Guest writer, Eric Ezechieli, works for the Natural Step in Italy.
It is one of the most effective programs of this kind in the world today, as it is strongly accepted, adopted, and supported by the public, and it is generating a wave of imitation in a wide region in southern and central Europe.
The program started in 2002 in the alpine region of Alto Adige – Süd Tirol, the German-Speaking part in the North of Italy, where about 480,000 people live. It was developed internally by the autonomous Klimahaus agency within the Regional Government in the tri-lingual region of Bolzano-Bozen, where Italian, German and Ladin are spoken. Today hundreds of buildings are certified by Casaclima not only in Italy, but also in Germany, Switzerland and Greece. Figures say it is just the beginning, as the system is rapidly becoming mainstream across Italy.
I met with Dr. Norbert Lantschner, the ‘father’ of Casaclima, in the end of November, in Turin, Italy. As director of the ‘Luft und Lärm’ - air and rumor - agency in the regional government, he started his activities in the 1990s by developing the ‘Climate Alliance’ in the region: 80% of the municipalities in Alto Adige are now committed, on a volunteer basis, to doing everything possible in their powers to reduce their greenhouse emissions. The Climate Alliance supports sustainable development and reforestation projects in South America, thus reinforcing the common understanding and commitment to a global positive impact towards both the environment and society.
Starting from this experience, the following step Lantschner took was to create a standard of reference that was appealing by design for the people who live in all kinds of buildings. A well-crafted communication, education and community engagement process started to make people aware about both the present reality and the possibilities of a high quality of life in the future. The new clients’ focus, has exercised an enormous pressure on builders, designers, services providers, and the public administration, in order them to provide what the people were increasingly asking for.
The Casaclima-Klimahaus is a combination of the LEED certification system and the standard energy efficiency certification in the Middle and Northern Europe. An independent agency of the regional government assesses and rates buildings on a energy scale ranging from Gold to class A, B and C. The assessment system evaluates the total environmental impact of the building like the use of renewable energy, the choice of materials and other technologies. The respect of ecological intelligence principles is needed to obtain the plus-certification.
Class C is the minimum performance level in order the building to be legally licensed for inhabitation. The assessment is not performed on the design, nor during the construction phase. The inspection on the building site takes place only upon completion, thus leaving total freedom and responsibility to the designers and builders during the construction. The certified building receives a paper certificate and a metal plaque, to be glued onto the wall by the main entrance.
The Casaclima agency, in the last three years, has been training over 3000 people, either to become Casaclima certified designers and professionals, or to become certifiers. The autonomy of the certifiers is assured as the assessment process is always led by and conducted through the Casaclima agency, who randomly selects the certifiers in order to prevent any potential conflict of interest.
The key stone of Casaclima is a simple rating based on the consumption per square meter. The top performing Casaclima buildings need less than 10 kWh per square meter per year, which roughly means they require less than the equivalent of one litre of diesel fuel per square meter per year to assure total comfort to the inhabitants. As of now in Europe there are over 6000 such buildings, and thousand more are being built or renovated to respond to these standards. The average energy consumption of Italian buildings is about 270 kWh per square metre per year, while the average in Süd Tirol is now 210, in spite of the cold mountain climate.
A Masters course and degree in ‘Casaclima’ is now offered at the University of Bozen. Casaclima rises the bar in buildings’ energy performance and comfort worldwide, well beyond existing standards set by any nation’s laws. The goal now is to gradually turn all buildings, both new constructions and renovations, into a building without any environmental impact.
The best examples of energy efficiency performance in Alto Adige –Südtirol-South Tyrol are the CasaClima Gold buildings, most of them as a passivhaus.
This is a building which does not require any ‘active’ external energy input as energy needs are compensated, or overcompensated through solar gain, even in the cold winter months. The iconic example and first prototype of passive solar building is the Rocky Mountain Institute, built in the Colorado Rockies by Amory & Hunter Lovins and the other RMI founders between 1982 and 1984. The concept was further developed, refined and validate by Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passiv House Insitute, in Darmstadt, Germany. Feist and his team engineered, built and monitored several such building, thus demonstrating huge advantages, both in terms of comfort, and economy.
A database of over 800 passive buildings is available online, and the key information and technical data for each building are reported here.
A comparable or slightly higher initial cost (a measured 2 to 10 % higher) with respect to traditional approaches assures a dramatically reduced energy need throughout the entire life of the building. Casaclima has made the ‘ecologically intelligent house’ concept appealing to the larger public, relevant to the local communities and administrators, and a highly desirable choice for all investors.
The performance is achieved through intelligent siting and orientation - to maximise solar gain and minimize wind losses in cold regions or minimize it in hot ones -, hyper insulation, elimination of all thermal bridges, provision of adequate thermal mass to store heat or cold, air tightness, hyper performing windows, and a forced air circulation system with air-air exchangers for heat recovery. By so doing the need for a traditional furnace or air conditioning systems is eliminated, and in case of further heating or cooling needs, the energy requirements will be about 10 times lower with respect to traditional buildings. Furthermore, materials should be ecologically intelligent, the project should respond to social justice criteria, all other energy systems be designed for maximum effectiveness and efficiency, and the needed energy - a small fraction of what is needed in a traditional building - should come from renewable, local sources.
