Improving Existing Housing

In almost every country today, the greatest housing deficit is qualitative, not quantitative. Many residential buildings in informal neighborhoods have been constructed without consideration of building codes due to a variety of factors, including lack of code enforcement, lack of incentives, financial limitations, or construction that predates modern building codes.

Build Change and partners have retrofitted more than 142,000 houses worldwide. It is possible to strengthen and renovate existing housing at a lower cost to building new. Keep reading for examples, and contact us to start or expand your existing home strengthening program. 

Image of builder working on retrofit construction

Advantages of Retrofitting

Most informal houses can be made safer both quickly and affordably, using solutions that already exist. Retrofitting has a wide range of societal, environmental, financial, and political advantages.

A Retrofit in Nepal


Image of before a construction retrofit in Nepal


Image of after a construction retrofit in Nepal

It is cost efficient. Build Change has found that the average cost to upgrade housing is 23% of the average cost of building new housing. Read more in the Cost of Improving Vulnerable Housing

We work with local builders, engineers, materials producers, and governments to improve the traditional building techniques already employed in the area. This means that the buildings we contribute to are culturally appropriate and the techniques can be implemented sustainably in the future.

It is simpler than larger infrastructure efforts. In many cases, small, inexpensive solutions can make a big difference, reducing vulnerability quickly and improving living conditions.

It avoids delay. Through improving existing housing, lengthy bureaucratic processes typically associated with new construction are kept to a minimum.

It puts the homeowner first. Retrofitted houses are improved, strengthened versions of the houses that families lived in already, and which they chose to build or buy originally.

Our homeowner-driven reconstruction and retrofitting approach enables families to live in safer houses. Working alongside Build Change-trained builders and governments to implement safe building standards, homeowners have ownership over the entire process from supporting the design of their new houses to supervising construction.

It avoids relocation. Retrofitting bypasses the broader social and economic consequences associated with relocation, such as disruption to livelihoods, education, and social and support networks.

A Retrofit in Haiti


Image of before a construction retrofit in Haiti


Image of after a construction retrofit in Haiti

It has a reduced environmental impact. The building and construction sector is responsible for almost 40% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions. We estimate there’s an opportunity to save 4.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions while addressing the more than 268 million inadequate houses globally. Read more in Saving Embodied Carbon Through Strengthening Existing Housing.

It supports urban densification efforts, and saves additional investment in new utilities, roads, and infrastructure. Improving existing housing on land that has already been developed reduces expansion of the urban footprint into protected or agricultural land, and reduces the need to assign new land for urban development.

It can change embedded construction practices. Resilient housing programs can build local capacity in the use of disaster-resistant, code-compliant techniques to reduce bad practice across future construction. Local engineers and builders can be trained to design and construct retrofit solutions, which promotes an understanding of the key weak points in the construction practice that led to the existing vulnerability. These skills will be used in the future to design and build safer structures, spreading this knowledge beyond the houses involved specifically in the program.

Learn more about our training and workforce development programs.

It addresses multiple concerns. By making improvements to existing housing, governments can address multiple concerns simultaneously, to maximize impact. Disaster mitigation measures can be coupled with improvements to living conditions, such as lighting, ventilation, and sanitation, while construction activity can stimulate local economies and support small and medium-sized businesses.

In the long term, improving homes can increase real estate options, for example, through adding a second or third story, or through mixed-use housing (combined residential/commercial use).

A Retrofit in Guatemala


Image of before a construction retrofit in Guatemala


Image of after a construction retrofit in Guatemala

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