RETROFITTING PROJECTS: HIGH CAPACITY, LOW CAPABILITIES
Architect and Interiors India|May 2021
THE HEAD OF RETROFIT PROJECTS AT UNIVERSAL VOLTAS LLC, ASHOK JHA, BREAKS DOWN THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ENCIRCLING RETROFIT, FIT-OUT, REFURBISHMENTS, AND RETRO-COMMISSIONING BEFORE DELVING INTO THE PAIN POINTS SUCH AS A LACK OF EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED WITHIN THE MEP AND HVAC SECTORS

With an increased focus on energy efficiency, nations across the world have set an ambitious target to reduce 30% of its energy use by 2030, which could result in a minimum of 1.7 terawatt-hours of energy savings and a reduction of one million tonnes in carbon emissions.

These targets are extremely essential in combating the ill effects of climate change, especially given that the existing global building stock is a leading contributor to greenhouse gases (GHG), generating approximately 40% of annual global GHG emissions.

Now, take into consideration that approximately two-thirds of the buildings that exist today will still exist in 2050.

There’s no doubt about the fact that even if every single building constructed from today is energy efficient – which is a stretch in itself – action still needs to be taken on the present-day buildings that are “fuelling the fire of global warming”.

On average, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contribute approximately 33% of a building’s total energy consumption, with major appliances such as water heating and freezers accounting for 18%, and lighting taking up an additional 10% of the power usage.

At the peak of their glory, the skyscrapers and towering buildings defining our skyline would have been well within their energy efficiency parameters, but given that many of them are now marking their 35th to 40th birthday celebrations, and are on the cusp of second childhood, the time has come to revisit their vitals – the electricity, mechanicals, and plumbing – which are keeping them alive and functioning.

FIT-OUT VS RETROFIT VS REFURBISHMENT

Speaking in an exclusive interview, the Head of FM and Retrofit Projects at Universal Voltas LLC, Ashok Jha, says: “Since the MEP industry and HVAC industry are pivoting towards sustainability and energy conservation – as they should – the need to take measures to retrofit buildings has become imperative.

“While on one hand, the time is right for retrofitting projects to go out to tender, on the other hand, it’s also time for companies pitching for these tenders to increase their scope of work, improve their workforce, and address concerns – even ones as fundamental as getting their terminologies correct.”

Jha adds: “It is unfortunate that, even in this day and age, there are companies who use broad terms such as fit-out, retrofitting, and refurbishment interchangeably.”

Retrofitting in its simplest form refers to adding new features or technology to an existing building or property – or replacing outdated features and technology with optimised, modern products and solutions – in order to elevate building performance; enhance environmental conditions in the premises; improve the comfort touch-points for the users and occupiers of the building; ensure the highest standards of safety systems; and to minimise energy consumption.

“It’s important to differentiate a fit-out project from a retrofitting project. To simplify discussions, fit-out projects are carried out on buildings in the late stages of construction, while retrofit projects are carried out on buildings that have finished construction and need to be re-visited,” Jha explains.

“Fit-out refers to the process of making the building interior space suitable for occupation after the MEP and HVAC has been installed on an under-construction building. This is very different from retro fitting.

He adds: “While fit-out might include the addition of fixtures, fuses, ducting, false ceiling, flooring, tiling, and painting on a nearly completed construction, it is still starkly different from a retrofit project.”

Another common misconception in the industry is that refurbishment and retrofitting are practically the same and require similar skill-sets and expertise.

“Refurbishment refers to the improvement of a building by cleaning, decorating, and re-equipping a building. It’s a very fine line, but one that needs to be understood. For instance, if the complete HVAC unit in a building needs to be replaced because it has exhausted its use through its lifetime – that falls within the category of refurbishment.”

In the lifecycle of a building, fit-out falls into the birthing cycle of a building, and refurbishment comes into the latestages of “transplanting the internal organs” of a building. However, retrofitting lies in the middle where the building systems need to be “educated, upskilled, and remain employable” in order to keep up with the safety, performance, comfort, technology, and carbon footprint reduction requirements and standards.

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