The Power of Existing Buildings - Forward by Dr. Wolfgang Feist

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

Your building has the potential to change the world. Existing buildings consume approximately 40 percent of the energy and emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide in the US each year. In recognition of the significant contribution of buildings to climate change, the idea of building green has become increasingly popular. But is it enough? If an energy-efficient building is new construction, it may take 10 to 80 years to overcome the climate change impacts of the building process. New buildings are sexy, but few realize the value in existing buildings and how easy it is to get to “zero energy” or low-energy consumption through deep energy retrofits. Existing buildings can and should be retrofit to reduce environmental impacts that contribute to climate change, while improving human health and productivity for building occupants.

In The Power of Existing Buildings, academic sustainability expert Robert Sroufe, and construction and building experts Craig Stevenson and Beth Eckenrode, explain how to realize the potential of existing buildings and make them perform like new. This step-by-step guide will help readers to: understand where to start a project; develop financial models and realize cost savings; assemble an expert team; and align goals with numerous sustainability programs. The Power of Existing Buildings will challenge you to rethink spaces where people work and play, while determining how existing buildings can save the world.

The insights and practical experience of Sroufe, Stevenson, and Eckenrode, along with the project case study examples, provide new insights on investing in existing buildings for building owners, engineers, occupants, architects, and real estate and construction professionals. The Power of Existing Buildings helps decision-makers move beyond incremental changes to holistic, results-oriented solutions.

Foreword by Dr. Wolfgang Feist

Founder, Passive House Institute and laureate of multiple environmental awards

The availability of large quantities of fossil fuels has fundamentally shaped and changed the way people live during the past 100 years. In industrialized countries, an average person “consumes” more than fifty times (fifty!!) the energy from commercial supply than his or her ingested energy for metabolism. The vast majority of today’s energy supply (2019) is still based on fossil fuels. In other words, it is obtained by burning the carbon extracted from coal, oil, and gas storage sites that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form. The organisms that formed these storages originally took this carbon from the atmosphere where it was contained in the form of carbon dioxide. Through our modern way of life, we are now re-introducing this carbon back into the atmosphere within the very short period of time of only a few decades. We are effectively turning the planet back into a greenhouse and thereby creating conditions under which an advanced civilization—with soon 10 billion people—can no longer exist in dignity. A very distressing outlook.

The fact is, most people feel very comfortable with the lifestyles they have gotten used to. They don’t want to compromise on large living spaces, work-saving machines, easy communication, and quick, long-distance mobility. So, is there a way out of the current distraught situation?

Yes, there is—by switching to a sustainable, circular economy based on renewable resources. In the energy sector, this transition has two main components: Firstly, the stringent improvement of energy efficiency and secondly, the use of renewable energy sources. The fact that there is immense potential for improving the level of sufficiency and efficiency is evident simply from looking at the vast and wasteful amounts of fossil fuels that are currently being consumed. Diminishing unnecessary losses, and thus increasing overall efficiency, leads to a significant reduction in total energy demand. Only if the energy needs are substantially reduced, the limited globally available renewable resources (such as photovoltaic and wind power) will suffice to provide the desired standard of living.

About forty percent of today’s final energy consumption (i.e., everything purchased by end consumers) is used to provide services in buildings—which, in turn, is clearly dominated by the needs for heating, with well over seventy percent in Europe and North America. The fundamental reason for these high-energy needs are losses through the envelope (i.e., the heat that escapes the building through walls, roofs, floors and windows). These heat losses can be drastically and effectively reduced simply by using components and applying detailing practices that have been developed and gained more and more market recognition over the past thirty years, such as thermal insulation, triple-glazed windows, thermal bridge reduction, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. This has been successfully demonstrated by many built projects around the world—newbuilds and retrofit projects.

The real challenge in terms of increasing efficiency is the existing building stock, which was mainly built during times when energy seemed to be abundant and cheap, and when efficient components were not available on the market. The good news being that existing buildings can be successfully retrofitted with the above-mentioned state-of-the-art Passive House components. If well planned, their heating energy consumption is reduced by a factor of three to five. This, in turn, makes it possible to completely electrify the services—especially the heating—and thereby enable a transition to a renewable, friendly energy supply that no longer needs to rely on fossil energy resources.

It is important to acknowledge the fact that individual building components are often retrofitted at different times, according to their own expired lifetime. These events are the exact opportunities to not just replace old components, but to improve their efficiency at the same time. If the improvements are not done at this time, it will be a lost opportunity. Therefore, it is really important to make the future-proof decisions at each of these refurbishment steps: “If you do it, do it right.”

How this can be planned, implemented, and used successfully is covered in this book. Well-planned, deep energy retrofits ensure cost-effectiveness, longevity, and comfort.

All those who envisage a sustainable future for our common cultural heritage should read this book carefully. Only by spreading the knowledge and the uptake of sustainable solutions as quickly as possible can we make the changes and progress that is absolutely necessary if we want to preserve the blessing of modern prosperity for future generations.