Let’s start with the numbers: did you know that 40% of Europe’s energy consumption is used to heat, cool and power the buildings in which we live and work? And our buildings produce 36% of EU greenhouse gas emissions? This is a staggering proportion, and it shows that reducing the energy consumption of our buildings is essential if we want to act for the climate. When it comes to making construction more sustainable, ambitious policies as well as public and private investments can be a game-changer. But in the meantime, we can all contribute by making our homes more energy efficient.
More than 220 million buildings in Europe date from before 2001. Older buildings are much less efficient at retaining heat and as a result 75% of the EU’s building stock loses energy. To address this, as part of the European Green Deal, the EU aims to give around 35 million buildings across Europe an energy facelift. To help us in this “renovation wave”, the EU will provide incentives and investments, in addition to encouraging national governments, private investors, architects, designers and local communities to get involved. This will not only reduce emissions and improve the lives of people using the buildings, but also create new jobs in the construction sector. And energy bills will likely be cheaper too.
So how do you join the trend? Here are some ideas on how to make your old building more energy efficient and what green elements to look for in a newly built property.
Older can still be greener
One solution is to make renovations to your home, such as adding roof insulation or double-glazed windows to ensure you don’t lose heat. There is an upfront cost, but the long term reward will be lower energy bills. You can also look into renewable heating and cooling technologies like heat pumps and solar heating systems to reduce emissions generated throughout the year.
This is what Céline Seince, Ambassador of the Climate Pact, did. Céline is also the coordinator of RURENER, European network of rural communities committed to the green energy transition. Last year she bought an older house – built in 1968 – and now she wants to make it greener. “In terms of energy bills, it’s crazy how much you can spend on an inefficient house,” she says. “There are aids and subsidies to make improvements, and anyway in France, any house that is not efficient enough cannot be rented. Even if we are just entering the house, at some point we will have to make these changes. So it’s good advice: if you’re thinking of carrying out energy renovations in your home, be sure to check with your local authority for grant schemes that could help you.
However, don’t be intimidated by the scale of the challenge – Celine confirms that these renovations don’t have to be huge or expensive. “We put insulating material around the windows where we had fresh air to block the airflow,” she explains. “It’s not as effective as changing the window and the air still gets in a bit, but it’s not as bad as it has been.”
Five easy ways to turn your home into a greener building
Install a smart meterwhich can be programmed to ensure that the heating only comes on in certain rooms and at certain times of the day when it is really needed.
Choose thick curtains and blindswhich can prevent heat loss in winter and deflect sunlight to keep your home cooler in summer.
Invest in energy efficient bulbswhich will save you money on your energy bills.
Seal cracks and gaps in your homeand place draft excluders under doors to prevent heat from escaping.
Bleed your radiators once a year to make sure they are working efficiently and install a radiator foil behind them to reflect heat away from the wall and back into the room.
New building, new green elements
While many of us live in older buildings, new construction is springing up every day across Europe. But are they green?
What makes new construction green?
Bioclimatic design: Architects must consider local climatic conditions when designing buildings to avoid energy loss.
Sustainable and local materials: Wood, stone and natural fiber can be used to minimize the environmental impact of the building. Recycled materials from demolished buildings can be used for construction and insulation.
Use of smart materials: Some materials, such as concrete or metal coatings, can be designed to react to their environment and repair themselves, thus extending their lifespan.
Intelligent use of space: The design of the house must facilitate the optimization of the use of energy; for example, the rooms should not be too large.
Use of renewable energies: New buildings should be designed to use solar, geothermal, wind and hydro energy to further reduce their carbon footprint.
When planning his new home, which uses 90% less energy than a standard house of similar size, German Climate Pact Ambassador Mirbek Bekboliev took these principles of bioclimatic architecture into account.
“Our walls, windows and doors are very well insulated and we have large south-facing windows to let in the heat of the sun in winter,” he explains. “We want to be grid independent, so we have photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.” With climate change driving up summer temperatures, Mirbek has also built overhangs over his windows to provide shade and keep cool.
Mirbek’s house has a way to store rainwater, which can then be used for various daily purposes. Additionally, it reuses water used in the kitchen sink – known as “grey” water – for toilet flushing. He also installed a ‘xeri-landscaped’ garden – meaning it was designed to require a minimum amount of water, with local stones and drought-tolerant plants.
Buildings such as Mirbek’s house offer a glimpse of a sustainably designed future. The EU encourages green building through initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus, which funds projects that embody the principles of sustainability, inclusion and style. It also offers Europeans the opportunity to share ideas on climate-friendly architecture and explore exciting innovations to ensure Europe is at the forefront of sustainable building design.
From old to new, any building can be a green building. If you want to give your home a green upgrade, join the Climate Pact community by taking a pledge to formally represent your green contribution! More than 950,000 green house commitments across Europe have been made to date, including the installation solar panels and insulationsaving more than one million kilograms of CO2 – the same amount as the emissions of 217 passenger vehicles over the course of a year. So why not be part of the change?