Sustainable buildings How to: energy-efficient renovation and refurbishment

What energy-efficient renovation work can do for you, what you should look out for and how renovation projects can be financed.

by UBS Wissen 12 Nov 2021
How to: GEAK® demonstrates how buildings can be renovated to make them energy efficient. Photo: UBS

What was considered science fiction a few decades ago is now reality: residential buildings that also generate energy. This type of building is becoming increasingly important for Switzerland thanks to the climate debate and the goals set out in the “Sustainable Development 2030” strategy. In a housing estate in Männedorf in the canton of Zurich, for example, there are 16 families who don’t pay a single centime for electricity and heating, at least if they stick to their energy budget. This is because the housing estate is self-sufficient when it comes to energy. This means that the necessary energy, such as electricity and heat, is generated entirely on site.

Buildings cause greenhouse gas emissions

Despite a few showcase projects, a look at the Swiss averages has a sobering effect. Buildings and industry still each account for a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland. Another third is generated by transport, and just under a fifth by agriculture and waste treatment.

If you consider that in Switzerland, more than one million houses are not properly insulated or not insulated at all, and that two thirds of buildings are heated by fossil fuels or electricity, the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, in the long term, costs, becomes clear. In many cases, just a few structural measures can lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Financing renovation work: mortgages and subsidies

Since the public sector has a great interest in reducing energy consumption due to environmental factors and (impending) electricity/fuel shortages, there are federal and cantonal subsidies in favor of energy-efficient construction or renovation. This makes it easier to finance the necessary work. The specific incentive measures available differ depending on the canton or municipality. Your municipality’s building department or your regional energy specialist can provide more information. The following websites may also be useful:

 

·         Das Gebäudeprogramm (federal and cantonal funding program) – information on subsidies and applications

·         Energiefranken – search engine for energy subsidies by municipality

·         Energieschweiz – an energy policy tool launched by the Federal Council with a wealth of information

 

Ideally, you should have funds available in your investment fund or savings account to finance renovation costs. Alternatively – or in addition – it is possible, in the case of owner-occupied residential property, to transfer or pledge pension assets (pension fund assets and 3rd pillar assets) under Swiss federal measures to encourage home ownership. This type of withdrawal is possible every five years, and a minimum amount of 20,000 francs applies. What is more, certain restrictions come into effect from the age of 50 when using pension fund assets to finance work. The third option is to increase your mortgage to finance your renovation project. Whether or not this is possible, and up to what amount, depends on the loan-to-value ratio of your property. The newly approved total mortgage amount may not exceed 80 percent of the property value for owner-occupied homes. And affordability must still always be ensured despite the higher mortgage.

UBS can help you with renovation projects and energy-efficient refurbishments with its “UBS Mortgage Renovation”. This offers particularly attractive interest rate conditions and an additional interest reduction for buildings with a Minergie® certificate or GEAK® certificate of class A or B, or if the proportion of energy-related construction measures represents at least 50% of the total cost.

Renovating is worthwhile at UBS

  • Preferential interest rates for financing your renovation costs
  • Additional interest rate reduction of 0.30% for energy-efficient construction measures
  • Secure the interest rate for your fixed-rate mortgage up to one year in advance free of charge

Three starting points for greener homes

Environmentally friendly buildings have good insulation, which reduces heat loss. To determine the quality of your insulation, it’s best to get a professional to assess the permeability of doors and windows, as well as of the attic, basement and facade. Depending on the initial situation, renovation of weak points often pays off after just a few years, whilst increasing living comfort at the same time.

Valuable heating energy is also lost through poor ventilation. Automatic ventilation systems increase the efficiency of the house, save heating costs and prevent mold formation. Insulation or a ventilation system can also increase the resale value of a property.In future, sustainability criteria are likely to play an increasingly important role in the valuation of real estate in general.

Last but not least, the replacement of an old oil heating system is another measure that can significantly increase the energy efficiency of a building. As far as the replacement of oil and gas heating systems is concerned, the Cantonal Energy Directors have formulated various requirements that are summarized in the cantonal model regulations in the energy sector (MuKen). You can find more information on the website of the Conference of Cantonal Energy Directors under the heading “Energieberatung”. The ideal time to replace a heating system should be carefully defined with experts.

How energy efficient is my house?

A building can only become environmentally friendly by making a substantial investment in the insulation and the ventilation system. But it will also substantially increase living comfort. And some of the additional costs can be amortised with the savings in heating costs. In addition, ecological buildings often fetch higher prices when sold. Ultimately, eco-efficiency pays off.

But who can confirm whether a house is really energy efficient? The energy performance certificate of the cantons (GEAK®) has done just that since 2009. Similar to cars and household appliances, a glance at a label and you’ll know how much energy a building consumes. In addition, GEAK® provides information about how a building can be renovated to make it energy efficient. This represents a first step towards a house that is also a power plant.

Energy efficiency – three key questions

1. How energy efficient is my house?

To find out, it’s a good idea to request a GEAK® (cantonal energy certificate for buildings). This certificate shows how energy efficient your home is. You will obtain an expert report on the energy efficiency of the building shell and the standard energy consumption of your home. This will help you to plan renovation and refurbishment measures for the long term.

2. How much will a normal GEAK® cost me?

If you contact a certified GEAK® expert, they will give you a quote for supplying a certificate based on your home. The cost of a GEAK® certificate for a single-family house is 600 to 700 francs, or 1,400 to 2,100 francs for a GEAK® Plus certificate. Many cantons grant subsidies for GEAK® Plus.

3. How can I benefit by increasing energy efficiency?

There are three good reasons for increasing energy efficiency. Firstly, you can make an active contribution to ensuring that the environment remains intact for future generations. Secondly, you will save energy – and hence heating and incidental expenses. The higher the price of energy, the more you will notice the difference. Thirdly, regular maintenance can increase the market value of your property. This argument is becoming increasingly important.

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