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Last Update: 2018-03-23   Source: Research Headlines
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Insulation retrofit for energy-efficient historic buildings

Many historic buildings in Europe are not energy efficient. Now, EU-funded researchers are developing a web tool on how to install internal thermal insulation in historic buildings that maintains their heritage value and reduces their energy consumption, with an acceptable safety level against deterioration.

Aerial view of Lisbon, Portugal

© gustavofrazao -

Countries across Europe are proud of the beauty and splendour of their historic buildings. Many are iconic and attract visitors from across the world. In fact, 30 % of buildings in Europe are historic, having been built prior to 1945. However, due to their age, these buildings do not comply with modern requirements for energy efficiency and indoor climate and are often largely uninsulated.

The external walls of historic buildings need to be fitted with energy-efficient internal insulation so that their architectural and cultural value is not compromised – but retrofitting with modern internal insulation can pose risks to the integrity of buildings related to moisture from, for example, frost damage, rot or mould growth.

To help historic buildings reach their estimated potential for energy savings of 15-20 % using internal insulation for the facades, the EU-funded RIBuild project is developing a comprehensive set of decision guidelines for the fitting of internal thermal insulation. These are expected to make it easier across Europe to successfully design and retrofit historic buildings with insulation. They take many factors into account – such as building materials and location – to ensure successful and safe internal insulation.

The guidelines will act as input for a user-friendly web tool that will provide insulation solutions for building authorities and owners. They will then be able to minimise risks and costs when fitting insulation – to reduce energy consumption and get closer to meeting EU 2020 climate and energy targets.

“The web tool will not only suggest internal insulation solutions for historic buildings but will also provide information on the environmental impact of the different solutions,” says project coordinator Ernst Jan de Place Hansen of the Danish Building Research Institute at Aalborg University in Denmark.

Going deeper into insulation

To develop the guidelines, the international team of researchers is carrying out in-depth investigations into how and under what conditions internal thermal insulation can be used successfully. They are conducting on-site case studies, simulations and laboratory measurements of different materials. Their work is multi-disciplinary and spans areas of material characterisation, building physics, energy, sustainability and statistics.

Understanding how heat and moisture move through buildings – their hygrothermal behaviour – is key to the successful installation of internal insulation that will maximise energy savings and avoid collateral damage. The team has developed a way to predict this behaviour by taking account of the variability in materials properties, environmental conditions and the uncertainties associated with insulation solutions. This information will be used in their web tool.

Lower energy consumption

“RIBuild will help building owners decide whether their historic building is suitable for internal insulation to improve its energy performance,” says de Place Hansen. “Reducing energy consumption for heating, cooling, ventilation, etc. will cut CO2 emissions and thus reduce climate change.”

The project has enabled an interdisciplinary team to collaborate on ideas and achieve a common goal. It has brought researchers together from across the EU and helped in the training and development of a number of PhD students.

The group has already held an open seminar at which they shared their hopes for the RIBuild project with researchers and the general public. When complete, the web tool is expected not only to be used by decision-makers at historic buildings, to help them decide on insulation options, but it will also be used as a training tool.


Project details

  • Project acronym: RIBuild
  • Participants: Denmark (Coordinator), Latvia, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland
  • Project N°: 637268
  • Total costs: € 5 331 375
  • EU contribution: € 4 962 375
  • Duration: January 2015 to December 2019

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