Some nights last month, outside temperatures in central Athens climbed to an almost unbearable 38 degrees Celcius, but inside apartments – many decades old, things were much worse. At the same time, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) made repeated appeals for prudent use of energy to avoid a blackout in its shaky and outdated power network. In a dense urban residential environment, high temperatures in summer and low temperatures in winter are caused by old and unsuitable building materials, poor insulation and a lack of open and green spaces. In both cases, to achieve a comfortable living environment inside buildings, higher energy consumption is required, but this harms both the environment and people’s finances. According to available data, the building sector accounts for approximately 40 percent of the overall energy consumption both nationally and at a European level. Such consumption, either in the form of thermal energy (i.e. oil) or electric power, results in a significant economic burden because of the high cost of energy, as well as environmental pollution, in particular carbon dioxide – the main cause of the greenhouse effect. In Greece, residential heating needs account almost for 70 percent of total domestic energy consumption. Home appliances, lighting and air conditioning use up to 18 percent of the total energy balance. Homes equipped with oil-operated central heating systems represent 35.5 percent of the overall number of homes, followed by independent oil heating systems (25 percent), electrical heating systems (12 percent) and firewood (18 percent). The energy consumption of buildings in Greece is in on the rise, owing mainly to the increasing use of air conditioners and other smaller home appliances. However, besides the grave economic consequences, air conditioners further aggravate urban warming and the resulting adverse climatic conditions prevailing during summer. European action The recent heat wave may have reminded us of the need to upgrade the energy efficiency of buildings and of the importance of proper building design in terms of energy consumption, but in Greece this might easily be forgotten. This issue is growing into a major economic and social problem throughout Europe, as member states will be required to implement the EU’s Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD) by January 4, 2009. The directive, in force since the early days of 2003, created a common framework to promote the enhancement of energy performance of buildings across the EU. According to ruling New Democracy party Eurodeputy Costas Hatzidakis, as of the above date whenever a building is constructed, rented or sold, an energy performance certificate (EPC) must be issued. However, to obtain an EPC in most cases will entail an upgrading of a building’s energy efficiency, the cost of which «could be partly funded by EU structural funds,» Hatzidakis said. Energy revamp The first step in reducing energy consumption involves the installation of capacitors on elevators and more frequent maintenance of older lifts, which will be paid for by property owners. The president of the Hellenic Property Federation (POMIDA), Stratos Paradias, argues that owners of existing buildings may find it hard to comply with the serious obligations and bear the enormous costs involved unless they are given certain incentives and aid, such as tax exemptions, EU and state subsidies, as well as reduced VAT on energy saving materials and equipment. According to Paradias, EU and national governments should finally realize that landlords in particular cannot be asked to heavily invest in energy-saving measures for their buildings, simply to achieve reduced energy consumption for their tenants. Energy saving in a building is ensured partly by appropriate design and the use of energy-efficient structural elements and systems, and partly through the increased efficiency of installed energy systems. This presupposes excellent quality of equipment and installation. Another important factor in energy saving has to do with the management of a building’s energy as a systematic, organized and ongoing activity, involving planned administrative, technical and economic actions. Other energy-saving solutions may relate to the building shell (heat insulation, passive solar systems etc), the immediate environs (vegetation) and appliances for heating, cooling, lighting and hot water.