From Roman temples and Gothic churches to Greek theatres and medieval castles, Europe is peppered with historic buildings that reflect its rich cultural heritage. But these monuments all need to be preserved, a task complicated by age, pollution, tourist demands and climate change. Now science is lending a hand in this task, with a new European Union research project developing measures to reduce energy loss from within old buildings.
The three-and-a-half-year 3ENCULT (Efficient Energy for EU Cultural Heritage) project, which launched in October 2010 with €5 million in EU funding, aims to improve the energy efficiency of historic buildings.
The 3ENCULT consortium gathers 22 partners from 10 countries, including scientists, engineers and historians, covering disciplines like diagnostics, conservation, building physics, sustainability, architecture and lighting.
Project coordinator Alexandra Troi says 3ENCULT addresses a number of challenges. "These buildings, like most existing buildings, aren't energy efficient at all and contribute considerable CO2 emissions. Nor are they comfortable, either for people or for artworks to be preserved in them," she says.
Troi, who is also Vice Head of the Institute for Renewable Energy at the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC), says the project bridges the gap between conservation and climate protection. "Historic buildings will only survive if maintained as living space," she says. "An energy efficient retrofit is useful for structural protection as well as for comfort reasons. The joint task of conservation and energy efficient retrofit is highly interdisciplinary."
Popular energy efficiency measures like exterior insulation, new windows, and solar panels on the roof cannot always be used on old buildings without damaging their historical integrity. 3ENCULT offers a pool of solutions from specially-coated glass and newly developed double and even triple windows with thin glass (2mm instead of the usual 4mm) to interior insulation, lighting, solar solutions and ventilation.
The project has revolved around eight case studies to test various solutions in different scenarios.
For example, a prototype of energy-efficient, conservation-compatible window has been installed the 13th century 'Waaghaus', or Public Weigh House in Bolzano, in South Tyrol, Italy. The first prototype of the 'SmartWin Historic Window' is, Troi points out, a practical solution that combines good insulation with discreet installations.
Others include a low impact ventilation system for the Neue Höttinger School in Innsbruck, Austria; a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) at the Palazzina della Viola in Bologna, Italy; and a Building Management System (BMS) at the Industrial Engineering School in Béjar /Salamanca in Spain.
The eventual aim of the project is to trigger application of best practice in energy retrofit of historic buildings, in particular with a handbook for planners. But the long-term opportunities are huge. Some 14% of the EU's building stock dates before 1919, and 26% before 1945. Troi says cutting the energy demands of these buildings by 75% would result in more than 180 million tonnes CO2 saved, which would represent 3.6% of EU emissions in 1990.
3ENCULT has already won the Premio Innovación AR&PA 2012 prize for the best innovation project at the Biennial of Heritage Restoration and Management Fair in Valladolid, Spain. But the biggest prize, Troi says, will be to address the twin challenges of conservation and energy saving. "Retrofitting our heritage mitigates climate change, saves energy and improves living comfort while also keeping historic centres attractive and lively, and engages citizens in active conservation," she says.