In the last decade, the renovation of housing in the city of Barcelona has increased, thanks to greater investment by the City Council.
In many ways, the concept of renovation is synonymous with savings. First, economically, as rehabilitating is much cheaper than building anew. While it has a high initial investment cost, passive measures ensure better performance of the home and require fewer improvement interventions over the years.
Secondly, there is energy savings, which increasingly has more value in the current context of environmental emergency. The renovation of housing should involve, for example, improving facades and insulation for lower consumption, as well as emphasizing the use of renewable resources and turning to solar, geothermal, and wind energy. The Vauban eco-neighborhood in Germany, where part of the old barracks were renovated to create solar homes and a solar parking lot, is an example of reference on a European scale. These measures generate a direct benefit for neighbors and show the direct relationship between renovation and health.
Beneficial measures for health
Precisely, the impact of home rehabilitation on people’s health is a well-studied aspect in the international arena, which has already provided interesting and positive conclusions.
A study published in 2019 and conducted by researchers from the IREC (Catalonia Institute for Energy Research) determined the potential economic savings in the healthcare system resulting from rehabilitation interventions in vulnerable homes, which have a positive effect on the health of their occupants. Specifically, the savings translate into a reduction in healthcare costs, expenses on medication, and costs derived from sick leave, which would be achieved thanks to the positive impact of reducing by 15% the number of households with at least one sick person.
These interventions in buildings can be aimed, for example, at eliminating moisture or fungi, which can facilitate the development of a series of diseases, such as respiratory illnesses.
The Sophie project, integrated within the seventh framework program for research of the European Union and with the participation of the Barcelona Public Health Agency, analyzed, among other aspects, the association between cold weather and mortality in people, both in those who lived in renovated buildings and in those who did not. The study showed that, on cold days, women’s mortality was not as high in renovated buildings. Therefore, measures such as widening the exterior walls of the building by adding insulation, insulating roofs, and installing elevators can be highly beneficial.
“Cold weather affects both physical and mental health, and energy poverty also affects health. It is worth noting that energy poverty usually combines with other types of poverty. Different insecurities – such as not being able to pay for housing, food insecurity, etc. – and energy poverty are often linked,” points out the manager of the Barcelona Public Health Agency, Carme Borrell, in an interview conducted in issue number 23 of Qüestions d’Habitatge dedicated to renovation.
Cold, but also heat, affect health, and are two elements that can be avoided if the building is well constructed and undergoes adequate renovation. In addition, as Borrell explains in QH, “What is clear is that cold temperatures inside the home affect the health of southern countries more than those in northern Europe. Even though it is much colder in northern countries, their homes are much better prepared, and therefore they live more comfortably”.
In this regard, low and high temperatures indoors during winter and summer, indoor humidity and the presence of fungi, poor indoor air quality, and unacceptable levels of indoor noise and natural light are some of the most problematic elements for the well-being of people living in a home. So much so that, in the last decade, scientific publications have proliferated showing that people’s physical health and emotional well-being can be influenced by their environment, in this case, by the conditions of their home.
The reasons mentioned, along with others such as job creation, fostering responsibility and private sector intervention, and the redistribution of rights in the city, are incentives to continue the commitment to housing renovation in Barcelona.