Protecting the environment through building revitalization
Properties from the 1950s, 60s and 70s: Don’t tear them down - renovate instead!
CSMM: With a cradle-to-cradle approach to renovations, developers can massively reduce the carbon footprint of Germany’s building stock and help achieve climate targets
Munich, 9 March 2021 We are convinced that the commercial property stock in Germany has a significant role to play in delivering the energy transition. Not only new builds have the potential to be energy efficient and eco-friendly. The same is true for the roughly ten million existing commercial properties 40 years and older – if developers opt to retrofit rather than demolish them. “In our view, the construction industry has to triple the revitalisation rate of today’s building stock from one to around three per cent in order to meet the demands of Germany’s Building Energy Act (GEG),” says Timo Brehme. The Building Energy Act, which went into effect in November 2020, is designed to bring together the various regulations for building energy efficiency into one law and reduce building CO₂ emissions to 70 million tonnes per annum by 2030. “The existing property stock offers enormous CO2 savings potential as we move toward achieving our climate targets,” explains Brehme. “It is not just a matter of modernising insulation and HVAC systems. If we take a holistic approach, retrofitting can be more environmentally friendly than new construction.” The long-term objective is to make all of Germany’s buildings climate neutral – in other words, to ensure that the entire property stock does not emit more CO2 than it can offset, for example with electricity from a renewable source. The reality on the ground, according to Brehme, is quite different. Whether it is Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin or Dusseldorf, we are seeing relatively new office buildings being torn down and rebuilt on a regular basis.
Focus on resource-efficient retrofits
The non-profit organisation Architects for Future Deutschland e.V. also sees massive potential for energy savings in the commercial property stock. These architect-activists are committed to meeting the Paris climate targets and keeping global warming below 1.5° Celsius. According to the analysis of Architects for Future, the building sector in Germany has a huge opportunity to reduce its energy consumption by retrofitting properties built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The non-profit is targeting its message to both the construction industry and the general public to ensure that all stakeholders work together to achieve future-proof solutions. As a longstanding member of Architects for Future, we are bringing its architectural expertise to the organisation to promote resource-efficient retrofitting and play a role in achieving the country’s energy transition goals. After all, as long as commercial buildings are being demolished at four times the rate of residential properties, there is no way that Germany will achieve its climate goals. “The shell of a new building alone accounts for about 40 per cent of the construction costs, but as much as 80 per cent of the energy consumption of the entire build,” says Brehme. The grey energy required to construct a building as well as the resources that went into the existing property have to be factored into the environmental balance – everything from manufacturing and transport to storage and installation of building materials and prefab components.
Recycling building materials
When it comes to saving energy in the construction sector, Brehme believes that the cradle-to-cradle approach is key. That means reusing building materials instead of disposing of them and planning each build to allow for separation and recovery of construction materials at the end of the building’s lifecycle. If, on top of this, developers also use timber and other renewable materials, they not only lower their energy consumption considerably, but also the total amount of resources required. This can reduce a building’s overall environmental impact by up to 30 per cent.
Old buildings, new opportunity: Developers often choose demolition for the wrong reasons
In addition to construction law and building regulations, developers often make hasty decisions in favour of demolition and new construction to save money, even though there may be no evidence that the new build makes economic sense. Timo Brehme points to a recent survey by Architects for Future to prove his point: several of the architects interviewed for the survey cite a lack of expertise on the part of developers (24 per cent) and specialist engineers (13 per cent). “Overall, we have found that developers often choose demolition for all the wrong reasons, whether it is a flawed assessment of the renovation option or the overwhelming complexity of building regulations and grant schemes,” Brehme states. “We want developers and planners to have access to better information about the true value of existing properties as well as about costs, the building fabric itself and the potential hidden in our building stock. This would help us find a better response to today’s challenges – raising awareness is key.” The non-profit organisation Architects for Future draws similar conclusions, calling for solutions that significantly increase the rate of renovation. These architects-activists believe we need to educate stakeholders about the real value of the building stock and its potential to reduce overall environmental impact. This message is targeted not only towards developers, building authorities and property investors, but also to society as a whole. 21 per cent of the survey respondents say they would like to see a “renovation ordinance” that would require developers by law to retrofit existing buildings. Architect Reiner Nowak: “We need to address these obstacles head on and invest the effort needed to achieve our carbon-neutral future.”
"here is no question that the building industry’s CO2 emission and energy consumption statistics are alarming. In Germany, roughly 30 per cent of direct and indirect CO2 emissions, almost 40 per cent of the energy consumed and as much as 60 per cent of the waste generated can be traced back to the building sector
If Germany wants to meet the Paris climate targets and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is vital to get to carbon neutral by 2035. A study conducted by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency confirms that achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 is an essential goal for Germany’s entire building stock – a goal that, according to Nowak, is extremely challenging for the industry in technological as well as economic terms, but one that is also fundamentally within reach. In addition to improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, there is massive potential to reduce environmental impact by prioritising the renovation and retrofitting of existing properties.
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Indicated also on the current survey of Architects4Future