Briefing 1/2019: Why Good Health Begins in a Good Homes

April 2018

Good health can come from many sources, but maybe none is as overlooked as the value of a good building.

We spend about 90% of our lives indoors. Most of the air we breathe over our lifetimes is found there. Our buildings’ temperatures, lighting, humidity, draughts and noise can determine our vulnerability to illness. They can even affect our moods and mental wellbeing. The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.3 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor air pollutants. 

Reams of studies on the subject have incontrovertibly linked healthy bodies to healthy buildings. There are many benefits to healthy schools, healthy hospitals, and healthy office buildings, as well as healthy homes.


Download the Renovate Europe Briefing 1/2019: Why Good Health Begins in a Good Home

Download the one-page infographic: Why should we carry out health renovations?

Renovate Europe reaches out to safeguard Energy Renovation in InvestEU

Ahead of the trilogues on InvestEU scheduled today Monday 18th and Wednesday 20th, Renovate Europe called on the negotiators to safeguard energy renovation of buildings as an explicit investment area in the Sustainable Infrastructure Window.

 Indeed, article 7§1(a) should explicitly mention “(…) energy efficiency in line with the 2030 energy frameworks, buildings renovation projects focused on energy savings (…)” as in the Parliament position, supported by the Commission potential compromise text.

 Buildings, whether schools, hospitals, police stations, or houses and apartments, are an essential infrastructure in Europe, providing a shelter and a nest to our citizens. They must be renovated in an energy efficient manner to give comfort and wellbeing, ensuring good health for everyone. Funding building renovation is an essential investment in our infrastructure. When we renovate buildings, we are investing in the future safety, productivity and prosperity of the EU. As any other infrastructure, buildings require investment and renewal in order to stay effective and competitive.

This clarification of eligibility would help mobilise financing by bundling projects together, building a pipeline of projects, and giving confidence to investors and the private sector. This would be especially important given that in some Member States, between 40 and 80% of public infrastructure investment comes from the EU Budget.

Time to address Europe’s hot and cold homes crisis

(Jonathan Fox/ Flickr)

By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

20 February 2019

Is it acceptable in 2019 that nearly one in ten households across Europe are unable to keep their homes warm in winter?

We have grown so used to living with energy poverty that it may seem strange to ask that question, even when a Friends of the Earth report out today finds that most European countries have significant energy poverty problems and will not be able to keep their citizens warm this year.  In a graphic to makes architects’ hearts sink, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia foot the table for damp, leaky homes with high energy bills.  Meanwhile, the EU’s coldest nations – Sweden, Finland and Denmark – still have the warmest homes.

We are familiar with not asking why this should be.  But actually, there are other questions that arise from a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report which similarly demands a response.  For example, should we tolerate a Europe in which one in five people cannot keep their homes cool in summer?

This is not a niche issue reserved for Mediterranean countries: 250 people died in the heatwave that hit Denmark last summer.  As climate change takes hold this century, unequal outcomes may loom ever larger.

Housing inequality is a key driver of unjust climate impacts – and that applies as much to cooling as to heating.  Heat rises and it seeps through thin ceilings, placing top floor residents at greatest risk of heat injury.  Just over half of the victims of the Paris heatwave of 2003 lived on the top two floors of traditional Paris ‘service rooms’.  Often they were elderly, or immobile.

The relationship between heat stress and top floor dwelling has been confirmed by research in Nuremberg, and it is worst in city centres where ‘urban heat islands’ can raise local temperatures by up to nine additional degrees centigrade.

Europe’s poor have traditionally been concentrated in older, cheaper and more poorly-built housing, often small flats in inner city apartment buildings.  Because they have less choice in where they can live, they have tended to rely on homes close to workplaces and affordable amenities, frequently in industrial areas.

“Ensuring the affordability of appropriately insulated and ventilated housing in quiet locations with good air quality is, therefore, key to reducing the exposure of vulnerable groups to environmental health hazards,” the EEA Study says.

Older tower blocks which typically house low income tenants in the UK, France and eastern European countries are particularly prone to over-heating.  But they need not be when, as the EEA Study makes clear, simple cost-tailored investments could turn that picture around – to everyone’s benefit.

In Berlin, an award-winning Kie zKlima project has involved residents in the building of shaded structures in a local kindergarten, a backyard greening for local multi-generation housing and the installation of a public drinking water fountain.

