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Rachel Lekman looks at the latest London exhibition

I attended the opening of a new exhibition in London last week, but it wasn’t showing the work of some famous artist, it was much more important than that.

From now until the end of August, the Building Centre in Store Street off Tottenham Court Road, is exhibiting Retrofit 24: The Reuse Agenda for Our Commercial, Cultural & Civic Buildings

The event is designed to start a discussion on how we can meet net zero targets and increase climate resilience.

It also focuses on some of the solutions that will help us all to decarbonise the UK’s real estate.

When are you planning your trip for inspiration on how to decarbonise your building?

Rachel Lekman Rachel Lekman Marketing Manager for Sustainability and Construction

A mission to net zero

The Building Centre is home to the Built Environment Trust, whose mission is to explore and debate the social impact our surroundings have on people and communities.

They do this through public programming, exhibitions and special school and community projects and the latest looks at the challenges, and the opportunities that retrofitting our buildings offer society.

Retrofit 24 is designed to examine key considerations that will help achieve net zero commercial retrofitting, highlighting the benefits and the challenges of delivering commercial retrofit at scale. 

A draughty legacy

Around 80% of the buildings that we currently live, work and play in, will still be with us in 2050, when we must meet our legally binding net zero targets.

Millions of these buildings are old, draughty and consume a lot of energy to keep them warm but we can’t just knock them down and build new ones, even if we wanted to.

For a start, we want to keep the buildings we know and love, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Liberty’s, Westminster Abbey, the Barbican, the Shard, etc, etc.  – buildings that make up the very nature of our towns and cities.

And secondly, the amount of carbon it would take to demolish and then rebuild these properties would make the whole exercise pointless. So retrofitting is the best way to address this challenge, and this is the point of the exhibition.

Low hanging fruit

A lot of focus is rightly placed on our homes as for decades, the country has built inferior properties that need high temperature gas heating to keep them warm.

But we’ve now reached the end of gas and we must transition to renewable technologies such as heat pumps.

A lot of the exhibition rightly focuses on how to improve the fabric of buildings, both commercial and residential, so that we need to use far less energy to keep them warm.

The other primary focus though is on how we should be looking at retrofitting commercial buildings, as nearly 25% of the UK built environment’s carbon footprint comes from heating, powering and operating these properties.

They also offer some seriously quick wins as businesses are already ahead of the curve when it comes to decarbonisation.

Most companies have realised that legislation is getting more stringent year on year and the regulations governing the energy efficiency of their buildings and their HVAC equipment will demand lower carbon emissions and higher efficiency.

Global finance is also focusing on the sustainability of property and many will simply not support buildings that will likely end up as stranded assets, which cannot be let and will not realise their full sales price.

This means that the commercial heating market is ripe for a conversion to renewable technologies and many businesses are already pricing this in to their 5-year plans.

1259 Rachel Store St

High temperture heat pump

We're showing off our high temperature heat pump which can produce water at 90 degrees Centigrade

High temperature heat pumps 

We're sponsors of the Retrofit 24 exhibition as we realise that we need to work with places like the Building Centre to broadcast the benefits of renewable technology for businesses.

A switch from gas heating to renewable technology will not only improve a company's carbon footprint and help them on their own journey to net zero, it will future-proof their business and their building by increasing the energy performance of their HVAC equipment before the government increases the regulations on EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates).

Around 85% of existing commercial buildings are thought to be below an EPC rating of B, which is likely to be the target that the government wants all businesses to get to by 2030, which is only 5 years away.    

Luckily, there are commercial heat pumps available right now that can help, whether that's for a small retail outlet, a whole office block, or an entire heat network.

Plan your visit

So, if you are already in or around London, it would be well worth a trip to the Building Centre for some inspiration on how to decarbonise your building.

If you are slightly further afield, it would be worth planning a trip to the capital to see for yourself how important this exhibition is.

As the Building Centre’s promotional material says: “current retrofitting efforts aren’t on track to meet the UK’s ambitious net zero targets. Retrofit 24 demonstrates how to achieve improvements in energy efficiency across all sectors, through examples of recent commercial, cultural and civic retrofit projects.”

In addition to environmental benefits, retrofitting increases and supports:

  • buildings’ value
  • usability of spaces
  • quality of life for building occupiers
  • placemaking (people-centred places)
  • neighbourhood regeneration

The Retrofit 24 exhibition also looks at why collaboration between landlords, developers and occupiers is vital, and ways in which commercial buildings can be re-purposed to create homes or other new functions.

So, when are you planning your trip?

Rachel Lekman is Marketing Manager for Sustainability and Construction