Improving energy efficiency is about practice not theory

In times of rising energy prices and growing environmental awareness, the energy-efficient renovation of buildings is becoming more and more important. In the following article, you will learn why energy-efficient renovation is worthwhile for you, what costs you will incur and how you can proceed step by step.


A happy couple comes to an agreement with their contractors on the construction site about the energy renovation.¨

‘Renovation’ - a term familiar to all homeowners. If we delve into the Latin etymology, the word ‘renovat’ actually means ‘to make as good as new’ or ‘to restore’. And it’s a pretty universal concept at the moment as well: buses are being rebuilt, roads renewed and - last but not least - buildings renovated to make them more energy-efficient. But why do we strive to breathe new life into things like this? Is everything running below par? Of course not, apart from the usual things getting outdated. But it’s human nature to build complex systems, which we then constantly strive to improve. To get them all working seamlessly alongside each other, however, their components have to be cohesively coordinated and optimised in a process which also includes eliminating obsolete components of the whole. This is the core concept of renovation or redevelopment.

In this particular context, we focus on "energy rehabilitation". Recent months have been synonymous with soaring energy prices - and the only way still seems to be up. So as a homeowner, above-average expenses are the least you can expect. With that in mind, scope to mitigate such costs may well appeal - after all, saving energy means saving money.

Installing effective thermal insulation, new windows and a heating system powered by renewables can save you and the environment a lot of coal. And the benefits go over and above cash savings alone. You’re also helping to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating less heat! Find out here how much sense energy rehabilitation may make in your case and a roadmap of where to start.

What does energy rehabilitation constitute?

Above all, the aim of energy rehabilitation is to enhance system efficiency, which means your home heating and energy system in this particular context. Those of you who’ve already read our article Replacing oil heating will already be familiar with the analogies we employ to make it all more understandable. For all the rest of you: It’s simple. We want our company (i.e. the building) to generate a high turnover (energy balance), minimising the workload of the team (heating output) through effective management (thermal insulation). As we all know, boosting company output depends on all elements of the whole working together in an optimal manner.

This approach paves the way for us to create systems that consume less energy by perfectly coordinating the various constituent elements. But which of these actually work together in a complex energy system?

  • Facade / external walls: Heat migrates outward in a lateral direction via the façade or external walls of a residential unit but boosting the interior and exterior insulation can help mitigate these losses.

  • Roof: People lose most heat through their heads and buildings are much the same - warm air rises and tends to escape at the highest point. Your best weapon against this is effective ceiling insulation on the top floor.

  • Floor & cellar: So-called perimeter insulation in the basement and basement ceiling insulation are intended to prevent cold air from establishing a presence.

  • Heating: An efficient heating system is defined as one that generates maximum heat from the minimum possible energy input that allows an optimally insulated building to maintain the desired indoor temperature.

  • Ventilation systems: Given its key role in distributing heat and circulating fresh air within a building unit, ventilation is an important element when it comes to boosting energy efficiency.

  • Window: Glazed façade sections are one of the areas most prone to unintentional heat exchange with the outside air, which underlines why new and well-insulated windows are a top priority when renovating.

Is energy rehabilitation worthwhile in your case?

Of course it is! Unless you just got the keys yesterday to a place in a new building with energy efficiency class A+. Wherever you look worldwide, energy consumption is growing and costs are rising steadily in step. Long term, the only real game changer when you want your money for energy and household to go further is boosting efficiency. But the extent of the energy rehabilitation you implement to achieve this depends on the property condition, your budget and your personal discretion. You can determine the energy efficiency status of your home quite easily and affordably using the Cantonal Energy Certificate for Buildings (GEAK). GEAK Plus goes even further and will reveal which renovation measures make most sense in your particular case.

The GEAK expert Stéphane Fresse from XpertHome goes into more detail on this: "If improving your own property is the goal, a status analysis and GEAK Plus are the only way to get all the information needed to define the best way forward. Once these status reports are on the table, further issues like financing or staging can be addressed and answered."