Another “living lab” building conversion in Dresden’s HeatResilientCity project is transforming 1980s prefabricated-slab apartment blocks in the Dresden-Gorbitz district, through a mixture of behaviour adaptation and physical measures.

Impressively, a renovation of two tower blocks in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham installed reflective blinds in windows, reflective coating on walls, roof insulation and mechanical extractor fans in a straightforward revamp that led to a noticeable improvement for most residents.

As Shirley Rodrigues, the deputy mayor of London put it at the launch of the EEA Study: “Half of the air pollution problem we have in London is non-transport related, and buildings are a massive source.  If we were able to set minimum energy efficiency standards we could do work around replacing boilers - which are a huge pollutant - both for air quality and for climate change.  But we don’t have those powers and there was no talk about that in the government’s air quality strategy.”

The British government is pursuing its own path to meet EU air quality obligations before it leaves the bloc.  But when almost 20% of the European households at risk of poverty are also unable to sufficiently heat their homes, the issue deserves urgent attention at EU level too.

In Bulgaria, most poor homes – nearly 40% of all households – struggle to keep warm during winter months, while other south-eastern European countries, including Greece, fare little better.  “This may explain why excess winter mortality in southern European countries is higher than in northern European countries,” the EEA analysis says.

Appallingly, the share of income spent by Europe’s low-income families on energy rose 33% between 2000 and 2014, with the worst performing countries suffering from winter and summer energy poverty.  In North Macedonia, Poland and the UK, lone parent households were found to be most vulnerable to cold home syndrome.  In Lithuania, single older adult households were most at risk of living in chilled dwellings.

“Building standards for urban housing are often an underestimated part of our climate policies,” the EEA director, Hans Bruyninckx, told a launch meeting last week.  Renovating buildings to high social and energy standards would offer “a good way forward,” he said.

With the building sector accounting for 40% of our energy use and 36% of our greenhouse gas emissions, it is hard to disagree.  The sector has the potential to transform the life possibilities of Europe’s most vulnerable – and alienated – citizens. It can infuse our emissions-cutting task with a cry for social justice that resonates across the continent. it merits priority attention now before our hand is forced by extreme weather events.

Read on Euractiv: 



Commission must not take its eye off the ball for decarbonisation by 2050


By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

26th November 2018


The news that 10 EU Member States including France, Italy and Spain are demanding that the European Commission chart a “credible and detailed” path to full decarbonisation by 2050 must have come as a surprise at the Berlaymont.  The letter was a stirring clarion call to action that brooked no misunderstanding: “We encourage the Commission to set a clear direction towards net zero GHG emissions in the EU by 2050,” the energy and environment ministers wrote. 

Such a direction would have to involve an emergency scaling down of the nearly 40% of our emissions that currently come from buildings.  This would mean a major escalation of current renovation efforts.  Yet there are some signs that the European Commission may, as far as buildings are concerned, be proposing something much less ambitious, perhaps even taking its eye off the ball completely.

A leaked staff working document last month suggested that the Commission was only modelling scenarios involving a reduction of final energy consumption of between 18-40% in the residential sector between 2030 and 2050.  By 2070, it said, these percentages would only have increased “incrementally”.

The Renovate Europe campaign has called for an 80% cut in energy waste from buildings by 2050 – and that call has been backed by MEPs in the European Parliament.  It is the least that we need to do to reach our long-term goals.

Some commentators have expressed fears that the strategy in its current shape is far off track to achieve 1.5°C and believe it to be in stark contrast with the urgency of action enshrined in the new IPCC report.  In the IPCC report we see that reaching 1.5°C would require building emissions to be reduced by 80–90% by 2050, new construction to be fossil-free and near-zero energy by 2020, and an increased rate of energy refurbishment of existing buildings to 5% per annum in OECD countries.  We are far from achieving these numbers!

While it was positive that the leaked paper recognised the “huge potential” of highly efficient and decarbonised buildings to accelerate emissions-cutting programmes, it is baffling that it seems to under-utilise that potential in its analysis.  That disconnect between diagnosis and prescription must be rectified in the final version.

Reducing the heat lost by poor thermal insulation in Europe’s buildings is “crucial” to meeting the Paris climate goals, the paper says.  Buildings are Europe’s largest single energy consumer and gas and oil make up around 62% of their total heating inputs.  But the document then takes a neutral-to-positive view of a shallow renovations strategy that, inexplicably, appears to deliver higher energy savings by 2050, but lower ones by 2070.

