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Madrid 2,16 EUR 0,01 (0,56 %)


Even old buildings can be green

Jorge Ratia

Jorge Ratia

In a world increasingly oriented toward the ecological transition, significant challenges remain. From optimizing energy use in homes to saving water in historic buildings, how can the architecture of the past embrace a greener future?

Based on the European Commission’s requirements, over 40% of homes in Spain must be renovated before 2050 to meet the agreed upon sustainability and energy savings targets. In pursuit of this green future, cutting-edge projects are undoubtedly the ones spearheading the architectural transition. All new buildings are constructed to meet both social and environmental needs. However, the fate of existing buildings, many with 100+ years of history, remains unclear in this process. Is it possible to make them sustainable?

Making old buildings sustainable

To make old buildings greener, a series of strategies that address different aspects should be considered. First, a building’s energy efficiency can be improved by updating the thermal insulation in the walls, ceilings, and windows, as well as installing more efficient LED lighting systems and electrical equipment. It is estimated that a building’s thermal insulation can achieve energy savings of between 30% and 60%. Furthermore, the use of renewable energies, such as the installation of solar panels on roofs or geothermal energy systems, can reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

A building's thermal insulation can achieve energy savings of between 30% and 60%

Water management also plays an important role in the sustainability of old buildings. In fact, buildings can save drinking water by installing rainwater-harvesting systems for watering plants and use in toilets, along with low-consumption faucets and household appliances. Construction can also be optimized by choosing recycled or reusable materials. Finally, most buildings in need of renovation have thermal leaks between the interior and exterior, which may account for up to 20% of energy consumption. These leaks can be mitigated with appropriate ventilation practices and reducing heat transfer through glass and carpentry. There are so many actions to be taken, but where to begin?

Standards governing green construction

There are guidelines to steer the ecological transition and establish criteria for rating and certifying building sustainability, helping achieve the European Commission’s objectives.

Among the most internationally recognized standards is LEED, one of the most widespread certification systems in the world, which evaluates aspects such as energy efficiency, the use of sustainable materials, indoor air quality, and water management. Another, very similar certification system is BREEAM, which rates building sustainability in different areas, such as energy, water, materials, waste, health and well-being, and transport. Meanwhile, the VERDE (Valoración de Eficiencia de Referencia de Edificios, or Building Reference Efficiency Assessment) system is adjusted to the Spanish climate and has several levels of evaluation, from the building’s pre-design, design, and construction to its use and end of life.

By 2030, more than 50% of the surface area of MAPFRE's main office and owned buildings is expected to have sustainable certification

At MAPFRE we have established clear sustainable building objectives, with a firm aim of reducing the impacts of construction and promoting eco-conscious practices. We include environmental criteria in the design, construction, and refurbishment of our buildings and facilities, opting for the best construction solutions with the lowest impact on the environment that are compliant with the strictest sustainable construction quality standards. Specifically, by 2030, more than 50% of the surface area of our main office and owned buildings is expected to have a sustainable certification.

At the end of 2023, 46% of the surface area of these properties already had one of these certifications—10% more than last year—allowing reductions of 30% to 70% in energy use, 30% to 50% in water consumption, and approximately 35% in CO2 emissions.

At MAPFRE we currently have a total of 42 buildings with ISO 14001 certification for Environmental Management and 24 with ISO 50001 certification for Energy Management, under an integrated management system that promotes the efficient use of energy, water, and raw materials.

In short, the sustainability of old buildings is a major challenge for the transition to a greener, more energy-efficient future. Although there are strategies and standards to guide this process, significant obstacles remain. However, with a collaborative approach between real estate owners, authorities, industry professionals, and society as a whole, these challenges can be overcome, transforming old buildings into sustainable assets that contribute to a more resilient and eco-friendly world.