Sustainability Sustainability and your home

Could your home use eco-friendly heating and cooling? Whether new build or refurbishment, sustainability is the key.

by Jürg Zulliger 20 Nov 2019

A development is considered sustainable if it meets the needs of the current generation without limiting the options of future generations. Our resources and raw materials – in particular energy, clean air and water – are limited. Acting sustainably means making the most of these and other resources. In terms of construction projects, a building is considered a model of sustainability if it conserves resources from the start of the project right through to its operation.

Mobility and transport

What features characterize an ideal location? Locations are sustainable if they are well connected and easily accessible by public transportation. Those who have a long commute or drive long distances every day are increasing their ecological footprint.

A second consideration concerns our home: roofs, facades and windows are potential trouble spots. On older, poorly insulated buildings in particular, they are responsible for around four fifths of total energy losses. As Thomas Ammann, Head of Energy and Construction Engineering at HEV Switzerland, explains: “The quality of insulation and the facade should be a priority for all new builds.” Investing in thermal insulation for a home pays off in the long term, and the building envelope and windows should be designed accordingly.

Heat pumps: sustainable and efficient

Sustainability doesn’t just apply to new builds. In Switzerland, around 1.5 million buildings are in need of refurbishment. But the costs associated with improved thermal insulation and switching to renewable energy sources can be considerable. Installing a heat pump with a geothermal probe usually costs substantially more than replacing a conventional boiler. For an apartment block or detached home, the cost of the heat pump, drilling into the ground, and disposing of the old system is at least 30,000 to 35,000 Swiss francs. However, here too the investment will be recouped in the long term. In the long run, the annual costs of a heat pump with geothermal probe (including the costs of finance, operation and service) are lower than for all other systems. In addition, heat pumps also have the best CO2 balance.

Your home as a power station

New-generation buildings are effectively becoming energy-producers. Today, photovoltaic technology for electricity generation is both efficient and technically proven; electricity generated from solar roof panels is often cheaper than that supplied from the grid. Nowadays, the cost of the “gray energy” required to produce these panels is recouped very quickly. When the sun shines, this energy can be used to run a heat pump in the home or to operate other devices such as washing machines and dishwashers. Thanks to enormous progress in battery and thermal storage technology, energy captured during the day can also be used in the evening or at night. As Thomas Ammann from HEV Switzerland explains, “Current technology means thermal storage units are even cheaper than batteries.”

Pro and contra labels

A number of labels and construction standards exist including “Nachhaltiges Bauen Schweiz” (Sustainable Construction Switzerland) and the Swiss label “Minergie.” “Nachhaltiges Bauen Schweiz” pursues a comprehensive approach that enables large buildings to be ranked. Minergie is well-established for more modest projects, especially for detached homes or condominiums. It includes different modules and standards such as Minergie-P and Minergie-ECO. The focus is on minimizing energy consumption and on ecological construction requirements. Whether or not you seek to obtain such a label as a private owner is entirely up to you. However, it’s certainly worth considering. “We advise caution if the Minergie label is promised but the house is not in fact certified,” emphasizes Thomas Ammann from HEV Switzerland. “For a new build, this means that a project is completed that does no more than meet existing standards.”

The ABCs of renewable energy

Heat pumps draw energy from the ground, ground water or the air and use it to generate heat for heating or hot water. There are three different types:

  • Brine-water heat pumps: a probe at a depth of 50 to 300 meters extracts heat from underground.
  • Water-water heat pumps use heat from ground or surface water.
  • Air-water heat pumps remove heat from ambient air and do not require a hole to be drilled.

Modern heat pumps are particularly efficient if a house is fitted with good-quality windows and is well insulated.

Solar thermal energy uses the sun. Water circulating in roof-mounted solar panels is heated by the sun. This energy is used to provide hot water and heating. Because there is not always enough sunshine, a supplementary heating system is required.

Photovoltaic (electricity generation): The price of photovoltaic modules has dropped dramatically on the world market, making roof-mounted modules an economic way of producing electricity. Photovoltaic electricity is the ideal way of powering a heat pump. Public authorities offer investment grants in the form of one-time payments.

District heating or communal heating: For urban areas in particular, district heating – for example, from waste incineration – is a sustainable solution. Examples of communal heating include communally operated wood heating systems or a communal field of geothermal probes with heat pumps.

Wood: Renewable energies include wood pellets and wood chip heating systems. Like heat pumps, these heating systems also generate considerably fewer CO2 emissions than conventional oil and gas-fired heating systems. Unlike heat pumps, they are also used to distribute heat in older buildings where higher supply temperatures are required.

Financing and subsidies

Refurbishment projects costing more than 100,000 francs can be financed via a UBS building loan. Requirement: Compliance with lending guidelines and financial viability. Tip: Contact your client advisor. They can talk to you about the options for financing a construction project or increasing your mortgage.

Almost all cantons and municipalities provide subsidies and investment grants. The focus is on improving energy efficiency, e.g., concerning the building envelope, switching to renewable energy, advice, etc.

#TOGETHERBAND: UBS’s commitment to sustainability

#TOGETHERBAND are 17 sustainably and ethically produced friendship bands in the colors of the UN’s 17 sustainability goals. One to wear and one to share. All proceeds go towards projects that help achieve these sustainability goals. Order the band that best matches your goals at – you can also pay with KeyClub ePoints.