Similarly, it is well and good to note that heating accounts for 60% of a building’s energy use – 65% in residential homes – but perplexing to then see behavioural change, fuel mix and biomass addressed in greater detail than the significant and permanent CO2 cuts offered by deep energy renovations.

Surprisingly, despite the low rate of new annual constructions, nearly zero energy buildings could still account for as much as a quarter of all Europe’s building stock by 2050, the Commission paper argues.  Thanks to the amended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, these properties “will be fully insulated, and make use of their shell (rooftops, walls and also windows) and soil occupancy to produce renewable electricity from solar PV, solar heat or geothermal heat pumps.”

Even so, the leaked analysis recaps the scale of the renovations challenge in the EU today: 97% of existing buildings need partial or deep renovation; achieving the minimum Paris climate targets will mean more than doubling Europe’s current 1-1.5% renovation rate to 3% per annum, and quickly.

It is to be hoped that renovation efforts in the final paper will be focussed towards deeper energy renovation works at the worst performing end of the building scale, which the document elsewhere says should be prioritised.  Because on their own, the measures discussed in the leaked working paper will not be enough to deliver on the EU’s pledged transition to a low carbon society.

We are reaching a critical stage of the journey and of the energy decarbonisation process itself.  From here on in, the stakes will only get higher and the pressures greater.  The Commission will need clarity, nerve and vision to chart the path to 2050.  It must not take its eye off the ball now and it must give the buildings sector its rightful place in achieving a better Europe.


Read it on EURACTIV 

Why the indoor renovation ripple effect could save our lives

By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

22nd November 2018


Christmas is not just a time of mistletoe and wine with the family.  It’s a time of coughs, sneezes and wheezes as the temperature drops.  One reason for this is that we spend so much time indoors.  On average, we spend more than 21 hours of each day inside buildings and the colder it is outside, the more likely we are to be curled up on a warm sofa – and exposed to particles, mould and bacteria.  It is counter-intuitive but concentrations of air pollutants indoors can be up to five times greater than those outside.

Temperature, draughtiness, light and noise also play an outsized role in our wellbeing.  But buildings can still be overlooked or underestimated.  They are simply too close to home, and as scantly noticed as the air that we breathe.

However, a new ‘Buildings 2030’ report by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) is shining a spotlight on it. For the first time, the study measures and quantifies the extraordinary effects that energy renovations can have on wellbeing and productivity in schools, offices and hospitals.

The report’s headline figures are eye-catching.  Europe’s students could shave two weeks off their school year with better indoor air quality.  Hospital patients’ recovery time can be abridged by 10 % (about a day per person), with savings of up to €50 billion.  Most impressively, workplace productivity could soar with benefits worth as much as €500 billion Europe-wide.

The reasons why are not hard to fathom.  Poor air quality is a drain on human resources.  Too much warmth causes tiredness and inattentiveness.  Too much cold fuels asthma, allergies and headaches.  High levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and volatile organic compounds can create sick building syndrome and trigger a range of ailments.

The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood has found the prevalence of such maladies rising among European children, linked to poor indoor and outdoor air quality.  But the ripple effect from energy renovations could change all that.

Clear lighting – including daylighting – can raise feelings of freshness, creativity and productivity in a workforce.  The opposite is also true.  Poor lighting leads to eye strain, headaches, bad posture and more frequent accidents.

Noise is another under-rated aspect of the quality of life.  Good acoustic indoor environments reduce stress and aid calmness, concentration and responsiveness.  When noise insulation is poor, diminished cognitive performance, and reduced concentration and memory all too often result.

The BPIE study found that where the best indoor environment aspects were aligned, workers were less drowsy, healthier, more alert, focussed and productive, and with higher morale.

This could also be quantified in reduced rates of absenteeism, lower staff turnover and fewer business disruptions.

Altogether, the average employee’s improved annual performance was worth between €1,000 and €6,500, the BPIE found, after extrapolating from hundreds of reports.  For an office of 200 people that would translate to annual savings of around €600,000.  For Europe as a whole, it would amount to around €500 billion per year gross value added – as much as the Juncker Commission set out to leverage in its flagship EFSI programme over the five-year life of this Commission.

Students would enjoy their time inside buildings more if the air quality were better.  In warmer, drier and better ventilated schools, children are present more often and take fewer sick days off, resulting in less overall spending on healthcare.

