Can Your Old Building Become Smart with a Retrofit? on

Sure, why not? Why a smart retrofit may now be a good option

Consider the rotary phone. In a popular video on social media, young people are unable to figure out how to use the rotary dial, and there are now millions of people who will never understand the patience it took for the mechanism to complete a zero when dialing the phone. Once considered a technological marvel, the rotary phone is all but gone—except for relics housed in museums, sitting in your great grandmother’s house, or tossed on trash heaps.

Something similar happens in commercial real estate. Many of today’s new-construction buildings come with energy-efficient materials and pre-configured for modern technology, including the latest smart technology systems. And these features are very often at the front and center of any marketing efforts. Older buildings aren’t so fortunate.

Many could be on the verge of being declared obsolete—unless owners and managers undertake a smart retrofit.

Getting smart is affordable

For years, a technological retrofit was often seen as a very expensive and perhaps unattainable option for older buildings. Because of the cost, property owners wouldn’t see a break-even payback for years to come. Very often, demolition and starting from scratch was a more viable solution.

Times, though, have changed. Technology has improved, and there are more products and greater options available—so much so that owners, depending on the scope of the retrofit, can see a break-even payback in less than a year. At the same time, a smart retrofit keeps an older building competitive in a greener marketplace and more relevant to potential tenants. It also increases the property’s overall value.

It takes homework to be smart

No two smart retrofits are alike. Some retrofits can be as simple as upgrading Wi-Fi technology or as complex as complete overhauls of various operating systems. The scope of each one is determined by several factors, including personal vision, building needs, and how much of a financial investment owner wish to or are able to make. If there’s anything all experts in the field agree on, though, it’s that it’s important to do homework prior to initiating any smart retrofit. Typically, the primary goals are to increase a building’s energy efficiency and expand its features such as maintenance monitoring and security. This involves assessing the ways that increasing network connectivity and applying new technology can make these objectives attainable.

Gathering data is the best place to start. This effort includes conducting an assessment of tenant needs, gathering information on surrounding and comparable properties, and doing a performance review of currently operating and management systems within the building.

The combination of a review of two years’ worth of utility bills and an energy audit are critical in establishing benchmarks for how efficiently the building is performing. This process can also help isolate easy fixes—such as repairing leaks and replacing filters—or pinpointing systems in which the property is losing energy and, as a result, money.

Systems most likely to go smart

Once the homework is completed, a smart retrofit doesn’t have to be a full-building project. Working with an energy engineer, it’s possible to fine-tune the project to focus on key areas. Among the most likely systems to require a smart retrofit are: windows, elevators, lighting, HVAC, security, and adding submeters, so tenants can have greater control over their energy use. At the same time, many of these systems can be easily managed through software, computer monitoring, and wireless sensors.

If this still seems overwhelming, consider the task of smart retrofitting one of the world’s most iconic buildings: the Empire State Building in New York. Begun in 2009, the project—through a series of partnerships—zeroed in on key goals. The end result is an annual savings of 38% of the building’s energy and $4.4 million, and the standard now places the building, originally completed in 1931, among the world’s newest energy-efficient buildings.

Asking for extra help is also smart

While undertaking a smart retrofit can seem overwhelming, the Empire State Building and other smart retrofit projects have taught us that owners and managers don’t have to go it alone. In fact, it’s very often recommended to work with the guidance of real estate professionals, such as those at Morris Southeast Group. Our property management services, as well as our links with energy experts in the field, can help you formulate the best smart retrofit plan for your building’s needs. To learn more about how we can help, call Morris Southeast Group at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at


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