Newsletter XVIII - Towards an Action Plan on integrated techniques for seismic strengthening and energy efficiency of buildings

The European Parliament has entrusted the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) with a pilot project on integrated techniques for the seismic strengthening and energy efficiency of existing buildings. The pilot project will define solutions which - at the same time and in the least invasive way - reduce seismic vulnerability and increase energy efficiency, in such a manner as to produce a significant environmental impact. It will also aim to stimulate the use of integrated solutions, and to create awareness about the topic with a view to prevention.

 Nowadays practically everybody lives, works, socialises, studies, shops, gets hospitalised, takes exercise, and gets entertained in buildings. People spend a big part of their everyday lives in buildings. The built environment is the largest industrial sector in Europe not only in economic terms, but also in terms of resource flow. In the EU, it is estimated that there are about 25 billion square metres of built-up area, of which about 10 billion was built before the 1960s. The building stock that is well into its sixth decade of existence requires substantial maintenance, due to structural deterioration caused by aging, but also because the buildings constructed more than half a century ago were designed for different environmental conditions and according to building regulations that are now obsolete.

 Two major problems for old buildings are resistance to earthquakes, and energy performance. 

In EU Member States where seismic hazard is medium to high (e.g. Italy, Greece), and low to medium (e.g. Germany, France, Spain), the building stock is particularly vulnerable. Seismic events have caused thousands of casualties and extensive economic damage in recent years. Notable examples are the earthquakes in July 2017 in the Aegean Sea (especially the Greek island of Kos, and the city of Bodrum in Turkey), in May 2012 in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, and in April 2009 in the Abruzzo region of central Italy (especially the city of L’Aquila). 

At the same time, the energy performance of buildings is unsatisfactory. The energy consumed in buildings is one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions in Europe. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or EPBD (2010/31/EU) is - together with the Energy efficiency directive - the main legislation to promote the energy performance of buildings and to boost renovation within the EU.

 Reducing buildings’ vulnerability while increasing their energy efficiency, is thus of major importance for our safety and for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Finding simultaneous solutions to both problems will make retrofitting of buildings cheaper, more practical and achievable.

 The new pilot project will propose relevant tools and guidelines and will aim to underpin an EU Action Plan to redevelop and modernise the existing building stock in the EU. In view of the huge number of constructions involved, the Action Plan will be based on criteria of high efficiency and economic and environmental sustainability. The new idea for holistic approach to renovation of buildings and the Action Plan will support the integration between disaster risk reduction and cohesion policies.

 The work of the JRC plays an important role in improving safety in construction, for example through scientific support for the development and implementation of the Eurocodes, a set of European standards for the design of buildings and other civil engineering works, which include Eurocode 8, the European Standard for the design of structures for earthquake resistance. (See web-link below).

Georgios Tsionis, Silvia Dimova, Paolo Negro, Dionysios Bournas and Desislava Strezova
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)

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