Logo - CCME
Digital Issue - CCME

‘IEQ is a major driver for retrofits in the EU’

Dr Sheikh Zuhaib, Project Manager, Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), provides an insight into how a growing appreciation of the impact of the indoor environment on the health and well-being of building inhabitants have affected new and existing buildings across Europe. Excerpts from the interview he gave to Hannah Jo Uy of Climate Control Middle East…

| | Jun 4, 2020 | 9:16 am
Share this story

How would you gauge the level of investment being placed in building design, systems and equipment that promote IEQ in new construction and, as an extension, how much importance are we giving to IEQ in retrofits?

Investors now realise that environmental factors have a crucial role in the value of real estate, and there is an ever-increasing demand for sustainable buildings. There are no real trends that could elaborate on the level of investments that promotes IEQ in new construction. A proxy of this trend can be measured by increased deployment of sensors in commercial real estate to monitor IEQ levels that are becoming mainstream, and the investments are projected to be EUR 1.3 billion in 2020. However, many assessment systems existing around the world, such as LEED, BREEAM, DGNB, WELL, HPI, among others, have made IEQ as a compulsory criterion to be satisfied to get a required rating in the commercial building sector. These systems tend to focus more on design, in terms of inputs, rather than performance, in terms of outputs. Several studies have indicated that improving an existing building is much more sustainable for the planet than is new construction, though retrofit sometimes may be less financially feasible than new construction.

Frontrunner projects and voluntary standards have proven that buildings can be very energy efficient while ensuring outstanding indoor air quality, thermal comfort, daylight and acoustics. This trend is now rising in residential, commercial, health and educational buildings sector, but one could argue its cost-effectiveness and how do we measure it? In ensuring compliance, the real estate industry is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of IEQ, and it attracts clients who are interested in healthy buildings.

Integrating effective IEQ strategies in early design stages of a new building project is an easy task compared to the existing building stock that was designed without any prior focus on IEQ. Europe has the highest number of existing buildings, and new buildings represent annually less than 1.5% of the total building stock. Poor IEQ in existing buildings have resulted in health impacts, and it is a growing concern in Europe, as occupants spent a huge share of their time indoors living, working or in recreational activities. Therefore, the European Commission is ensuring a greater focus on improving IEQ conditions in the buildings through the main legislation, Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD 2018/844) to be followed by EU member states. Energy-efficient retrofits provide an opportunity to improve the IEQ conditions in buildings, and consideration of it during planning has proven to be effective. Studies on the impact of retrofit in Europe have shown to improve respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health in homes, improved productivity and reduced absence from work in offices and better concentration in students.

From an IEQ perspective, what gaps have you observed in terms of the way retrofit projects are operated and maintained? Does the opportunity to enhance IEQ lessen if consultants and contractors are brought into the project at a much later stage?

The lack of holistic retrofit strategies and the pressure of meeting minimum legal requirements by contractors, ESCOs or real estate developers have proven to become tragic for occupants in the form of poor IEQ. Problems like overheating, because of a well-insulated envelope; insufficient fresh air, owing to increased air tightness; and high concentration of indoor air pollutants, as a result of reduced ventilation rates, have become very prevalent. These phenomena are also a result of lack of awareness of such issues, low competence in the retrofit industry value chain and budget limitation of retrofit projects. It has been realized that health and well-being must be integrated into the retrofit strategies very strongly to benefit the owners and occupants. Some studies outline that IEQ is also seen as a major driver of retrofit uptake by property owners and real estate developers in the EU. Often in the initial stages of planning for retrofit, IEQ is not the focus of the project. It reduces the possibilities to strategise the retrofit if the consultants /contractors are brought in at a later stage. This is due to the negative retrofit ‘lock-in effects’ that limits the opportunity to improve the building conditions in the future, as it has not been taken into planning from the beginning.

