Financing and cost effectiveness of Passive House buildings: experience from Brussels and focus on social housing


Author: Irena Kondratenko, Passiefhuis-Platform vzw

Within the framework of the PassREg project, an info session was held on 20 November 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium, attended by the Passiefhuis-Platform vzw, the City Architect team of the City of Antwerp, a group of different key stakeholders from the development project Nieuw Zuid in Antwerp, and the social housing organisation Woonhaven Antwerpen (largest social housing organisation in Antwerp).

The focus topic was “Affordability of Passive House social housing”. The programme included three presentations followed by intensive discussions: Jennifer Timmermans from the Brussels Environmental organisation BIM, who presented information on the costs of Passive House buildings (including social housing examples) from the BatEx (Bâtiments Exemplaires) Exemplary Building projects in Brussels; Jan Wouters from the social housing organisation Woonhaven, Antwerpen, who presented his organisation’s funding mechanism, and Dirk Knapen of who gave an overview of possible ways of financing energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Among the findings presented were those gleaned through the BatEx projects in Brussels: Between 2007 and 2012, the average “as built” cost of one Exemplary Building amounted to 1351 €/m² (gross construction costs excluding subsidies and architects fee). The average price for a comparable conventional single-family house is 1093 €/m² and for an apartment building 1403 €/m². The average cost for offices or commercial buildings is 1612 €/m². A comparison between new builds and renovations shows larger differences, 1595 €/m² and 976 €/m² respectively.

Based on these Exemplary Buildings projects, the average extra upfront cost for building to the Passive House Standard as opposed to conventional buildings is 450 €/m² (1563 €/m² versus 1109 €/m²). Here, it is important to note that these prices are averages; there are examples where the cost of building “passive” was much closer to those of non-passive buildings.

The average building costs of the social housing projects in the Exemplary Buildings programme was 1516 €/m². However, it can be noted that the costs for the two social housing projects with the lowest building costs were as low as 950 €/m², while the most expensive projects in this category cost 2600 €/m².

These differences were not only due to different levels of energy performance, but also to other aspects such as the design layout of the house or apartment, the size of the living room and bedrooms, the choices of kitchen appliances, the overall size of the building, etc. In other words, choices that are not directly linked to the building’s energy efficiency have a much bigger influence on the building costs.

In addition, choices in a building project relating to ecological materials, water recuperation systems, green-roofs, etc. also had a strong influence on the building costs of the Exemplary Buildings.
Therefore all these aspects need to be taken into consideration when evaluating the additional costs that are directly related to the building’s energy performance.

Investing in sustainable and energy efficient building is always good idea. The extra upfront costs are returned within the lifetime of the building, while occupants enjoy comfortable interiors and indoor climates at very low energy costs! One good example is the AeropolisII office building in Brussels. Additional investment costs compared with a standard office building (new build) were 160,000 EUR, while annual savings due to the much lower energy bills amount to 32,000 EUR. The extra investment to make the building passive will thus be returned within five years.

This much said, the bottleneck in Flanders for introducing Passive House as the standard energy level in the social housing sector is the fact that social housing rents are based on the income of the tenants, independent of the type of house or energy costs of the building they live in. Therefore, the social housing organisations in Flanders cannot adjust rents to make up for the extra investment in energy savings measures. This asks for solutions to be developed at the political level.

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See also

Overview of Passipedia articles on Affordability

Overview of all articles that have been written within the framework of the PassREg project

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