UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Refurbish or replace? Life cycle carbon footprint of non-domestic buildings

30 November 2016

Refurbish or replace? Life cycle carbon footprint of non-domestic buildings

By Jamie Bull


Dejan Mumovic

Fuzhan Nasiri

Industrial Supervisor/Sponsor:

Judit Kimpian

2010 - 2015

Whether to refurbish or replace is a much-discussed topic in the area of sustainable buildings. There are always trade-offs to be considered when taking such decisions, and it is the place of engineers and consultants to advise on those trade-offs.

However consultants and engineers have only fulfilled a part of this role up to now, in part due to lack of access to information, and in part due to the lack of a standard method for assessing the options.

The dominant metric for the decision on whether to pull down an existing building and put a new one in its place is the bottom line - the life-cycle financial cost. Decision-makers also tend to discount future costs at a rate that means that only near-term costs actually influence their decision.

This narrow boundary and short time horizon is at odds with the move towards wider life-cycle thinking. A fuller set of boundaries would include the environmental and social cost of emissions to air, water, etc., as well as the value to society of the existing building and the potential value of the proposed replacement.

My research is intended to produce guidance for real estate portfolio managers such as schools estates and council property managers which takes into account their financial and practical objectives, but also includes the wider impacts of their portfolio management strategy.