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A smart way to retrofit homes while preserving residents’ comfort

The EU-funded HEART project is coming to an end

18 July 2022 | Published in Energy

On July 11th the final HEART conference took place, as the project is coming to an end. Having started at the end of 2017, the Horizon 2020 HEART project will end this July . For those less familiar with the goal of the project, HEART stands for Holistic – Energy and Architectural Retrofit Toolkit .

At the core of the project, there were two demo cases: one in Bagnolo in Piano, Regio Emilia, Italy and the other one in Lyon, France. Both buildings were deeply retrofitted using the HEART Toolkit. For the Italian demo, a large multifamily building finished in 1985, existing fuel-powered generators were replaced with high-efficiency heat pumps. Each apartment was equipped with Smart fan coils connected to heat pumps, that can be used for heating and cooling. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) were installed on the roof, the excess of energy is saved through thermal storage and a battery pack. The energy demand was reduced through window refurbishment and opaque envelope insulation. In Lyon, to significantly reduce the energy demand for the large multifamily building finished in 1975, multifunctional external thermal insulation and windows refurbishment techniques were applied. The existing fuel-powered generators were replaced with two units of high-efficiency heat pumps connected to 54 smart-fan coils which provide both heating and cooling to the apartments. For the roof, the chosen technology was BIPV.

The HEART toolkit fits perfectly in the objectives set by the Renovation Wave: it includes innovation, it includes pre-fabricated and integrated renovation concepts to improve delivery speed, cost and affordability, comfort and end-user requests. And most importantly, it offers major benefits for tenants with minimal inconveniences, as they do not have to leave their homes during the renovation process.

The conference's agenda was divided into three main parts to better render the project’s accomplishments and potential. Commenting on the policy implications, Sean Kelly, the Shadow[CHE1]  Rapporteur for the Energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD) underlined the fact that the role of digital technologies will increase in the future, and that the Members States together with the Commission need to work on improving the necessary skills. ‘Member States must invest in capacity building, technical assistance and upskilling and reskilling policies in order to realise both components of the green and digital transition’ he said.

During the first session, ‘Transplanting the energy-efficient heart’, the presentations given by the consortium partners were meant to create an overview of the technical aspect. The project’s geographical focus was Central and Southern Europe, with the following objectives:

  • To develop systemic and cost-optimal solutions for energy retrofit
  • To develop, update and adapt innovative technologies for their systemic integration
  • To foster building’s smart upgrade
  • To support and improve the decision-making process
  • To promote energy efficient financing.

When it comes to purely technical aspects, it is worth mentioning the main technologies involved: hydraulic loops, MIMO converters, PV tiles, DC heat pumps, smart fan coil, and PCM energy storage. If you want to learn more about the technical details, all the information is available on the project’s website. Another important element was the use of insulating facades, through a modular system. The installation of the facades was of course preceded by tests of the existing ones and preparatory steps.

To maximise the use of the toolkit, there is also a cloud platform included. The information that is collected as a first step of the retrofit process allows to have a 360 image of the building and provide adapted solutions, the customer expresses its needs e.g. only partly PVs, then see how to apply the toolkit, for example adapting the technologies that will be used to the renovation budget. The tenant application allows residents to see what is going on in the building and see for example how much were they able to save post renovation. The analytic application, destined for the universities and research centres, will allow to develop the model over time.

While the renovation process was achieved, it is essential before considering the project a success to consider the residents’ and the social housing companies’ opinions. According to Alice Pittini, Housing Europe Research Director, this project represented an experimentation, learning to cooperate between different sectors: housing, universities, construction companies etc. While experimentation is important, the goal is to reach a large scale. Therefore, the market uptake of the HEART toolkit will be crucial. In projects like this, partners need to expect the unexpected, so there should be a budget foreseen for such cases. Whereas from the occupants’ perspective, avoiding delays is important for residents’ satisfaction, especially when they are not moving out during renovations. Constant and dedicated contact points and communication process aids in solving problems. Residents seem to already feel an improvement, and largely agree with the process if it is also beneficial for the environment, but they expressed the fear of not being able to control their building. In this sense, further guidance is needed.

In the opening of the second session, ‘Pathway to decarbonisation’, Sorcha Edwards, Housing Europe Secretary General, said: ‘The balance between affordability, availability and sustainability is difficult to reach… Now more than ever we need more efficient buildings and we need renewables’. Therefore, in order to see if the HEART toolkit can help achieve energy efficiency, actual data resulting from the two renovated demo buildings will have to be monitored and analysed. Tenants’ behaviour is an important factor.

Another relevant contribution was made by Philippe Moseley, representing DG GROW from the European Commission, who stressed that circular approaches must be more and more considered, and that the district approach in the social housing sector is already taking is an excellent way forward to renovate on a larger scale. He highlighted a few main points related to the Renovation Wave, such as the different of funding opportunities and the number of new jobs to be created.

Housing Europe Innovation and Project Manager took the opportunity to bring into the spotlight the SHAPE-EU project, which aims at supporting SMEs, public authorities and social and affordable housing providers in their planning and building renovation projects at district level. For more information on the project, you can follow the LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, and keep an eye for the soon-to-be-launched website.

The third and last session of the day consisted in a very thought-provoking discussion as the panel moderated by Karlis Goldstein from Commissioner Kadri Simson’s Cabinet was formed of Adrian Joyce (EUROACE), Sorcha Edwards (Housing Europe), Julie Kjestrup (VELUX) and Robert Pintér (European Copper Institute). Panellists had to answer complex questions such as What is the significance of high-performing buildings? Why invest all the money?  Do we have enough funding, legislation and regulation to boost innovation, decarbonisation and affordability? Sorcha Edwards highlighted that ‘what’s also very strong when we talk to local housing providers on the ground is that renovation actually transforms people’s lives’. Julie Kjestruop insisted on health and wellbeing as often overseen elements, but that are in fact essential. Robert Pintér considered an important point to put forward to be ‘we need to lower our use of single energy system for the benefit of all’. Lastly, Adrien Joyce put the focus on the need to ‘upscale the rate and depth of renovation’.

The recording of the event is available here and the presentations of all speakers can be found here.