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Transforming Existing Properties: Your Guide to Retrofit Buildings with Smart Technology

8 Apr 2024

As technology progresses, the need to retrofit buildings grow.

Demand is rising from all angles. Limited funding and space for new builds is one aspect. Occupiers are also demanding more from their building, with significant flight to quality. Now more than ever, building portfolio owners need to revamp their current stock. This is also timely given increased legislation requiring tight monitoring and reporting on building emissions.

Here we explore how to retrofit buildings effectively to save energy, improve efficiency and build a more connected workplace for tenants.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • The case for modernising legacy buildings
  • What it means to retrofit buildings
  • Why is retrofitting important
  • Tangible benefits of the smart commercial retrofit
  • key components; HVAC retrofit, smart lighting and sensors
  • Overcoming commercial retrofit challenges
  • Commercial retrofit case studies


Growing demand

Improvements in monitoring technology is putting commercial building owners in a pivotal position. First, there’s the opportunity to support UK net zero efforts. Second, the chance to enrich the tenant experience, and move into a more competitive space as a result.

Smart building retrofitting is where the opportunity lies. It’s the process of taking an existing building, and transforming it with cutting edge technology into a future-proof, value-added asset.

It’s important to be aware, however, that a smart commercial retrofit is no small task. It requires time, investment, tailored support, and a clear strategy. But the benefits are immediately tangible.

Skyline of Liverpool Street area showing some buildings under construction

A strong case for modernising legacy buildings?

In the UK, there are around two million commercial buildings.

According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), around 1-2% of non-domestic properties in the UK are newly built each year.

chart showing that buildings contribute to 40% of total emissions

That’s a small proportion of new builds to existing stock.

Let’s add a few more statistics into the mix:

  1. According to the UK Green Building Council(UKGBC), 80% of buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built.
  1. The built environment contributes to almost 40% of all carbon emissions globally.
  1. Buildings are the UK’s second largest source of climate emissions after surface transport.

This tells us there’s a clear environmental case for modernising existing buildings to make them more sustainable. It’s one that’s under close legislative scrutiny.

Legislative case for modernising buildings

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming and promote sustainability. The Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 parties at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, France in 2015.

The Paris Agreement includes commitments from all countries – the United Kingdom included – to reduce emissions and collaborate to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

UK wide, individual councils and unitary authorities have set their own commitments to addressing the global climate and ecological emergency. Their efforts aim to support the delivery of The Paris Agreement, as well as their obligations under the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008.

The Climate Change Act 2008 sets legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Originally targeting an 80% reduction by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, the Act was revised in 2019 to aim for net zero emissions by 2050.

Other countries have their own legislation addressing renewable energy use, energy efficiency and environmental standards for buildings. Cities like New York, have taken a proactive approach by putting in legislation to progress these targets.

ESG case for modernising buildings

It’s not just legislation that’s driving the case for building modernisation. Environmental Social Governance (ESG) is making an impact on the industry too.

Commercial building owners looking to attract long term tenants at lucrative market rent must deliver spaces that meet ESG reporting criteria.

The introduction of the new ESG reporting responsibilities brought in by the Sustainability Disclosure Requirements in 2023 have made it mandatory for certain organisations to make disclosures on climate change-related risks and opportunities and how these are managed.

Some companies must also report on how climate change is addressed by corporate governance, and how climate risks impact upon their general strategy.

Large UK companies have an additional responsibility to document their energy use and carbon emissions within their annual reports through the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) requirement.

It’s clear there are many regulatory hoops to jump through. But ESG ratings matter to businesses for more than just legislative reasons.

Positive ESG metrics can indicate a healthier investment prospect. But low scoring companies could be considered unsustainable and left out of portfolios as a result, wiping value off shares.

ESG ratings also act as an internal benchmarking tool, supporting decision making and boosting sustainability performance generally.

So there we have a robust case for modernising existing buildings. Now to the subject of the smart commercial retrofit.

What does it mean to smart retrofit buildings?

The process of a commercial retrofit involves bringing modern technologies, features and systems into older buildings to enhance sustainability, performance, functionality and efficiency. It can also facilitate compliance with modern standards and regulations.

Smart retrofitting is all about incorporating technology into a building, transforming it into a smart building.

Smart buildings are built around a network of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and devices that monitor and control various building functions. The systems produce swathes of data, empowering key decision makers with knowledge and foresight.

The most pioneering smart building tech introduces artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Both bring a new level of intelligence and adaptability to smart building systems.

