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Let’s Get (Energy) Fit for the Retrofit Revolution! An URBACT article by Paul Ciniglio

November 26, 2012
Darmstadt University of Applied Science - Department of Design in 2012

A couple of weeks ago URBACT Secretariat has asked the members of the Capitalisation Workstream ‘Building energy efficiency in European cities’ to write an article for the URBACT Tribune magazine in view of the workshops to be held in the Annual Conference at Copenhagen. Paul Ciniglio has taken the lead, Kleopatra Theologidou and myself read it many times and provided inputs, the URBACT Secretariat followed the process and commented in depth. In a real co-production process the article has been written and re-written many times and on the conference website you can find the final version. Here is an earlier draft version which was almost twice as long as requested and with another title. Well, it is long, but it is also informative and it reads well.

The built environment of European cities must urgently get into shape so that it is fit for the future.  To achieve this transformation, owners and occupiers of buildings will need to be persuaded to make their assets more efficient so that they save and produce their own energy. Not only will this require unprecedented investment, our cultural city centres must be preserved in the process.

This is no ordinary task, it is without doubt amongst the most challenging prospects Europe has ever faced. Investment in the UK alone to meet national retrofit targets would be the equivalent of building the Olympic games from scratch every year.

To put the scale of the response required in context, in just the time it takes you to read the introduction to this article, it is projected that 50 homes and 12 non residential buildings in Europe need to have been retrofitted to an advanced energy efficient performance standard. Unless this rate of progress is made, the EU will fail to meet its obligations for rapidly slashing climate change emissions. Can such a retrofit revolution be instigated and is the political will really in place?

As the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive raises requirements and continues to bite, all member states need to develop an even more robust strategy to lowering the environment impact of their buildings. This approach must reduce energy waste and consumption while improving energy efficiency and on site generation from renewables.   

The goals, challenges and operational landscape are as similar as they are diverse. Northern England lies on the same latitude as Southern Sweden but energy standards vary; The South East England and Southern Spain are equally water stressed regions; affordable warmth and affordable cooling are becoming essential throughout Europe.

Despite the similarities, few pan European approaches are emerging of how to effectively deal with retrofitting while we pursue the same goal of getting existing buildings into a fitter shape of energy health. Does the extent to which the problem should be dealt with as an integrated European approach require further debate at a political level?  

As we embark on the long retrofit journey to make our cities fit for the future, it is essential that the EU does so from a common point of understanding and one free from impediment so that the important early steps we take together are in the right direction. The URBACT ‘Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities’ workshop in Copenhagen will examine the obstacles, propose solutions to overcome these and lobby for retrofitting to become a main stream reality throughout Europe.

It is clear that a multitude of barriers will need to be overcome if we are to collectively realise our European retrofitting aims. If tangible progress is to be made year on year in order to reach our targets, next year is arguably the last year in which politicians and policy makers have to overcome the principal obstacles to retrofitting so that climate change can be seriously tackled. If we fail to rapidly pick up the rate of retrofitting, the task in later years will just not be possible to address.

European policy on retrofitting continues to mature, action must now follow. Despite the most difficult times of austerity, the economic benefits of mass retrofitting could be the best opportunity to pull the EU out of recession. Just like any fitness campaign, there will be no gain without pain.

The catalysts to making retrofit main stream action must be found. This article primarily focuses on three interwoven drivers for change. The first is to stimulate demand for retrofit by improving its appeal to building owners. The offer must be attractive and ideally will be made at a time to match demand for refurbishment work. The second is ensuring that adequate long term and affordable sustainable finance is in place while simultaneously tackling user behaviour as an essential aspect of making the financing work. The third issue considered is to preserve and enhance our unique urban heritage so that it can continue to be enjoyed and celebrated by subsequent generations.  A much broader understanding of workable solutions to these and other issues surely must be found and disseminated without delay.

Darmstadt University of Applied Science – Department of Design in 2010

How can retrofit demand and appeal be stimulated?

Building owners and users must firstly be made aware of the benefits that retrofitting can bring. Unless this happens we are going nowhere with our fitness campaign of placing the EU’s buildings on a strict energy diet. But how can we demonstrate that sustainably retrofitted buildings really are better quality buildings?  Consumers will need to understand that lower running costs means higher operational profits or disposable income, at present the suspicion is that far too many building owners or occupiers are completely ignorant of their energy consumption levels and patterns.

