This article is part of our special report Can Energy Union build healthier homes?.
The European Commission will consider including indoor climate rules in its forthcoming legislation on Energy Union, the Commission Vice-President in charge of the strategy yesterday (20 April) revealed.
Maroš Šefčovič said that officials would factor in the requirements – which bring health and well-being benefits – in research feeding into the revised Energy Performance in Buildings Directive.
But Šefčovič said such legislation would only apply to nearly zero-waste energy buildings.
“The Commission will study possibilities to include indoor environment requirements for nearly zero-energy buildings within the impact assessment process,” Šefčovič said.
“This is a great and important step but this deals with new builds mainly and major renovations. If you really want to make a change you have to look at the existing building mass,” said Ingrid Reumert, of the Velux Group.
“But we’re pleased, we’re supportive of this step because the standards for new builds tend to set the standards for renovation,” the Velux vice-president for sustainability said, “the legislation for new builds is an important signal and can have a wider impact than was intended.”
The bill, which can be amended by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers during the legislative process, will be put forward in the autumn, alongside changes to the Energy Efficiency Directive.
Šefčovič told delegates at the Healthy Buildings Day Conference in Brussels that the new bills would be presented at the same time as a new Smart Financing for Smart Buildings initiative.
This week’s Special Report has highlighted the way that building renovation can be incentivised by the EU’s Energy Union plan, which has the twin goals of fighting climate change and boosting energy security.
Šefčovič said the Commission considered energy efficient buildings as “one of the key pillars to deliver the Energy Union.”
Building renovation for energy efficiency can bring significant cost, emissions, and energy savings. If properly planned for – and properly encouraged by policymakers – there can be additional health benefits.
Factors such as temperature, daylight and ventilation all have an impact on health and well-being.
Crucially, indoor climate has been shown to be a stronger motivating factor for consumers to go ahead with renovations in the first place.
75% of Europeans surveyed in the Healthy Homes Barometer 2016 wanted to reduce their energy costs, 73% wanted to improve their overall wellbeing. Half of the Europeans have made changes to their homes in the last five years.
The Commission is hamstrung to an extent because any hard rules on indoor climate would be the responsibility of national governments.
The Slovak Commissioner, who was interviewed by euractiv.com before the conference, said, “Although EU legislation has an energy focus, it nevertheless reminds Member States of their responsibility […] to ensure appropriate general indoor conditions and avoid possible negative effects such as inadequate ventilation.”
National regulations on indoor environment are generally in place, Šefčovič said, but there were “considerable discrepancies” across the EU.
Speaking at an earlier Healthy Buildings Day event in the European Parliament, Paula Rey Garcia, head of the buildings team in the Commission’s energy department, said the current legislation requested that factors, such as air quality, were taken into account.
But the way that is put into effect is left to member states. Commission research had found that “health-based regulations” were hardly found in national rules for energy performance.
Little appetite for change
Rey Garcia warned that there was little appetite from member states for a big revisions of the directive.
But she pinpointed a more detailed clarification of indoor climate requirements as one possible way to drive change.
Šefčovič’s speech signalled a willingness from the European Commission to think more broadly than just efficiency when it came to driving the EU building stock.
He said, “Around 70% of the EU population lives in privately owned residential buildings. We spend most of our days in the indoor environment of our workplaces or our homes.
“Therefore improving them through smart design or renovation can have a major impact on our health and quality of life as well as offering solutions to some of our most important societal and environmental issues.”
Citing research released yesterday, Šefčovič said energy costs were a key concern for citizens and that buildings are primarily to give indoor comfort for citizens.
“These two aspects are not conflicting: they can go hand in hand,” he said.
Šefčovič said that renovation would also give a boost to the construction sector. The sector is still at 30% to 40% of the activity seen before the financial crisis.
“The construction sector generates around 9% of the EU’s GDP and provides 18 million direct jobs,” he told delegates.
Two thirds of the EU’s buildings were built when energy efficiency requirements were limited or even non-existent; most of these will still be standing in 2050,” he added, underling the potential of the sector.
As already reported this week, energy poverty – defined as the inability to afford to adequately heat or cool a home – can also be alleviated by renovation.
Deaths from cardiovascular diseases are directly linked to excessively low temperatures.
Research by the World Health Organisation in 11 European countries estimated that almost 13 out of every 100,000 people die every year from low temperatures.
45% of Europeans surveyed in the Barometer keep temperatures too low to save money.
Just heating and cooling buildings accounts for half of the EU’s annual energy consumption, out of which 45% of energy is used in the residential sector, 37% in industry and 18% in services.
The EU has adopted a heating and cooling strategy to improve efficiency in the area.