Wider benefits of building renovation before and after COVID19: the Spain case study

In this article, our partner the Official College of Architects of Málaga (Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Málaga) explores the pre- and post-pandemic benefits of building renovation, within the three pillars of sustainability: economy, social-health and environment.

COVID 19 has forced governments in the world to issue decrees confining the population for weeks or months to their homes. As a consequence, the home, in addition to its normal residential function, has been adapted to satisfy new needs and perform new functions, such as:

  • office for remote working,
  • classroom for remote attendance to classes,
  • library for studying,
  • space for leisure and sport,
  • the setting for communication with the outside world including video conferences,
  • in some cases, a new space to fight disease,
  • a safe environment to protect ourselves from the pandemic.

Due to the necessary adaptation to the pandemic, we will have to face a new interpretation of the wider benefits of building renovation, most likely including a list of new wider benefits of building renovation inside the three pillars of sustainability: economy, social-health and environment.

Pre-COVID19 building renovation wider benefits

Before COVID19, the main areas and sub-areas managed depended on the methodology used to approach the building renovation studies, and included:

  1. Economy:
    • Employment creation thanks to renovation activity. In Spain, employment created by the Construction sector has been a traditional source of employment and wealth. In crisis periods, renovation should be promoted to avoid losing experienced good professionals on the one side and encourage young professionals to get into these professional fields on the other.
    • Increase in employee productivity due to the improvement of working conditions. This is the case of schools in Andalusia, for which there is a special renovation plan in place by the Education Ministry of Andalusia
  2. Social-health:
    • Reduction of energy poverty thanks to the reduction of energy expenses.
    • Reduction of mortality and physical diseases thanks to:
      • Fungi and mould reduction through the reparation of humidity in facades, which can be achieved by a combination of better air renovation and humidity insulation of the building envelope.
      • Accessibility improvement through the installation of elevators in buildings with two or more floors to allow elderly people with mobility limitations to have access to streets (in Andalusia, there are periodical subsidies to support these communities to install lifts). 
  3. Environment
    • Reduction of CO2 emissions through reduction of primary energy consumption, achieved for example through:
      • local generation of renewable energy sources, such as solar thermal sanitary hot water, photovoltaic modules to generate electricity, etc.
      • Envelope insulation improvement through
        1. External Thermal Insulation Composite Systems (ETICS)
        2. Insulation injection in double clay brick wall
        3. Internal insulation through panels made of rock, wood or glass fibre
        4. Double glass windows with high insulation frames
        5. Covering windows to protect from sunlight

Post-COVID19 building renovation wider benefits

Our lockdown experience has shown that new renovation and adaptation practices might be necessary to renovate and adapt (i.e. with no renovation work required) buildings in order to cope with pandemics.

Under this new scenario, it is paramount to include a fourth element to the pillars of sustainability: Security (related to specific energy supply problems which should be resolved by the generation of distributed renewable energy sources (RREE)).

  1. Economy:
    • Employment through remote working at home requires access to good broadband.
  2. Social-health:
      1. Reduction of mortality and diseases thanks to:
        • Renovation. Accessibility improvement through the installation of elevators in housing buildings with two or more floors to allow elderly people with mobility limitations to have access to streets. In the current COVID situation the elderly population living on upper floors in buildings with no lift is even more isolated.
        • Renovation. Air filtration to avoid contamination from the city, though the implementation of air filtering systems:
          • New/alternative air filtration systems to avoid contamination, for example, mosquito screens with a smaller mesh size can become anti-pollen screens which support people recovering from COVID19 to breathe cleaner air.
          • Renovation. Active air filtration systems which force the air through the corridor towards the different rooms of the apartment, or air filtering systems with ultraviolet cleaning systems.
          • Renovation. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) central systems will have to incorporate a UV section to avoid the airborne spread of the virus.
          • Renovation or Adaptation. New UV systems will be developed to clean areas of buildings in the absence of users.

                    2. Adaptation. Implementation of small areas to practice sports and hobbies

3. Environment:

    1. Reduction of CO2 emissions through the reduction of primary energy consumption thanks to:
      • increase in the use of local renewable energy sources
      • increase of envelope insulation
    2. Security-Passive Defence:
      • The introduction of local renewable energy sources to ensure minimum power supply in case of deep pandemic situations could be a new viewpoint to consider. Small battery systems would be necessary to ensure the minimum night energy supply. At least in Andalusia, this is enough to run the minimum appliances of houses (HVAC would require a larger installation). 

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 847101.