RIBuild: how to reduce energy consumption in historic buildings in order to meet the EU 2020 climate and energy targets

Catrin Haider, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
31 January 2017
RIBuild test facility at DTU premises in Lyngby, Copenhagen
RIBuild test facility at DTU premises in Lyngby, Copenhagen

Let´s be honest, it´s not just because of our friendly nature that millions of foreign tourists visit Europe year after year. One of the continent´s biggest attractions is, without a doubt, its diverse and impressive historic building stock. Therefore, it is vital to protect and preserve especially the facades of these buildings.

Recently I participated in the RIBuild project meeting in Copenhagen, where I learned that historic buildings account for up to 30% of the European building stock and that their energy saving potential still amounts to 15 – 20%. Internal thermal insulation can be a smart intervention to reduce the heating and cooling demand of a historic building without spoiling its valuable external appearance. However, up until now, only the daredevils amongst the historic building owners were brave enough to implement this technology due to risks of failure and high costs. This is where the RIBuild project steps in.

During the meeting, the RIBuilds experts explained to me that there are already several internal insulation systems on the market but until now, there has been almost no research carried out on their long-term performance. Thus, if you are the owner of a historic building and you ask a professional if he or she would install internal insulation, this person would most probably not refuse to do it, but as the owner, you really don´t know if it might harm the structure of the building – or even worse – the health of the occupants. With the aim to produce comprehensive guidelines on how to install internal thermal insulation in historic buildings, the RIBuild project team has set a high target for themselves mainly due to huge variety within Europe’s historic building stock. Just think of the big number of different timber types that were used to build houses in former times. The same counts for stones, bricks and mortar. They vary in density, porosity, heat capacity, water absorption efficiency,  etc. and the wrong insulation material and/or technique could cause a variety of damages such as microbiological growth, frost damage or discoloured facades caused by algal and fungal growth.

In Copenhagen the RIBuild team has built a test facility in a former shipping container. The set-up with lots of built-in sensors enables the researchers to compare the behavior of different insulation systems even from within the construction. Additional research activities include simulations and on-site case studies. It was sad to hear that one of the powerful earthquakes that hit Italy last year destroyed one Italian case study.

Despite all these challenges, I am sure that the RIBuild project will deliver an urgently needed knowledge base for the transformation of Europe´s building stock. I am looking forward to see more of that! 

Dipl. Ing. Catrin Haider works at the Energy Department of the Austrian Indtiute of Technology AIT since 2013. Her position as Research funding entails a broad spectrum of tasks ranging from the acquisition and execution of projects to the management of research networks up to the active engagement in European policy initiatives. Catrin is involved in various projects, e.g. as a project team member for the Smart Cities Information System. She has gained substantial knowledge on European RDI policies in the field of sustainable city development through her work as leader of the Secretariat for the EERA Joint Programme on Smart Cities and other project-related networking and dissemination responsibilities. Catrin is certified project management associate (IPMA Level D) and holds a degree in spatial planning from the Technical University of Vienna.