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Energy renovation in residential areas has always aimed to reduce the total energy consumption of the buildings. It looks good in both the operating budget and the CO2 balance, but it also has a number of social, cultural and health-related consequences. In the coming years, researchers will develop a model that can determine the impact of energy renovation on the well-being of the residents.

Aarhus University is spearheading a major Danish innovation project that will contribute in the years ahead with new knowledge about the overall value creation for society in connection with the energy renovation of residential areas.

The aim is to make a full-scale demonstration of two renovation projects in areas with different residential compositions, and to study their effects as regards the reduction in energy consumption and the impact on health and well-being.

“We’ll renovate with a focus on energy savings, but we’ll also find a method to determine the added value generated by renovation, such as a better indoor climate or new urban spaces in the built-up environment. Our aim is to develop an intelligent calculation model that can be used to assess renovation efforts more holistically and include attention to health, comfort and architecture,” says Professor (Docent) Søren Wandahl.

Participants in the project include the Brabrand Housing Association – with energy renovation in the Aarhus suburb of Gellerup – as well as DEAS, an administration company on the private rental housing market.

Better residential areas with low energy consumption
In this project, the researchers will reduce energy consumption in demonstration buildings by at least 50 per cent. This involves elements such as new facades, windows and roofs and, in this way, the renovation work will significantly change the indoor climate in the buildings and the architectural expression in the area.

“When we renovate, this normally always means an extensive transformation of the residential environment to some degree, and we’d like to be better at assessing the value of this or, more exactly, at turning it into a concept. Today, for example, we calculate how much heat loss we can avoid if we use a particular new facade coating and install new windows in the building, but we don’t have any quantitative target for how this change affects the residents’ indoor comfort experience or, for that matter, what significance it has for the residential quality of the area,” says Dr Wandahl.

With a comprehensive combination of features such as sensor-based energy monitoring, anthropological field studies, physiological tests and indoor climate assessments, the researchers will therefore develop a model to measure the total value of energy renovation, including technical, social and cultural aspects.

“We’re used to assessing the value of building projects based on well-documented, objective standards such as insulation ability, heat loss, air humidity, temperature, air quality and inflow of light. We are now going one step further with a model that also include people’s subjective experience of living with the renovations,” says Dr Wandahl.

The project team will select specific measurement parameters during the first stage of the innovation project.

Complex data lead to good decisions
The researchers working on this project will also identify options for energy savings and social value creation in the renovation process itself. This involves making transport to and from the residential area more efficient, managing logistics at the building site and minimising material waste. According to Dr Wandahl, however, it also means involving the residents in the building process in a socially sustainable way.

“There’s a very big difference between the way residential areas are disturbed by renovation projects. We’d like to do it in a way that ensures the involvement and ownership of the people living in the residential areas. Previous studies have shown that this has great significance for the amount of vandalism and the number of break-ins on the site, and for subsequent employment,” he says.

Within three years, the project partners will be ready with an intelligent modelling tool for renovation, which will work in principle as a value index.

“We’re building a model with lots of data, and the idea is that we’ll subsequently find relations between the technical, social and cultural aspects of energy renovation. In practice, this means that each energy renovation project can be indexed so you can see its value on a scale from 1 to 100,” says Dr Wandahl.

A developer will be able to use the model to test different priorities in a renovation design and thereby find the most suitable renovation solution for the individual residential area and provide the most value for money.

“The model will make it possible to find significant correlations, enabling the developer to assign high or low priorities“ says Dr Wandahl.

PHOTO TOP: What is good energy renovation? Is it significant savings on the heating bill, low costs in the building process, better indoor climate or an external architectural style that lowers crime in a residential area? In the coming years researchers will develop a decision support tool that can suggest the best combination of renovation initiatives. (Photo: Jesper Rais)