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Editorial evalution Vol 35 No 2

By : Henk Visscher

From whatever perspective we look upon the sustainability and health quality of housing, the quality improvement of the housing stock will be of major importance. To achieve the goals of reduction of fossil energy use, large scale refurbishments programs will have to be carried out. This goes together with the necessity to prevent the ageing stock from deterioration and to improve the physical quality of neighborhoods and dwellings for livability reasons. Although the range of topics presented in this special issue of Open House International is broad, they all contribute with relevant insights into the challenges of the next decades. Physical improvements of dwelling for the purpose of reduction of energy use for heating have a direct impact on the quality of the indoor health conditions. To address the ecological sustainability in a broader perspective than the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the use phase alone, we should make a more holistic consideration of the effects of the use of various materials and the impact on a range of environmental aspects. The expected 'life span' of an improved dwelling is a crucial factor in the required Life Cycle Assessment methods that can be used to compare the environmental impact of different options. This brings us to the field of social aspects of sustainable housing and neighbourhoods. It is of no use to improve the energy quality of dwellings without considering if the type, size and place of the dwellings still match the demands of today and during the next period of the expected lifespan. Also financial considerations play an important role. The bills for rent and for energy are mostly considered as separate entities. For financing sustainable investments it seems essential to consider all housing costs. And if we know what has to be done in terms of refurbishments or maybe demolishing and replacement by new dwellings, then the question arises: are home owners and occupants motivated enough to take the initiative to invest and use the house and heating services and other appliances in the right and energy economic way? Are financial incentives or command and control regulations needed from the governments? And even when we have tackled these barriers there remains a challenge for the building industry to produce what is needed. The focus has to shift from new construction to refurbishments, which has a considerable impact on construction methods and project management and cooperation between parties. New methods and processes will be needed to work adequately and to provide enough quality. New forms of building control and quality assurance will be needed as well, shifting from avoiding large failures and risks concerning safety and health to assuring high performance levels. This context of change creates a large puzzle to which this special issue ads some small pieces. The gigantic transformation starts with awareness and knowledge. Therefore it is essential to start with the question how a sustainable built environment can be educated at an academic level. But since there is no time to loose, we cannot only make plans and think out new techniques, processes and regulations for the future, we should also act today. To realize the aims for a sustainable and healthy housing stock, innovation is needed on many levels in the maintenance, refurbishment and building industry. This starts with innovation in design concepts, in the renovation and building processes, in the interaction with the users of dwellings. And there is a major role for national and local governments to innovate policies, regulations and financial conditions (taxes, rents) that allow and stimulate this innovation in the building sector. Many innovative techniques, processes, management approaches and policy instruments are used in a fragmented way on local levels and in particular in renovation projects. The dissemination of this knowledge is therefore essential and that is also the contribution of this special issue.

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