Consumers are willing and ready to play their part in the green housing transition, but they will need guidance and support along the way, writes Monique Goyens.
Monique Goyens is director general of BEUC, the European consumer organisation.
Europe’s building stock currently accounts for 36% of European greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing this will mean future-proofing our homes by thoroughly renovating them. But the complexity and expense of doing so is holding many people back.
As part of Europe’s Green Deal and the EU’s post-COVID recovery strategy, the so-called ‘Renovation Wave’ aims to bring Europe’s building stock into the 21st century by making it more climate resilient. The Strategy aims to at least double renovation rates in the next decade.
However, to be aligned with the Paris Agreement, annual renovation rates will need to quadruple, and deep retrofits – that ensure the biggest energy savings – at least tenfold. This is a massive undertaking.
Yet improving energy efficiency in buildings is a no-brainer: it leads to lower energy consumption and costs, as well as better indoor air quality and improved health for consumers. It also enables consumers to make a very tangible contribution towards fighting climate change.
Consumers are willing and ready to play their part in this green housing transition, but they will need guidance and support along the way. Home renovation is both expensive and complex. Buying a state-of-the-art heat pump or investing in a full heating insulation of your home is a major investment for most consumers. Nor should consumers need to be qualified builders or have a PhD in energy to navigate the complexities of making their homes more sustainable. The whole process needs demystifying. Consumers will only get on board the Renovation Wave if policy makers make it easier for them to do so.
In a new position paper, BEUC argues that for the EU’s Renovation Wave Strategy to be a success and to get consumers on board, we need to address the numerous barriers consumers face when renovating their homes and steer the funding so that it reaches those who need it the most.
Firstly, in most European countries Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are neither straightforward nor reliable documents to assess the energy performance of a future home. This makes it very difficult for consumers looking for a home to know if they need to renovate the property and if so, where to start. Revamped EPCs should give clear guidance on how to improve a home’s energy performance.
Secondly, many consumers are prevented from getting started in retrofit works due to the hassle associated with looking for financing solutions, choosing materials and appliances, or dealing with installers. This vital support to consumers must be made available through by ‘one-stop-shops,’ where consumers can rely on impartial support and a full range of services. This will ensure consumers always have someone to talk to and who can deal with any issues they may be facing.
Thirdly, consumers are often confused by the sheer number and complexity of grants at the local, regional and national levels to finance their home renovation. One-stop-shop advisers should be able to help consumers navigate the opportunities for subsidies or other financing solutions but that alone is not enough. I looked at installing a heat pump in my home but realised that the return-on-investment would probably not take place during my lifetime without a change in the financial solutions offered. Governments need to do better to help soften the blow of the up-front costs. What’s more, banks also need to start providing green mortgages and loans, which combine home improvement objectives with low interest rates.
Further, consumers need to be able to feel confident that they know who to turn to at each stage of their energy improvement works. One-stop-shops should act as intermediaries between consumers and accredited installers. As well as ensuring sufficient accredited installers on the market, one-stop-shops should also define liability in case something goes wrong and find solutions. Consumers should be given further protection via Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms covering the lifespan of the materials and appliances installed.
Finally, many landlords are held back from investing in energy efficiency due to the question of who should pay for the works: the tenant or the landlord? Tenants benefit from reduced bills, but landlords also benefit from being able to rent out a more attractive property. Impartial third-party support should be made available. This would help resolve potential disputes and ensure any works needed to meet compulsory Minimum Energy Performance Standards (or ‘MEPS’, which correspond to an energy performance rating of ‘C’ or ‘D’ depending on the local context) are carried out with fair cost sharing. Licencing of landlords to comply with MEPS could also incentivise home renovation.
Making your home climate-proof should not have to be so complicated. Advice is scattered and conflicting and consumers face an uphill battle to convince their bank to finance their sustainability projects. These barriers are holding consumers back from investing in improving the energy performance of their homes and policy makers will need to address them if Europe’s Renovation Wave is to be a success. Europe’s climate goals depend on getting people on board.