Make your city more liveable and sustainable: Ask, learn and share about energy, ICT and mobility!

SCIS Podcast Episode 2: Building Retrofit

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

AC: I’m Anthony Colclough and this is Urban Reverb, brought to you by the Smart Cities Information System at Welcome back to the first ever European Smart Cities Podcast Series. Today we're talking about retrofitting, and no, that doesn't mean trying to squeeze back into your old flared jeans and costume jewellery. Retrofitting is improving the energy rating of already existing buildings by going back and putting in, for example, double glazing insulation and more efficient heating, or solar panels, heat pumps and smart energy management systems.

CH: Energy renovation is paramount at political level in Europe to reduce air pollution, to increase quality of life, also to fight against climate change.

AC: As 40% of Europe's energy consumption goes on buildings, and roughly three quarters of those buildings have low energy ratings, building retrofit could offer serious Co2 emission reductions. So let's go! What are we waiting for?

CH: Well, of course, it’s quite difficult because you have to work in homes. You need to work also on citizen engagement. You have of course some technical barriers – it’s not easy when you work in retrofit, so on existing buildings, with their problems and their specificities. And of course form a financial point of view also it’s quite difficult because it’s really expensive.

AC: That's Cecilia Hugony from the project Sharing Cities.

CH: Yes, I am Cecilia Hugony, I am CEO of Tycos, which is an SME partner of the project, specialised in energy renovation. So, I work in energy retrofit, so in Sharing Cities we are trying to face the three parts of this problem, giving some technical package that can reduce energy consumption and also production of Co2 of buildings; to give some financial scheme that can be useful both on private and on public housing; and of course working on citizen engagement before and after the energy renovation.

AC: Now, retrofitting is a very broad topic, and this is only the first of many SCIS podcasts that will focus on the subject. Just listen to how many different things come under the heading of 'retrofit', in the Sharing Cities project:

CH: Lisbon is working on public building; first in residential housing, producing heating and cooling from electricity, reducing the energy needs and then installing huge PV system, photovoltaic system to feed the energy needs of the building.

AC: Photovoltaics or ‘PV’ is the word that those in the know use to describe what the rest of us call solar panels.

CH: They are also working in a school. This is quite interesting because, of course, where young people go every day and learn what is energy efficiency in their educational training; and then they are also working in building the historical centre – well, it’s the headquarters of the municipality, an historical building which is protected by the cultural heritage authorities. So, the integration of energy measures, both in changing the windows replacement and PV panels, it’s quite delicate.

CH: London is working, well Greenwich, is working on public social housing – two huge estates, doing a very challenging renovation. In one of these estates they’re installing a new heat pump, new water source heat pump, using the water from the river. And this is a new technology and it seems that it could be a first of a kind replicated then in the rest of London.

CH: In Milan, we’re working both in public buildings, social housing, there is a really deep renovation, because we are completely insulating the whole building envelope and then reducing the energy needs of nearly 70%. The other interesting intervention is the one on multi-property buildings. There the barrier is not technological but it’s the decision process in this householder’s association, where every decision, also the most technical decision is undertaken in an assembly. And we had a really good result, because in two years’ time we had the approval of 24000 m2, so we increased the target we had from the beginning of the project.

AC: Of course, retrofitting in a Melanese climate is one thing - what about when you're dealing with energy savings in a city that hits an average of minus six degrees centigrade in winter, with a record low of -38 degrees centigrade?

RT: Of course we are doing envelope, three layer windows for example, because without three layer windows it’s also not achievable, two layers are not enough. So we are also retrofitting all those technical systems, like heating, ventilation, because we need heat recovery also, to achieve our aims. And we are also installing solar panels on the roofs of all the buildings, because also without solar panels it’s not possible to achieve this near-zero energy consumption level.

AC: That's Raimond Tamm, deputy mayor of Tartu, lighthouse city in the SmartEnCity project.

RT: I’m Raimond Tamm, I’m the deputy mayor for the city of Tartu, it’s the second largest city in Estonia. My field of responsibilities, it’s entrepreneurship, innovation and communal services.

AC: In Tartu, they're focussing on a specific building, Kruchevka, Krushkevka, Kruschov...

RT: ‘Khrushchyovka’

AC: Khrushchyovka

RT: Khrushchyovka, yes. In the frame of Smarten City project we have decided to go for khrushchyovkas because the energy consumption in those buildings and also the indoor climate, which is important in case of health conditions. Where indoor climate is not favourable and also the energy consumption is very high, we have decided that the potential of those buildings to be retrofitted it’s remarkable, because we have a lot of these kinds of buildings in Eastern Europe. It’s not only in Estonia, it’s also in Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania. We are right now aiming to retrofit 22 so-called khrushchyovka buildings – 39,000 m2 of living space. Our aim is to retrofit those 22 buildings at the near zero energy consumption level.

AC: You heard it here first: Thousands of apartments consuming almost no energy throughout the freezing Estonian winter. Has Tartu had to face any challenges getting going with retrofit?