Are corporate building occupiers aware that the process of retrofitting offers the opportunity to improve the working environment in comfort terms leading to reduced costs associated with absenteeism? Do they know that improved productivity can be achieved where the opportunity is taken coinciding with retrofit to make the layout of the building more ergonomic to suit function or to adapt it to meet new production processes?

The over ridding factor that makes a building sustainable is the level of demand it is in to be occupied, put another way, how desirable it is. Beyond location factors, another key product of this demand that is invariably overlooked but needs to be better understood is the energy efficiency characteristics of the building. In an extreme case, a building having very poor energy efficiency performance will become undesirable and in time unfit for purpose.

Poor sales and letting potential means long term vacancy of an unoccupied asset. The consequence of this is loss of income for the owner, a decline in the visual amenity of our city centres, dereliction and ultimately carbon intensive demolition and redevelopment.

The trend of migration to city centres in recent years is well known, however, the preference in future for businesses and families could see demand shift to modern buildings located out of city centres where comfort and energy standards are higher and mobility is easier.

While there is general consensus amongst professionals working in the energy related sectors that the rate of retrofitting activity needs to rapidly increase, the challenge is how we communicate the benefits of healthier retrofitted buildings to those outside of the sector that have little interest in energy? Many simple but effective retrofit interventions are not even visible to the building owner which presents a problem when arguing for investment in energy efficiency interventions.

Darmstadt University of Applied Science - Department of Design in 2012

Darmstadt University of Applied Science – Department of Design in 2012 Cornelsen+Seelinger Architekten

How do we get the retrofit offer and its timing right?

Communicating the retrofit offer and getting its timing right is going to be essential if demand to improve the energy performance of buildings is to be voluntarily created, rather just like choosing to go on a diet.

Is it the case that retrofitting is at present the victim of a market wide communication failure, a virtual ‘circle of despair’? To elaborate, Clients are unaware of the benefits of retrofit; designers are not fully aware of the options, are fearful of the competence of installers and the products they use and don’t want to increase the client’s budget; contractors are not presented with useful designs and don’t develop the skills required; while in turn purchasers are not pushed for the right products and so the circle revolves rather than resolves itself. If this is true how do we break this cycle and what is the motivation for putting a building on an energy fit diet?

Clients are rightly often fearful of the disruption that retrofitting work will bring and the consequential loss of business and amenity. To alleviate this, much greater emphasis will need to be placed on taking advantage of ‘retrofit trigger points’ or ‘golden moments’ that arise when traditional refurbishment work is being carried out. The added costs of making the refurbishment green at this time is likely to be marginal and will bring energy bill savings. It is important that these opportunities are seized so that they are not missed.

Engaging the army of small local builders in the EU to improve their skills and understanding of these ‘golden moments’ must surely be addressed so that they can up sell their retrofitting services at the most opportune time. How else can the circle of despair be broken down?

To what extent does sharing experience and making retrofit visual help?

Have pilot projects been successful in generating demand for retrofit? Do we need more good quality examples of retrofit that citizens can learn from, as after all the success of a personal diet is often best learned from a trusted fellow dieter?

Purchasers generally like to see firsthand what is available to them and retrofit is likely to be no different in this respect. This barrier to generating demand is beginning to be overcome in the UK by the Sustainable Energy Academy’s ‘Old Home, Super Home’ network.

Old Home Super Home

Old Home Super Home

Over 100 home owners who have retrofitted their homes have joined forces to showcase retrofitting to the public on open days.  Public interest in the show homes has been immense with over 20,000 visitors on average each year learning about a broad range of retrofit techniques. The power of the network is the impartial learning exchange between visitor and the home owner. The SEA estimate that more than 25% of visitors to a show home go on to spend over €5000 on their own home following the visit.

The show home pictured in the Street above was part of the ‘Retrofit South East’ project and received over 400 visitors including the local MEP. Here residents of the affordable housing where responsible for helping to determine the future of their prefabricated homes which were taken from a band ‘E’ to a band ‘A’ EPC rating. The retrofitted homes have put pride back into the local community.

For public authorities and those responsible for a large property portfolio, scoping exercises of the retrofit potential can be an effective approach to helping to clarify what is possible and to help plan large scale retrofit programmes spanning several years of investment. The London Borough of Sutton  undertook a survey that took a snap shot of the energy performance of the different archetypes of housing in its area of operation. It then overlaid social and economic data to see where resources could best be deployed to maximise retrofitting potential. Are these leading study plans being transformed into action?

