4 cities that fell in love with energy retrofits in condominiums

What remains from the ACE-Retrofit project two years later?


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Publication date

January 26, 2022

Do you know that sensation of butterflies, hot flushes of excitement, the irresistible force that pulls you towards…the deep and collective renovation of your house together with your neighbours? 80 736 co-owners do since they were involved in the ACE-Retrofitting project.

Let’s take you back to the beginning: Most buildings in North-West Europe are still energy-inefficient and in need of deep renovation. Even though local governments are tackling climate change, the building sector remains a weak point. Condominiums (tenements and flatted buildings) are notoriously difficult to deal with. By directing efforts towards co-owned residential buildings, many private owners can all benefit from more energy efficient homes, reduced energy bills and carbon footprint (50-70%).

A bit more than a year ago, the ACE Retrofitting project ended whereby local governments learned to act as facilitators between co-owners and building experts. 80.736 co-owners were coached, 4026 were trained, 356 retrofitting plans were voted and renovations were completed in 371 condominiums with a total of 10 815 flats. This is already a huge success, but pilot cities did not rest on their laurels. Now, what happened since direct funding from Interreg stopped? How did the pilot cities advance on condominium renovations, and did they manage to share their learnings with others? Here’s a quick memo for some of the cities who designed and tested new ways of facilitating retrofit works in condominiums.

Liège (Belgium): Renovation support to diverse stakeholders in condominium

  • In Liège, the ACE-Retrofitting approach of linking demand and supply for condominium renovation projects was integrated to the city’s Climate Action Plan and the online platform Plateforme Reno-Copro is still running successfully.
  • In the framework of the “Climate Active Neighbourhoods” project, Liège now applies its holistic retrofitting experience to SMEs and shops. SMEs and shops are often hosted on the first floor of condominiums.
  • In the frame of a call for pilot projects by the Walloon region, the City of Liège tested the set up of “Local Energy Communities” in condominiums, i.e. collective self-consumption of renewable energy produced on site by collectively owned installations.

While the project was running, Liège City Council worked with the Local Energy Agency and the National Association of Owners and Co-owners to reach the home owners. To mobilise the professionals, it collaborated with two Walloon clusters of enterprises dedicated to sustainable buildings and retrofitting, which together have around 500 members.

Paris (France): Online matchmaking for offline success

  • The coaching of condominiums wanting to start a retrofit project continues: in 2021, 850 new condominiums were registered on the online platform Coach Copro (x 2,5 compared to 2020). This increase is also due to the hiring of 7 new energy advisors. This means a total of 3 600 condos have been coached (out of the 43 000 in Paris).
  • The Paris Climate Energy Agency keeps on hosting events (mostly online) where different stakeholders are brought together around the renovation challenge: laymen with experts, unskilled co-owners with experienced co-owners, professionals with peers, etc. The biggest of them is the yearly Forum Coach Copro.

The innovative set of methods developed by the Paris Climate Agency has been labelled as CoachCopro. Its central and most visible element is a collaborative web platform. Such a web tool was seen to be essential to attain the massive outreach required but experience has proven to the Agency that having a web platform is not enough. Various other information and match-making activities are required to bring people together. composed of a public website and a restricted area for users which monitors activities.

Brown brick building
Photo by Anna Holowetzki on Unsplash

Frankfurt (Germany): Condominium support at district level

  • The municipal energy advice service for condominiums is still up and running. This approach was launched with the ACE-Retrofitting project. It is exemplary and starts with a free energy check for condominiums which shows co-owners the potential energy savings for an energy retrofit. It then links them to a commercial energy consultant who produces a condominium retrofitting masterplan.
  • Next level: a new project is underway where the ACE approach will be applied at neighbourhood scale.
  • The City of Frankfurt reached out to other German key players like DENEFF (Green Home) and the consumer association „Stiftung Warentest“ to see how Frankfurt’s experiences with condominiums can be used for other projects.

Through the project, partners from Frankfurt had to learn a hard lesson: although having free and independent advice was seen as a high value for house owners, the efforts to raise sufficient interest from condominiums were not very successful. So, the learning is that awareness-raising really should be at the centre of any other future condominium targeted measure the city puts in place.

Scotland: Sharing insights with policy-makers

  • The step-by-step approach that helps condominium co-owners to plan or carry out an energy retrofitting in their building has been presented by Aberdeen City Council and Changeworks at a couple of city/regional conferences.
  • The Scottish project partner Changeworks plans to set up a ‘one-stop-shop’ service (that will also include targeted support for condominiums)
  • Changeworks responded to the Scottish Governments Heat in Buildings strategy, drawing on some of the ACE-Retrofitting experience
  • In Scotland, as renovation in multi-occupancy/tenement properties is so challenging, the Scottish Government has been considering delaying standards until 2040-45 which is later than other archetypes. However, they were looking at ways of trying to speed up that process. European experience can help with that.

When the ACE-Retrofitting approach was tested in Aberdeen, partners have focussed on tenement buildings. Most of these are now over 100 years old, with an average of 6-8 flats. They have met residents face-to-face to discuss energy efficiency measures that would be suitable for their properties as well as highlighting the benefits of installing these measures. They have also provided advice on what to look for when appointing a contractor, for example, trade body
membership and guarantee scheme membership.

How deep is your love, how deep is your renovation?

More cities need to deepen their love for condominiums. Indeed, they are not low-hanging fruits and need well thought-out strategies. However, the tools are there, and the pioneers have proven that despite its complexity, this segment can be tackled. What is still far too weak, is the political awareness of condominiums’ strategic importance. The more local governments take the political decisions and actions to target condominium retrofits, the more we will have lessons, data and advice to share. Ultimately, this will lead to efficient and liveable homes…and ultimately to neighbours who understand and connect with each other.

💗 3 essential rules for dating co-owners 🏢: Tips from the ACE-Retrofitting cities

  • 🏢 Take a holistic, big picture approach (beyond energy)
  • 🏢 Adopt a multi-pronged strategy (target homeowners, retrofitters, financiers, etc. at once with a multitude of complementary activities
  • 🏢 Coach and connect all stakeholders in the most tailored way