How to Retrofit Americas

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RETROFIT HOW TO A Practical Sustainability Guide - Americas

We know that life is what we make it, and as one of the largest real estate companies in the world, we have the opportunity to help make an impact. We believe that living the change we want and need to see in the world is imperative. That’s why we are taking action now to positively impact the planet, by taking practical steps to implement change. To support this change, we have created the How-to Guide Series —providing you, as the investor, owner or occupier, a set of clear, actionable steps to take that you can implement right now to make assets or entire organizations more sustainable and better optimized. WE MAKE SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICAL

By living change now , we can ensure tomorrow is better for everyone.





According the World Economic Forum, 80% of the buildings today will exist in 2050. The built environment is responsible for about 40% of annual global energy-related carbon emissions. Retrofitting—capital and operational changes within the current parameters of a building’s design— is the least capital-intensive way to make our existing buildings smarter and more efficient, with reduced carbon emissions. In the following pages, you’ll find a four-step program that will guide you through how to retrofit your property and create efficient portfolios. Even the smallest changes can have an impact. Let’s get started.





BENCHMARK YOUR PROPERTY STEP 1 UNDERSTAND YOUR BUILDING’S IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT So, you’re ready to reduce your impact? Great! The first step is understanding what you’re emitting—and where your carbon and energy weak spots are. You can get started by calculating your building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which can then be benchmarked against the energy performance of similar buildings and used to compare targets to net zero.


WHAT IS ENERGY USE INTESITY? Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is a measure of whole building energy used over a 12-month period, divided by the building gross floor area (GFA). The EUI is used as a universal performance metric to benchmark a building and establish its baseline performance. Additionally, many jurisdictions in North America have passed benchmarking and building performance standards that require building owners to report their EUI annually and set long-term targets to reduce EUI and carbon emissions. HOW DOES AN OFFICE USE ENERGY? North America stretches across eight climate zones— from hot and humid regions like southern Florida, southern Texas and Hawaii, to temperate regions like the South and coastal California, and cold regions like the Northeast, upper Midwest and Canada. Energy used for space conditioning can vary significantly by location, and when planning retrofits, it is paramount to understand how a building uses energy. The charts on the right are example energy-use breakdowns, showing typical energy use in office buildings in three different climate zones.












5% 4%

4% 4%





5% 3% 4%











Hot Cold Lighting Plug Loads Pumps Fans Hot Water Heating Cooling Temperate


STEP 2 ASSESS OPPORTUNITIES FIND ENERGY CULPRITS AND FIX THEM The simplest way to upgrade your energy plan is to spot how and where energy is used, so you can create an energy-saving plan that’s good for the environment, but that also keeps your occupants happy and comfortable. This starts with an audit of where your energy and emissions are coming from and then taking action to reduce them. While there are plenty of energy efficient steps to take, in the following pages you’ll find a list of common retrofits that can be implemented easily.


RETRO-COMMISSIONING AND BUILDING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (BMS) OPTIMIZATION Existing buildings often don’t need to be completely renovated to make a big impact. Retro-commissioning brings out-of-sequence controls and mechanical components back to their original level of performance and remedies any operational deficiencies. A BMS optimization can then be used to improve the existing control strategies or adopt advanced control strategies that may not have been available or feasible when the building was built. This sequence takes into consideration the original design and specs of the building and addresses changes in space usage, occupancy and existing equipment since construction.

Did you know that anywhere from 40%-60% of a building’s annual energy use is related to the HVAC system?


Addressing HVAC efficiency may have the largest potential to achieve measurable energy and cost savings.

Continuous monitoring of the largest energy users within the HVAC system is a powerful tool to ensure high levels of performance and efficiency after the optimization.

Regularly performing energy audits can identify additional improvement areas and low- and no-cost conservation measures that reduce operating expenses and satisfy local legislative requirements.