What is the role that other professions have in generating demand for retrofit such as Real Estate Agents? Should they be actively helping to reverse the current public apathy towards EPC’s? Is there a case for capitalising the value of a home as a result of the retrofit improvements and how much could this create added incentive and demand for retrofitting homes in the marketplace? Energy labelling of electrical appliances is the effect needed for purchasers of housing but could this ever be achieved?

A sustained television advertising campaign can be a powerful tool in selling the benefits of energy fit renovation to the wider public. To what degree could well known TV personalities help to change customer attitudes, generate interest and appeal in becoming Energy fit.

 If retrofit needs to be taken from the micro scale of home by home, to street by street and ultimately city by city, should the role of public figures held in high esteem be explored further to help increased demand? To what extent could such a programme help to build on the good work of the EU Covenant of Mayors initiative and their responsibility to produce an action plan for energy saving in a reasonable period of time to deal with the problems from a holistic point of view?

For progress to be made, citizens must ultimately want more energy efficient buildings and we must understand their motivation to act and appeal to this inclination whether it is to make their building look better, be more comfortable to live or work in, or to safeguard against fuel price inflation for instance. The challenge for us is perhaps how to get everyone talking about retrofit in a positive and enthusiastic manner.

 How can the bill for retrofit be paid for?

To finance retrofitting on the scale required across Europe a degree of innovation and experimentation is likely to be needed until finance mechanisms can prove their worth. A raft of difficulties to financing retrofit exist and solutions must be found to overcome these. It is not possible to completely separate the technical approach to retrofit to the financial approach so the risks must be understood and carefully managed or mitigated by all parties in reaching a finance proposition.

Another key problem, as with all financial investments, that is particularly relevant when retrofitting is predicting the future market conditions. What is the effect of extremely volatile energy supply prices or the costs of renewable energy equipment in world markets or increases in building insurance premiums as a result of more extreme weather events? These and other factors could have an adverse effect on the financial viability and the urgency of making our buildings energy fit for purpose.

The principal retrofit finance problem is one of return on investment and in the first instance it will invariably be necessary to convince or persuade a building owner that investing in energy efficiency is a sensible thing to do. Only by taking a long term view of the investment can this be easily justified and the problem is often exacerbated where building owners or occupiers do not intend to remain in their property based assets in the longer term.

Traditional mortgage based loan finance can be seen as an undesirable burden that encumbers the owner necessitating more innovative financial approaches. The problem then arises, particularly so at present in the wake of the financial crisis, that lending institutions are reluctant to lend against new finance mechanisms that are perceived as higher risk and this is unfortunately slowing alternative ways of financing retrofit coming to be widely available in the market place. Can this be overcome?

Public authority owned and occupied buildings are in a favourable position in which to benefit from retrofitting. Not only does the long term interest exist, the savings in the running costs that are realised following eco-renovation remain with the public authority enabling the payback or return on investment to be more easily achieved.

Where public authorities own but do not occupy buildings, typical in the case of housing, the justification to act is less obvious from a purely financial perspective. Having made the investment in the retrofit work, the age old problem that the benefits from running cost savings accrue to the occupant and not the investor are presented and are not easily reconciled. The ongoing funding squeeze on Local Authorities only acts to underline the difficulty they face in advancing retrofitting.

There are, however, other justifications to prevent financial barriers from preventing work proceeding. These may include a duty to provide affordable warmth to a more needy group in society, health benefits and reduction in emissions of an overall property portfolio.

Solutions have been found to this problem where government legislation exists such as the ‘Warm Rent’ approach in the Netherlands which allows a Landlord to increase the rent charged for a property where the building has undergone an energy efficient overhaul. Carbon trading such as ‘White Certificates’ is another means of reducing the burden to property owners.

Retrofit is able to attract EU Cohesion funding through the European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) subject to match funding. The current ERDF fund for 2007-13 was €201 billion with €55 billion allocated to the competitiveness and employment objective. In 2009 rule changes to the structural funds allowed regions to allocate up to 4% of ERDF budgets to the retrofitting of social housing. CECODHAS housing Europe have witnessed mixed success with the uptake of funds by their members set aside for this purpose. The proportion of ERDF funds available for energy efficient retrofit from 2014 is expected to substantially increase. The challenge will be to make sure that blockages to funding allocation are cleared throughout the EU and that the full quota of resources is used effectively for its intended purpose.

