How is the iBRoad project, a finalist for the EU Sustainable Energy Awards in the Innovation category, and its vision for stepwise deep renovation of European buildings relevant in the current context?
The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns saw European homes transformed – literally in a matter of days – into hubs for a multitude of concurrent activities extending way beyond the dwellings' original intended purposes, such as work, education, physical training and cultural creation. This instant change made even more evident the need for buildings to be safe, comfortable, climate-proof and resilient, while making efficient use of resources to cater for all EU citizens' needs.
While the context of this transformation may have been perceived as temporary, we can be certain that it will continue beyond the pandemic framework, at least to a significant degree. Indicatively, according to recent research by Gartner, 74% of CFOs intend to permanently shift some employees to remote work. Other professionals, including many currently unemployed, may choose to develop new careers from their homes.
Overall, it is reasonable to expect that people will be spending more time in their homes than before the pandemic; they will thus want to improve conditions such as thermal comfort, ventilation, noise insulation, lighting and room flexibility for new activities. Research has shown that people are happier and more productive in settings which they themselves have shaped and can control.
It is also reasonable to expect that many of those improvements will be done gradually due to cash shortages. This is not a new phenomenon. We know that most home building renovations in Europe are already implemented step-by-step; they are also mostly funded by homeowners themselves. A key element of these renovations is
that they may not always be named or perceived as such; they may be called 'interventions', 'improvements', 'redecorations', 'works', 'maintenance', 'upgrades' or otherwise. Notwithstanding, they represent substantial investments in European dwellings, gradually changing the residential building stock, in and out.
Before COVID-19, a major incentive for such investments, particularly
in Southern Europe, was their exploitation in the sharing economy. This is now not the case, with other trends taking precedence, such as those mentioned above. An eminent danger here are 'Quick fixes' that reduce future options or make them much more expensive.
At the same time, the urgent and cross-cutting nature of the pandemic in no way reduces the urgency and importance of climate change; the EC's recent announcement of the recovery plan and the role of the European Green Deal sets the full context. The climate-related requirements for European buildings are more important than ever, in respect to both climate change mitigation (reducing buildings' direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (providing climate-resilient shelter).
What if all these investments in a home could be put into a greater context and be part of a consistent while flexible long-term plan, leading to a building which is better in all respects, including climate resilience, indoor environment, energy performance, economic viability and aesthetics?
It is here that the joint concept of building renovation roadmap and digital building logbook proposed
by the iBRoad project, as a model for Building Renovation Passports, comes into play: the roadmap can be used to transform the homeowner’s desires into a concrete long-term plan, while the digital logbook can help them organise all building-related information and record their progress along the plan as snapshots of real building states.
The iBRoad project began before Building Renovation Passports were mentioned in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), but its approach fully supports the EPBD context: the iBRoad concept is aimed as a catalyst for deep renovation of residential buildings, providing realistic roadmaps which take into account homeowners’ needs, desires and financial means. If use is made of loans or grants supporting building renovation, these too become part of the plan.
The iBRoad approach includes several other elements and methodologies in support of stepwise deep renovation, such as an energy audit methodology and training leading to the development of the roadmap; a flexible hybrid data structure for building information (common and country-specific); a cost calculation methodology; public opinion and stakeholder feedback analysis; and policy proposals including guidance for implementation and suggestions for informational, economic and regulatory instruments surrounding Building Renovation Passports. These outcomes are publicly available and form part of a modular framework: authorities and agencies can choose the elements which are relevant to their own specific conditions.
Critically in the current context, the iBRoad roadmap-logbook approach could also support non-energy related home transformations. Home renovation ‘triggers’, such as children moving out, providing working space, or undertaking major maintenance works represent opportunities to reflect on the big picture of our home’s mid-term and long-term future. A key aspect is avoiding lock-ins, whereby present choices limit the renovation potential in the future. Conversely, known ambitions for the future can be more efficiently and effectively implemented if already foreseen in planning. A building renovation roadmap can ensure that the best measures are taken in an optimal order.
iBRoad's end-user survey showed that, while most homeowners are willing to undertake the cost of renovation themselves, they may be reluctant to invest in expert guidance, such as that provided by a Building Renovation Passport. Yet such guidance may be critical for the long-term success of renovations, both for homeowners needs and policy targets. This is therefore the opportunity for the public sector in EU Member States to invest in Building Renovation Passports, thus supporting citizens in doing their part for social, economic and climate resilience. It is also the opportunity for the public sector to take advantage of such instruments for its own 'homes' – public buildings are ideal candidates for stepwise deep renovation.
The iBRoad project has received funding from the European Union's HORIZON 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 754045.
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