Is it worth renovating old buildings?

The building sector is the largest energy-consuming sector in Europe. As retrofitting works are often unaffordable for people who own apartments in old blocks, the EU has had to step in

Spain is known as a land of sun and heat. But even here there are regions that have to face icy winter temperatures. In Valladolid, in the north of the country, many of the almost 300,000 inhabitants are in poorly isolated buildings built in the 1960s.

David Pradales has lived with his wife in one of these houses for many years, in the Cuatro de Marzo district. They bought it then because the price was affordable. But over the years their apartment has become increasingly uncomfortable. “The heat consumption was pretty high, the bills were expensive and the only way to keep the house warm was to have the radiators switched on all day long. There were damp patches and some walls had mould”, he says.

The building sector is the largest energy consuming sector in Europe: reportedly it uses 40% of final energy. 75% of buildings are said to be energy inefficient and this primarily relates to the older stock.

However, energy efficient renovations can be expensive and people often do not have the means to finance them. This is why 130 citizens living in the Cuatro de Marzo district of Valladolid welcomed the retrofitting plan of the EU project R2Cities.

The works were financed by the EU, the Municipality and the owners themselves. Among them is David Pradales, who is convinced that this investment has been the right decision. “The amortisation of the investment may take a lot of time, but the quality of life has been improved in this apartment, which has also been revalued. I believe it was a wise decision,” he affirms. 

To reduce thermal consumption, the energy efficient measures have been focused on façade and roof insulation, windows substitution, boiler upgrading, and on the installation of thermal panelling. To reduce electrical consumption, new efficient lighting systems and presence sensors have been set up in the common areas of the buildings.

The interventions have already triggered interest by other residential communities and given a boost to the construction sector in the area. “The Municipality of Valladolid is renovating other districts through similar solutions, while the local builders, involved in the R2Cities retrofitting works, are replicating the interventions in other buildings of the same district, without the support of the EU funds this time,” explains Cecilia Sanz Montalvillo, from the Energy division of Cartif, which is monitoring and analysing the savings in CO2 emissions and in energy consumption in Cuatro de Marzo. 

Fernando Ruiz, manager at Crolec, one of the construction companies involved in the retrofitting works of the district, says: “We have learnt much from this experience. We had to get everything ready despite the complexity of the situation and a tight deadline. People were still living in their houses during the works, so we couldn’t cut the water, electricity or gas. All this has required sound coordination."

The project, started in 2013, will end this month. The consortium is expected to unveil soon its final results, which could act as a benchmark for future “smart” interventions at local level elsewhere.


By Ute de Groot

Moderated by : Guillaume Aichelmann

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