How should user behaviour and the role of innovation in relation to retrofit finance be dealt with?

As already introduced, a common problem to paying for eco-renovation is that the investor is normally relying on the energy cost savings achieved post retrofitting to make repayment work. While energy modelling can be undertaken before work commences to predict the typical savings that the occupier should achieve under normal conditions, the reality post retrofit can be very different. The all important influence of user behaviour, which is notoriously difficult to control, becomes central to the investment working because this issue makes energy cost reductions uncertain.

The variances in actual performance across a programme of retrofitting similar measures to multiple homes will usually produce very different results when evidenced by monitoring. While average performance will be apparent, there is typically an extreme deviation between the most profligate and most economical energy users. Can this risk ever be effectively mitigated?

To improve the likelihood of achieving running cost savings, occupants of buildings should ideally be included in the retrofit process from its inception through to completion and central to this involvement should be incorporating them in an energy behaviour change campaign. For housing based projects this will often benefit from a community wide approach. Either way, the behaviour change programme should not be a bolt on to the retrofit process, it must be an integral part. After all, energy fit buildings require energy fit users if the investment is to work. There are many good examples of community based energy campaigns in the EU. Which are the most effective and need to be replicated to make project outcomes more certain?

The role that innovation is to play in advancing retrofit needs to be determined. How cautious should this be while still allowing progress to be made? In all probability the answer will lay in getting the appropriate fit between the innovation used and the occupant. Complex active electrical and mechanical innovation such as building services must be sufficiently easy for the occupants to be able to control to ensure optimum performance can be achieved. Far too frequently active systems are specified which occupants are unable to cope with.

The experience gained from the expansion in passive approaches to new buildings and retrofitting are a good example of where the certainty of outcomes in terms of energy and running cost savings predicted and achieved have been improved. Passive approaches are influenced much less by the occupant and by their very nature almost make the occupant green by default. What is the right balance between passive and active approaches to retrofit?

Particular care should be taken when considering experimentation with innovation. Subjecting the most needy in society who are generally on lower than average incomes with new types of innovative technology is highly questionable. According to Jan Dictus this juxtaposition should be avoided altogether as “Their home is all they have and it is not fair to experiment with it or them”. It is indeed true that shortcomings in technology can lead to untold strain on a family.

What about IT? Clearly it can assist with performance data collection but what about smart applications where heating can be remotely controlled by a mobile phone to suit changing weather patterns? Systems are now available that are capable of learning the typical energy consumption patterns of occupants and using these as the default memory control setting. Is this the right type of approach for the future?

What examples of retrofit finance are already being used?

There are many approaches to finance in operation in the EU although they are often bespoke to the member state. In Denmark the retrofit agenda is viewed as an essential part of the well being of the nation and a small proportion of the taxation system is specifically allocated to a retrofitting fund.  In Italy up to 55% of the energy renovation costs can be covered by the State over 10 years via tax incentives. These and other national and regional initiatives have driven a major reduction of the environmental footprint in the building sector in the last decade.

In the UK the main form of subsidy for retrofit is paid for by consumers direct to energy suppliers who then recycle the funds and distribute these to projects to achieve carbon savings or affordable warmth benefits. A new programme called the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is due for launch in 2012 and will see £1.3billion invested in parallel with the Government’s flagship environmental policy the ‘Green Deal’, the UK’s first serious attempt to finance mass retrofitting of both residential and commercial property.

Retrofitted Social Housing Estates in Harsfa - Budapest

Retrofitted Social Housing Estates in Harsfa – Budapest

Case study – Revolving Retrofit Guarantee Fund (RRGF), Global Environmental Social Business (GESB), Hungary

The RRGF model, originally developed by the World Bank, has been highly successful in Central and Eastern Europe with over 100,000 homes in these regions already having benefitted from retrofit loans using the non asset based finance programme. Borrowing takes place against a cash deposit guarantee fund. In the event of default on loan repayments to banks, arguably the biggest risk to lenders, the lender has the option to draw down on 5% of the guarantee fund as security. The experience of GESB’s programme in Hungary is that the loan eligibility criteria adopted has resulted in close to zero defaults on portfolios of loan repayments. In this way the lending is effectively de risked and becomes more affordable. The model has unrivalled leverage potential especially as the fund revolves. Take up of the socially orientated RRGF loans has been good as tenants feel more secure than relying on traditional loan finance. The improvement in aesthetic is clear following retrofit and has helped to increase the capital value of the 300 apartments in Budapest.

