Real estate sustainability
Anyone making sure their buildings are sustainable will not only spare the environment but in many cases also upvalue them, while also eradicating insecurities and increasing comfort. However, immediate energetic renovation does not always pay off.
Almost 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland are produced by buildings, which is why it is not really surprising that there is a strong focus on sustainability criteria when it comes to building and renovating. The main aim is to reduce environmentally harmful CO2 emissions, for instance by using better insulation, replacing heating systems with renewable energy sources and generally working towards lower energy consumption. “Greencity”, an urban neighbourhood in Zurich, is a best-practice example of sustainable urban planning. This building project not only strove and managed to reduce energy costs to a minimum but also only utilises energy supply from purely renewable sources. And not only that - sustainability was also considered in terms of building density, public transport infrastructure, public space and proximity to nature.
Proprietors making sure their property is sustainable will generally reap direct benefits. This is due to different reasons:
- Abolition of legal insecurities: The federal Agenda 2030 is showing the way to massively reducing CO2 emissions. Any regulations concerning this area will only be intensified. In November 2021, the Canton of Zurich approved a new energy law, which, amongst other measures, stipulates the replacement of oil and gas heaters by climate-neutral heaters once they have reached the end of their lifespan.
- Reduction of dependency of brown energy: The current conflict in the Ukraine highlights the perils of excessive dependence on oil and gas. Within a short timeframe, heating costs have increased immensely. Anyone at least partly using renewable energies will be less affected by fluctuations in price for brown energy.
- Upvaluation of property: Various studies show that a higher level of sustainability will increase a property’s value. At the same time, utilities will decrease. On the other hand, anyone not keeping up to date with current industry standards will risk a devaluation of their property in the medium run.
- Increase of comfort: Climate change is increasing the demands and requirements regarding building facades. Heat insulation as well as building ventilation contribute to keeping a level indoors temperature during heat waves or cold winters.
- Governmental subsidies: The federation and most of the cantons as well as a wide number of municipalities throughout Switzerland subsidise solar-powered heating. Operators receive a once-off compensation that can amount to as much as 30 percent of the investment. In addition, there is compensation available for solar power fed into the system. On top of that, energy-saving measurements in existing buildings are tax deductible.
Keeping all the benefits of sustainable building in mind, the pros and cons of energetic renovation always depend on the respective situation. It may be appropriate to wait with replacing oil or gas heaters until they have reached the end of their lifespan. And older buildings do not necessarily need to be replaced as the grey energy (energy required for rebuilding and maintenance) has to be considered.
It should also be noted that the supply of energy is currently overhauled in its entirety. It may pay off to keep waiting until new energy projects become available: The City of Zurich, for example, is currently investing in the utilisation of lake water for the generation of production. Information on regional energy projects can be requested from the respective municipality or canton. And: In order to implement the federal Agenda 2030, projects are not only called for but also promoted. Subsidies are likely to increase in the years to come.
These are the sustainability certificates available
In order to make property sustainability more measurable and transparent, there are different labels from independent organisations. While energy certificates for buildings are often the norm internationally, in Switzerland they can be obtained by choice. The following are the most established certificates available in Switzerland:
The “Gebäudeenergieausweis der Kantone” (Cantonal Building Energy Certificate) GEAK evaluation is based on the building facade’s quality as well as overall energy efficiency. It is a purely energetic evaluation. A GEAK certificate is often necessary when applying for subsidies.
The most renowned energy standard for new buildings and renovations in Switzerland. The evaluation considers a well insulated building facade, efficient and sustainable energy supply as well as controllable ventilation.
The “Standard Nachhaltiges Bauen Schweiz” (Standard for Sustainable Building Switzerland) SNBS Hochbau (Structural Engineering) is the most comprehensive sustainability label in Switzerland. It assesses a building’s sustainability not only in terms of environmental sustainability but societal and ecological sustainability play a role too, such as the architectural integrability in the surroundings, user density, sanitary wellbeing and earnings potential.