Developed by NYSERDA, RMI, Building Energy Exchange, and Urban Land Institute, the Retrofit Playbook for Large Buildings offers a living library of case studies, technical resources, and best practices to support high quality, low carbon retrofits. By utilizing the solutions and strategic planning tools presented here, building owners and their teams can develop decarbonization roadmaps that create asset value, reduce emissions, and enhance the resilience of their assets. Start planning now and explore our educational resources to inform your decarbonization journey.

Learn from real-world case studies.

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Follow the 3-step strategic planning approach to generate an action plan for your building.

Step 1: Examine Current Conditions

Modernizing building energy systems is unavoidable over time. Systems require maintenance and well-planned investments as asset renewal strategies change and energy economics evolve. Starting with a comprehensive examination of the asset conditions empowers building owners and engineers to incorporate investment events into plans for building systems upgrades and emissions reductions.

Building System Conditions


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Potential Events

  • Equipment nearing end of life
  • New heat source potential
  • Shifting tenant loads
  • Poor indoor air quality
  • Façade maintenance
  • Resilience upgrades

Asset Conditions


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Potential Events

  • Repositioning
  • Recapitalization
  • Capital event cycles
  • Tenant turnover/vacancy
  • Carbon emission limits
  • Tenant and investor sustainability demands
  • Building codes

Market Conditions


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Potential Events

  • Technology improves
  • Market supply and demand changes
  • Policy advances
  • Utility prices fluctuate
  • Infrastructure transitions
  • Fuels phase out
  • Assets are stranded

Step 2: Design Resource Efficient Solutions

Resource efficient engineering looks at emissions reduction holistically. It prioritizes the creation of a long-term action plan that illustrates how to phase in solutions over extended timelines to yield achievable, cost-effective, and environmentally responsive retrofits. This approach is being implemented in real-life projects, and occurs in five phases:

Building Energy Use Over Time

Energy from Fossil Fuels

Energy from Electricity

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  • Understand system function
  • Disaggregate load profiles
  • Identify heat waste & recovery opportunities
  • Envelope improvement
  • Control optimization 
  • Ventilation improvements 
  • Dedicated outside air system
  • Hydronic distribution 
  • Lower heating supply temp
  • Terminal units replacement 
  • Waterside heat recovery
  • Airside heat recovery
  • Wastewater heat recovery
  • Thermal energy networks
  • Air source heat pumps 
  • Water source heat pumps 
  • Geothermal 
  • Thermal layering
  • Heat pumps
  • Thermal storage 
  • District thermal network 
  • Grid-interactivity

Step 3: Build the Business Case

The objective of this step is to determine the optimal retrofit solution and phasing for building decarbonization. The evaluation should focus on the cost effectiveness of distinct, alternate scenarios for reducing emissions, based on the identified technical approaches, implementation timelines, and alignment with capital plan and asset management criteria. This net present value analysis should account for the costs and risks of a business-as-usual approach alongside the costs and value of building decarbonization. The result delivers a decarbonization action plan that meets the financial needs of the building, with investments tied to long-term objectives related to the business triggers identified above in Step 1.

Quantifying the Costs and Benefits of a Decarbonization Plan


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Retrofit Costs

What investments can be made in integrated engineering solutions, over time?

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  • Reduce loads
  • Reconfigure systems 
  • Recover heat 
  • Partial electrification 
  • Full electrification

By phasing solutions, reactive investments are avoided. 

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Avoided Costs

What costs can be avoided or replaced using strategic planning?

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  • Routine maintenance
  • Equipment replacement
  • Fit-outs
  • Refreshes
  • Repositioning 
  • Cooling and ventilation improvements 

Decarbonization planning incorporates regular maintenance with upgrades, to retrofit efficiently.

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Avoided Risks

What risks are associated with a business-as-usual approach?

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  • Tenant retention
  • Energy prices
  • Fines
  • Regulations
  • Valuation
  • Reputation
  • Obsolescence
  • Stranded assets 

Quantifying all risks enables holistic decision-making.

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Added Value

What value is added
beyond bill savings?

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  • Incentives
  • Valuation
  • Exit yield
  • Sustainability
  • Green leases
  • Insurance access
  • Debt capital access
  • Resilience
  • Thermal comfort
  • Cooling
  • Ventilation
  • Occupant health
  • Reputation 

Building modernization unlocks far-reaching benefits.

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Completing these three steps results in a Strategic Decarbonization Action Plan that is responsive to a building’s technical and financial circumstances.

Conceptual Emissions Reductions with Strategic Decarbonization

Start building value today while working toward a decarbonized future. 

Partners in Strategic Decarbonization

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Empire State Realty Trust

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Hudson Square Properties

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Paths Development LLC

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L+M

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Amalgamated Housing Corporation

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Boston Properties

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Brookfield Properties

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Lefrak

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Vornado