Cost-effective and high performance renovation of existing residential multi-family buildings in three European countries
Conference poster, 2013
The built environment is a central aspect of daily human life. Building processes are also among the most cost intensive processes that we come into contact with. As for residential buildings, many people take 20 or 30 years, or even more, to pay back their home loans. Refurbishment of buildings is seen as a possible major contribution to lowering the impact of buildings on the environment  while being, ideally, economically promising and keeping the social identity of our built environment. On the other hand, regulations are often centered on the sustainability of new buildings , and there is a lack of regulations tailored to refurbishment . At the same time existing buildings are seen as a key factor in local identity, and as a hub of socio-ecological development .
The EU funded BEEM-UP project (Building Energy Efficiency for Massive market UPtake)  has the goal to demonstrate the economic, social and technical feasibility of retrofitting initiatives for a 75 percent reduction in energy consumption in existing buildings, and lay the ground for massive market uptake. BEEM-UP involves key expertise to implement and demonstrate innovative building and energy management approaches with the overall aim to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings and obtain better indoor comfort conditions in three ambitious retrofitting projects. The main emphasis is placed on the economic and ecological life cycle assessment and comparison of the different projects and applied measurements in Sweden, the Netherlands and France. All projects are large-scale residential buildings with a focus on social housing, apartments and flats. All three sites are representative examples in the respective countries of building cohorts that are due for refurbishment.
One of the main goals of the BEEM-UP project is to compare the refurbishment approaches of the different countries, and to provide an exchange regarding related problems and solutions. For this purpose an ecological as well as life cycle cost assessment has been carried out for all three sites. For each site six refurbishment scenarios have been defined through intensive consultations with the building owners and other stakeholders, for instance tenants or tenant representatives. First preliminary results indicate that it is economically and technologically feasible to achieve 75 percent reductions in energy consumption for the existing building stock.
However, these preliminary findings point to institutional and social impediments that may not lead to massive market uptake in the social housing real estate community. Social housing institutions face distinct regulations and economic constraints, which can inhibit their uptake of energy retrofit policies . On the one hand, national and EU wide policies nudge building owners towards basic energy-efficiency measures. On the other hand, institutional factors historically embedded into the social housing framework like rent controls and governmental rent subsidies inhibit a more equitable distribution of refurbishment costs between tenants and building owners. Moreover, discounted third-party capital is limited and subsidies at the national and local levels cannot support the level of refurbishments needed across the housing stock.
However, there is economic value in energy-efficiency refurbishments of the building stock. An increasing number of studies document increased transaction values for buildings that are relatively more energy-efficient [7,8]. However, BEEM-Up has shed light on other sources of value at the property level. Namely, firms that have developed the product, process and organizational innovations associated with energy-efficiency retrofits could be financially more nimble and efficient in their housing portfolio relative to their non-innovative peers. In addition, there are more ways than transaction value and rental income to see the financial benefits of energy-efficiency. Alternate sources of income from renewable energy and even less explored financial benefits from taxation and depreciation that are currently linked to energy-efficiency investments are another source of savings for energy-efficiency that is far less explored. Thus, political and economic capital is required to shift institutions and firms towards an innovation mind-set to meet the needs of an ecologically improved building stock.