How can cost and carbon savings best be reconciled?

While robust zero or nearly zero carbon standards for new buildings have to be adopted, new energy efficient buildings represent a tiny proportion of the approach needed to reduce emissions from the EU’s overall built environment in the long term. Furthermore, new low carbon buildings are an expensive and slow way of tackling the problem.

Can it be argued, perhaps controversially so, that the standards demanded for new buildings are being set too high? Should they be reduced allowing some of the higher investment that would have been spent to be redirected to concentrate on tackling existing building retrofit or renewing an ageing energy infrastructure? After all, this represents over 99% of the EU’s emissions problem? A balance needs to be struck. The recent work of the ‘Zero Carbon Hub’ and so called ‘allowable solutions’ enabling a developer to buy out of residual carbon emissions is of interest for the future.

There is much talk within Europe of ‘cost optimal retrofit’. Essentially this considers the ratio of money spent to the amount of carbon reduction achieved. Selecting the most appropriate retrofit strategy for the building will help to produce the most favourable results. But is a general consensus emerging in Europe regarding the cost optimal level of investment that achieves the most effective reductions in pre-retrofit emissions? In other words how deep can we afford to cut?  What level of energy fitness are we expecting existing buildings to ultimately reach?

The approach to retrofit also demands our attention. Is it more effective for example if a house is retrofitted just once adopting a holistic package of retrofit measures or are single or piece meal interventions introduced over time the better approach? The answer will depend on many factors, not least cost, but we should be mindful that persuading a building owner to take out additional retrofit loans in the future could be difficult.

When considering the urban dimension, opportunities for smarter and more cost effective approaches that bring economies of scale to retrofit can arise. For example installing district heating and combined heat and power plant in densely built zones will proportionately reduce the costs of becoming energy fit. The role of ESCO’s and smart grid infrastructure must be planned well in advance as integrated solutions.

Beyond the purely capital cost of retrofit works, there are other costs which aren’t always apparent or fully taken into account at the outset of a project. The costs associated with energy assessments, obtaining legal consents, temporarily  decanting occupiers from properties if necessary, staff time with community support during the emotive retrofit phase and professional fees all need to be borne in mind.

What about the role of professionals?

The role of architects and other professions in advancing high quality retrofit is likely to be imperative. Getting the detailing right will be crucial to avoid creating problems with future maintenance. Indeed, the retrofit process should be viewed as an opportunity to reduce long term expenditure on maintenance by tackling the two simultaneously.

The Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE-CAE)  have realised the potential and are actively promoting the role that their members can play to industry. All professionals involved in the building sector, especially installation engineers and site surveyors,  are called upon to provide services such as analysis of whole life costs and carbon savings to support justification of investment, something especially relevant where owners have a long term interest in the asset. Achieving the levels of retrofit required is unlikely to be reached if professionals rely on selling only the economic benefits and pay back periods to potential clients. The broader benefits of retrofit such as improved thermal comfort for example can be a powerful motivator to act and is more easily understood by many occupants.

While our existing city buildings are an easy sector to target, there has to be a limit as to how far they can contribute to meeting the EU’s overall carbon reduction targets. Other sectors contributing vast emissions such as agriculture and aviation must also play their part. An appropriate and equitable approach needs to be clearly set by politicians as to who pays for tackling climate change.

How can the retrofit process help preserve the cultural heritage of cities?  

Historic buildings represent a third of the European built stock. In most cases, these buildings do not respond well to contemporary needs. As a result they are often less desirable to occupy, can remain empty and ultimately decay detracting from the image of the city centre. Critically, historic centres play an important role to the character and identity of our cities, they help to offer a unique sense of place and aid visitors to navigate from place to place.

A major challenge for retrofit is how we successfully retain our landmark historic buildings at a time that the need for their renovation and re-use appears to be urgent? Most of the cities in Europe have preserved their historic centres to a better or worse extent by preserving a considerable number of protected historic buildings and constructing new buildings in a sympathetic and traditional character. Despite this, much more needs to be done to make thousands of older buildings fit for the 21st century.

