An architect designs a renovation plan for a single-family house
Image: UBS

Mr. Rudaz, what is your definition of a sustainable building?

A building that has been built for future generations. And that won’t suffer a significant loss in value in 50 years’ time.

What do you usually do during energy renovation work?

Each renovation project is different. That is what is so inspiring about this work. Generally speaking, three questions arise in connection with energy-efficient renovation. Firstly, is the heating system ecological? Secondly, how well does the building shell insulate the building? Thirdly, what added value can be created in terms of aesthetics, increased space or more clever use of space? As a rule, a well-planned energy renovation project achieves benefits that go beyond the pure energy issue or value retention.

What do you focus on when you discuss renovation with homeowners?

The client often wonders if they’re doing the right thing. Both in terms of the ecological impact and with regard to measures that make financial sense in the long term. A lot of educational work is needed. For example about the fact that heat pumps have been used for 50 years and are an extremely mature and efficient technology. But also to answer questions about all the different things that would be possible in a specific building, and about what additional effects or increases in value can be achieved with very little extra effort. Another focus for me is on mistakes we need to avoid. In other words, what could even result in a loss of value if not carefully thought out? For example, poorly aging insulation on the facade can even lead to damp walls.

“Climate-friendly renovation” guide

Do you want to optimize the energy efficiency of your home, but don’t know how to proceed or where best to start? You can find all the information you need on energy-efficient renovation of properties, costs and subsidies in “Climate-friendly renovation – a guide in six steps”.

How does the energy-efficient renovation process work once a property owner has contacted you?

In general, the person has obtained information in advance and considered which energy measures would be possible and necessary. Or they have already determined this based on a GEAK Plus report. However, I would encourage anyone who is interested to think one step further. Not just “What do I need?” but also “What will I get out of it?” For example, as well as reducing operating costs, how can they create a more comfortable living environment and ensure better use of space? To start off with, I listen to their ideas, then I analyze the building and weigh up the options. Finally, we discuss the different possibilities and decide on a package of measures. Good planning saves costs – and a lot of time.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to think one step further. Not just ‹What do I need?› but also ‹What will I get out of it?›

Speaking of time, how long does it take to renovate a house for energy efficiency?

It usually takes six to twelve months before we conclude the first work contracts. The supply of necessary components is increasingly subject to bottlenecks of up to six months because the global trend in recent years has turned very strongly towards energy-efficient construction. A project therefore rarely takes less than one year from the initial contact to completion.

What else should you know about environmentally friendly renovation?

The secondary market for components is exciting and quite new. Reselling existing components means “upcycling”, and often still results in a small financial advantage. For the customer or for me, it may mean a little more effort. But anyone who is concerned about sustainability is usually more than willing to make the effort.

Beautiful architecture is the most sustainable type of architecture.

The crux of the renovation issue is cost. What can you tell us about this?

Time plays an important role. The more long-term you think, the more obvious the advantages, especially because of the lower operating costs and the additional income. And conversely, if you save too much on renovation, you may even be digging yourself into a hole, because quality ensures value retention. The spatial and architectural quality of the building is also crucial, both now and in the future. Because beautiful architecture is the most sustainable type of architecture.

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Why did you decide to specialize in the field of high-quality ecological buildings?

I feel a great sense of responsibility. And quite honestly, we’re lagging behind. We like to shift the blame onto other people: foreign countries, frequent flyers or consumer culture. But the heating costs of our buildings alone account for around 20 percent of energy consumption in Switzerland, and a huge proportion of heating systems are not environmentally friendly. It is our shared responsibility to recognize the building stock as an important source of national CO2 emissions and to set about energy-related renovation work for the sake of our future.

© Christoph Küenzi

About the interviewee

Demian Rudaz, graduate architect ETHZ SIA, is the owner and managing director of Rudaz Architekten in Zurich, which designs tailor-made, sustainable concepts in combination with atmospheric architecture for private and institutional property owners. 

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