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Adapting heritage environments to modern requirements


An EU-funded project has developed and brought to market unique tools and methodologies for ensuring historical buildings meet modern environmental and energy efficiency standards while preserving their original character.

Because 40 % of the European housing stock was built before 1960 and 23 % pre-1945, researchers within the EFFESUS project had to develop a new generation of methodologies, technologies and tools for adapting old buildings to modern requirements on a very large scale. At the same time, they had to be aware of the sheer diversity of urban areas around the continent in terms of building materials and architectural design, as well as very different climate conditions.

And it was not just improving the energy efficiency and environmental footprint of the buildings themselves that the team needed to consider, but also the comfort and wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Dealing with the past

Historic buildings consume around 4 % of all energy in the EU and produce 3 % of CO2 emissions. Increasing use of solutions, such as those developed in the EFFESUS project, can help Europe meet its CO2 emissions reduction targets and make historic buildings, in particular, more energy efficient and comfortable to live in.

“Historic buildings were constructed in a totally different technology and energy context, and they were also built to address quite different expectations of living quality and comfort to those of today,” says Aitziber Egusquiza Ortega, a management team member at Fundacion Technalia Research & Innovation in Spain, which coordinated the project. “So the conservation of our historic cities must be linked with the design of strategies to reduce maintenance costs, energy consumption and CO2 emission, but also to increase their comfort and liveability,” she says.

“EFFESUS was able to develop novel solutions for improving the energy performance of historic buildings focused on their envelopes,” Egusquiza says. “The project has developed four innovative solutions: an aerogel insulation for cavity walls; an insulating mortar; a radiant reflective coating; and upgraded original windows. Collaboration between the SMEs participating in the project and the research partners has been crucial to developing these solutions.”

Another key EFFESUS deliverable is a Decision Support System (DSS). “This is an ecosystem of tools and methodologies to support evidence-based diagnosis and decision-making. The DSS helps the decision-maker to identify and prioritise retrofit measures to improve the energy performance of historic districts,” says Egusquiza. Key components of the DSS include a multiscale city data model, a solutions repository, and a categorisation tool.

“From the beginning, EFFESUS was focused on generating solutions to be used and exploited. The heterogeneity of both the consortium and the results, ranging as they do from software tools to mortar, has required the development of different exploitation plans and strategies with different partners involved in each one,” says Egusquiza.

SME partners critical to innovative solutions

Some 22 other partners from 10 EU-member countries plus Turkey and Norway participated in the project, which ran for four years until August 2016. The interdisciplinary consortium included several SMEs, with 36 % of the project budget allocated to supporting their collaboration with large companies, research institutions and end users.

The project was structured around 10 work packages, from conceptualisation and categorisation and through to research and development of tools and products, and education, awareness, dissemination and training. To address the diversity of heritage sites, seven case studies were conducted in cities around Europe and with differing climate conditions. The cities all belonged to different historical periods and were constructed using different materials and architectural and urban patterns.


Project details

  • Project acronym: EFFESUS
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator), France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Greece, Norway, Turkey, Ireland, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Hungary
  • Project N°: 314678
  • Total costs: € 6 786 903
  • EU contribution: € 4 988 422
  • Duration: September 2012 – August 2016