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Retrofitting for Sustainability: Carbon-Smart and Cost-Effective Solutions

As the sustainable design movement continues to grow rapidly throughout the US, architectural engineers, building product manufacturers, and construction business owners must keep up with stringent environmental regulations amidst a quickly changing landscape of new green materials.

Although challenging, these regulations bring great opportunity to the industry, with LEED construction projects on the rise and the overall green building market predicted to reach $96 -$140 billion by 2013.

However, with more than 80% of commercial buildings in the US being at least ten years old, there is also a significant need to retrofit older construction for better environmental sustainability. According to Pike Research, if all commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a ten-year retrofit program, the savings in energy expenses would have the potential to reach more than $41.1 billion each year.

In addition, the overarching trend towards a decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has led to numerous incentives for buildings to increase their energy efficiency which makes the trend towards retrofitting even stronger. The engineering and construction team must evaluate the criteria of retrofitting building products. For example, does the product offer efficiencies in more than one category?


Consider Products with the Biggest Impact

When it comes to updating older construction, understanding retrofitting options is critical. In looking at ways to retrofit existing buildings, the engineering and construction team should consider products that will have the greatest impact on improving environmental sustainability. Choosing to retrofit with an energy-saving product will often improve the subsequent system updates that follow. For example, improving fenestration (windows) offers one of the best opportunities for a solid bottom-line return on investment for energy savings.

Solar energy enters through windows and causes heat to build up inside the building, leading to uncomfortable hotspots and an increased need for air conditioning. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar heat gain through windows is responsible for roughly one third of a building's cooling load. The solar heat gain associated with windows makes them an attractive target for efficiency improvements. Retrofitting with window film will bring the following sustainability benefits to existing construction:

Energy savings: With proven heat-rejection properties, Solar Gard® solar control window films help buildings consume up to 30% less energy for cooling by keeping interior temperatures lower and more stable. This reduces the need for air conditioning while moderating peak usage and allowing your cooling system to operate more efficiently.


Reduced carbon footprint: Solar Gard architectural solar control films are, to date, the first and only window films to achieve an Environmental Product Declaration, verifying that they are carbon negative. That means they save more energy when they are installed than it takes to produce them. In fact, on average, when installed on windows, they save 1001 times more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from entering the atmosphere than are used or created during their manufacture.

Systematic benefits: According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, improving window performance will reduce the load on the HVAC system, and in many cases, allow buildings to downsize their HVAC equipment. Another benefit comes from harnessing natural daylight. Unlike other window treatments, Solar Gard window film does not block out all visible light, so offices, homes and other buildings are able to reduce electric lighting by relying on daylighting. In these ways, window film creates synergistic energy efficiency improvements.

LEED benefits: Solar control window films can help buildings achieve points toward LEED certification in categories including energy efficiency, light pollution reduction, glare control, daylighting, and thermal comfort improvement.

A more environmentally friendly option: When looking to upgrade windows, it may seem most simple to replace them with newer models. But think of all the waste generated from extracting existing windows; the glass, aluminum, and wood from the removal usually end up in a landfill. Retrofitting with window film generates little to no environmental waste.


Consider Cost

In addition to the environmental benefits of a retrofitting building improvement product, consider cost savings. Will the product reduce operating costs associated with utilities like electricity, heating, and cooling? One of the U.S. Department of Energy’s laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), confirms that window film is the most cost-effective way to upgrade a building’s windows. These cost-saving benefits include:

Peak Load Reduction: In commercial buildings, window film helps balance peak energy usage with climate control and interior comfort. Solar Gard window films reject up to 79% of solar energy to regulate heat absorption and cut air conditioning and cooling costs up to 30%.

A cost-effective alternative: On average, professionally installed window film costs just $6.00 to $14.00 per square foot – only around 5% of the cost of replacement windows. LBNL found that window film tops the ROI list when competing with window replacements, blinds, awnings, shade trees, and reflective roofs.

Improve the ROI of other energy-saving products: Window film multiplies the return on investment of other technologies such as HVAC and refrigeration. For LEED certification, window film can be applied toward five distinct credit categories.

Multiplying Sustainable Benefits

By combining window film with other energy-saving improvements, buildings can achieve even greater energy efficiency. An energy improvement plan that includes window film will often require smaller HVAC capacity than a plan without window film. Likewise, lighting requirements may be altered, compensated for with more natural day lighting. Installing window film can boost energy savings and reduce the overall payback period across multiple technologies.