Energy performance of buildings: Every little helps

Written by Anneli Jäätteenmäki on 29 June 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

The energy performance of buildings directive should strive for a healthy indoor environment, explains Anneli Jäätteenmäki.

Anneli Jäätteenmäki | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


The most important point I aim to make as Parliament's environment committee opinion rapporteur on the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD) is simple - buildings are made for people to live and work in. 

They are rarely laboratories for energy efficiency engineers. They are inhabited by ordinary people who are interested in more than their monthly energy bill. Buildings are homes and places of work. We attach multiple and sometimes conflicting values and emotions to buildings.

On average, Europeans spend about 90 per cent of their time indoors, inhaling indoor air and its pollutants. Insufficient ventilation and poor design can result in excessive humidity and different kinds of moulds cause respiratory problems, allergies and asthma.


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The indoor environment of buildings should contribute to the advancement of health - not work against it. In practice this means that buildings should be constructed from non-toxic, durable and recyclable materials. 

The building has to have sufficient natural light and suitable temperature and humidity levels. It should be sufficiently insulated, and with regard to warmer climates, protected against overheating.

International climate negotiations used to be gatherings for the deeply initiated, the scientists and dedicated policymakers.

Huge conferences have produced scientifically sound analysis about the damage we are doing to the planet. The Paris agreement solidified the political will. The aftermath of the US decision to leave has increasingly turned the attention to the EU and China.

It is one thing to understand and accept the naked facts of rising CO2 levels, but it is something else entirely to act against their rise. We are only beginning to seriously legislate on climate policies.

The political challenge is to translate the urgency into legislation and implementation, while keeping citizens on board.

The update of the EPBD is an example of this implementation challenge. Nothing in the EU toolbox can rapidly have an impact on the renovation rates of the European building stock. The current rate of one per cent a year does not promise quick results. Optimally, energy price should be the prime principle for efficiency.

Unfortunately from a climate perspective, fossil fuels are still too cheap and all kinds of derogations too plentiful. Therefore, to improve energy efficiency, we have to use suboptimal guidance. Long-term renovation plans, properly maintained heating and ventilation systems and similar measures are relevant. Every little helps.

Energy efficiency comes from good design, construction, maintenance and wise use of the building. There are a lot of things that can be done which do not cost any extra money.

In contrast, aggressive scheduling may become costly in the long run. Energy efficient buildings should be built with Goethe in mind: Ohne Hast, aber ohne Rast - without haste, but without rest. New construction techniques should be tested in real life. Marketing promises should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism. Many, if not most, problems in construction can be traced back to poor design and tight schedules.

To give a very concrete example, I have been amazed at the inattention paid to the proper drainage of foundations. Even a simple physical phenomenon such as capillarity, can cause serious problems with humidity and degradation of the building which could have easily been avoided.

To sum up, the building sector with its 40 per cent of EU final energy use must contribute its fair share. We should pay special attention to sound building practices, in order to have stock that is both energy efficient and healthy.

 

About the author

Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE, FI) is Parliament's environment committee opinion rapporteur on the energy performance of buildings directive

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