Energy efficiency, as a key contemporary demand for better standards of living and as a response to climate change, hasn’t yet officially extended to heritage buildings. Nonetheless, occupants of protected buildings also need to have healthily and thermally comfortable internal environments at an affordable installation and running cost.

The problem is that certain restrictions deriving from the specific historic character do not permit major interventions to improve the buildings energy performance. Indeed, when dealing with protected buildings of significant architectural merit, altering the building envelope will be prohibited.

Historic buildings continue to present a retrofit dilemma all of their own. A clearer understanding of the values and needs must be found so that an appropriate balance can be found but how? A debate has started in recent years to face up to these problems with new knowledge and literature subsequently being produced.

It is particularly difficult to improve the fabric thermal performance of our oldest buildings not least when it is difficult to even understand their current energy performance. Historic buildings traditionally have solid walls meaning they are hard to deal with when alterations are locally permitted. If the fabric of the building cannot be readily improved, what else can be done to raise the energy efficiency of older buildings?

The options possible will need to be determined specifically to suit the building while respecting its individual qualities and the needs of the occupants. The more accessible options include making building services such as heating and lighting more efficient and engaging users and visitors in an energy saving campaign.

Older buildings might lend themselves to reclaiming and reusing materials for maintenance purposes helping to reduce embodied energy. It is also possible for historic buildings to address the conservation of other natural resources such as managing water demand and improving efficiency of its use. How else can the benefits of the retrofit process be maximised in relation to historic buildings?

To what level should compromises be accepted?

Frank debates will almost certainly need to be held between the professionals responsible for safeguarding historic buildings and the occupants or their professional agents. What compromises are we prepared to accept if the running costs of historic buildings in use are to be kept affordable meaning they are more likely to be occupied?

In order to preserve certain historic buildings a change of purpose may be required so that a new economically viable use is found bringing the asset back into demand for occupation. If new uses cannot be found that treat buildings with sympathy and respect, then the reality is that the fabric of these buildings will deteriorate, eventually crumble and be wiped from the city landscape helping nobody. When is a change of use appropriate for a historic building?

How do we get the knowledge and skill base in place?

The retrofitting of historic buildings requires contractors to have the requisite skills and understanding of how historic buildings operate. The fabric of historic buildings have functioned in a certain way since they were built and to avoid degradation of the fabric and structure this must be respected.

Historic buildings invariably have breathable elements. Applying a modern type of insulation could create excessive humidity and dampness damaging the fabric irreversibly. A balance between air tightness and unwanted heat loss through the envelope and controlled ventilation also needs to be found. Passive approaches to ventilation rather than mechanical options will often be more appropriate. How can damage to historic buildings resulting from the retrofit process most effectively be avoided?

In this context, the URBACT – LINKS (Low-Tech Inherited of the old European cities as a Key for performance and sustainability) Network led by Bayonne together with eight other partner cities focused on eco-restoration. A key objective of the project was to create action plans that offered people who live or want to live in the heart of historic city centres attractive and sustainable housing. Different options of energy efficiency and eco-restoration were examined by the network.

The special architectural quality and vernacular of older homes in the South West of France is being respected by a programme that involves local people in retrofit. The project demonstrates how historic homes can be effectively eco-renovated while enabling old materials, construction skills and repair techniques to be passed down from craftsmen to apprentices. A series of training events and knowledge sharing sessions have been organised to empower local people to look for new market and job opportunities and help increase the demand for retrofit.

A difficultly that the project has encountered is gaining certification for products. The length of time it has taken for insulation products that work in harmony with historic buildings to become approved for use has been inordinate. Modern mass produced proprietary insulation products are wholly inappropriate as they do not breathe unlike natural traditional insulation products.

Bayonne are able to provide interest free loans for the retrofitting of historic buildings which makes the case for this type of offer being more widely offered in the EU, especially for those less able to pay.

City center of Veria

The city of Veria, in the LINKS Network, focused among other aspects on the specification of knowledge for the energy efficient retrofit of local  heritage buildings. Two typical examples of the historic buildings of the city were chosen, the Sarafoglou mansion house, dating from the 18th Century and the Chatzikou house from the early 1920s. Air-tightness tests, simulation models and testing of existing materials in the laboratory were undertaken to assess energy performance. Following the research guidelines and recommendations to help citizens to correctly and adequately retrofit their historic buildings were produced. The findings have a broader value, since these types of historic buildings are typical of the local architecture in the South East Mediterranean.

