Experts: Greening older buildings much trickier

Victor Kang28 May 2021

Efforts to reduce an older building’s carbon footprint is more complex since one has to deal with various existing parameters.

With Singapore aiming to green 80% of its buildings by gross floor area (GFA) by 2030, experts shared that greening older developments are much trickier than new ones, reported Channel News Asia (CNA).

Surbana Jurong Group CEO Wong Heang Fine explained that it is more complex to reduce an older building’s carbon footprint since one has to deal with various existing parameters.

“It depends on things like how the building is oriented – if it’s (west-facing), it absorbs a lot of heat during the day and then your cooling load for the building goes up, and of course, the carbon emissions will also go up,” he said as quoted by CNA.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) revealed that about 43% of Singapore’s building have been greened, while the remaining 57% are yet to be greened. The latter are buildings with an average age of 26 years, of which one-third are non-residential and the rest are residential buildings.

Recommended read: 6 Sustainable Residences in Singapore for Families Going Green

Wong noted that the materials used also play a major role in reducing a building’s carbon footprint, with brick being more insulating, while glass facades absorb more heat.

Another factor is whether the development is owned by several parties or a single entity. Not all buildings will witness the same cooperation that The Adelphi enjoyed – the owners of the building consented to the introduction of green initiatives without “much resistance”, said Jehu Chan, Chairman of the building’s Management Corporation (MCST).

Built in 1985, The Adelphi was retrofitted a few years ago to feature modern energy systems that helped it lower its annual carbon dioxide emissions by 137 tonnes – which is equivalent to the annual output of 714 four-room HDB flats.

“Getting all the owners to agree is extremely difficult … A lot of the time, the owners are not staying in (a) residential building (and they) rent it out. So to them, they don’t feel the need to invest in newer systems,” said Wong as quoted by CNA.

The large capital investment required for the greening of the building often leads to hesitation among the owners, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said Qiu Xuan, the Deputy General Manager for Comfort Management.

CNA reported that the sum can be partially offset by government grants, raised by the building owners, or financed by contractors – just like in The Adelphi’s case. Comfort Management – the energy performance contractor of The Adelphi – financed the upfront capital for the green initiatives and shared the savings with the owners.

BCA has offered building owners various cash-based incentive schemes, which includes the Building Retrofit Energy Efficiency Financing (BREEF) scheme. Under this scheme, building owners are offered a loan of up to $4 million or 90% of the total cost to implement energy-efficient equipment.

So far, over $30 million in loans have been offered to nearly 20 building owners, BCA told CNA.

And while the initial outlays may be high, the savings after the introduction of energy-efficient features often make sense. The Adelphi, for instance, saved around half a million dollars in annual energy costs, said Sanjay Samnani, Treasurer of the building’s MCST.

They also helped The Adelphi to win the ASEAN Energy Award in 2020 as well as to receive a Green Mark Platinum Certificate in 2017, which is the highest rating for a development’s environmental impact and performance.

Chan pointed that all of these enhanced the image of the buildings as well as the owners.

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Victor Kang, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this story, email:


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