Insights January 26, 2024

Retrofit vs Refurbishment

< Back to Insights

What is the difference between retrofit and refurbishment?

Retrofit is more thorough than refurbishment. A retrofit will improve the energy efficiency and comfort of a building, as well as to make it more attractive and functional by, for example, improving the insulation of walls, floors and roof, improving the airtightness, installing high performance windows and doors, and renewing services, often including renewables.

Refurbishment is a more general term that refers to any modernisation of a building. This can include updating the décor, replacing lighting, appliances, and repairing structural damage. Refurbishment can make a building more appealing and help it function better, but it often won’t have an impact on its energy efficiency or the overall sustainability.

Generally on our domestic projects we try to retrofit wherever we can and refurbish where that’s not possible.

If a client is committed to the process, we encourage a deep energy retrofit, which involves a more systematic approach, and several upgrades at the same time. This process will involve more detailed energy modelling to ensure measures taken complement each others.

Retrofitting existing buildings will play a hugely important role in achieving our climate targets. Giving old buildings new life avoids building new ones from scratch – this saves carbon, and saves the remaining carbon budget for more important things like healthcare and education. Historic homes are often uninsulated and draughty: very expensive to heat. A sustainable retrofit will achieve low operational costs over time, and we can help our clients compare the up-front investment with the future benefit.

It’s now critical that we make the country’s homes more energy efficient to create warm, healthy, affordable homes and ideally meet the government’s net zero target sooner than 2050. It’s only by meeting and exceeding these targets that we can stabilise the rising temperatures, extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding seen around the world in recent years. One organisation committed to scaling this approach in the UK is the National Retrofit Hub who are bringing together many involved in the retrofit sector to share expertise and enable a National Retrofit Strategy.

You can learn more about some of the ideas discussed here in one of our recent projects, Mid Terraced Dream:

Mid Terraced Dream



Let’s have a chat about your vision and
how we can help you realise it.

Collective Works are an architecture & design studio. Our network of professionals will create your perfect solution.