From updating existing structures to comply with current building codes to improving the efficiency, sustainability, and profitability of operations, building and factory managers face a tall order when maintaining older structures. In most cases, regular repairs and improvement can postpone major building projects, but eventually, every construction will reach the end of its useful and intended life.
At this point, building managers must evaluate whether it makes the best business sense to renovate, repair, and rebuild a structure or demolish it and start again from the ground up.
Evaluating the Structure
The first consideration for every building should be a thorough inspection of its main infrastructure. These systems are the most critical for the function of your operations and the safety of everyone inside the building. They can also be the most catastrophic upon failure and lead to expensive repair bills.
- Concrete. Almost all industrial and commercial buildings are built upon a concrete foundation, usually as a floor slab, column footings, or wall footings which rest on well-compacted soil or drilled/driven piles. Many other structures such as stairwells, walls, and columns are also made from concrete.
All concrete decays over time and must be repaired or replaced to avoid structural damage or even collapse. Other factors contributing to concrete deterioration include issues with the initial placement, exposure to harsh elements, freeze-thaw cycles, and corrosion of steel reinforcement.
- Roofing. The integrity of a building’s roof is critical as it’s the main protector against water infiltration and damage. Roofing can be a variety of materials, and the average lifespan of a roof varies a great deal depending on the material and the climate conditions of the area.
If roofing damage or deterioration occurs, further inspection of the structure is necessary to ensure that existing damage from leaks is not present.
- HVAC Systems. Proper heating, cooling, and airflow are other essential factors, as old and inefficient systems are expensive to operate and could lead to problems with the facility’s air quality. While replacing these systems with modern equipment may be costly, damage from poorly-operating systems can lead to cost-prohibitive repairs.
For example, if mold has been present for a significant time, a considerable amount of walls, insulation, carpeting, and other porous materials may need to be removed and replaced. Then, a full mitigation program must be deployed to ensure all mold is eliminated.
- Electrical Systems. Powering any operation is a complex task, and it all starts with the existing electrical infrastructure of a building. For commercial and industrial operations, the demands for power are significantly greater and require more time, consideration, and cost to ensure safe, effective operation.
Imbalanced loads, overloaded circuits, faulty breakers, and other problems can lead to dangerous working conditions or even fire. Fire damage is one of the fastest ways to rack up a very expensive repair bill. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that all electrical systems are robust enough for current and projected operations.
- Plumbing Systems. Older buildings often come with a host of water infrastructure problems, from lead in the pipes to leaky or inefficient fixtures. Poor plumbing can also lead to health hazards for people in the building, and leaks can lead to extensive structural damage.
Before embarking on any renovation of an aging building, a thorough inspection of the plumbing systems must be completed, including fire prevention systems such as sprinklers.
Along with a general evaluation of the overall condition of a building, an engineering firm should also perform an inspection with your specific needs in mind. For example, a building’s foundation may be sufficient for most operations, but yours requires excessively heavy loads. Or, your water intake or electrical needs require extra consideration beyond what is standard in your industry.
Retrofits and Renovation
Updating an aging building means a close look at the costs and benefits associated with the project. There is no straightforward path as each building and the needs of its occupant must be evaluated individually.
What are Retrofits?
The short answer is that retrofits are meant to replace one system with a more modern version of the same system, usually without any significant demolition work. This process is ideal when the overall conditions of a structure are good, but one or more systems within the building must be updated to make it safer or more functional. Retrofits can improve the comfort and sustainability of the building while extending its useful life.
The most common systems to retrofit are lighting systems and HVAC equipment with the goal of increasing energy efficiency or implementing clean energy solutions. These types of updates make use of existing systems in good working order (i.e., ventilation and ducts) and swap out poorly functioning pieces.
How is Renovation Different?
Renovation typically involves some demolition and removal of some parts of a building or systems within the building. Renovations often involve the wiring and fixtures, electrical and plumbing systems, or restructuring walls and other changes to improve layouts or useable space.
Renovation can also be necessary when lead or asbestos remediation is required, and is useful when seeking to expand space by adding on to existing structures. These projects are often long and costly, but can allow for significant changes to a building while extending its useful life.
Demolition & Replacement
Most structures will eventually reach the point where retrofits are impossible, and the costs of renovation are no longer in-line with the benefits that would be gained. Whether the building has sustained too much damage, is too unsafe, or contains too many outdated systems, demolition is a last resort that may be inevitable.
Beyond the cost of the tear-down and replacement, new construction often comes with additional expenses that can drive up the price significantly. For example, taxes on the land may be reevaluated, or new land acquired, and the environmental impacts of demolition and construction are increasingly scrutinized by different agencies and the public.
There are also variables in the construction industry to consider, including supply-chain delays and increasing labor costs that may drive up expenses. On the other hand, infrastructure projects can often be combined with public infrastructure initiatives and funding from local or federal governments obtained when certain conditions are met or public buildings are being improved.
Managing Aging Structures
Choosing whether to retrofit, renovate, or rebuild a structure comes down to the same considerations as most business decisions: the cost of the infrastructure investment, the time needed to complete it, and the potential gains and economic growth to be realized. The right decisions can only be reached after a thorough inspection and the consultation of professional engineers and then lining up the findings with your long-term business goals.