An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: On a normally peaceful residential road outside The Hague, the Dutch city that serves as seat of government, the whine of a hoisting crane and welding tools heralds a not-so-quiet housing revolution. Four workers standing above me on a scissor lift next to an apartment complex guide a thermally insulated facade 40 feet wide and one story tall into place against the existing wall. Its brickwork pattern of muted brown, grey and beige, and the triple glazed windows, perfectly fit the building’s existing frame and openings. The original windows and the very old brick walls had allowed cold drafts inside, and warm interior air to escape, wasting much of the energy used to heat the building. The new facade is primarily fire-resistant expanded polystyrene — essentially, hollow spheres that trap air to create a thick insulation layer — faced with hardened clay and sculpted into hundreds of very thin rectangles known as “brick slips.”
This new building skin, prebuilt in a factory, was one of a dozen such facades to be attached to local buildings when I visited the suburb on a rainy day in early summer, each structure measured to millimeter precision. The installation is part of a concerted effort to transform energy-inefficient public housing into a set of ultralow-emission homes — without having to open a wall or remake an attic. The building was being wrapped in the equivalent of a winter jacket — or summer beer koozie — avoiding the need to insert insulation inside dozens of walls, lofts and attics. A similarly premade, lightweight, highly insulating material, complete with solar panels, would be installed on the roof, too. The report notes that the average cost to retrofit a family home in the Netherlands is “about $94,000,” but it’s “comparable to the cost of other routine renovations that deliver no energy savings.”
“In one neighborhood in the city of Utrecht, more than a dozen houses and some 250 separate apartments retrofitted in 2019 saw their energy requirements fall from 225 kilowatt-hours per square meter to just 50 kilowatt-hours per square meter, on average. The remaining demand for energy was met with solar power.”
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