Retrofitting: a cost-effective way to boost efficiency

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Published: 19 June 2017


EXEX air intake screen retrofit AHU
ECEX Air Intake Screens being fitted
A shaky economic climate has led many people to adopt a 'make-do-and-mend' approach to HVAC plant rather than investing in new equipment. In fact, says John Grenville, Managing Director of ECEX, there is a useful halfway house – retrofitting – which offers an ideal opportunity to improve a building’s efficiency relatively inexpensively.
The UK has the most advanced environmental legislation in the world in the Climate Change Act 2008. This places a legal obligation on the country to cut emissions by a challenging 26% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.
 
Further evidence that we are in the vanguard of countries committed to reducing carbon emissions is evident in the government’s recently published industrial strategy, which sets out a positive framework for the low-carbon economy we need. And delivering affordable, sustainable energy is a central pillar in this.
 
However, pledges are worthless unless they inspire positive action. And there is a pressing need for us to act – there are, according to some estimates, 26 million existing homes and around two million non-domestic buildings in the UK that make a significant impact on the carbon footprint of our built environment. Most of these buildings will still be standing in 2050. They will need to be improved significantly if we are to meet our stringent carbon-cutting targets. The question is: How?

Energy performance
One important answer is retrofitting. Essentially, this means adding a component or accessory to something that didn’t have it when manufactured, but which improves its performance.
 
Retrofitting and refurbishment of existing buildings are an excellent opportunity to upgrade their energy performance. The retrofit might involve modifications to existing buildings to improve energy efficiency or decrease energy demand. Done properly, a retrofit can significantly cut operational costs, particularly in older buildings, as well as improve the comfort of occupants.
 
Non-domestic buildings account for 18% of the UK’s carbon emissions and the Carbon Trust has estimated that cutting 2005’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from non-domestic buildings by 35% could save the UK £4.5 billion a year by 2020. So there is a financial as well as an environmental imperative for retrofitting.
 
The Empire State building in New York offers a perfect example of effective retrofitting. A $20-million modernisation programme – which included everything from cleaning and re-insulating more than 6,000 windows to caulking leaks in the facade – has reduced energy use in the 102-storey building by nearly 40%.
 
But retrofit projects don’t always involve a large investment like this. And you don’t have to take on a high risk or unproven technology in order to complete a low carbon refurbishment.

Simple measure
Air conditioning manufacturers are well used to retrofitting as a concept. After all, they are obliged to employ refrigerants that meet strict environmental requirements and this can involve replacing them with alternatives as the regulations change. An alternative refrigerant capable of being retrofitted is, of course, less expensive and less disruptive than having to change the entire air conditioning system because the new refrigerant is not compatible with the system.
 
So, ‘drop-in’ refrigerants for air conditioning systems can be problematic. However, a simple measure that can boost the energy efficiency of ac systems and reduce their environmental impact is to fit ECEX Air Intake Screens.
 
These are long lasting, weather-resistant filters designed specifically for high velocity airflow applications such as chillers, dry air coolers, air handling units (AHUs), cooling towers and air conditioning units.
 
They are designed to prevent airborne debris from entering the air conditioning or ventilation system and cause irreparable damage to coils or internal filters. Lasting up to 15 years and cleaned simply using a soft brush, hose or vacuum, ECEX Air Intake Screens are the ideal first line of defence for air intake systems, reducing maintenance time by up to an impressive 70%, extending the service life of equipment, prolonging internal air filter life by up to 60%, and maximising airflow to save energy.
 
However, retrofitting is not the only answer to improving a building’s performance. Repair and maintenance also have a part to play.

Compelling reasons
The complete replacement of an AHU, for example, is not always the best option, especially if it is on a building in a built-up area or located in a position where access is limited. Refurbishment and repair will extend their lifespan, increase their operating efficiency, save energy, boost performance, and reduce running costs.
 
But there are also many other compelling reasons to choose maintenance and repair. For example, it is less expensive than replacing an AHU (typically just 35 to 50% of the cost of a new unit) and offers the opportunity to upgrade the existing specification by taking advantage of the latest energy efficient EC plug fans and components.
 
It also minimises disruption by increasing installation flexibility, reduces downtime, overcomes the transport and access difficulties associated with replacing a unit, and is more environmentally friendly because it re-uses existing equipment.
 
Furthermore, repair or refurbishment can extend the service life of an AHU by 15 to 20 years, it leaves existing services such as ductwork, pipework and wiring unaltered, and it can reduce energy consumption dramatically.

Right people
The best engineering businesses will offer a maintenance and repair service. Our own, for example, covers the repair and replacement of all types of coils, belt drives, motors, fans, bearings and spares. This service joins ECEX’s existing services, which include access safety and metalwork fabrication; mechanical engineering (from replacing pipework and valves to upgrading or downsizing water storage tanks); and energy saving and building compliance solutions.
 
The Carbon Trust has said: “Although there has been much recent focus on measures to reduce the emissions from new buildings, the existing building stock remains largely untouched and many refurbishment projects miss opportunities to reduce emissions and deliver low carbon buildings.”
 
The key to a successful retrofitting or maintenance project is to get the right people on board before you start ruling out options, and even before you set a final budget. And, of course, the right people include experts in retrofitting, repair and refurbishment of HVAC systems.
  • ECEX delivers AHU refurbishment services and is the sole European distributor of ECEX Air Intake Screens.
 
www.ecex.co.uk