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Measuring office fit-out changes to determine recurring embodied energy in building life cycle assessment

Perry Forsythe (School of Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, Australia)
Sara Wilkinson (School of Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)


ISSN: 0263-2772

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to quantify and profile the indicative amount of retrofits in office buildings as a necessary step in quantifying the recurring embodied energy in office buildings. Buildings are a major source of energy usage and emissions, and office buildings are a significant contributor to this situation. Life cycle assessments in this area have tended to neglect the potentially large impact arising from recurring embodied energy associated with office fit-out – which is often akin to a short-term consumable rather than a long-term durable in many multi-storey buildings.


This study used building permit data from the Melbourne Central Business District (n = 986) over the period 2006-2010 (inclusive) to quantify the number of retrofits and related trends. Building on this, a small number of targeted case study buildings were used to probe specific issues in profiling trends associated with high-frequency trends arising from the main sample.


The data show that the number of retrofits varies according to location, grade, size and the age of buildings. Using the case study data, there is initial evidence to suggest that between 46 and 70 per cent of the floors in a high-rise office building will undergo retrofit in a five-year period. Further research should apply these data to recurring energy modelling for office buildings.

Research limitations/implications

One limitation which applies to this study is that the research is limited to a defined geographical area in one Australian city, Melbourne. Secondly the study covers a specific period, and the number of retrofits may be affected negatively or positively depending on the prevailing market conditions.

Practical implications

This paper raises important questions in respect of life cycle carbon emissions in the context of prevailing trends to shorter lease terms and practices around fit-out.


The retrofit of office buildings tends to go unnoticed and unmeasured in the debate about sustainable buildings. The paper provides original thought development and important measurement input which will assist in providing a more accurate and meaningful life cycle assessment of office buildings.



Forsythe, P. and Wilkinson, S. (2015), "Measuring office fit-out changes to determine recurring embodied energy in building life cycle assessment", Facilities, Vol. 33 No. 3/4, pp. 262-274.



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