Now buildings;

  • learn
  • adapt to patterns
  • automate everyday functions
  • personalise the workplace experience
  • optimise energy consumption
  • predict maintenance needs
  • reduce waste

Aerial view on The Kensington Building

Why is retrofitting important?

Retrofitting is important for bringing legacy buildings up to modern standards. It ensures they remain safe, efficient and environmentally friendly.

A commercial retrofit can help address evolving needs. Energy efficiency, sustainability and resilience. The need to meet changing regulatory requirements, and societal expectations.

On a wider scale, retrofitting optimises existing infrastructure lifespan. It can reduce the need for costly and emissions-heavy new construction, whilst cutting waste and environmental impact.

If we are to tackle the issue of ‘40% of all carbon emissions coming from the built environment’, we cannot neglect the need to retrofit buildings. Owners must invest in the commercial retrofit process.

3 tangible benefits of the smart commercial retrofit:

Smart retrofit buildings offer tangible benefits. These benefits drill right down the line, from building owners to tenants and end users.

1.     Energy efficiency

In the smart building, IoT sensors and real time data converge to reduce carbon emissions and cut energy waste.

  • Usage levels can be set to manage resource consumption
  • Resource usage is monitored in real time, flagging anomalies
  • Renewable energy system targets are kept in check
  • ESG goals and other parameters are tracked for compliance

The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning adds value:

  • HVAC and lighting systems are auto-controlled in line with changing environmental conditions and occupancy. Energy waste is reduced as a result.
  • Reactive maintenance becomes predictive maintenance, boosting plant and machinery energy efficiency and extending equipment lifespan.

2.     Improved security and resilience

Traditional building security systems had their merits. But smart technology has introduced valuable enhancements.

Smart retrofit buildings benefit from:

  • Connected, integrated security
  • Remote security system control
  • Automated surveillance and anomaly detection
  • Extreme weather event warnings and automated protection
  • Access control audit trails
  • Rich data analytics

3.     Enhanced comfort and convenience

In the smart commercial retrofit building, repetitive tasks are automated and workflows streamlined. Employees can prioritise more meaningful tasks, and control their own workspace conditions, leading to productivity and well-being improvement.

  • Intelligent desk and meeting space bookings
  • Automated stock control
  • Workspace personalisation via user-controlled climate and lighting
  • Machine learning recalls personal working environment preferences
  • Community engagement features connect building occupants


What are the key components of retrofitting with smart technology?

A smart retrofit kit comprises a series of key components:

Smart HVAC

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are fundamental to any building. But a smart HVAC retrofit transforms the process of maintaining a healthy and comfortable environment into an intelligent, proactive and automated procedure.

  • IoT sensors monitor workplace indoor air quality, detecting hazards to health and issuing real time alerts when levels fall below safe and compliant parameters. AI automates the process of increasing ventilation and pushes warning notifications to occupants’ smart devices.
  • Smart HVAC uses machine learning to auto-adjust cooling and heating to suit changing environmental conditions and occupancy levels. Energy waste is reduced and comfort levels optimised.
  • Individual users control their own personal workspace environment via a smart workplace app. Machine learning recalls preferences for different situations, so there’s no need to keep re-adjusting settings.

Smart Lighting

Studies show that workplace lighting is a major influencer of comfort and well-being.

Smart lighting works by identifying the optimum lighting settings for any given space. In response, it makes changes to achieve those settings.

Smart lighting:

  • Auto-adjusts in response to changing natural light
  • Allows personal lighting preferences to be set via a user app
  • Recalls personal preferences against a variety of conditions
  • Supports biodynamics, mimicking natural variations of daylight and sunlight to support vision health and overall well-being
  • Reduces waste by adjusting to occupancy levels, automatically switching off in void spaces

Remote & Automated Management

In smart retrofit buildings, management systems are more streamlined:

  • Building owners/estate managers can remotely adjust settings, schedule maintenance tasks and troubleshoot issues. This cuts the need for onsite visits and reduces resolution time.
  • Automated inventory management sees supplies routinely ordered as required, avoiding waste and shortages and freeing up admin time.
  • Visitor passes and wayfinding instructions are issued direct to individual handsets. Parking spaces are automatically allocated and meeting rooms are booked and stocked in advance. All this enhances the visitor experience, as well as frees up Front of House staff.
  • Smart meeting room booking systems have IoT devices relay desk or room availability to a central dashboard. Free seats or rooms can be booked in real time via a user app. Employees can select seating based on colleagues, role or project, or choose work zones to suit their preferences.

