Sustainable Retrofit Strategies for an Existing Laboratory Building

Analysis of Building Performance



This paper analyzes sustainable retrofit strategies for an existing research laboratory building, located in a cold climate. This facility is composed of two parts - the original building built in 1947 and the additional building built in 1964. The main objective of this study was to examine current building performance and to determine retrofit strategies that can be implemented to improve building performance. Research methods included archival research, simulations and modeling, and comparison between simulated and actual energy consumption data. Original construction documents and observations were used to determine the characteristics of this existing building. Actual energy consumption data was collected for a period of three years. Using BIM software and archival data, a full 3D building model was developed for energy simulations. Detailed section drawings were analyzed to evaluate spatial and formal design intent and building skin performance. Using archival and empirical data (construction drawings and photographs) coupled with Revit and Insight 360 simulations, the building’s response to passive, environmental strategies was analyzed. Next, using WINDOW, THERM, and WUFI software programs, simulations were conducted to analyze thermal performance and moisture transfer at the typical solid and glazed facade systems. Then, full building energy simulation was conducted using Sefaira software and compared against actual energy use using collected building data. This information was used to develop a performance baseline and to account for any differential between simulated and actual energy usage of the original building design. Results were then used to determine retrofit strategies, striving to achieve sustainable and high-performance design solutions. The proposed design solutions were then also simulated using the same sequence of simulation software, and quantitative results were compared to quantify percentages of improvement from existing to retrofit conditions.

Final research results showed that the current facade systems are not well-performing. Both glazed and solid facades contribute to significant heat loss, while the solid facades also contribute to significant water retention and penetration to the interior. Meanwhile, the building utilized conventional HVAC systems coupled with steam which is delivered from a central plant. Passive proposed strategies included improvements to the exterior walls and windows, reduction of the window to wall ratio, and addition of a green roof. Active proposed strategies included roof solar panels, fuel cells, and thermoelectric facade modules. Though a single case study, the methodology presented here can be widely applied to analyze performance and inform design decisions regarding sustainable retrofitting of existing buildings.


Photo of Suncica Milosevic

Suncica Milosevic

PhD Student

University of Utah

Photo of Ajla Aksamija

Ajla Aksamija

Professor and Chair

University of Utah


1. Introduction and Background

As 60% of buildings in the United States were constructed prior to 1979 (CBECS 2012) and prior to the 1975 adoption of minimal energy performance benchmarks established by ASHRAE 90 (Laustsen 2008), there are currently more existing, inefficiently performing buildings than newer, post energy crisis buildings in the United States.

We are faced with an urgent, global responsibility to retrofit existing buildings and severely improve their energy performance, as much as 80-90% by the year 2050 (Bazaz et. al, 2018). To achieve such energy consumption reductions in a span of just 3 decades, efficient and proper retrofitting strategies of existing buildings will be crucial. However, existing research on sustainable retrofit methods for historic buildings is scarce, as most quantitative simulation methods are geared toward the new design and construction of new buildings. Yet, retrofitting of existing buildings, as opposed to demolishing them and building new buildings is more environmentally sustainable (Aksamija 2017), and the wide array of available computational technologies can assist with developing an efficient framework for quickly evaluating both passive and active retrofit strategies in to quantitatively improve performance of existing buildings.

Due to some significant challenges in retrofitting of existing buildings, associated primarily with their generalized lack of passive design strategies, outdated system technologies, inefficient spatial organization, lack of maintenance, and aging among others, this process is often perceived as economically unfeasible, uncertain, and time-intensive. It is a challenge to empirically assess building performance, extents of physical decay, or to know composition layers of solid facades despite the availability of current day scanning technologies. Designers must heavily rely on archival drawings for much of this information, which may or may not have been constructed as drawn and for which details may not have been drawn. Moreover, archival drawings illustrate optimally performing design intent, not accounting for aged decay or lack of maintenance. Thus, the risks of uncovering underlying conditions which may extend retrofit projects’ timelines and budgets persist. Beyond the scope of challenges associated with retrofitting of facades and mechanical systems, adaptations to building codes often require significant reconfigurations and re-sizing of interior spaces and their circulation, which pose additional challenges for designers.

However, despite these challenges, there are also numerous opportunities in retrofitting existing buildings. Implementing sustainable retrofit measures to achieve more sustainable performance can ensure continued, long-term function (Aksamija 2017), improve occupant comfort, health, and a general sense of well-being (Tobias et al. 2009), and ensure higher real-estate value and interest of occupancy by the users, offsetting the need for new construction (Smith and Gill, 2011). It would take decades for a new high-performance building to overcome the negative environmental impacts from new construction (Tabataabaee et al., 2015), and it is the embodied energy saved in existing building structures that provides one of the main environmental benefits of building reuse, which reduces carbon emissions (Aksamija, 2017). Achieving sustainable, high-performing retrofits can be realized through the implementation of both passive design strategies and advanced technologies, which can be analyzed and evaluated by utilizing computational simulation software programs. They allow designers to quantify, evaluate, and compare numerous combinations of potential retrofit strategies, and to select ones that offer the highest possible energy efficiency while being least invasive and cost-inducive.

The goal of this research was to utilize a combination of these methods to help inform potential and delicate retrofit strategies of a historic laboratory building. Though a single case study, the employed methods can be applied to any style of existing buildings as a process through which to analyze and quantify performance and develop sustainable retrofit strategies.

2. Research Questions and Methods

The objective of this case study was to examine current building performance and to determine passive and active retrofit strategies that can be implemented to improve building performance.

This case

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3. Research Results and Discussion

3.1 Physical State and Overview of the Case Study Building

This case study is an existing educational, research laboratory building, Hasbrouck Hall, located in a cold climate of the University

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4. Conclusion and Future Work

Final research results showed that the initial design of both the Original and Addition Building of Hasbrouck Hall did not consider environmental, passive design strategies. Moreover, both the solid and

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Rights and Permissions

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