What is the cheapest/best ways old buildings can be retrofitted to be made more energy efficient?


Buildings are responsible for a significant portion of the net energy demand and consumption in the industrialized world (Almost 40% of the US Energy consumption). And often, it isn’t that huge shiny office downtown that’s using as much energy as the older suburban mansions. Older buildings are one of the biggest consumers of energy.

With energy demand showing no signs of abatement and the US and China responsible for consuming 35% of the world’s total energy output as of today, renovation, retrofit, and refurbishment of existing buildings represent fantastic opportunities to mitigate the rise in energy demand and ensure a better quality of life for their inhabitants.

Typically, retrofitting involves the implementation of modifications to existing buildings that improve their energy efficiency or reduce their energy demand. Retrofits that try and improve energy efficiency benefit the building in multiple ways including lower operational costs and higher redundancy for failure. Clearly, benefits such as these can prove to be a huge advantage in the running and selling of older buildings, especially when compared to similar older buildings still using legacy energy and heating/cooling systems.

Retrofitting older buildings is the need of the hour and by updating older buildings, owners will be able to not only save money on operating expenses, but also increase the value of the property on the market.

Following are some measures taken to retrofit older buildings, their benefits and the cost involved in these activities.

What Kinds Of Retrofitting Can Be Used To Make Older Buildings More Energy Efficient?

The majority of buildings today are relatively old or use dated energy consumption and storage processes. While it is easier to build an energy efficient building from the ground up, there is an obvious need for retrofitting older buildings.

There are several ways in which these older buildings can be made more energy efficient. However, there are several considerations to make before deciding the kind of retrofitting that will be most suitable for the building. These include whether the old building is up to date with current building codes and seismic upgrades, whether there are any hazardous materials and if so, whether retrofitting will need to work around them. Even simpler considerations that are often skipped like working around the residents so as not to adversely impact their lives need to be considered. The choice of retrofit will depend on the answers to these general questions.

Common steps that can be adopted to carry out retrofit jobs on old buildings:

  1. Energy Audits: A simple energy audit can go a long way in determining where the most energy is being expended. An energy audit will not only focus on appliance consumption, but also losses due to wiring, insulation, faulty sensors or leaks.
  2. Upgrade Appliances: Using the results of the audit, you can replace the identified electrical systems and/or appliances to ensure that they perform efficiently.
  3. Evaluate Occupancy Patterns: Using occupancy patterns, homeowners can enable natural lighting and focused use of appliances and electricity instead of running all the systems all the time. This not only improves the house’s carbon footprint and energy efficiency but boosts the life of appliances and general comfort level across the home.
  4. Install Renewable Energy Generation Sources: Using the energy audit as a starting point, homeowners can install solar panels, solar water heaters or microgrid wind power stations on their property or on common property to support a cluster of homes.
  5. Install Smart Utility Meters: Use smart meters to assess, meter and evaluate the performance of utilities in the house. These meters will not only help the homeowner understand their historical energy consumption, but also predict and provide alerts for current and future use, thus improving a home’s overall energy efficiency.
  6. Install and maintain a Cool Roof:  Installing cool roofs help deflect sunlight, absorb less ambient heat and improve general comfort levels within a house. There are multiple types of cool roofs –
    1. Cool Roofs that have heat reflective coatings
    2. Having light coloured sloped roofs or reflective sloped roofs
    3. Green Roofs are rooftop gardens that absorb and distribute heat across the roof.

More information about cool roofs can be found at.

  1. Install Energy Efficient Lighting: Homeowners can install and replace legacy lighting systems with LEDs. ENERGY STAR certified light bulbs use 90% less energy than incandescents and last 15 to 20 times longer.
  2. Continuous Insulation & Window Glazing: Continuous insulation of a home is important for homes in every type of climate. Insulation ensures that the temperature inside a house is consistent regardless of the changes outside. Window glazing ensures that heat due to sunlight, Infrared rays and UV rays doesn’t penetrate the environment within the home. 

Costs Attributed to Retrofitting Measures:

The costs attached to the retrofit of old buildings can depend on a variety of factors apart from the features mentioned above. A lot of the cost is linked to the location of the home, the average price for services and products in the local market, the building size, the age of the building and its utility connections, the maintenance done till date and many more. This article will focus on the average cost of purchase, installation and where necessary, maintenance for the state of California, USA. The most common costs are listed below:

  1. Energy Audits: Energy audits usually cost between $100 to $200 with a variable premium attached depending on the house size. Homeowners will need to pay an additional $100 for a 1,200 square foot home and up to $200-300 for a 2,500 to 5,000 square foot range one.
  2. Installation of Renewable Energy Generation sources: Installation of Rooftop Solar energy systems can range from $8,000 to $48,000 depending on the size of the house and the Wattage needed. A typical installation delivers a payback period of 7-10 years. An estimate of costs in your city based on KW requirements can be found here.
  3. Installation of Smart Meters: Smart Meters are fairly inexpensive and easy to install. While current smart meters are available in the market, policies in place will allow smart meters to be installed for free, with the cost of the smart meter recovered over time through the savings made on utilities. More information about these policies can be found here.
  4. Installation of a Cool Roof: Depending on the location and local environment, costs for the installation of a cool roof can vary significantly. Single-ply cool roof membrane costs can range from $1.50–$3.00 per square foot and regular cool roof coatings on a low-slope roof may range from $0.75–$1.50 per square foot.
  5. Insulating your home and glazing your windows: The average cost for insulating a 500 square foot home can range between $150 to $300.
  6. Install Energy Efficient Lighting: LED Light bulbs cost anywhere between $1.5 – $4 depending on the wattage, luminescence and brand of the bulb.


As you can surmise, retrofitting old buildings doesn’t have to be difficult if a holistic approach is taken to the process. Retrofitting older buildings is the need of the hour and by updating older buildings, owners will be able to not only save money on operating expenses, but also increase the value of the property on the market.

If you’re committed and clear with your intent to move forward, it is best to take the advice of an engineering expert and a design expert before commencing a retrofitting project. If you live in California and you want to know how to go about this process, contact Design Everest. You’ll have access to the best structural engineers, architects and a dedicated project manager! Our experienced team will help you navigate the process of retrofitting your property and help you build a stronger and more resilient neighborhood.

Call us at 877-704-5687 to get a free consultation and learn more about retrofitting for energy efficiency and we can have the experts on our team help you!

Overall a very streamline and pleasant experience. I love the communication.

-Anne R, past client with a seismic retrofit project

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