LIGHTING SYSTEMS Retrofitting your lighting can dramatically improve your energy usage, and it’s often a quick win for a brighter tomorrow. LED LIGHTING Replacing existing lighting with low-energy LED lights, will significantly reduce the amount of energy required to light up a space. Savings on maintenance and replacement costs will also be achieved, due to the longer lifespan of LED lights. LOWER YOUR POWER DENSITY Design to the latest code of practice, or better, with lower power density. Lowering your power density means reducing wattage per square foot, while still maintaining the same light output (or lux level). LIGHT ONLY WHERE YOU NEED IT Design according to purpose by looking at how each space is used to determine how much lighting is required, and retrofit accordingly. Not every part of your building needs equal lighting. USE SMART CONTROLS Advanced sensory systems are an excellent way to employ smart devices, such as occupancy and daylight controls. They do all the thinking for you by responding to immediate lighting needs.


Buildings don’t use energy; the people who occupy and operate buildings use energy.

BEHAVIOR CHANGE It’s not just about changing the buildings to save energy. It’s about changing the mindsets of the people in them. From raising awareness about the benefits of renewable and efficient energy tactics to making sure the technologies installed are used properly—it’s up to us to change our behavior around the energy transition. Some examples of simple behavioral change include:

Ensuring occupants turn off lighting, heating and cooling after hours or at times of low occupancy.

Centralizing workplaces so that energy can be concentrated where the people are working.

Buying and using efficient appliances.

Identifying energy overuse or system failures and reporting them to the people operating and maintaining the building systems. Engaging with building occupants on energy reduction plans, like the use of signage, to indicate optimal systems and equipment operation within the building.

These measures indicate good sustainability practices and are usually associated with considerable operational energy savings in commercial buildings.


STEP 3 FUTUREPROOF YOUR BUILDING BE READY FOR FUTURE LEGISLATION AND NET ZERO With an ever-changing legislation landscape, the transition toward net zero and a decarbonized economy underway, retrofits can be a great opportunity to future-proof your building. Here are some questions you should ask: 1. What is the benchmark, and how does the building currently compare? 2. How fast are regulatory decarbonization efforts progressing? 3. What is the building’s pathway to net zero? 4. What is the extent to which the transition path is already reflected in market pricing?


RENEWABLE ENERGY The business case for powering your building with renewable energy is becoming stronger. On-site and off-site options may be available, depending on your building design, and may include solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. Installing solar cells can reduce demand-based utility costs and provide additional financial incentives in the form of tax credits and revenue from Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Understanding the potential capacity of the building roof and the entire site is the first step to a preliminary solar evaluation and savings analysis. In cases where on-site generation of renewable energy may not be practical, organizations may choose to purchase green power, which allow organizations to use renewable electricity and meet their corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets.

ELECTRIFICATION As clean energy is mostly generated in the form of electricity, electrifying traditional fossil-fuel-powered systems is necessary for the built environment to truly become zero operational carbon. Typically, this means replacing the existing oil or gas boilers with an electrically powered alternative, most commonly air- or ground-source heat pumps. While gas-fired boilers can produce water at relatively high temperatures, up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, current heat pump technology has a limited range of 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit under optimal conditions. This can present an issue where heating systems are designed for boilers. However, heating systems are commonly oversized, and existing coils may be able to sufficiently heat a building with the lower water temperatures. It is therefore recommended that a feasibility study and engineering assessment are performed to determine the limitations of the existing equipment and the most appropriate heat pump technology to replace the existing boilers.


STEP 4 RETROFIT WHERE POSSIBLE RETROFIT ACCORDING TO YOUR NEEDS Retrofitting is a great way to make a positive impact on the environment and reduce your building’s carbon emissions by up to 70%. But retrofitting isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario. There are various levels of investment that can yield different energy savings, and once you have a plan on how to retrofit your property, it’s time to execute.





• Replace the existing equipment with the most efficient option available to reduce energy use. The incremental costs for the high-performance option are typically compensated by the achieved cost savings. • The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a typical office building can cut energy use up to 25% by implementing low- and no cost measures. LIGHT-TOUCH RETROFIT


LEVEL 3 • Implement an integrated whole-building approach, including the building envelope, lighting upgrades and a mechanical retrofit. • The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that 25%-50% energy cost savings can be achieved with deep energy retrofits. • Buildings with Energy Star scores above 75 can expect savings on the lower end of the 25%-50% range, while buildings with Energy Star scores below 50 can expect savings closer to 50%.

