For most people, the idea of renovating their home can be a daunting prospect. Building renovations have long been associated with stress, delays and spiralling costs. Their poor reputation is one reason why the renovation rate across Europe is so low – less than 1 % of EU buildings are refurbished every year.
However, renovating both residential and non-residential buildings will be crucial if Europe is to reduce its carbon footprint. At the present time, three-quarters of the EU’s building stock is energy-inefficient, which means homes and workplaces are the bloc’s biggest single energy consumer, responsible for 40 % of primary energy consumption and 36 % of CO2 emissions.
Researchers estimate that renovations could lead to significant energy savings. That is why the team behind the EU-funded 4RinEU project is working to transform the renovation process. By making residential refurbishments faster and easier, they hope to incentivise building owners to improve their tenants’ homes while making their properties more environmentally friendly.
‘The project is important because our new renovation strategy means people can live in a more comfortable building and therefore have a better life,’ says project coordinator Roberto Lollini of the Eurac Research headquartered in Italy. ‘And then, of course, we are helping people to save energy and reducing the negative contribution of the building sector to CO2 emissions.’
Greater consumption, more comfort
With commercial partners from across Europe, the 4RinEU team developed state-of-the-art renovation solutions designed to reduce a property’s energy consumption by up to 60 % while improving the building’s indoor environment by reducing damp and making homes easier to heat.
The project’s solutions include a smart ceiling fan that keeps homes cool in hot weather, a timber building facade that tackles heat loss and condensation problems, and a heating system that uses hydronic water technology to maximise efficiency.
Each of these products is prefabricated which means they can all be installed in a residential building much faster than was previously possible. Less time means less stress and disruption caused by building work.
For Lollini, one of the project’s greatest achievements is the completion of its first-ever deep renovation, a residential building in the Norwegian capital Oslo. The 4RinEU team worked with a local construction firm to create the timber facade which was retrofitted on the outside of the existing building. While the aim was to improve the building’s insulation and ventilation, the facade also transformed the appearance of the eight housing units, with sleek wooden slats and high-performance windows.
‘The impressive part was the timing of the construction,’ says Lollini. ‘Because the facade was prefabricated away from the construction site, the delay was very short. It took a couple of months when renovations usually take twice that time. That meant there was limited disturbance for residents, many of whom were at home during the day.’
Turning analysis into action
The project also developed three digital project management tools to streamline the renovation process, improve productivity and help construction workers, property owners and tenants to better communicate.
The 4RinEU approach is being tested in two more demo renovations in the Netherlands and Spain. Once these buildings have been finished, the team will focus on comparing their energy consumption before and after the renovations.
That analysis will help researchers understand how to refine the renovation process according to a country’s climate and to convince investors that renovating can be painless as well as profitable, thereby increasing the value of their building.