Efficiency: The key to sustainable buildings

María Eugenia Velásquez

March 16, 2022
Hands holding a light bulb

During 2021, the International Passive House Association launched its "Efficiency First" campaign, which translates to "Efficiency First", and this got me thinking Why? Why is efficiency in buildings so important? Why so many laws and subsidies to promote more energy efficient buildings?

After a bit of research, in this article I detail my findings on the subject, which by the way is summed up very well by Agustín, owner of a Passivhaus and with whom we did an In Talk:

At what point did we start to design and build houses so badly... I now think and say, "But doesn't anyone consider that insulation is the most important thing? Why are you going to spend $&&*! to produce energy? Save it! If the cheapest energy is the one that is not consumed".

Background: The impact of buildings on the environment

According to the Carbon Risk Real State Monitor, the real estate sector is responsible for 40% of energy consumption in the European Union, which in turn is responsible for 29% of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions. Of this consumption, the greatest demand is for heating and cooling.

This sector will have to reduce its CO2 emissions by more than 80% by 2050 to comply with the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015.

Add to this the fact that every tonne of CO2 causes an estimated €185 in damage to agriculture and health - according to a Stanford University study - and that, if we do nothing to reduce emissions, global temperatures could rise by more than 4°C by 2100, and we have a real red flag.

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Importance of energy efficiency in buildings

In view of the alarming climate situation we find ourselves in, organisations and governments have identified that the building and real estate sector is one of the main areas where action is needed (not the only one!), and that improving energy efficiency has the greatest impact.

This is why laws have been passed, such as Law 7/2021 "Climate Change and Energy Transition Law", which came into force in May last year, and which increases the energy efficiency requirements for buildings.

Moreover, at the last UN Climate Summit in Glasgow last October, the 97 participating countries committed themselves to submitting updated plans on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2022. In this decarbonisation strategy, the construction of nearly zero-energy buildings plays a crucial role.

How Passivhaus helps with decarbonisation

Here comes Passivhaus to the rescue! OK, OK, it's not quite like that, and it's not the only option either, but it is true that the Passivhaus standard is based precisely on reducing the energy demand of buildings by improving insulation.

This building standard is based on 5 principles:

  1. Thermal insulation of the envelope
  2. High-performance windows
  3. Airtightness
  4. Thermal bridge-free design
  5. Adequate ventilation strategy

If all these principles are applied correctly, a Passivhaus building can consume up to 90% less energy - without any loss of comfort!

In addition, the Passivhaus standard can also be applied in renovation or refurbishment projects, making it an excellent option for improving the energy efficiency of the existing building stock.

After this research, it all makes sense: Efficiency comes first. What do you think?

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