From what we understand of Europe, there has been greater appreciation of, and emphasis placed on, IEQ in deep retrofits, as stakeholders have a greater understanding of the effect that cleaner air has on health, well-being and productivity. Do you see a similar trend in the Middle East?

Indoor Environmental Quality has a major impact on occupant health and well-being, productivity and comfort. The non-energy benefits of better IEQ and comfort have been highlighted by many studies conducted by EU stakeholders and prominently by researchers. The main legislation for the EU – that is, the revised EPBD – also emphasises on the role of IEQ in buildings together with energy efficiency, and have directed the EU Member States to take it into account in their building regulations for new construction and renovations.

Deep retrofits are aimed at achieving the highest energy savings – up to 75% – in the existing buildings, and it presents an opportunity to improve the IEQ significantly. Many studies on office buildings in Europe have highlighted the impact of better IEQ on their work performance and productivity of employees. IEQ has gained attention worldwide, and the Middle East has also shown progress with stricter building regulations on ventilation requirements and energy conservation. The emergence of building rating and assessment systems, such as Pearl Rating System, in the UAE; ARZ Building Rating System, in Lebanon, and Global Sustainability Assessment System in Qatar, highlights that there is a growing awareness of sustainability issues, including IEQ, and the construction industry is ready to deliver healthy buildings by complying with these systems. Although, there is a stark difference in the building stock compositions between Europe, which has very low rate new construction, and the Middle East, which has very high rate of new construction, each region faces its unique challenges.


Which sectors, would you say, have showcased the most willingness to invest in IEQ solutions, and why?

Absence from work across Europe ranges between three per cent and six per cent of the total working time due to poor health conditions. There has been a piece of growing evidence from studies in Europe that poor indoor air quality can provoke 6-9% of productivity loss in employees. These trends have been alarming for the commercial sector, and there has been increased recognition of these issues in real estate investment, especially in office buildings. Studies have also shown that the energy efficiency interventions improved the indoor air quality in buildings that reduced the sick days by 1.2 – 1.9 days in the EU. The impact of the indoor environment on the health and well-being of people and performance is still understudied and not adequately addressed for the other building sectors.

Hospitals, schools and offices account for nearly half of the total floor area of non-residential buildings in Europe. These buildings will still be with us for decades to come, and the vast majority need to be renovated to improve their energy performance and IEQ. Lack of suitable policies and guidelines, public funding and financial instruments and support from the governments have been the major barriers for other sectors to effectively focus on IEQ solutions in the EU. People spend more than 90% of their time indoors in Europe, but the residential buildings sector, which is the largest, is still very slow in adopting the right strategies for ensuring the provision of optimal IEQ conditions for occupants.

What needs to change to make IEQ mandatory in retrofit projects? Outside of regulation and policies?

Establishing a sound evidence base to fill the knowledge gaps and communicating the health and well-being benefits of retrofits more widely both at EU and Member State level would bring attention and awareness. Availability of public funding for improving IEQ in building-retrofit projects would increase uptake. Mandatory monitoring of retrofit projects, post-retrofit, would help in building up experience and knowledge base. Exchange of best practices among EU countries will be essential in identifying the mandatory requirements. Overall, making requirements for IEQ mandatory in building regulations would ensure higher compliance in retrofit projects.





Zuhaib, S., Manton, R., Hajdukiewicz, M., Keane, M., Goggins, J. Attitudes and approaches of Irish retrofit industry professionals towards achieving nearly zero-energy buildings. International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, Vol. 35 Issue: 1, pp.16-40, doi:10.1108/IJBPA-07-2016-0015

Zuhaib, S., Goggins, J. Assessing evidence-based single-step and staged deep retrofit towards nearly zero-energy buildings (nZEB) using multi-objective optimisation. Energy Efficiency 12, 1891–1920 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12053-019-09812-z



COMBI final report (Quantification of productivity impacts)- https://combi-project.eu/wp-content/uploads/D5.4a_20180508a_final.pdf



Share this story

Feedback for this story

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *