Ikea kitchens help sell insulation to Dutch - and UK could be next

Dutch consortia Energiesprong could give zero carbon retrofits to social homes across England, using innovative wrap-around insulated panels, if EU funding is approved.

Dutch energiesprong ('Energy Leap') pilot project in Tilburg in the Netherlands. Photograph: Rogier Bos/Energiesprong

Dutch energiesprong ('Energy Leap') pilot project in Tilburg in the Netherlands. Photograph: Rogier Bos/Energiesprong

More than 100,000 homes across the UK could be given a carbon-neutral retrofit by 2020 if the EU approves funding for a ground-breaking green social housing project this month.

The first pilot projects are due to start within a year on council estates and housing association properties in London, Birmingham and southern England and are set to save 1,950GWh of electricity.

The Energiesprong (Energy Leap) initiative involves completely wrapping houses with insulated panel-facades that snap on like Lego. Insulated roofs adorned with 24 high-efficiency solar panels each are fastened on top, while heat pumps, hot water storage tanks and ventilation units are stored in garden sheds.

On the Woonwaard housing estate near Amsterdam, tenants whose homes have already received the upgrade say that the final effect is like living inside a 'tea cosy'.

"This new house is great," former social worker Astrid Andre, 58,told the Guardian. "You can't hear the traffic from outside anymore. It feels as if I'm living in a private home, rather than social housing. Before, the wind used to go through the house in winter. I have arthritis and when the weather was colder, it became worse. But my bones are better now, more supple."

The programme has already won a contract from the Dutch government to provide a wave of 10-day makeovers to 111,000 homes on estates mostly built in the 1960s and 70s. It is now bidding for €10m (£787,671) from the EU's Horizon 2020 money pot to extend the project to the UK and France.

Partners in the bid to bring the Dutch Energiesprong consortia to the UK include the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), The Housing Finance Corporation (THFC) and the National Federation of Housing Associations (NFHA).

"The Netherlands has a head start but the basic logic is the same," said Jasper van den Munckhof, Energiesprong's director. "If you have political will, government support, and a housing association sector that can put up a strong volume for conceptual development, then there is a profitable case for builders to step in."

Materials used for wall isolation in renovated houses by Dutch Energiesprong in Arnhem. Photograph: Frank Hanswijk/Energiesprong

The deceptively simple idea behind the initiative has been to finance the roughly 300,000 mass-produced renovations from the estimated €18bn of savings from energy bills that they will make each year. 

In the Netherlands, upfront capital comes from the WSW social bank, which has provided €6bn to underwrite government-backed 40-year loans to housing associations. These then charge tenants the same amount they had previously paid for rent and energy bills together, until the debt is repaid.

The prefabricated refurbishments come with a 40-year builders' guarantee that covers the entire loan period, and a 5.25% return is guaranteed to participating housing associations.

But the renovations can only be done if all tenants in a block agree to it, and that spurred the invention of an unlikely environmental incentive: free bathrooms, fridges and Ikea kitchens, with electric cooking.

"Everyone has been talking about it since last December," said Bianca Lakeman, a 32-year-old office worker and single mother on the Woonwaard estate. "They're saying how the front facade is very modern but most of all they are talking about the beautiful Ikea kitchens."

Tenants can choose the kitchen's colour and design and, because the construction companies are contracted to provide maintenance for the next four decades, the new installations work out cheaper than the anticipated costs of servicing mid-20th century kitchens into the mid-21stcentury.

"When we started, there was a period where not everybody was keen," said Marnette Vroegop, a concept developer for the Woonwaard housing association. "The main doubts were about whether it was realistic."
"There is one block of six houses here and one person still says no," Pierre Sponselee, the association's director said. "The man had lived here only for a year and came from another house where he'd had a renovation and he didn't want another one. It is a pity for the rest of the neighbours."

Minor complaints from tenants about the refurbishments have included noise from garden shed installations and increased awareness of internal house sounds, as floorboards become proportionately louder when outside noises are muffled.

Bianca's block is due to be renovated this month in the latest construction round on the estate that will see another 50 zero energy homes created. "I'm very excited about it because it can keep my cost of living under control and reduce the effects of climate change," she said.

Around 40% of Europe's carbon dioxide emissions come from heating and lighting in buildings and the EU has set a zero energy requirement for all new house builds by 2021. But these only make up around 1% of the continent's housing stock and how to persuade the construction industry to renovate to new and untried standards had been a vexed question.

With support from the Dutch government, Energiesprong dangled the carrot of secured long-term contracts for a market of up to 2.3m homes, and then asked a depressed construction sector what solutions they could come up with.

The result was the beginnings of a reindustrialisation of the Dutch building sector, with construction companies taking 3D scans of houses to offer factory-produced refurbishments tailored to each house's dimensions.

"We have to think like a manufacturer," said Joost Nelis, the director of BAM, the Netherlands' biggest construction company. "We want to shrink the garden power units like Apple did the iPad," Nelis says.

The company is also experimenting with apartment blocks run on DC electricity, which increases solar panel efficiency by about 30%. Almost all buildings in the Netherlands run on AC, but few tower blocks have room for enough solar panels to generate electricity for more than five floors of homes.

While trade unions have enthusiastically signed up to Energiesprong, energy companies that use fossil fuels could lose out on the gathering transformation, according to Nelis. Tenants in places such as Woonwaard can already sell their excess electricity back to the grid and may one day be able to use electric cars to power their homes.

Ambitious though it is, Energiesprong says its programme of building renovations should be seen as a means to a low-carbon transformation of the building sector, rather than an end in itself.

Last week, a similar deal was signed with the Netherlands biggest mortgage banks, real estate surveyors and government, to take the project into the private sector too.

Arthur Nelsen

This article first appeared in the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network


| DECC | energy bills | fossil fuels | insulation | low carbon | solar | weather | WRAP


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
Click a keyword to see more stories on that topic, view related news, or find more related items.


You need to be logged in to make a comment. Don't have an account? Set one up right now in seconds!

© Faversham House Group Ltd 2014. edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.