In Europe, suburban populations grew on average 54% more than urban populations between 1961 and 2011, with people looking to enjoy the relative space and comfort of single-family homes. Yet, when it comes to unhealthy buildings, these suburbs are in danger of being overlooked.

Urbanisation: a global phenomenon

Cities around the world continue to grow. In 2016, an estimated 55% of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. By 2050, more than twothirds of the world’s population will be living in cities¹.

Europe already exceeds these projections. 73% of EU inhabitants already lived in cities, towns and suburbs in 2014, with that number expected to rise to 80% by 2050².

People move to cities for many different reasons, but it is primarily for better economic opportunities, educational options and cultural activities. However, city living inevitably involves some compromises, especially when it comes to living space, cost, pollution and noise.

Barriers to renovation

Renovating a building is a major undertaking, and there are many barriers that can make it even more complicated. If we are to increase the renovation rate, and thereby improve the healthiness, comfort and efficiency of our building stock, then we need to work to address these barriers.

According to the European Commission², well-documented barriers include:

  • Information: lack of available and understandable information regarding the efficiency and comfort benefits resulting from renovation.
  • Split incentives: especially in rented accommodation, tenants are unlikely to renovate because their incentive is time-limited; landlords are unlikely to renovate because they do not see themselves as immediate beneficiaries of the investment.
  • Lack of awareness of “business case”: inability or unwillingness to see renovation as a positive, longterm investment and to calculate costs/benefits (such as increased home resale value) accordingly.
  • High transaction costs for small projects: in smaller renovations, the costs involved in initiating the project and finding suitable contractors can be disproportionately large.
  • Capital markets: especially in light of the 2008 financial crisis, lenders are less active in facilitating this type of investment, and there is a lack of available information about financing.

Solutions: incentives

There are two main types of incentive for addressing renovation barriers.

  • Incentives by reward (e.g. subsidies) can be effective, but must achieve additionality, i.e. they must bring about renovation projects which otherwise would not have happened.
  • Incentives by requirement (e.g. legislation) can also catalyse renovation activity. For example, the recent review of the EPBD (European Performance of Buildings Directive) includes requirements on indoor climate which, if correctly implemented by member states, should promote more renovation and healthier, more efficient buildings across Europe.

Solutions: industry

It is not only up to politicians and legislators to encourage renovation. The building industry (manufacturers and housebuilders) has a responsibility too. Technologies for cost-effective renovation exist, but in order for the market to take the necessary upturn, we need both scalability and simplification of solutions. We will look at some such solutions in the next chapter.

Solutions: information

We have seen in previous editions of the Healthy Homes Barometer, that one in six – or 84 million Europeans – currently lives in an unhealthy building, and that 73% percent of European homeowners quote improved wellbeing as a driver for renovation.

Only by making information readily available about the true state of buildings and their impact on residents, and about the best ways for individuals and property owners to address poor housing, will we unlock the private investment necessary to boost renovation rates significantly.

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