Historic buildings can be considered the symbol of European cities, towns and villages; entire districts are a unique proof of the European cultural heritage. Currently, about 35% of the EU’s buildings are over 50 years old and almost 75% of the building stock is energy inefficient. A preconception widespread in many countries is that historic buildings, particularly those with special protection, should be exempt from having to be equipped with new energy efficient technologies.
Although a certain degree of caution should be exercised when devising renovation plans for historic buildings, the simple argument that they cannot in any way be adapted to integrate renewable energy installations for fear of changing their nature and appearance, is not always a solid argument in the societal move towards sustainability.
Moreover, the renovation of existing buildings has the potential to lead to significant energy savings, possibly reducing the EU’s total energy consumption by 5-6% and lowering CO2 emissions by about 5%. Following the introduction of efficiency requirements in building codes, new buildings today consume only half as much as typical buildings from the 1980s.
Beyond the opportunity for energy and carbon savings, the built heritage needs continuous care and maintenance to sustain functionality and avoid decay. Improving the energy performance of historic buildings will also improve internal comfort conditions, reduce the energy demand and with that the risk of fuel poverty. Providing users with current standards of comfort is a crucial requirement to ensure the continued use of historic buildings over time, and with that their conservation and endurance.
The renovation rate of the existing built stock is still very low at 0.4-1.2% depending on the country, and there are limitations for the implementation of retrofit measures regarding the social, economic and technical viability. Retrofitting historic buildings requires detailed planning in order to guarantee that the case-specific variables are thoroughly considered. An approach that reduces the overall environmental impact of historic buildings has to improve thermal transmittance of the envelope without compromising the historic integrity of the façades, for instance by applying thermal insulation.
To support innovation in the cultural heritage sector, the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage aims to set a common approach for heritage-related activities at the European level, primarily in EU policies and programmes. This framework serves as an inspiration for regions and cities in Europe, as well as for cultural heritage organisations and networks when developing their actions on cultural heritage.
Within the strategic objectives for cultural heritage in a sustainable Europe, special attention is given to regenerating cities and regions through cultural heritage, promoting adaptive re-use of heritage buildings, and balancing cultural heritage with sustainable cultural tourism and natural heritage. The European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage establishes a set of 4 principles to which the EU is contributing.
1. A holistic approach, looking at cultural heritage as a resource for the future and putting people at its heart,
2. Mainstreaming an integrated approach across different EU policies,
3. Evidence-based policymaking, including through cultural statistics,
4. Multi-stakeholder co-operation, encouraging dialogue and exchange between a wide range of actors when designing and implementing cultural heritage policies and programmes.