Let’s start with the numbers: did you know that 40% of Europe’s energy use goes into heating, cooling and powering the buildings in which we live and work? And that our buildings produce 36% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions? This is a staggering proportion, and it shows that reducing the energy consumption of our buildings is critical if we want to act for the climate. When it comes to making construction more sustainable, ambitious policies along with public and private investment 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 warmth and as a result, 75% of the EU’s building stock leaks 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 with this ‘renovation wave,’ the EU will be providing 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 life for people using the buildings, but also create new jobs in the construction sector. And energy bills will likely get cheaper too.
So how can you join the trend? Here are some ideas on how to make your older building more energy efficient, and which green elements to look out for in a newly-built property.
Older can still be greener
One solution is to carry out renovations on 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 could also look into renewable heating and cooling technologies like heat pumps and solar heating systems to lower the emissions generated year-round.
This is what Céline Seince, a French Climate Pact Ambassador, did. Céline is also coordinator of RURENER, a 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 grants and subsidies to make improvements, and anyway in France, any house that isn’t efficient enough cannot be rented out. Even though we’re just getting into the house, at some point we will need to make these changes.” So that’s one good tip – if you’re thinking of carrying out energy renovations on your home, make sure you check with your local authority for any grant schemes that could support you.
However, don’t be daunted by the scale of the challenge – Céline confirms that these renovations don’t have to be huge or costly. “We put insulating material around the windows where we had cool air coming in to block the air flow,” she explains.“It’s not as effective as changing the window and the air still comes in a bit, but it’s not as bad as it was.”
Five simple ways to make your home into a greener building
Install a smart meter, which can be programmed to ensure that heating only comes on in certain rooms and at certain times of the day when it is really needed.
Choose thick curtains and blinds, which can prevent heat loss in the winter and deflect sunlight to keep your home cooler in summer.
Invest in energy efficient light bulbs, which will save you money on your energy bills.
Seal cracks and gaps in your home, and place draught excluders under doors to prevent heat from escaping.
Bleed your radiators once per year to ensure that they are working effectively, and install radiator foil behind them to reflect heat away from the wall and back into the room.
New building, new green features
While many of us live in older buildings, new constructions are being developed across Europe every day. But are they green?
What makes a new construction green?
Bioclimatic design: Architects should take the local climate conditions into account when designing buildings to avoid energy loss.
Sustainable, locally sourced materials: Wood, stone and natural fibre can be used to minimise the environmental impact of the building. Recycled materials from demolished buildings can be used for construction and insulation.
Use of smart materials: Certain materials, such as concrete or coatings for metal, can be designed to react to their environment and repair themselves, thus lengthening their life span.
Smart use of space: The design of the house should facilitate the optimisation of energy use; for example, the rooms shouldn’t be too big.
Use of renewable energies: New buildings should be designed to use solar, geothermal, wind and hydraulic power to further reduce their carbon footprint.
“Our walls, windows and doors are very well insulated, and we have big south-facing windows to let in heat from sunlight in the winter,” he explains. “We want to be independent from the grid so we have solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.” With climate change forcing summer temperatures up, Mirbek has also built overhangs above his windows to provide shade and keep cool.
Mirbek’s house has a way to store rainwater, which can then be used for a variety of everyday purposes. In addition, he repurposes water used in the kitchen sink – known as ‘grey’ water – to flush the toilets. He has also installed a ‘xeriscaped’ garden – which means it has been designed to require a minimal amount of water, featuring local stone and drought-resistant plants.
Buildings such as Mirbek’s house offer a glimpse into a sustainably designed future. The EU is encouraging green construction through initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus, which funds projects that embody the principles of sustainability, inclusiveness 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 cutting-edge of sustainable building design.
From old to new, any building can be a green building. If you’re interested in giving your home a green upgrade, join the Climate Pact community by taking a pledge to formally represent your green contribution! Over 950 000 pledges relating to making homes across Europe greener have been made so far, including installing solar panels and insulation, saving over 1 million kilogrammes of CO2 – the same amount as the emissions of 217 passenger vehicles over the course of a year. So why not become part of the change?
- Publication date
- 11 March 2022