Europe is struggling with an aging housing stock. The need for renovation offers an opportunity to achieve major improvements in health, comfort and efficiency. Single-family homes are key.

Around 75% of Europe’s population currently lives in cities, towns and suburbs. In the 2017 edition of the Healthy Homes Barometer we saw that buildings are responsible for close to 40% of energy use, and that the condition of the home you live in has a direct impact on how healthy we feel. Therefore, the state of housing in our cities and suburbs is vital if we are to achieve healthy, sustainable societies.

Old buildings; poor performance

Buildings in European cities are old. In most EU countries, about two thirds of the residential stock was built before the first European thermal building regulations came into effect (i.e. before 1979)¹,and only 10% of buildings currently have A or B class energy performance certificates. At the same time, the current renovation rate of existing buildings is low, with only about 1-2% of the building stock renovated each year².

Cold homes are the most damaging

New data presented in this report demonstrates how a range of building deficiencies affects homes – and health – in Europe. The most damaging deficiency from a health perspective is having a home that is too cold in winter, which, if you live in a single-family home, means you are twice as likely to report poor health.

Single-family homes are key to addressing health

It is interesting to note that in all cases, single-family homes (SFHs) with deficiencies are more likely to have a negative impact on health than multi-family homes (MFHs). SFHs tend to have more exterior elements per dwelling (roof, windows, walls), where specific deficiencies are often to be found. At the same time, SFHs are more likely to be owned (as opposed to rented) than MFHs, and this affects decision-making when it comes to renovation.

“It’s the housing, stupid”

This year’s research demonstrates that when it comes to deficient housing, it’s the homes themselves that cause illness, and not your economic situation.

Housing deficiencies have the same negative impact on residents’ health regardless of available income. If you are in the top 25% in terms of available income and have a leaking roof, for example, you are just as likely to report poor health as if you are in the bottom 25%.

Old buildings + health impacts = need for renovation

We now know how old our building stock is; we know how damaging different building deficiencies can be to health; and we know that single-family homes are key to making an impact.

This knowledge must be made available so that home and building owners can make informed decisions about renovation, and so that they can capitalise on the economic, environmental and health benefits available. And this knowledge should also help to inform effective policies that incentivise renovation to the benefit of individuals and society.

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