Challenges and solutions for social housing refurbishment in Aachen

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Since 2010, the northern district of Aachen is engaged in a vast urban renewal programme aiming to improve the citizens’ quality of life and make the district a vibrant and sustainable place to live. Within this programme, called “Social City Aachen North”, and as part of the EU-GUGLE international Smart City Initiative, about 400 apartments and a total of 41.000 square metres, covering several social housing buildings, are currently being renovated.

The objective of this ambitious refurbishment plan is to increase the energy efficiency of the buildings and the comfort of their inhabitants, while reducing the tenants’ energy bills. Energy efficient renovation projects in social housing apartments can often be a way to tackle energy poverty. In Aachen, this was not the first objective, as the tenants of the refurbished buildings who are receiving social assistance already get their heating bills paid by the municipality. This has however been a major obstacle for tenant involvement because inhabitants had no real motivation to reduce their heating costs by changing their behaviour.

Ensuring the effectiveness of energy efficiency measures through tenant involvement

“Tenant behaviour is very important to ensure the success of renovation and avoid rebound effect” says Rosa Hemmers, from the SynergieKomm Agency for Sustainability and Innovation. In the social housing buildings renovated in Aachen, where the proportion of foreigners is relatively high, informing tenants about the measures to be implemented constituted also a major challenge.


To overcome this, the city of Aachen, together with the housing company, launched an intensive communication campaign, including the distribution of flyers in four different languages (German, English, Russian and Turkish), the organisation of information days for tenants before the renovation to inform them about the impact of the refurbishment work and the provision of information on the project on the boards located in the buildings’ halls. Additionally, energy consultants visited tenants  to present them easy ways to save energy in their everyday life. Consultants also offered tailored advice to new tenants, who moved into the building after the renovation, to help them understanding the functioning of the new equipment.

In Aachen, the renovation of social housing buildings is a win-win situation: the comfort of tenants is increased, while the municipality is reducing its costs related to the support of low income families for the payment of their energy bills. To guarantee the return on investment however, experts in Aachen advise not to neglect the impact of tenants’ behaviour and to make sure to train the inhabitants to use energy efficiently.