Roland Gladushenko is the Energy & Climate Manager at Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.
Some 50 million Europeans live in energy poverty. Even before recent record highs for energy prices shook Europe, politicians and citizens spent a lot of time thinking about renovating buildings. “Deep renovation” to cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions was a headline objective of the EU Renovation Wave strategy, proposed last year.
And the European Commission is expected to introduce a legally binding Deep Renovation Standard before the end of the year, as part of a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
A definition alone is not enough to make deep renovation the norm. But it is an important first step towards making clean, efficient, low-emission buildings the new normal for Europe.
Because a shared, legally binding EU definition of “deep renovation” is urgently needed. The lack of an EU definition has led to the mushrooming of incoherent national approaches across countries. This makes it difficult even to agree on a common position about deep renovation, let alone to act.
A new report, from Buildings Performance Institute Europe, gives some idea of what the standard should look like. As BPIE says, there is no one simple definition.
The Commission will need to take account of at least three central criteria for deeply renovated buildings: a cap on the total amount of energy to be used by a building after renovation, along with a reduction in average energy consumption, and the use of renewable energy.
There are signs that change is coming. Recent EU policy discussions are loaded with references to the idea of deep renovation. Particularly during talks about the proposed Renovation Wave strategy, the three main EU intuitions, the European Commission, Council and Parliament, all refer to deep renovation as an important future priority for the building sector.
“It is positive to see that the importance of deep renovation is politically recognised,” said Hélène Sibileau, a lead author of the BPIE report. But she warned against over-simplifying the issue. In particular, she saw a “worrying potential divide being drawn between deep renovations and staged renovations.”
Staged renovation means a renovation process carried out in several steps, or stages, to improve the performance of a building over time.
“It is concerning to see that deep renovation seems to be depicted in the political discussions as ‘another type of renovation,’ which would be opposed to staged renovations,” warned Sibileau.
“This should not be an either/or discussion. A renovation should not be either deep or staged: renovation should be deep, and one way of renovating deeply could indeed be in stages.”
But introducing a definition is only the first step in enshrining a Deep Renovation Standard in EU policy. All policies associated with renovation need to be rebalanced to make deep renovation the default, not the exception.
Because the greatest danger right now is not that the EU will agree on a bad definition of deep renovation. The challenge is making sure that whatever definition emerges, it is more than just an administrative gesture, and instead brings about real change.
Currently deep renovation represents less than 6% of all renovations taking place in Europe. According to BPIE, this number has to rise to at least 70% by 2030, if the EU is to achieve its climate targets for this decade and climate neutrality by 2050.
This requires a fundamental shift in policymaking that will not be achieved by merely defining what deep renovation is.
This means making deep renovation a central part of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and other EU legislation.
The Energy Efficiency First Principle now requires national and EU authorities to think of energy savings as the “first fuel” in all policies. In a similar way, a Deep Renovation Principle should automatically be used by businesses, homeowners and politicians working with new rules and regulations to make deep renovation the norm, not the exception.
With this in mind, the BPIE report suggests several ways to “mainstream” deep renovation. These would include a combination of long-term planning, certification, finance and technical support, among other measures.
Firstly, Long-term Renovation Strategies should outline how the rate of deep renovation will progress, across the different building sectors. This should include target dates, perhaps by decade, and explain how various national policies will be aligned to boost deep renovation and meet these milestones.
An Energy Performance Certificate could be used to show how close a building owner is to meeting the Deep Renovation Standard, while Building Renovation Passports could show how a building could be deeply renovated.
In addition, every EU country should set up a dedicated financing system to promote deep, quality renovation. Simply put, receiving funds should be dependent on having a Building Renovation Passport, and funding should rise in proportion to the savings achieved, providing building owners with an incentive to do more, and more quickly.
To make a difference, the deep renovation of buildings has to become normal, not exceptional, for any renovation. To make a difference, we need to define what deep renovation is, and what it means for building renovation policies. Europe and the European Renovation Wave need a Deep Renovation Standard implemented across all member states.
If these actions are taken, by 2030 we might no longer need a definition for deep renovation. It will just be known as “renovation.” It will be our new normal.