• International Journal of Technology (IJTech)
  • Vol 10, No 6 (2019)

Urging Green Retrofits of Building Façades in the Tropics: A Review and Research Agenda

Urging Green Retrofits of Building Façades in the Tropics: A Review and Research Agenda

Title: Urging Green Retrofits of Building Façades in the Tropics: A Review and Research Agenda
Wan-Thing Hong, Kamaruddin Ibrahim, Siaw-Chuing Loo

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Cite this article as:
Hong, W., Ibrahim, K., Loo, S., 2019. Urging Green Retrofits of Building Façades in the Tropics: A Review and Research Agenda. International Journal of Technology. Volume 10(6), pp. 1140-1149

Wan-Thing Hong Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Building Design, School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, 62200 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Kamaruddin Ibrahim Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Building Design, School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, 62200 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Siaw-Chuing Loo Centre of Building, Construction and Tropical Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Urging Green Retrofits of Building Façades in the Tropics: A Review and Research Agenda

Green building development creates many opportunities for meeting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, most green buildings are new builds rather than retrofitted existing buildings. This may become an impediment for green development progress, as the issues of deforestation and land preservation remain unresolved. Green retrofitting of building façades is one of the most effective passive design strategies and permits perennial benefits for building energy performance, cost savings, and positive environmental impacts. There are a wide range of façade retrofit technologies readily available on the market at relatively low cost that require little installation time and yet can achieve similar energy performance levels as new green buildings. Notwithstanding these advantages, the uptake rates for these are moderately low. The challenges to widely implementing façade retrofitting of Malaysian office buildings are foreseen as holistic and include not just engineering and construction activities, but also social, economic, environmental, and governmental support. This paper aims to review the focus and direction of green development in the Malaysian construction industry and subsequently propose a research agenda for the rapid adoption of green façade retrofitting for local office buildings. The research agenda will commence with a survey on key factors that impede the uptake of green façade retrofitting, and then conducts energy simulations for contemporary green facade technologies (GFTs) using Building Information Modelling (BIM) software. It finally develops a decision-making tool for GFT selection based on simulated energy performance data and the key factors associated with building owners’ considerations and expectations of façade retrofitting. The final research output is expected to act as a catalyst to spur green development progress by identifying the real issues faced by the prevailing construction industry.

Building facade; Decision-making; Energy saving; Green retrofit; Simulation


The growth of urban populations has great impacts on regional climatic systems, biodiversity, ecosystem productivity, and carbon emissions. According to the United Nations (2018), 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban city by 2050, contributing to a serious urban warming issue that is a significant variable in the prediction of energy demand in urban regions.

In general, approximately 50% of energy goes to cooling buildings, and the cooling system in Malaysia accounts for 57% of its energy demand (Santillán-Soto et al., 2019). Hence, increasingly dense urban populations anticipate the rapid growth of energy consumption in buildings due to the corresponding increase in general cooling demand.

In view of environmental deteriorations due to urbanization, green building and sustainability have become dominant techniques in modern construction. Much effort has been dedicated to the development of green buildings in almost every region. Nonetheless, the existing phenomena shows green buildings are mostly new builds rather than retrofitted from the existing building stocks. In fact, existing buildings, particularly non-residential buildings, create significant amounts of greenhouse gasses with serious consequences for the environment.

Building retrofitting is expected to dominate the construction market due to being more resource-efficient by avoiding both demolition and rebuilding, which generate large amounts of waste (Sun et al., 2018). It involves only modifications of existing buildings, often with installations of new building envelopes and advanced mechanical building systems for better energy efficiency. Yang and Lim (2007) indicated that the cost of retrofitting is only about 30% to 50% the cost of demolition and reconstruction. It is expected that these current cost savings will only grow with the evolution of more advanced retrofit technologies in the market. Although retrofitting is perceived as a cheaper solution, the installation of advanced but immature building mechanical systems can be great risks in terms of operational breakdown and uncertain future maintenance cost. Conversely, the alteration of building envelopes is far more beneficial for long-term value. The latest green technologies available for building envelopes, especially for building façades, demonstrate more stable energy and cost reductions, although some of these strategies require a longer payback period. A wide range of green façade technologies (GFTs) are readily available in the market that require lower investment and less installation time and yet exhibit similar energy performances as newly constructed green buildings. Notwithstanding these advantages, the uptake rates of GFTs are moderately low in the Malaysian construction industry.

Malaysia is currently a developing country experiencing rapid urbanization (Ibrahim et al., 2018) that needs to review its existing focus on green development and determine an appropriate direction for its construction industry to meet sustainability goals. The awareness, perceptions, and expectations of building owners about façade retrofitting in existing office buildings in Malaysia should receive attention as well. Building energy performance analyses of contemporary GFTs are also crucial to assess whether these solutions are valuable enough to warrant building owners’ investments. Decision-making guidelines for GFT selection would assist building owners in their investment decisions based on GFT energy performance evaluations and other factors associated with their concerns and expectations.

This paper first reviews the progress of green development in Malaysia by evaluating the existing focus and direction implemented for achieving sustainability goals. Subsequently, it presents a research agenda with a strategized methodology focusing on Malaysian office building retrofitting. The three important objectives in the research agenda are: (1) the identification of key factors that impede the uptake of green façade retrofit; (2) evaluation of the energy performances of the latest GFTs using BIM software; and (3) the development of a decision-making tool for GFT selection based on validated energy performance data and other factors associated with the building owners’ considerations and expectations.


Retrofitting existing buildings can afford to reach optimal energy savings depending on implementing the right strategies. A variety of advanced green technologies available for façade retrofitting can save up to 50% of a building’s energy consumption, which is similar to the savings of a newly constructed low-energy building. Existing office building owners can only show interest in green façade retrofitting if its tangible benefits in energy and cost saving are made clear for each available GFT. The final decision matrix for GFT selection will serve as a foundation to educate existing building owners about the stated benefits of façade retrofitting and subsequently allow them to make investment decisions based on their affordability, existing building conditions, the energy performances of each GFT combination, and many other factors. They should always seek to prioritize retrofit strategies in passive design, especially in green façade design, and simplify active building systems while considering the tangible benefits of their retrofit decisions. The research prospect focusing on façade retrofit strategies may attract many potential investors to contribute at least “certified-rated” NREB under GBI Malaysia. A successful scenario would be many rapidly emerging sustainable cities in the country. This research does not intend to depreciate the value of advanced building systems but prioritizes and promotes a more established strategy in building retrofitting for large-scale implementation.

Supplementary Material
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