The energy efficiency relating to historic buildings has similar problems to older building stock in general. Raising awareness to increase demand as well as access to affordable finance for retrofitting are significant common problems. ERDF funds or grants to cover a part of the cost of retrofitting could produce higher motivation leading to good examples of pilot projects that in turn would encourage more people to get involved with retrofitting their homes. Monitoring the results of renovation, both from the economic saving perspective and sense of comfort view point before and after the interventions could create a strong incentive to act as well.

The problems associated with the energy efficiency of historic buildings remain unresolved. Questions like what is their true energy status; how they work in practice; how deep can retrofit interventions  go; whether sufficient historic retrofit knowledge exists and how to effectively start retrofit campaigns through reaching out to wider audiences need to be resolved.  Most crucially, could this activity leverage added economic development? The response to these questions will determine the very future of our built heritage.

Transformation of our cities: Retrofitting or site redevelopment? 

A common feature of many cities are the old and outdated high rise office blocks which remain empty while they dominate the skyline. The demolition of such structures and redevelopment of the site will be an obvious option but should the refurbishment and energy efficient retrofit of the building improving its aesthetic in the process also be given serious consideration?

Again changes of use could be viable such as the conversion of offices into flats helping to solve local housing demand and responding to acute housing need more quickly than redevelopment. This option also enables urban land to be reused relieving pressure on city expansion. Offering newly retrofitted houses in old city centres would also help to inject new life into the city at night.

Much of Europe has become obsessed with ‘energy in use’ of our buildings when what really needs to be considered is the through life carbon emissions. Taking into account the locked in or embodied energy of the existing structure together with the pollution associated with the refurbishment process will almost certainly produce lower emissions than demolition and site redevelopment. The ‘Retrofit South East’ project already referred to included a through life carbon emissions study concluding that the advanced retrofit of old homes as compared to demolition, disposal, new materials and processes to build a nearly zero carbon new house, were more favourable. The retrofitted home produced lower emissions over a 50 year comparison period against the new home and could be delivered at 40% less cost.

Scaling this up to current levels of national housing demolition alone creates a compelling argument for reusing our existing homes and one which helps maintain existing communities. The potential drawback is that the opportunity to increase housing density in the redevelopment process is largely lost. The case for local authorities to demand a through life emissions statement which is taken into account as a material consideration before planning consent is given for redevelopment would appear to be strong. What is the preferred option, retrofitting or redevelopment?

Conclusion: Retrofitting as Priority No. 1?

It is clear that the retrofit agenda demands that Europe looks back in time at its built environment if we are to create the cities of the future. The opportunities that mass retrofitting can bring are abound. Indeed, retrofit could potentially hold the key to reversing the current financial crisis by retrofitting our way out of recession. In addition, a plethora of benefits to people and to the environment stand to be gained as a result of the transformation of our cities through retrofitting.

While the benefits are clear and justify mass retrofit as a course of action, all the time retrofitting requirements remain voluntary Governmental targets will not be met and the role of legislation to drive change needs to be carefully reviewed.

A raft of barriers to expediting and scaling up retrofitting need to be eliminated or better managed throughout Europe. Reviewing and selecting examples of the best continental practices will help pan European approaches to emerge that are more likely to produce the desired outcomes for success when replicated.

Without doubt retrofit is an integral part of the capitalisation process to create, enhance and maintain sustainable urban development. Arguably retrofit should be tackled as the most significant priority for URBACT especially when the political will to making retrofitting a reality appears to be in place.

We invite you to join our workshop in Copenhagen to debate the energy efficiency issues in the building sector, form a European and urban point of view, come along to express your views and help argue for the necessary investment to once and for all properly kick start the European retrofit revolution.

With funding priorities for European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) about to be set, the time is right to be lobbying and making our recommendations to decision makers. We believe that retrofit must be ‘The’ number one funding priority for the EU in the coming years and we urge you to be part of the process towards making our city buildings energy fit for the future benefit of all.

Paul Ciniglio, Sustainability Strategist at First Wessex

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2012 3:27 pm

    Reblogged this on Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities and commented:
    Capitalisation Workstream ‘Building energy efficiency in European cities’ article for the URBACT Tribune magazine.


  1. Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities | My Presentation @URBACT annual Conference in Copenhagen « Well Designed and Built

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