It goes without saying that your home’s state of repair is the main criterion dictating the outcome of the GEAK. But for most people, renovation will be worth the trouble, particularly if the energy values show room for improvement. In fact, however new your property, there is always almost scope to optimise. So let's get started on the GEAK.

What energy rehab costs and potential savings it can elicit

Energy rehabilitation is a long-term investment and like most transactions of this kind, involves speculating to accumulate. Remember, though, that the energy rehabilitation exercise always creates added value for homeowners. However, the gains that await those that opt to refurbish and renovate while focusing on energy are far greater than normal and promise savings over very long time frames going forward. What this means is, the greater the financial savings per period and the longer the service life, the greater the initial investment may be. In other words, though the expense is considerable, it’s also enjoyable and will pay off in time.

The following four factors dictate how high the acquisitions costs will run:

  • State of the property

  • Area of the property

  • Budget of the owner

  • Personal ideas and wishes of the owner

Viewed from an individual perspective, approximate empirical values for the acquisition costs and savings potential of energy-related elements can be derived. According to our expert, Stephan Fresse, the following average values can be expected for key renovation work:

Summary table of cost savings for energy retrofits

What really matters though, as mentioned, is the interaction and interplay between the various elements involved in the energy configuration. The prospect of replacing the heating system may only be feasible once the thermal insulation in the attic has been renewed. But insulating the roof alone when the building shell is poorly insulated makes no sense either. In fact, it would be akin to skiing in your underwear - but wearing a thick woolly hat.

Energy rehabilitation subsidies

When you carry out such home improvements to boost energy efficiency in Switzerland, you have access to a range of subsidies through various support programs, which are regulated at a cantonal level. The most important of these is probably the «Swiss Federal Building Program». This project was launched within the scope of the energy revolution and as part of reducing the energy consumption and CO₂ emissions of Swiss building parks. The website of the Swiss Federal Building Program includes a detailed overview of the home improvement subsidies available in each of the cantons.

More or less anywhere, work to renovate roofs and façades is supported by a certain subsidy. Such subsidies are far fewer and further between, however, when it comes to replacing windows or basement ceilings. Summing up, it’s like this: You lose nothing by applying for such funds

Save on taxes: Here’s how!

  • As a general rule, thermal measures (which includes replacing windows and insulating basement ceilings) are 100% tax-deductible.

  • So yes, that means a window replacement worth up to CHF 80,000 can be claimed in full on your tax return.

Rehabilitation roadmap

Step 1: Consultation with GEAK experts

Why not discuss your energy needs with a GEAK expert. The following points are key:

  • Personal needs

  • Available budget

  • Plans for future renovation

Step 2: Getting an expert analysis

Whenever you have a consultation, always follow up by commissioning an energy expert to analyse your property and determine its energy renovation potential. This highlights where energy loss peaks within the building and thus where any such renovation is most urgently needed. A cost/benefit analysis can also help reaffirm whether such renovation measures are actually needed or not. When you have smaller buildings with expansive surroundings, for example, replacing rather than renovating the building may make more sense.

Step 3: Developing a rehabilitation plan

As the owner and armed with the analysis, you are then free to devote yourself to pondering how the renovation will be financed. Consideration should also include the stages in which the renovation should take place. Phased renovations are common. One example would be spreading the initial cost of investing in roof or façade renovations over several years to ease the financial burden.

Step 4: Building permit and application for subsidies

You have a green light to go ahead with most energy-related renovations without a building permit. But, as soon as you embark on renovation entailing a certain level of structural change or involving a change in the way the ed property is used, official approval may be necessary. The following measures may be affected:

  • Solar energy systems

  • Converting commercial to residential spaces

  • Modifying the building envelope

  • Listed buildings

Beware! You must apply for any subsidies before you start work. No retroactive approval will be entertained once work is underway. For all the relevant information, check the website of the Swiss Federal Building Program.

Step 5: Implementation

As soon as your subsidies have been confirmed, you can start with the renovation.