Buildings can and should lead the climate and energy transition

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 76% of the global emissions reductions in Europe to comply with the Paris Agreement should come from energy efficiency measures, where buildings represent the greatest potential. Therefore, energy efficiency is a core driver for decarbonizing the sector, alongside decarbonized energy supply and reduced carbon footprint of construction products.

For though we tend to consider greenhouse-gas emissions mainly as the responsibility of industries and power suppliers, we should have in mind that buildings account for more than 40 percent of the EU’s energy bill, and are responsible for over a third of European carbon-dioxide emissions!

While in emerging economies the efficiency potential concentrates in new buildings, and while in Europe current and upcoming building regulations for new built are largely addressing the energy efficiency issue, the refurbishment of existing buildings represents a huge and often underestimated potential! Not only were 75 percent of the existing building stock built before the first building codes, which means they are leaky, energy-intensive and require renovation. But also, only 3 percent of the existing building stock match top energy standards (Class A). Nevertheless, today only 1% of buildings are renovated every year, though the target should be 3% to enable buildings to deliver their share of energy and greenhouse-gas reductions.

Given their expected lifetime, buildings are only likely to be renovated once, between now and 2050. To leverage the full potential of the renovation, buildings must be considered as a whole: a building envelope that minimizes heat losses, maximizes free solar gains and secures air-tightness, properly planned heating and cooling systems, and an effective integration of renewable-energy systems and technologies.

Beyond that, efficiently renovated buildings involve additional benefits, like the comfort of the occupants, the reduction of the energy bill and a facilitated transformation of the energy system:

In fact, as we spend nearly 90% of our lives indoors, it is critical that buildings and homes are safe, healthy, stress-free and comfortable. Insulating buildings improves their quality in every respect. A sound insulated building envelope is a prerequisite to acoustic comfort. Low-energy buildings where insulation, glazing, air-tightness and ventilation are considered together, allow for an improved thermal comfort. Buildings that were designed or renovated in a holistic manner are the starting point to ensure the overall comfort and wellbeing of the occupants, to solve a number of negative physical and mental health impacts, and in parallel to increase people’s productivity.

In addition to this, the monetary benefits of energy efficient buildings significantly outweigh the costs, not only for the occupants of the building, but also for local and national governments, and for society as a whole. They have been estimated to be two to three times greater than the investment needed, without even taking into account the avoided costs of climate change.

And last but not least, an energy efficient building stock will facilitate the transformation of the energy system: buildings are becoming less vulnerable to extreme temperatures, and countries more energy independent thanks to the reduction of peak loads, which will facilitate the use of renewable energies.

As of today, commercially available solutions – if deployed at scale – can take us 75% of the way to net zero. If the right steps to promote renovation and energy-efficient buildings are made today, we can look forward to a low-emission future.

ISOVER develops and offers innovative solutions for new constructions and renovations to reduce the footprint of the built environment. We assess the environmental impacts of our products over their entire lifecycle and we deliver transparent information on their environmental performances to our customers by providing third party verified Environmental Product Declarations.