The Renovation Wave will be soon sweeping across Europe. Led by the European Commission as part of its Green Deal, the EU is attempting to pave the way for a decarbonized and clean energy system by revolutionizing the building sector. The HEART project, funded by the Horizon program, is one of the harbingers of that revolution, and offering new opportunities for social housing.
With over 100 years of know-how, public, cooperative and social housing providers have shaken up the architectural and urban landscape of residential buildings. In the past, one of their main roles was to provide better housing for the working poor and the middle class, and prevent the alarming public health risks in urban areas. These days they are taking on a new challenge: improving the quality of their housing stock to limit energy poverty; increasing housing affordability; and lowering the environmental impact of buildings and residents.
Through the renovation of homes and communities they have been able to build a strong portfolio of innovative projects to ensure cost-effectiveness and performance. The digital hub for housing evolutions shows these latest achievements. But creativity cannot stop there. The EU Green Deal and the upcoming “Renovation Wave” require a shift to another gear in order to provide more sustainable, warm homes – for everyone.
Out-of-the-box solutions are already emerging. The sector is one of the key partners in Europe behind the development of pre-fabricated and integrated renovation concepts that offer better outcomes in terms of delivery speed, cost, affordability, comfort and end-user requests. But this is still a niche market, raising questions about the organisation of the sector, including the investment, installation costs and establishing the main benefits for the residents. Through a market review, twelve organisations – housing providers and renovation companies – have been interviewed about the potential of different models of renovation toolkits in Europe. The departure was the EU-funded HEART project, which started back in 2017 with still another year to run. It is developing and testing a number of components that promise to facilitate renovation. These include: a multifunctional pre-fabricated facade system; universal photovoltaic tiles; highly efficient water storage tanks; battery packs; and a cloud-based platform to support housing managers and tenants in achieving optimal energy use and low emission levels.
HEART keeps at its core the spirit of innovation and modernisation of buildings.
The social housing sector is a key actor for such renovation toolkits because it can potentially commit to purchasing in bulk, which is essential to reach the scale required to invest in renovation factories where the elements are built. However, the social housing sector needs the prices of renovation toolkits to be affordable before placing such large orders. To scale up production companies need a minimum order size. So, while prefabrication is key for the future of renovation, the market is currently facing a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation, and seems to need more time to mature. Energiesprong is solving this in several countries by creating market development teams that bring together the supply and demand sides, while also tackling technological and regulatory barriers. The model promises to effectively reduce the costs of renovation, lower housing and energy costs, and increase home comfort – all while offering sustainable, affordable homes to European citizens. As Fabian Viehrig from GDW, the Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies said, “The most important thing is to reduce the complexity of energy renovations and to eliminate uncertainties regarding costs and time. If it is then possible to generate attractive prices, the breakthrough could be achieved.”