking responsibility for delivering a coherent retrofit, using the architects’ experience of design and construction management. Retrofit projects are intrusive and disruptive to the occupants of buildings, involving multiple visits by assessors, advisors, installers and inspectors.  Again, the key to good customer liaison is the Retrofit Co-ordinator, whose role embraces communication with occupants from the inception of a project to its satisfactory completion.  The Retrofit Co-ordinator is the ‘single point of contact’ required by good practice.  This is a role that is already well understood by architects. Many householders are interested in undertaking energy efficiency improvement works but are confused by all the retrofit options and distrustful of organisations knocking on their door offering free boilers and insulation - suitably knowledgeable Retrofit Co-ordinators can help overcome this confusion and distrust - and this is likely to create a market for architectural services among people who might not otherwise think about using an architect. Convention suggests that retrofit design work might follow from a commission to design an extension but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that often the reverse is also common.

 

 

Business benefits for architects of being a Retrofit Co-ordinator

 

The opportunity to participate in, and profit from, the national retrofit programme, which will involve an estimated £500 billion worth of domestic retrofit (and more in the non-domestic sector) over the next three or four decades.

 The opportunity to combine specialist retrofit-related services with traditional architectural services in order to improve profitability as well as providing more sustainable outcomes for clients. This is a particularly good opportunity when projects involve extensions, refurbishment or changes of use with which retrofit work can be combined.

 The opportunity to bring traditional architectural expertise to retrofit projects, where it is sorely needed.  This includes: surveys and assessments of buildings; improvement option evaluation; planning and listed building consent consultations, applications and negotiations; detailed design and specification of integrated packages of improvement measures; Building Regulations applications; contract administration; on-site quality assurance work; soft landings and post occupancy evaluation.

 The opportunity to provide a bespoke service with an emphasis on the quality and performance of the outcome that combines improvements to internal arrangement, daylighting and other aspects of architectural quality with retrofit work. As a result, the opportunities provided by retrofit are exploited in cost effective ways and the clients’ wider interests are met.  

 

 

RIBA and Retrofit Co-ordinator training. 

 

The RIBA supports the objective of a minimum 80% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 through its Climate Change Policy and its Sustainability Hub. It recognises that architects have ever-more environmentally aware and demanding clients, and that architects themselves want to play their part through their work. It provides member-focused guidance on the principles, tools and techniques necessary to design, build and retrofit low carbon buildings, including Climate Change Toolkit 3 – The Principles of Low Carbon Design and Refurbishment.

 

Other technical guidance in retrofit techniques is widely available, including through the RIBA CPD programme. To promote the role of architect as Retrofit Co-ordinator and to identify business opportunities arising from industry trigger points, the RIBA are looking to support a training programme in collaboration with the Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CoRE) through accreditation as an Advanced CPD course. The RIBA Advanced CPD is designed to give architects additional specialist skills to enable them to develop their architectural businesses or careers.

 

The web-based training material will consist of:

 

A ‘Course Guide’ to help students navigate through the course materials, identify key points and fill in gaps in the published material

An extensive, structured reading list

Online material probably based on PowerPoint presentations but also including video content and some interactive comprehension tests to control progress

A two-day seminar covering the key points of the course, delivered by an expert trainer

A final examination, taken at the end of the course

 

Module topics to be covered will include:

 

The emerging national retrofit programme.

Surveying and assessing buildings for low carbon retrofit

Planning low carbon retrofit projects

Funding low carbon retrofit (including the Green Deal, ECO, etc.)

Specifying and installing building fabric and building services retrofit measures

Sustainable retrofit: materials, waste, water and maintenance

Living with retrofit: engaging residents

Retrofit monitoring evaluation and quality assurance

 

The course will include material about dealing with vulnerable buildings, the roles of the Green Deal Assessor/Advisor/Provider and the requirements of the Green Deal Code of Practice (and BSI PAS 2030).

 

RIBA Chartered Member case study

 

Robert Prewett, Director - Prewett Bizley Architects (@BobPrewett)

 

How did your practice get involved with retrofit?

 

Having set up our small practice during the ‘boom years’, by 2007/8 we looked poised to graduate to a number of larger housing schemes. But, following the subsequent crash, by 2009/10 the business had retrenched to two directors. By that time, however, we had developed a number of very low energy retrofit projects and had accumulated a good deal of knowledge and experience. This had been motivated more out of a belief that low energy/high comfort should be achievable, and ideally carried out within a wider architectural framework, than with a business plan in mind.

 

How has this involvement in retrofit projects changed your architectural approach?

 

What we discovered was that to attain very high levels of building performance we had to relearn our understanding of building physics and, in part, the way we think about buildings. The construction of building fabric, the integration of services and emphasis on continuity throughout the process have become essential aspects of retrofit coordination that add value and avoid costly errors.

 

What is your perception of the market for retrofit work and Retrofit Co-ordinators?

 

The initial deep retrofit work we completed took place at the same time that there was a growing awareness in the industry that retrofit needs to play a significant part in reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, a growing number of clients were approaching us with a desire to incorporate low energy use at the heart of their home refurbishment or extension plans. We became increasingly aware that our knowledge and expertise was, and still is, in short supply and while the demand remains modest (still very much lead by the 5% innovator part of the market) it still outstrips supply by a large degree. We also realised that clients are prepared to pay for our time as long as it delivers results and building performance. There is a clear added value proposition and one that I think many designers forget about.

 

Why would you recommend retrofit co-ordinator work to other architects?

 

Our business has been growing over the last year again and looks set to continue to do so next year. The projects we are involved in are interesting both technically and architecturally. The field we now work in is not quite what I imagined when we started in 2005, but now we are here it feels like exactly the place we want to be – working in a sector that is emerging, yet one that will play a very important role over the next 20-30 years.

 

Other sources of information and help

 

Low Carbon Route Map for the Built Environment – Green Construction Board, March 2013

 

Retrofit Revealed – Technology Strategy Board, May 2013

 

Low Carbon Domestic Retrofit Guides – Institute for Sustainability, 2011

(in particular Guide 5 – Managing Low Carbon Retrofit Projects)

An Introduction to Low Carbon Domestic Refurbishment – Construction Products Association, 2010

 

Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings: a report on existing research and guidance with recommendations – Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance, September 2012

 

Sustainability Hub

 

 The Principles of Low Carbon Design and Refurbishment.

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