When it’s time for refurbishing...

Published:  01 July, 2004

The outcome of refurbishment — the Athenaeum Building has been coverted from a derelict former library into a multi-use building by Sunderland Housing Group. On the ground floor are offices and shops. The first floor provides office space for Sunderland Housing Group. On the second floor are luxury apartments. White Young Green was commissioned to undertake this project, valued at nearly £1 million.
From left: second-floor luxury apartments; ground floor area housing offices front view of The Athenaeum building.

Paul Ellyatt reviews the issues surrounding engineering services when refurbishing a building.

Before refurbishment options are appraised, the type, age, historical and intended use of a building all need to be considered.

Refurbishment of engineering services may take place as part of a total building refurbishment, in isolation to meet changing user needs or simply because the services are at the end of their life. Generally the greatest degree of success is achieved when the fabric of the building is upgraded along with the services.


Where the fabric is to be refurbished, the aesthetic and functional drivers must be determined — for example, if the building is listed and period features need to be reinstated. Such questions, and more, will need to be addressed by the project manager. As services engineers, we need to consider as many aspects as possible and then produce options for upgrade/replacement works that will maximise the building’s use and life span.

Refurbishment works naturally require that the latest regulations and solutions are applied to existing buildings which have reached a milestone in their life cycle, and the building owner must give a great deal of consideration to issues like flexibility in use or change of use, higher user expectations, more stringent Building Regulations and energy-conservation measures.


The greatest challenge for the services engineer is usually the limited space available for services and plant space in older buildings. Together with ever greater demands for power and cooling associated with increased use of personal computers and higher occupation density, this problem has resulted in a number of building types falling into obsolescence. However, the increased emphasis on developing a sustainable built environment and conserving natural resources now appears to be preventing large amounts of building stock being consigned to waste.

The choice of demolition or new build will be determined by many factors, but it is perhaps worth remembering that fashions change and many buildings that were once thought of as little or no value are now forming some of the most vibrant spaces in areas of urban regeneration. The organic growth associated with historical development leading to a mixed use and age profile is of great value in such schemes.


It is therefore essential that as services engineers we are able to offer an understanding of the value and opportunity afforded by buildings of all ages and types and are able to work with developers and architects to deliver creative solutions which embrace not only the latest engineering standards and regulations but also the needs of the local community.

This task is further complicated by emerging issues relating to environmental sustainability such as reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and maximising the use of renewable materials.

A proactive approach that uses a combination of proven building-services technologies and innovative engineering methods with the aim of bettering the good practice targets as defined in the Energy Efficiency Office Energy Consumption Guide ECON 19 has been developed by White Young Green.

The company-wide introduction of dynamic simulation software supports us substantially in this quest, since it enables us to quantitatively predict the performance of a building at any stage from concept through to operation. The design team can make informed decisions based upon real data rather than by subjective opinion and in, the case of new build, it enables the client to visualise the building very early in the design process.

Environmental impact

Increasingly, analysis must be undertaken to determine the environmental impact of accommodation provision — to demolish and rebuild or refurbish to the highest practical standard. But whether it is a brand new, high-specification office or the refurbishment of a listed building, qualitative and quantitative analysis of the building and its services are crucial to the success of a project.

Paul Ellyatt is director for the northern offices of consulting engineers White Young Green.

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