• RCx results in meaningful savings with minimal risk and capital investment. • In a 2004 study, Lawrence Berkeley found that the median cost for RCx is 30 cents per square foot, which resulted in 16% median whole building energy savings, with a typical payback of 1-3 years. RETRO COMMISSIONING (RCx)



Retrofitting a property can be challenging, but planning well with the best energy efficiency standards can bring about a return on investment. • Know the correct sequence of implementation. Many building owners will focus on flashy measures, like renewable technologies, instead of prioritizing energy-saving measures that may not be visible. Taking a holistic approach may not only yield higher savings, but may also be less capital-intensive than looking at systems individually. For example, addressing the building envelope and reducing loads first will later allow for smaller and less costly mechanical systems. • Think long-term solutions. Replacing a gas boiler with a new, more efficient gas boiler may save energy now, but future regulations are likely to require them to be replaced in the next 5-7 years with an electric heat pump. • Consider lease events and equipment lifecycle. When planning a retrofit, it is important to understand when current leases expire and the life cycle of major HVAC equipment. This will help extend the operation, maximize revenue from the building and reduce its embodied carbon. • Don’t ignore your users’ needs. Simply because a retrofit strategy worked in a previous project doesn’t mean it should automatically be adopted on every building. Give building users the option to participate in the design process.


NEXT STEPS Retrofitting buildings isn’t always easy. There can be barriers to implementation, such as economic restrictions, regulatory challenges, lack of knowledge about what to do or how to do it, and social limitations. Our Sustainability Consultants can help you with: • Performing detailed energy audits and creating an energy strategy to guide the retrofit process. • Ongoing reporting to confirm the project will meet the goals and savings modeled in the business case. • Appropriate commissioning to ensure new systems are operating as intended. • Defining your ESG goals, removing barriers, finalizing design, appointing vendors and managing projects.

Conduct portfolio-wide asset management, asset condition assessments, desktop energy analysis and electrification studies to identify priority buildings

Portfolio Analysis

Select and carry out energy assessments to benchmark the asset and produce appropriate energy strategy for the retrofit

Energy Assessment

Appoint a design team and a contractor to carry out the retrofit

Building Retrofit

Once the retrofit is completed, ensure the building is managed to its full potential

Building Operation



The built environment is responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions each year. By 2050, 80% of existing buildings will still be operating, which means that retrofitting existing buildings represents one of the best opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. Our sustainability experts help property owners, occupiers and managers implement end-to-end retrofit programs that enhance the occupier experience, lower operating costs and mitigate environmental risk—from identifying energy and cost-saving opportunities to deploying best practices that optimize building performance. Cushman & Wakefield’s sustainability team supports our clients on their net-zero journey, from benchmarking to improving building performance. We perform energy audits and assessments to enable you to navigate the increasingly complex compliance minefield of environmental regulations and ordinances. We also proactively manage resource consumption by developing and executing a bespoke retrofit plan, and we help you demonstrate your positive environmental and social benefits through reporting and disclosure. We take practical steps across your sustainability journey to protect and enhance the value of your real estate.




THOMAS VAZAKAS Managing Director Sustainable Operations

MAX BREMNER Energy Project Manager

AFRICA RUBIO Regional Sustainability Services Director

RETROFIT HOW TO A Practical Sustainability Guide - Americas

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ABOUT CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD Cushman & Wakefield (NYSE: CWK) is a leading global commercial real estate services firm for property owners and occupiers with approximately 52,000 employees in approximately 400 offices and 60 countries. In 2022, the firm reported revenue of $10.1 billion across its core services of property, facilities and project management, leasing, capital markets, and valuation and other services. It also receives numerous industry and business accolades for its award-winning culture and commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and more. For additional information, visit

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