Position Paper Introducing a Sustainable, Universal Approach to Retrofitting Residential Buildings Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Protests during the 2021 Climate Conference in Glasgow exemplified our dilemma. The establishment perpetuates old thinking, while young people demand a new approach to mitigate the impact of climate change. The authors agree with the young people, and as a solution we propose to replace the current fragmentary approach with a new holistic one. The passive house approach that was conceptualized by the University of Illinois and built in Canada in 1977 showed us that energy consumption can be reduced about half of that used in the traditional design. Seventeen years later, a European passive house was built in Darmstadt. In 2008, a demonstration house in Syracuse, NY, showed that integrated passive measures produced energy use by about half of the NY state code for 2004. At the same time, some advanced houses in the USA showed total energy use of about 70 kWh/(m2∙y). In 2008, at the first Building Enclosure Science and Technology Conference, two equally important objectives for 2030 were proposed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: (1) a 90% reduction of energy use in new buildings and (2) 50% for the retrofitting of existing buildings, i.e., to the level achieved in the 1980s. The first objective has recently been achieved in small buildings while the large residential buildings remain on the level obtained in the 2000s. Yet, the retrofitting of existing buildings (the second objective) has been a dismal failure. This paper acknowledges progress in hydronic heating and cooling involving electric heat pumps and hybrid solar panels, building automatics used for operation of HVAC, and modification of air distribution systems that comes from experience with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Furthermore, it highlights that to accelerate energy efficiency and carbon emission reductions, there must be broad public-private educational programs with demonstrations of a new generation of retrofitting. Economically and ecologically retrofitted buildings will create a new approach to real estate investment.


  • Fedorczak-Cisak, Małgorzata
  • Bomberg, Mark
  • Yarbrough, David W
  • Lingo, Lowell E
  • Romanska-Zapala, Anna

publication date

  • June 1, 2022