Leuven 2030: lessons for large building renovations 🏒

Success Story Climate Action 6 min read , February 26, 2020

This article is based on the "Lessen van een grote renovatie" series from Bouwen aan 2030.

Reducing household emissions through renovations is often an essential part of climate plans. Getting houses sustainable facelifts might be on your city or municipality's to-do list in the next coming years. In reality, however, old apartment buildings are often among the biggest culprits. How to start such a complete renovation? Association Leuven 2030 knows that many challenges come with such a project: the varied group of owners has different opinions and motives, and often they’re also in different financial situations.

πŸ™Œ And yet, in Leuven, the owners collectively decided to invest in their future. They see the benefits because the project is well framed by an enthusiastic, patient syndic, Piet De Mulder; thanks to a correct collaboration with contractor Renotec, and because they can count on the support of Leuven 2030.

Learn about the renovation of an apartment block in Leuven: How it would be realized and which lessons you can take in your city or municipality. πŸ‘‡

Leuven 2030
Apartment block Leeuwerikenveld Paviljoen 2 (Source: Bouwen aan 2030)

πŸ™Œ Leuven 2030: The power of committed owners

The project in question is the renovation of the Leeuwerikenveld Pavilion 2 apartment block in Heverlee, Leuven. The group of owners is a combination of young people who have just bought their first apartment, older people who have already paid off their apartment, and many landlords (who will see the income from their property disappear for a few years). Only a small group of residents seemed to be financially ready for the renovation.

For the renovation to get the green light, all owners need to support the project. Their different backgrounds make it a complex challenge. How do you convince such a diverse group to invest?

πŸ’‘ Keep these tips at hand:

βœ… A total renovation has benefits for everyone involved. But what argument do you use for which owners? One turns out to be the most important for all groups: being ready for the future. A lot of new buildings are being constructed and rebuilt in Leuven. Without interventions, the building will eventually be wholly outdated and will lose its value.

🏑 Start small. There's no point in sending everyone an e-mail with your plans today. Everyone will immediately list their obstacles, and you will drive your project into a wall before it has even started. Not good. It's best to approach a few people and let them talk to each other. This way, you will create a strong team of people who support your project. Together they can form one block to convey the positive story of the complete renovation. Finally, the growing group also helps to persuade the doubters.

πŸ‘¬ Together with the group of committed owners, it's best to think about your long-term vision. Talk together about the options and expectations, and then include the syndic in your story.

πŸ“Š Don't make assumptions about the feasibility or the financial side of your project. Spend a small budget on a study so that you effectively know what challenge you’re facing. It will allow you to answer lots of questions before they’re even asked!

Leuven 2030
Apartment block Leeuwerikenveld Paviljoen 2 (Source: Bouwen aan 2030)

βœ… A solution for every challenge

Once the residents are convinced, the real work can start. Having a study carried out, contacting contractors, making joint decisions, arranging legal and financial matters...These are Leuven 2030's concrete solutions for their most significant challenges:

πŸ“ˆ As mentioned before, it’s vital to carry out a feasibility study to make a correct estimate of your costs. The small investment required for this was reimbursed by L.E.U.V.E.N. (Lower Energy Use Via an Extraordinary Network) for the apartment block on the Leeuwerikenveld. They can count on financial support from the ELENA (European Local Energy Assistance) fund of the EIB (European Investment Bank).

πŸ‘· Renovating an apartment block with the residents remaining on-site during the construction works is a challenging project. This uniqueness made the search for a contractor difficult. Out of 13 contractors, only one gave a positive answer: Renotec.

⏳ Before a general meeting can occur, at least 50% of the owners must be present, and each decision requires a majority of 75%. The findings are usually taken rather slowly. "You can count on a process of 3 to 4 years before you have everything on paper", says syndic Piet. Each step has to be approved at a general meeting, after which it’s mandatory to wait three months each time. So the syndic should be a patient person with a lot of persuasiveness.

πŸ’Ό A large project requires a lot of legal knowledge as well. That is why it’s essential that the syndic requests support from a law firm.

Apartment block Leeuwerikenveld Paviljoen 2 (Source: Bouwen aan 2030)

πŸ’° Who has to pay what? A question many owners will ask themselves. In Leuven, they did so based on thousandths. When people bought their property, it was always translated into a certain number of thousandths. That number is linked to the size of their investment. In this way, everyone contributes to all aspects.

πŸ‘‰ Why would a parking space owner be willing to co-fund window insulation? If the value of the property increases, so does the car park! It’s then suddenly in a much more favorable location.

πŸ’Έ Not all residents have a huge savings account available to co-finance the complete renovation. How do you make sure that everyone can pay anyway? Leuven owners were given a choice: pay in advance, or use renovation loans for ACOs (Association of Co-Owners) (Dutch: VME). A small minority opted for the second option.

πŸ™Œ Some subsidies had to be applied for jointly, others individually. For example, everyone had to submit a separate subsidy application for their windows. Fortunately, they made an exception for this Leuven 2030 project! As a city council, you can simplify the process enormously by allowing more flexibility in the subsidy applications.

Leuven 2030
Jolien Dechamps, apartment inhabitant (Source: Bouwen aan 2030)

🌳 Leuven 2030's renovations through the eyes of an inhabitant

Jolien Dechamps experienced the renovation as a new occupant of her first owned apartment. "Financially, it was quite heavy,” she says. And yet she sees the advantages:

Jolien Dechamps: "The sooner the renovations are finished, the better: I will save more on my energy bill. It's also more aesthetically pleasing to live in a modern building."

She sometimes had a hard time following the technical explanations during meetings. The syndic was able to help her. She much appreciated that she could go to him with all her questions. An essential link in the renovation story: the syndic acts as a link between owners and contractors.

White flower field

For the time being, total renovations of apartments are still a blind spot in urban climate ambitions. This is due to such projects’ practical challenges: many owners with different backgrounds agree to invest in a futureproofed building together. At Leuven 2030, they have already succeeded. Will the next success story come from your city or municipality?

FutureproofedCities is an online platform in which cities and municipalities can make their climate plans. They use it, among other things, to collaborate on large projects such as complete renovations of apartment buildings. Managers can monitor the progress of the project in the platform and communicate about it via their public page.

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