Healthy Buildings for Unhealthy Times: Why Renovate Europe should lead the post-COVID-19 era
It has been shown that the condition of buildings can impact the health of the people who inhabit them. Good insulation or adequate ventilation not only reduces the risks of contracting diseases but is also beneficial for people’s mental health. What should Europe do about it?
One thing the last few months of lockdown have emphasized is the importance of a comfortable home; one in which we do not freeze in winter, nor suffocate in the summer heat. It may seem exaggerated, but the evidence is there: around 50 million EU citizens currently live in houses with leaks or without sufficient insulation. Houses can have a significant impact on health, as we spend up to 90% of our time inside our homes.
Imagine the health impacts of the quarantine imposed by the Covid-19. According to the World Health Organization, health is not just about whether you are sick or not, "Health is the state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not just the absence of disease or disability."
For WHO, one of the factors that most influences good health is housing. Poor living conditions increase the risk of disease. But what are the conditions for a good living environment? The lighting, the air conditioning, its accessibility, its acoustic and thermal insulation, its quality of construction, and its safety are the most influential factors. Currently, in Europe, the construction of energy-efficient buildings is prioritized, but criteria that take into account the health of occupants are also valued.
A wave of renovation for the least efficient buildings
The green economy is, for now, the most reasonable and certain tactic in the EU for economic recovery; changing the production model towards energy efficiency and sustainability. In this context, the European Green Deal and the accompanying wave of renovation can be understood.
One of the cornerstones of this new model is going to be the renovation of existing buildings. Keep in mind that 210 million buildings in the EU currently collectively use more energy and emit more CO2 than any other sector of the EU economy. Of these buildings, more than 94% will still be standing in 2050, due to the current low demolition rate. Also, last but not least, the annual renovation rate of residential buildings is 0.2%, meaning it could take more than a century to achieve a stock of efficient and decarbonized buildings in the EU. A serious problem if you want to comply with the 2050 directives.
According to Climact, in a study carried out in 2018, a minimum renewal rate of 3% per year must be achieved, combined with an improvement in energy efficiency of 75% by 2030.
Renovate Europe is being developed in parallel to the wave of renovation, initiated by EuroACE (European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings). The goal is to reduce the energy demands of EU building stock by 80% by 2050, in order to reach the near-zero energy standard (nZEB) by the middle of the century.
The challenge is huge and needs a significant boost because at the moment the rate of change is too slow. However, a renovated building can acquire the same levels of efficiency as a new one. This not only results in an energy benefit but also an economic one: a certified building with high energy efficiency consumes less and requires less investment. In the long run, life in these buildings turns out to be much more sustainable also in economic terms. In addition, all the measures promoted by the wave of renovation or Renovate Europe have an impact on the construction sector, potentially creating around 1 million additional jobs.
The success of these campaigns depends on the liquidity that the EU and its member states can inject into the issue. An economic recovery package is needed that dedicates capital to the transformation of the EU’s housing stock, thus supporting local job creation and SMEs in the construction and energy efficiency sectors.
The need to act
A letter has recently been sent from Renovate Europe to Ursula Von Der Leyden, President of the European Commission. In it, the organization raises its concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential effects on the fulfillment of the objectives of the European Green Deal. One of the signatories to the letter is URSA, manufacturer, and distributor of insulation materials. All the affiliates, about 1,000 European companies, demand from the president a renovation fund of 100 billion euros per year to ensure the energy efficiency renovation of the EU’s buildings, with a consequent positive impact on the economic recovery of Europe. As mentioned in the report by Climact and Eurima, the idea is that this fund will serve to achieve a building renovation rate of 3%. Emphasis is also placed on the importance of carrying out renovations in the neighborhoods with the most energy poverty, in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, health centers, or other essential locations and services during these times of fighting the coronavirus.
Put bluntly, this emergency situation has highlighted the need to act now. The climate emergency is still here. Let's not forget about it.