How to keep a renovation promise? Quality and quantity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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David Ducarme, Group Chief Operating Officer at Knauf Insulation. [Knauf Insulation]

When the European Commission announced its new strategy to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030 as part of a multi-billion-euro green recovery programme it felt like a genuinely historic opportunity.

David Ducarme is the Group Chief Operating Officer at Knauf Insulation.

For decades Knauf Insulation had campaigned relentlessly for such an initiative and here at last was a serious commitment to a green recovery inspired by mass renovation.

With buildings responsible for 36% of Europe’s CO2, here was a strategy to tackle climate change by making Europe’s building stock more energy efficient.

Here was a clear ambition to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs to drive this renovation and offer new hope to all those who had lost jobs to the pandemic.

And most significantly, here was a real game-changing opportunity to help the 34 million Europeans who cannot afford to pay their energy bills.

The misery of those living in leaky, damp and poorly insulated buildings over the winter has been compounded by Covid-19 confinement and the moral imperative to improve their living conditions has now become impossible to ignore.

With all these factors in mind, it was no wonder the Renovation Wave was welcomed as a post-pandemic win-win, helping the European Union achieve its climate neutral ambition, creating jobs and improving the lives of millions in the process.

And this is all very well and good, but the Renovation Wave is still in the proposal stage. Although it sets a clear direction for Europe, politicians and policy makers now have the difficult challenge of creating the mechanisms, regulations, funding processes and incentives to make those millions of renovated buildings a reality.

As they do this, I want them to focus on two key aspects: quantity and quality.

First, quantity. The proposal to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030 is based on “at least doubling” annual renovation rates from 1%. Unfortunately, this is not fast enough. We have to be much more ambitious.

To achieve the EU’s new 2030 climate goals of cutting Europe’s CO2 emissions rates by 55% compared to 1990, renovation rates need to triple and the emphasis has to be on the worse performing buildings particularly social housing, poorly maintained private rental properties, schools, hospitals, care facilities and other socially vital public buildings that are in desperate need of renovation.

Everyone deserves a comfortable home where they can afford to pay their bills and we all deserve public facilities that are sustainable and resilient. Most of Europe’s buildings were built before 2001 and at least 85% will still be standing in 2050. We need to ensure as many as possible are still fit for purpose in 30 years.

The next issue that will maximise the potential of the Renovation Wave is putting quality at the heart of everything.

For many years Knauf Insulation has been involved with people, projects and products that take an uncompromising approach to maximising the performance of renovation.

We have developed high-performing quality solutions, we have created training centres of excellence for installers, we have been involved in the renovation of hundreds of thousands of buildings and we have carried out hundreds of pioneering social housing renovation projects across Europe.

In 2019 we even created a new company, Knauf Energy Solutions, to provide deeper insight into the energy-saving potential of a building renovation and then — using our products, expertise and digital innovation — deliver these results in reality.

And it is this delivery of quality that is critical to the success of the Renovation Wave. Every single one of those millions of buildings retrofitted during the Renovation Wave has to deliver.

Really deliver.

When it comes to renovation, all our expertise and experience can be reduced to two essential lessons. First, attention to detail during a retrofit is crucial and this means putting strong quality assurance systems in place to ensure that renovation work and products meet required specifications.

Second, it is essential to objectively measure the outcome of that renovation work in terms of achieved energy and emissions savings as well the comfort delivered.  Measuring the real building energy performance achieved, as opposed to the calculated energy performance, is the key to a successful Renovation Wave.

For everyone involved in the process of a building renovation there is often a lack of trust and a concern that corners have been cut. We want to see trust put at the heart of any renovation by delivering quantifiable results and in turn put pressure back on the construction chain to deliver quality.

This year will be decisive.

To really energise the Renovation Wave and ensure it achieves its historic potential to inspire a meaningful post-pandemic green recovery, the devil is in the detail. Policy makers must put quality first.

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