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Energy efficient homes just around the corner? Nyomtatás E-mail

The majority of the European residents lives and work in apartment or office blocks. The buildings we live and work in are big energy consumers and polluters, accounting for 40 % of Europe’s current energy consumption and 36 % of its CO2 emissions. A recent visit to the Faluhaz project - a refurbished block of flats in Budapest that joined the Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign in 2009 - shows how energy efficiency renovations are today seen as a viable, cost-effective policy.

 Increasingly, new buildings are obliged to comply with energy efficient measures. Most Europeans, however, still live in apartments built decades ago. Poorly isolated buildings are much less energy efficient, which raises residents’ energy consumption unnecessarily. Many residents live in so-called ‘panel blocks’ - buildings containing hundreds of apartments made of pre-fabricated panels - which are a common sight across Eastern and Central Europe. In most cases these blocks were built 30 to 50 years ago, with low-quality materials and with outdated heating systems.

According to the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), a Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign Associate, "Some 36 million European households live in high-rise residences - one in six of all households - and yet many of the buildings are in urgent need of refurbishment."

As the largest residential building in Hungary, the iconic Faluhaz block in Budapest was one such building in need of urgent energy efficient refurbishment. With some 886 flats covering 43 500 m², including 15 staircases, it is perhaps surprising that the renovation of the building took just six months between the summer and winter of 2009.

Energy efficiency measures included layering a 10 cm-thick insulation on the facade and roof of the building, and replacing 1 800 out-dated windows with new UPVC frame windows. On the roof of the building, a 1 500 m² solar-powered hot-water system was installed, boasting a capacity of 1 128 MWh. In addition, a new heating system connected to the roof-top solar system was installed, providing much higher levels of energy efficiency.

The Faluhaz project was more than three years in the making and financed through a combination of European, national and municipality funds. The total budget was approximately EUR 4 million, 40 % of which came from the Óbuda-Békásmegyer municipality and European funds (Staccatto funds), 33 % from the Hungarian national Panel Plusz programme, and 27 % from the owners. Jobs were created as a number of stakeholders - the renovation company, the district heating company and a communication consultancy, to name just a few - got involved.

Special attention was paid to the needs of the residents, with the Faluhaz project ensuring that consensus and enthusiasm was maximised. From the outset, a wealth of data was collected by going door-to-door in the building. Well-known residents and local politicians leant their support to the project and helped generate a spirit of cooperation. An information centre also helped keep residents up to date with the latest developments and progress of the renovation project.

Indeed, residents remained at the centre of these energy efficiency measures. Without their consensus, financial investment and continuous support, no measures could be implemented. Given that Hungary is not a country with a strong tradition of home-owner associations, input from residents on issues such as the comfort level of their apartments, monthly energy bills, and so on, is crucial to the success of such projects.

Maria Ciskai, from Energia Klub Hungary, a Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign Associate, explained: "The residents are mainly elderly people so it came as a surprise that they were ready to invest in these measures. Energy efficient refurbishment requires a substantial investment and they knew it would take a long time to pay off, say around 8 years. But they wanted to have a more comfortable and more valuable apartment, both for themselves and their families. They were thinking of future generations and invested in their apartments."

This type of attitude should certainly encourage policymakers to concentrate energy efficiency efforts on buildings. Indeed, the role of the residents should not be underestimated. After all, they are the primary beneficiaries of energy efficiency measures - enjoying better isolated homes, greater levels of comfort, lower energy bills and a higher value for their apartments. Energy efficiency monitoring, together with a calculation of exact energy savings will make potential energy efficiency measures more understandable - the more buildings are refurbished and results evaluated, the more we will know about the best energy efficiency measures to take. In addition, new sustainable energy technologies and renewable energy sources will be closely tied to the uptake of energy efficiency measures. Market niches will be found for heat pumps, solar-thermal and other sustainable technologies, which will bring to the table new financing measures, such as incentives given by governments to residents according to the savings they achieve.

If residents are given support in terms of an adequate financial mechanism, expert knowledge and a means to reach consensus, energy efficiency for buildings across Europe may be just around the corner.

Above content is from Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign's November 2010 Newsletter

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