Smart Security Systems

In the commercial retrofit building, smart security presents an advanced level of asset and occupant protection:

  • Smart building security is interconnected. CCTV, intruder alarms, sensors and access control systems all work symbiotically, delivering a layered security system with sophisticated capabilities.
  • IoT-connected, AI-driven security systems automatically identify security risks through machine learning and anomaly detection.
  • In emergencies, security personnel or emergency services are auto-summoned. Safety alerts are issued, occupants guided to meeting points, and zones or entire buildings locked down through automation.
  • AI-powered facial recognition, behaviour monitoring and predictive analytics recognise and respond to security threats that traditional building security systems may overlook.

User Engagement Features

Smart community features allow building occupants to enjoy a workplace community feel courtesy of a connected app:

  • Newsfeed-style local events and special offers
  • Community chat forums
  • In-app calling and messaging
  • Directly report issues and request advice
  • Book services in the local area

Data Analytics

AI-driven data analytics is perhaps one of the most valuable components of smart retrofit buildings. It supports data driven decision making, delivering competitive edge for building owners and occupants alike. Some of the functionalities of AI in retrofit buildings:

  • Analyses real time and historical data to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.
  • Enhances energy management by monitoring consumption patterns, identifying anomalies and recommending energy waste reduction strategies.
  • Predictive analytics anticipate equipment failures and maintenance needs, minimising downtime and extending system lifespan.
  • Facilitates benchmarking and performance tracking for sustainability goals and regulatory compliance.
  • Enables predictive modelling and scenario planning for space and user experience optimisation.


How to overcome commercial retrofit challenges?

Despite the advantages, it is important to understand that there are various challenges involved in the commercial retrofit process.

That said, with every challenge comes a solution.

Compatibility issues

It’s common for compatibility issues to surface between existing building systems and smart retrofit kit.

The key is to identify these issues early on via thorough interoperability assessments.

It may be there is no off-shelf commercial retrofit solution that will seamlessly integrate with a given building’s infrastructure and existing technology.

A tailored solution is the answer. One that takes into account the unique characteristics of the building, ensuring any compatibility issues are minimised through customised designs and implementation plans. For best results, it needs to be managed by a team of experts with proven interoperability skills.

Technical Know-How

For value-added retrofit outcomes, it’s advisable to engage experienced proptech specialists with specific knowhow in smart building technologies. Experts who will develop tailored commercial retrofit solutions and provide comprehensive, ongoing support and guidance.

You’ll ideally work with a Master Systems Integrator whose job it is to co-ordinate and commission the smooth operability of the individual data networks into a single smart building solution.

Centralised management, and knowledge across the multiple technologies present in a building management system, will ensure streamlined interoperability, and optimal operational efficiency.

Security Concerns

There’s no denying that smart building technologies raise cybersecurity concerns. Buildings equipped with IoT devices and connected systems are vulnerable to cyber threats. Data breaches and system hijacks are very real risks.

It’s essential to implement robust cybersecurity protocols into commercial retrofit setups to protect sensitive information and maintain operational integrity.

Encryption, access control, cyber monitoring and regular security audits will help safeguard company information and comply with data protection regulations.

The Smart Spaces Master Systems Integrator takes cyber protection a step further by assessing the legacy building management system to plan and implement security measures for the new and existing united networks. This ensures all building services can withstand external and internal intrusion.

Budget Constraints

It’s important to undertake an all-in costs-benefit analysis to prioritise commercial retrofit initiatives based on return on investment, and long term savings.

The outlay needed to retrofit buildings can be prohibitive. It’s worth exploring financing options such as grants, incentives or energy performance contracts wherever possible to reduce capital expenditure.

Failing the availability of funding, a phased approach to retrofitting could be a solution. This will spread costs over time, whilst prioritising the most important upgrades that will deliver the fastest returns.

A bespoke retrofit programme is another way forward. This will identify the most cost effective strategies that align with the specific needs and budget constraints of the building.

Smart Spaces – bespoke commercial retrofit specialists

Embracing smart retrofit kit technology is just the first step in the process of modernising legacy buildings, and reaping the associated rewards.

The tangible advantage comes by partnering with commercial retrofit implementation specialists. Experts with the ability to custom-design systems and interfaces that align with the specific needs, budget constraints and risk profile of the building, its owner, and its occupants, for the most valuable outcomes.

Smart Spaces is built on Internet of Things and artificial intelligence technology. Combined with the expertise of its highly skilled development and implementation team and Master Systems Integrator, it has the potential to transform existing buildings into smart, high value, future-proof assets.

To learn more about how our tailored smart technology and commercial retrofit solutions could benefit your property portfolio, the environment, and your tenants, please get in touch.

Take a look at some Smart Spaces retrofit case studies.

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