INSULATE - Improving energy efficiency of housing stock : impacts on indoor environmental quality and public health in Europe

LIFE09 ENV/FI/000573

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Contact details:

Tel: +358 29 524 6000
Fax: +358 29 524 6111
Email: ulla.haverinen-shaughnessy@thl.fi

Project description:


Buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. While new buildings generally need less than three to five litres of heating oil per square meter per year, older buildings consume about 25 litres on average. Some buildings even require up to 60 litres.

Currently (2017), about 35% of the EU's buildings are over 50 years old. By improving the energy efficiency of buildings, we could reduce total EU energy consumption by 5% to 6% and lower CO2 emissions by about 5%.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD: 2010/31/EU) sets ambitious objectives to reduce the energy consumption of buildings, both private and public. This directive has also a key role to play in promoting the identification and implementation of effective energy saving measures in the building sector.


The INSULATE project focused on the assessment of national programmes to improve the energy performance of existing housing stock, including cost-effective and proven measures such as government-supported improvements in thermal insulation. The project’s specific objectives included developing a common protocol for assessing the impacts of a building’s energy performance on indoor environmental quality and health; establishing an integrated approach for the assessment of environmental and health information, including demonstrating the use of relevant environmental and health indicators; demonstrating the effects (both positive and negative) of energy efficiency on Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) and health in up to three different European countries; developing guidelines to support the implementation of related policies; and facilitating transnational networking and the dissemination of information.


The INSULATE project developed a comprehensive protocol for assessing the impacts of improved energy efficiency measures in existing multi-family buildings on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and health, along with a set of IEQ indicators for use in assessing energy retrofits and large-scale renovations. In addition, a large database was constructed, which consisted of data collected from Finnish and Lithuanian multi-family buildings before and after energy retrofits.

Extensive field studies of multi-family buildings were undertaken to assess the impacts of energy-efficiency related renovations: 46 buildings (241 apartments) in Finland and 20 buildings (96 apartments) in Lithuania. Additional case studies were conducted in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and the UK. The project’s methodology, tested and applied before and after energy retrofits, included measurements of temperature, humidity and other parameters, the collection of environmental samples, and resident surveys. This involved implementing the project’s new standardised protocol for assessing the impacts of energy efficiency improvements on IEQ and health, in conjunction with 39 indicators useful for IEQ assessments in connections with renovations. These indicators, which were divided into categories related to environmental quality, health and well-being, can also be used to complement energy audits.

The project results demonstrated that, overall, the effects of energy retrofits on IEQ and occupant health are mainly neutral or positive. In some cases, value can be added by improvements in both health and productivity, in which case investing in improving energy efficiency can bring savings that outweigh investment costs in the long run. Effective dissemination of this information can help to increase the number of retrofitted buildings that have improved energy efficiency.

Policy-wise, the project results will undoubtedly contribute to the implementation of the new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2010/31/EU) , which aims among other things that all new buildings must be nearly zero energy buildings by 31 December 2020. The project also supports international policy relating to buildings, environment and health, such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health that recognised the need for environment and health to be at the core of policies on housing and energy use.

The project team considered that the most important pathways related to environmental exposures and health were related to indoor temperature and ventilation characteristics, which in turn affect thermal comfort and indoor air quality as well as emissions to the outdoor environment and cost to the household. A policy to improve energy efficiency through insulation is likely to reduce exposure to excess cold, but may unintentionally lead to a reduction of indoor air quality. The project concluded that environmental problems arising from energy consumption, and the need to control energy consumption, may cause conflicts between different policies, including economic, environmental and health policies, but that these can be solved by optimising measures and regulatory actions. When estimating effects of different policies aiming to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, the project noted that regional parameters, such as available energy sources, population density and climate, should also be taken into account.

The project was innovative in its international component, whereas previous studies of this type have been conducted at local or national level only. In additional, many of the assessment methods used were novel. On the level of individual apartments, the protocol can ensure that IEQ fulfils national (or international) guidelines; on the building level, it can provide information to support decisions and planning relating to retrofitting and renovation; while on the national level, the approach could be used to assess the effects of national policies and programmes. At the EU level, at least some of the indicators could be incorporated into existing surveys and databases (e.g. Eurostat, WHO, ENHIS).

Long-term economic benefits may relate to reduced energy consumption, improved productivity and health (e.g. less sick days). Social benefits include better health and well-being. Reduced costs related to heating are also likely to result in social benefits.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Industry-Production - Building
Energy - Efficiency


public health‚  indoor air pollution‚  indicator‚  environmental performance‚  building industry‚  environmental assessment‚  energy efficiency

Target EU Legislation

  • Climate Change & Energy efficicency
  • Directive 2010/31 - Energy performance of buildings (19.05.2010)
  • Directive 2012/27 - Energy efficiency (25.10.2012)

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos (National institute for health and welfare)
Type of organisation Research institution
Description The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is a research and development institute under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has an important role in the area of environmental health, where both project and public health functions are carried out. The environmental health department has some 120 employees and has considerable experience in areas such as indoor environmental quality, microbes, asthma and allergies, drinking water, chemicals, and air pollution.
Partners Tampere University of Technology-Dept. of Civil Engineering, Finland Kaunas University of Technology-Dept. of Environmental, Engineering, Lithuania World Health Organization-European Centre for Environment and Health (Bonn Office), Germany


Project reference LIFE09 ENV/FI/000573
Duration 01-SEP-2010 to 31-DEC -2015
Total budget 1,847,039.00 €
EU contribution 923,413.00 €
Project location Pohjois-Karjala(Finland Suomi)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Article-Paper "Effects of Energy Retrofits on Indoor Gaseous Pol ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Layman report Layman report (Finnish/Lithuanian version)
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version