Newsletter#3 – January 2019: “The ABRACADABRA project demonstrated its initial insight”

The ABRACADABRA project (Assistant Buildings’ addition to retrofit, Adopt, Cure And Develop the Actual Buildings up to zeRo energy, Activating a market for deep renovation) has managed to demonstrate, through some tools tested by several case studies, its initial intuition: the energy retrofitting of the existing buildings stock in the free market does not pay itself sufficiently quickly with the economic savings it generates. This intuition, which the Real Estate market has long grasped, is accentuated by factors common to European countries and determinants such as:

  • The limited financial availability of real estate owners (small or great property owners);
  • The difficulty in accessing financial credit;
  • Block of housing market prices;
  • Difficulties in regulatory and administrative procedures.

Abracadabra, moreover, had immediately set itself an even more ambitious goal: to find a way to redevelop and retrofit an existing building until it becomes an almost Zero Energy Building.

In practice, the technical and technological challenge is to make an existing building assume the energy characteristics of a new building (starting from 2018, all new public buildings and starting from 2020, all new private buildings), without however having the possibility to orient the building, respecting the urban constraints, the normative ones (respect for the distances), the morphological ones and, above all in the case of Italy, those foreseen by the Code of Cultural Heritage.

This challenge, to which many designers, producers of materials and technological systems, as well as companies in the sector have already been working on for some time, has been technically addressed through a “tool kit” which, through a series of attempts “warns us” when the NZEB level has been reached.

The most difficult challenge, on the other hand, was to make the energy requalification measures necessary to reach the NZEB level in existing buildings financially sustainable. The tests were carried out on existing buildings (case studies) in all of the participating countries and the first result was one which many operators of the sector had already received.

The project has actively involved many stakeholders, representing all the issues affecting the real estate sector (owners, banks, social housing, Local, Regional and State administrations, etc.) and precisely the ESCOs have anticipated the current level that it is possible to achieve in the energy retrofitting of existing buildings through an EPC contract (to guarantee energy performance): from the energy class G (starting level of the domestic housing stock) it is possible to reach a C energy class, taking advantage of the current incentives. Further efforts to arrive at an energy class A or NZEB are unsustainable from a financial point of view for the owners or the ESCOs that finance and implement the intervention.

The most pressing challenge was therefore to find a solution to the financial sustainability of energy retrofitting interventions that want to reach the NZEB performance level. The solution was to develop a “tool kit” that quantitatively and technically demonstrates the initial intuition of the project: how much should I increase the volume of the building to achieve the financial sustainability of the redevelopment of the entire building?

This “tool kit”, through a series of simulations on the existing building, is able to verify where to achieve the volumetric increase (on the roof, on the façade, etc.) and how many square meters are necessary (depending on market values) to achieve financial sustainability.

Fig. 1 Energy retrofitting intervention and volumetric expansion on public buildings – Social Housing in Paris, in the central area – Paris Habitat


Of course there are already some successful cases in Europe, where the expansion of the building (sold) has allowed the redevelopment of the entire building, also increasing the overall real estate value.

The last challenge of the project was to identify all the regulatory obstacles that prevent volumetric increases, such as the elevation and at the moment, we are identifying suggestions to overcome these barriers, perhaps starting from recommendations common to all member countries. Obviously, the project’s intuition is also supported by the tendency of many new urban reforms aimed at the non-consumption of new territory, as well as by the European document, which suggests how to limit, mitigate or compensate for the consumption of non-urbanized land.

For those interested, we also invite you to watch the following video with architect, Renzo Piano, who discusses urban regeneration starting from the suburbs and the need not to compromise further non-urbanized land.
Make sure to keep an eye out for our policy recommendations, which will become available at the end of the project.