Balancing preservation and energy efficiency in building retrofits

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Energy conservation has become one of the primary goals of architecture and engineering design today, especially when retrofitting existing buildings.


The desire to improve the energy efficiency of an existing building must be balanced with the need to preserve the existing structure and architectural features, as changes to the thermal and moisture properties of the building enclosure can have serious negative impacts, such as degradation of the existing masonry walls or interior finishes along with interior air quality and other moisture related issues. Prior to implementation of any retrofit option, the existing conditions must be evaluated, and the project goals must be understood. Each retrofit project is unique and must be evaluated as such.


The impact of the proposed repairs on the existing building behaviors must be understood, and the value of the energy improvements must be considered. Common retrofit strategies are found throughout the industry that lend themselves to improving the energy performance of an existing building. Such strategies include adding a continuous air barrier, improving the thermal performance of roof and wall assemblies, improving the performance of fenestration, and addressing bulk water infiltration.


Each of these strategies aims to meet requirements of industry codes and standards, but must be balanced with the preservation of the existing building, specifically when the building has historical significance. For each of these retrofit strategies, different parameters should be considered to ensure the project goals are met while ensuring the repairs provide positive impacts to the building performance.


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