For those already in healthcare facilities, high quality indoor spaces reduce the average patient’s stay in hospital by around 1 day, the BPIE paper says.  This slashes financial overheads and frees up staff time, improving access to resources for health services.

Most importantly, faster recovery times from illnesses improve the quality of life for all and, in common with other multiple benefits from energy renovations, do so for a fraction of the cost of treating the maladies.

“The cost of renovating these buildings is modest compared to the many benefits, including healthier, happier and more productive citizens,” says the study. “An enhanced building stock will facilitate a better quality of life and a more competitive European economy.”

So, what are we waiting for?

Efficiency or economy? We can have both… or neither

By Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

22nd November 2018


Energy efficiency and a strong economy are sometimes counterposed against each other as if they were a zero-sum choice. “It’s all very well touting luxury renovations, but in the real world investors need a return,” discordant voices will say.  The International Energy Agency’s Energy Efficiency 2018 Outlook study is a useful corrective to this position – so useful in fact, that its neglect in the media was quite shocking.

In it, the world’s foremost energy economists found that efficiency savings could provide more than 40% of the climate mitigation that we need by 2040 – if we are to meet the Paris climate goals – while doubling the value of the global economy at the same time.  What’s more astounding is that under this ‘efficient world scenario’, we would doubly benefit in our daily lives.

Air pollution, energy imports and fuel poverty would all tumble – and energy bills for consumers would plunge by more than $500 billion a year.  By the IEA’s reckoning, households could save $201bn in avoided expenditure on gas and electricity, and $365bn on transport fuels.

That is more than the sum spent on tourism by the four highest-spending countries in 2017 – China, Germany, the UK and USA.  Taking this path would also cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 12% at the same time.

Energy efficiency and the economy are not an “either-or” equation so much as a “both or neither” one.  When costly and crucial “externalities” such as wellbeing in outdoor or indoor spaces are considered, the balance sheet is even more skewed towards climate action.

The IEA’s ambitious scenario would reduce killer emissions of SO2 by 42%, NOx by 29% and PM2.5 by 15%, compared with 2015 levels.  The early death toll linked to indoor air pollution could be slashed by around one-third.

In so doing, the energy saving effort would also cut fossil fuel bills for key importers such as China, the EU and India by up to $300bn, $190bn and $189bn respectively.

The bottom line is that energy efficiency is “indispensable to achieving global climate targets,” the IEA says. Its report envisages 60% more building space within 21 years – and 20% more people – but with energy use only marginally up from today.  As the paper warns though, the train to this world is quite literally leaving the platform and there is no time to waste if we are to catch it.

The world’s leading climate scientists reported last month that we have just 12 years left to implement a suite of strong policy measures if we are to stop climate change reaching catastrophic and uncontainable levels.  Experts believe that the next two or three years are a “critical window” that will make or break efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

According to the UN IPCC, pegging global warming at 1.5C – a level 50% higher than at present – will require a reduction in building emissions of up to 90% by mid-century and a four-fold increase in the renovation rate to 5% per year in OECD states.

This is a daunting but just about doable task.  It is also why the agency’s other key finding is so vexing: While “targeted policy action” will be needed to achieve the agency’s Efficient World Scenario model, global energy efficiency improvements have been slowing down for two years now.

Fewer new standards and policies are being introduced and this is helping growth in energy demand. Total spending on efficient buildings and appliances leapt by 3% last year, to $140bn.  But that was little more than the 2.5% investment growth for the building sector as a whole.  Worse, the annual growth rate for efficient buildings and appliances slowed between 2014 and 2016.

By 2040, most buildings will need to be either highly energy efficient and new, or already deep energy renovated, the IEA says.  At the rate we are going, it will not happen.

While the agency’s analysis holds out a signpost to a better world, this will not arrive on its own.  Indeed, the “critical window” we need to squeeze through could well slam shut before we have escaped.  What then for those who fret over investment in better buildings now?

We can decarbonise and double the value our economies, increasing our health, happiness and productivity as we do so.  Or we can continue on a business as usual path to planetary disaster, with the economic implications that follow from that.

Let’s not forget: Losses from warming of 5 degrees have been estimated at $7 trillion – more than the total market capitalisation of the London FTSE.  Global flood damages alone on a business as usual path are projected to cost up to $1.8 trillion later this century.

Is this really such a difficult choice?