Why sustainable buildings are critical for a resilient society
In its recent Energy Efficiency First Principle (EE1) Guidelines, the European Commission recognised human health as one of the most important co-benefits of energy efficiency but at the same time acknowledged a lack of good available data to better quantify and assess these wider benefits.
The latest Healthy Homes Barometer 2022 aims to address this gap by providing new data on the impact of a poor indoor climate on health and life satisfaction and the economic benefits of investing in healthy buildings.
As the pandemic loosens its grip on Europe and with the revision of the Fit for 55 Package and not least the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) currently on the legislative table, the opportunity to make buildings sustainable has never been more timely. The EPBD proposal does acknowledge the importance of a healthy indoor climate, but lacks clear definitions and measures in terms of how to act on it. At the same time, the need for decent, affordable and sustainable housing is greater than ever.
We should improve Europe’s building stock and thereby the health and well-being of all European citizens. The good news is that we have a lifeline available for healthier buildings in Europe. Not only have EU Member States earmarked vast sums for renovating the building stock in their national recovery plans but the EU is also revising its legislation on buildings this year with the Fit for 55 Package,
Safeguarding indoor environments
Even before the Corona virus struck, the percentage of households where total housing costs represent more than 40% of disposable income was a shocking 9.4% for the overall EU population1. And with energy costs skyrocketing due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this figure is rising further. After all, Europe’s buildings consume 40% of Europe’s energy.
As a result of this lack of affordability, 15% of all Europeans currently live in deprived housing circumstances2 with a subsequent negative impact on health and well-being. In total, one in three Europeans live in a home that is affected by an indoor climate hazard, such as damp, lack of daylight, excess noise or cold3. For those affected, the impact of their poor housing has been felt even more acutely during the various lockdowns of the pandemic, which forced them to spend more time at home.
At the same time, the pandemic and its many lockdowns have shown the importance of making indoor spaces safer and reducing the spread of airborne viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2. Buildings have a clear role to play in achieving this. To safeguard our indoor environment, the World Health Organization and health authorities in many countries recommend regularly airing out rooms and spaces – either through natural ventilation, such as opening a window or through mechanical ventilation systems.
The impact of poor indoor climate on mental well-being
The health impact of indoor climate hazards, such as damp and lack of daylight, are already well known and include asthma, respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. However, new studies have now started to document the impact of poor indoor climate on well-being and life satisfaction. For example, living with poor or no heating has been shown to have the same perceived impact on well-being and life satisfaction as being separated from a partner4. With 34 million Europeans unable to keep their homes warm5, the potential impact on their well-being is significant.
This type of assessment into well-being and life satisfaction gives governments and policymakers a way to measure the value of building renovation in a more holistic way. Alongside the tangible benefits, such as energy savings, they can now also measure the positive impact on mental health.
Buildings are political
With Europe on the cusp of a renovation wave that could tackle the climate crisis by decarbonising our building stock, the roll-out of national recovery plans as well as the need to step up efforts on energy efficiency, policymakers now have a unique opportunity to set the right legislative framework and push for investments in sustainable and healthy buildings. Investing in housing is more than just improving living conditions and reducing climate impact. Healthy buildings can play an important role in reducing inequities and illness. Reducing exposure to damp and mould and rectifying the lack of daylight in residential buildings could result in mental well-being benefits estimated at almost 100 billion euros per year6, in addition to energy efficiency improvements. Data from the World Health Organization also shows that investing in improving housing has a greater impact on health inequities – over a two to four year period – than investing directly in health7. The cumulative benefits of investing in renovation in terms of direct healthcare savings, improved health and improved productivity are conservatively estimated at 600 billion euros per year by 2050.
Research for the Healthy Homes Barometer 2022 was carried out in partnership with RAND Europe, a not-for-profit policy research organisation.
Find out more about the impact of indoor climate on health and life satisfaction as well as the benefits of investing in healthy buildings in the Healthy Homes Barometer 2022.
Key 2022 Healthy Homes Barometer findings
- 1 in 3 Europeans are exposed to an indoor climate hazard8
- 50 million European households are living in energy poverty9, many of them unable to heat their homes in winter
- Ventilation is a simple and cost-effective way to safeguard indoor spaces against airborne viruses
- Indoor climate hazards affect our mental well-being and can increase the risk of depression10
- Reducing exposure to damp and mould and rectifying the lack of daylight in residential buildings has been shown to result in well-being benefits that are felt to be the equivalent of around 100 billion euros per year11, in addition to energy efficiency improvements
- Improving housing has a greater impact on health inequities than investing directly in health12
About the Healthy Homes Barometer 2022
The Healthy Homes Barometer is a series of pan-European reports designed to investigate the link between homes and health. The first edition of the Healthy Homes Barometer was published in 2015 and the 2022 edition is the seventh Barometer published by the VELUX Group. This year’s Barometer is a fresh compilation of facts, research and insights. Research has primarily been conducted by RAND Europe, a not-for-profit policy research organisation, with additional insights. The analyses were conducted by RAND Europe unless otherwise stated.
1Etzebizitzako Behatokia, Observatorio Vasco de La Vivienda, 2021, “Housing policy in Europe during the pandemic”
2WHO Europe 2019, ”Healthy prosperous lives for all: The European Health Equity Status Report”
3EU SILC data 2019
5EU SILC data 2019
7WHO Europe 2019, ”Healthy, prosperous lives for all: the European Health Equity Status Report”
8EU SILC data 2019
9FEANTSA press release, 16 July 2021
10EU SILC data
12WHO Europe 2019, ”Healthy, prosperous lives for all: the European Health Equity Status Report”
About the VELUX Group
For the past 80 years, The VELUX Group has created better living environments for people around the world; making the most of daylight and fresh air through the roof. Our product programme includes roof windows and modular skylights, decorative blinds, sun screening products and roller shutters, as well as installation and smart home solutions. These products help to ensure a healthy and sustainable indoor climate, for work and learning, for play and pleasure. We work globally – with sales and manufacturing operations in more than 40 countries and around 11,500 employees worldwide. The VELUX Group is owned by VKR Holding A/S, a limited company wholly owned by non-profit, charitable foundations (THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS) and family. In 2020, VKR Holding had total revenue of DKK 22.6 billion and THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS donated EUR 142 million in charitable grants.
For more information, visit velux.com.