Although C is the minimum requirement, now almost all customers strive for a B, or even more an A or Gold rating. People take pride of the quality level of their homes, and the rating is well visible through a metal plaque applied by the building’s entrance. The rating system has ignited a positive imitation and competition process in the Süd Tirol communities. The value of the buildings with the higher ratings increases, and all operators are driven towards maximising their contribution to the overall energy effectiveness and efficiency of the built environment.
European buildings, especially in cold regions, tend to be much sturdier than North American ones. They are built with brick and stone, last a few centuries, and generally feature a much higher level of energy efficiency with respect to US standards.
For these reasons, achieving further improvements is more challenging, and European standards for energy efficiency tend to be tougher with respect to US ones. Casaclima sets the new standard of possibility in implementation, and by demonstrating how effectively such levels can be reached, breaks new ground for further improvements, involving several other aspects of lifestyle for entire communities, municipalities and regions. Energy is one of the defining issues of our time, and buildings are the largest single consumer of energy, materials, and probably money in the western world. A house it by far the largest investment of an average family, and it is the place where people generally spend most of their time. Once a person of family starts to think in terms of sustainability for its own dwelling, a new culture is created, a paradigm shift occurs, and all choices – regarding transportation, food, other consumptions, travel, political representatives, etc. - start be driven by sustainability criteria.
As of today most experience has been developed on buildings for cold climates. However, Südtirol-Alto Adige features extremes climates both in winter and summer, and Casaclima is demonstrating its full effectiveness also in hot weather, by dramatically deducing energy consumption to assure comfort during the summer.
The next step Lantschner is considering is to expand the impact of the project to transportation, purchasing choices, and then industry, and all other human activities. Energy is the core target, as the transformation of energy systems is the most crucial in order to really advance toward sustainability, but the commitment does not step there. Lantschner hopes to see ‘Transportclima’ or ‘Businessclima’ projects start up soon, either in Süd Tirol or elsewhere in the world.
Eric, thank you for a very informative article. Do you know of any relationship between this work and the Passivhaus Institute in Germany?
Warning: shameless plug, but I don't care because I am truly convinced that is important and urgent.
I have been trained to design passivhaus buildings, and am involved in several such projects now. Please ping me if you want me to send you a PDF with more details. This is a worldchanging design methodolgy for it present a better product at a similar or lower cost, and drastically reduces emissions and energy use.
A couple of notes:
[+] extra investment is more in the 0 to 15 % range, depending on what baseline you compare the investment to. In certain regions of Europe, the building ordnance is already quite extensive. For instance, several regions now require an active ventilation system to be included with each new building. In such a situation, you can really get a tunneling through the cost barrier effect: the extra investment in insulation and triple glazing is largely compensated by the absence of a furnace and radiators.
[+] According to publication by Ernst Worrell, Rob Scot McLeod and Fred Pearce, cement produces between 5 and 10 per cent of the world's manmade carbon dioxide. I'll repeat that: between 5 and 10 per cent of the world's manmande carbon dioxide is due to cement production.
While it's true that most houses in Europe are built with brick, there's no relation to style, or size, or materials to design and build a passivhaus. In fact, more and more designs move to modular panel systems built with recycled, local, low toxin and low-embedded energy materials. Ideally, you'll want mass inside the house to promote thermal inertia, but there fantastic, engineered construction materials made from renewables, and certainly not only for private homes.
[+] It's really quite simple:
1) The debate about global warming is over.
2) Buildings contribute for a large amount of the CO2 emissions.
3) In the USA green building is really still synonymous with LEED certification.
4) But, LEED is a checklist-based approach as opposed to the whole system engineering that is passivhaus. What is the per cent reduction of CO2 emissions of a LEED building ? Not specified.
5) Passivehaus design leads to more comfortable buildings with emissions and energy reduction of 75% or more, and is one of the most important places to intervene on the way to a low carbon economy.
Serge de Gheldere
You may find the following project of interest. Please note that a correct index for comparision is not kWh/m2 but kWh/m3/dd (heating). Otherewise one cannot compare buildings in different regions. We tried LEEDS but gave up since it could not account or give credit for, many of our features.
We built a home and office in Calgary Alberta in 1993-1994. It saved about 225 Alberta trees and an estimated 70% of all construction waste. Today, after 13 years of continuous use, it uses 1.05 wh/hDD/m3 of purchased (wind) energy annually. Total electrical consumption is about 87 kWh/person/month for both home and office, (28% of average residential use, Calgary). Annually, it saves 210 GJ of NG (100% reduction), 349,850 L drinking water (100% reduction), 216,910 L of sewage (100% reduction), 6,135 kwh of coal-generated electricity (82% reduction) and 49 kg of household garbage (92% reduction) through the prudent use of resources, renewable energy and a conserver lifestyle.
Its total purchased energy compares with the following:
1) standard home: 217 kWh/m2
2) R-2000 home: 104 kWh/m2
3) Advanced Home: 52 kWh/m2
4) Calgary Eco-Home: 10 kWh/m2
Fig. 29 shows our RSI U-0.34 (COG) 5-pane window.
For more information you can go to:
I am a conservation-minded American who hopes to build his own home in the next 5 years. I would love to build with an eye towards conserving heat and minimizing reliance on petroleum. Any information you can share that you think would be useful to a lay person (non-science kind of guy) would be appreciated.
Ann Arbor, MI