RT: It has been really challenging because, you know, always when you are doing something that has not been done so far, it’s difficult to explain that it’s feasible for the first, that it’s reasonable, and it’s affordable. So we had meetings with different housing associations which are the roofing organisations for the owners of apartments, and we participated in different meetings to explain and so on and so on.

AC: Cicilia and Raimond both mentioned the high costs of a retrofit. How can cities expect to fund this kind of endeavour?

CH: Well in Sharing Cities we are working on different models. For public social housing we are thinking about creating a revolving fund inside the cities who can be invested in energy renovation and can be also fed with the energy savings generated by the energy renovation. The idea is to have in the accountability system of the city, well, balance sheet, a chapter dedicated to investment in energy renovation. So this fund can be used just for energy renovation and is fed by, for example existing incentives at the national and regional level and maybe also from the savings that the energy renovation generates in the cities. On the other side for the private buildings we have created a new financial instrument, dedicated to household associations, which is integrated with the actual incentive to energy renovation that every member state somehow has to improve this market.

AC: So Milan is using a system called Revolving Funds for publicly owned buildings, and a new system for private owners. In Tartu, the business model of choice is the 'energy savings contract.'

RT: It’s one of our, let’s say, key challenges to find this kind of business model which works also after the, let’s say, ending of external support - not only directly from the European Union, but also from the state. And you know, those resources, those public resources are not endless. One of those possibilities is for example this ESCO, ‘energy savings contract.’ If you are making the initial investment, then you have to spend a lot of money. But we have companies, like utility companies or whoever, who actually have enough money for investments. And if they are making the initial investment, and then they are asking, let’s say, the money back later on based on the actual savings, then also the housing association is not paying more because they are paying just the part which they are saving on the energy. So basically it might be a very attractive model for the housing associations also. And if the payback time is reasonable, then also private sector companies might be interest in this kind of energy service contracts. And we have also practiced it in some cases in public sector, for example the swimming pool we had in Tartu, we had an energy service contract and it’s working very well. Depending on the return on investment, the payback period is determined and the private sector company who is offering the energy service contract is receiving, let’s say, the main part of the savings, and then also the housing association or whatever partner is also receiving a kind of benefit out of it. But after the end of the payback period, it might be 15 years or something like that, all the advantages come into the housing association.

AC: So, if you're working with limited funds, what's the most efficient way you can use them?

DC: We have to focus on what is very efficient: Thermal bridges, air tightness and regulation, instead of having very, very, very thick insulation and nothing else. The thickness over 12 or 14 cm, it’s good but it’s not… the most important is to correct thermal bridges, to have a high level of air tightness, and finally to have a good regulation with the valves and with a thermostat on the valve. That’s the three points for a very efficient retrofitting.

AC: But finance is not the most complicated part of retrofit. When you retrofit, you're dealing with two forces, a built element and a human element - both forces which can be highly unpredictable:

DC: So my name is David Corriger, I work in a small engineering firm, Manaslu engineering. We are specialists in energy commissioning for buildings. So we started working on the ZenN project 2011.

AC: Having successfully retrofit a number of buildings in Grenoble with ZenN, David can let us in on some of the challenges that only hindsight can illuminate. For example, when you start charging people for their heating individually, they can start doing strange things with the temperature sensors.

DC: So the first thing was to move the sensor from the living room to the windows or the balcony. So it’s very important when you have the monitoring to make some small software to develop and to make diagnostic, automatic diagnostic to detect if the sensor are the same temperature than the outdoor temperature. We have another family who has an auxiliary electrical heater. But they come from Martinique or Guadeloupe and they need to have 25 degrees in their dwelling, wo we have to accept that. But they accept also to pay electricity instead of paying heating. So, it’s another trade-off.

AC: David recommended moving tenants out of the building during the works, and highlighted a number of issues that can arise that sour or delay the process.

DC: During the work, during the retrofitting work, of course you always have somebody drilling and so on and so on. A retrofitting work like that is noisy. So when you keep the tenants in the dwellings it’s complicated to ensure that they will not complain. So the next time, I think that Actis, the social housing, will not keep the tenants inside. They will move them, because at seven o’clock when you are woken up by a drill or something else, it’s not nice. We have some complaints about access, because it’s always difficult to find the door and you have to change the way because of the renovation work. We had other difficulties because there was a praying room in one building, so we lost one year on the planning because of respecting the fact that we have to move and to have the agreement of everybody about the place where it will go and so on.

AC: But it's not just the priorities of residents that need special consideration. Sometimes engineers can let the engineering side of their brain get a little bit out of hand.

DC: If you have a good air tightness, you should have a good ventilation, otherwise it’s a catastrophe. For example, I know that we had a partner with very good results on the same kind of operation, and when I called the coordinator and said it’s not possible to reach that target, they admitted that the ventilation did not work. So, the results were fantastic but the ventilation was out of order. So, it was very bad for the tenants with very poor air quality. In winter, during the night when you sleep, there is almost no aerometry, so the flow is very low and people have headaches and the Co2 rate is increasing dramatically. But, it’s very good for the engineers, because the result on the energy certification is good with that system. We should guarantee the ventilation flow, because there is no leakage otherwise. So it’s very important: we should always have a global approach on energy, air quality and comfort.

AC: And, unfortunately, your own partners can throw up problems too.

DC: Everything was accepted and validated by all the participants of the project. But one month later, the facility manager lost the contract on those buildings. So they quit the buildings, but when they quit they shut off all the regulation, so everything was in open loop and there was no closed loop regulation. So the result was that there was no regulation in the heaters, so we had over heating, no regulation and overconsumption. So the fact that… it’s a pity that some people could behave that way.

AC: When it comes to dodgy partners, there's little to be done beyond, as David mentioned, making sure your contract is watertight. But for residents there's lots to be done to get people on board. One vital part, is bringing people on board from the beginning, so that they can co-create solutions.

CH: Well this is a critical point. In Sharing Cities we have been developing and experimenting a new methodology and we have been working during the first two years of the project with a twenty-owner community – we are talking about 1000 families – in a new process of codesigning the energy retrofit in their buildings. Five of these buildings, almost 300 families, decided to invest their money in energy renovation of their own flats in the building. On the other side, we are working on post-retrofit engagement. This means that renovated buildings work in a different way than before the energy renovation, so people have to adapt their way of using their flat to the new technologies that are installed and this means also changing a bit their behaviour to optimise also the energy efficiency measure to have back the maximum income from that. So this undertakes a real training and also a manual on how to use the energy renovated flat, is something we are developing now and I think it will be ready, well, soon.

AC: In Tartu, they're doing all sorts of things to popularise and spread the word about the retrofit:

RT: It took us, I would say, nine months at least to speak to all those housing associations. It’s quite hard to convince people because you have to talk and you have your calculations and so on… we understood from the very beginning that because apartment owners are all different persons, and 700 apartments means about 1500 inhabitants which are touched by our retrofitting activities, so basically we started from the very beginning with our engagement work group, and basically we have worked out our engagement plan for citizens. But not only citizens, it’s also an engagement plan for the technical designers, for example, it’s also an engagement plan for the construction companies, and for not only the people who are living in those buildings which are retrofitted, but also for people outside of the retrofitted building community, because the aim of our project is not only to retrofit 22 buildings, but to make the other people around us, not only in Estonia but in other countries, to understand that it’s reasonable to do it. So, we are arranging different events for the representatives of the housing associations. For people who are living in the pilot area, and also for the wider community. A family day, so that people can come with children and children have different activities taking place. I believe that engagement, if you are too serious, it’s not the most fruitful thing to do. It should be playful, it should be interactive for people.

AC: And Tartu came up with a great way to playfully emphasise this new dimension of the city.

RT: We have many examples in Estonia where the building is retrofitted but it has maybe like a grey façade and it’s not actually speaking to the public space. And then we decided that maybe we could build an art gallery in the city centre of Tartu and therefore we decided that, you know, if all the buildings will be like a piece of art, that we have kind of solutions on the façade, that it will be a unique gallery. We had a competition, we received actually proposals from, I think it was over 50 different artists form 10 different countries. We have 22 housing associations, we are choosing one artist and they will work hand in hand and we have heard a lot of positive feedback because of that activity also. And when we have the family day then we also plan to have the exhibition of the art solutions which are planned for the buildings.

AC: Cooperation with academia has also been a great way for the city to spread its retrofit mania.

RT: The University of Tartu is also one of the partners in the consortium and of course having a university on board offers us many possibilities: To have also scientific publications, to have different lectures which are educating not only students but educating also people from the pilot area or from the wider community. So it’s really great if you have involved partners from different sectors.

AC: Finally, Raimond highlighted the importance of having a diverse social group, in terms of background and age, involved in your engagement process.

RT: People from different social group are participating, and also elderly people are giving good feedback, because, as you understand, if you have modern technology then it’s much easier to understand for younger people and they are more used to it. And the elderly people, they are a little bit afraid of those new technologies. But as we are planning to have our smart home management system in all those 700 apartments it basically means that we should be working very intensively with all those social groups.

AC: So that's our introduction to retrofit, I hope you enjoyed it. This overview should provide an entry point for more podcasts on specific areas of the subject in the coming months. If you found it interesting, if you thought it was terrible, if you've been part of a retrofit, or if you finally managed to squeeze into those flared jeans, you can email to let me to let me know about it at that's a-n-t-h-o-n-y-.-c-o-l-c-l-o-u-g-h-@-e-u-r-o-c-i-t-i-e-s-.-e-u. For images, links and more information, check out our website

Thanks for listening.


Copyright Picture @SharingCities



Sharing Cities project: 

SmartEnCity project:

ZenN project: