Interview: Agnieszka Bogucka, project manager at Vilogia in France

30 January 2017

The Vilogia and ICF Habitat housing associations are the first in France to retrofit 10 demonstrator houses to Net Zero Energy (NZE). Before starting, Vilogia spent one year working with team members from both Energiesprong Netherlands and Energiesprong France – GreenFlex to retransmit and adapt the revolutionary Dutch retrofitting model to the French market. The first demonstrator houses will be realised in December 2017 in northern France.

A year of learning and sharing knowledge

The first year was all about learning and sharing knowledge”, says Agnieszka Bogucka, project manager at Vilogia. “We were comparing the situation between the Netherlands and France in regard to financial, legal and contextual matters so we could point out obstacles and opportunities. The Dutch contribution of experience and knowledge was very valuable. We met Dutch social housing companies and solution providers and exchanged a lot of ideas about communication. We learned a lot from the enormous work the Dutch Energiesprong has done in relation to Net Zero Energy make-overs.”

“Today the French team aims to continue its work and deliver 10 prime quality demonstrator houses. “We can do this due to the Interreg funds we have received”, says Agnieszka. “We want to show that what is done in the Netherlands is possible here too, in our French context. It will be a challenge, though. And at the same time, we will continue our feasibility study on legal aspects and work on how to deploy this solution on a larger market and larger housing stock.”

Ten houses in a row

The 10 selected houses are very similar to the Dutch houses that have already been retrofitted. They were constructed in the 1960s and built in a row. “We chose the same type of houses as the ones our Dutch partners worked on”, says Agnieszka. “They are very common here in the north of France. Because these French houses are very much like the houses in the Netherlands, it will be interesting to compare results with regard to the applicability of the industrial solutions, energy performance and the duration of the refurbishment.”

We made several trips to Holland to get inspired by the huge amount of work that has already been done by Energiesprong!” continues Agnieszka. “And of course our aim – like the Dutch, I guess – is to deploy the French NZE solution to collective dwellings, which form the largest part of our housing stock.”

The tender call is set!

The call for tenders for the 10 houses was issued in October 2016. In the first phase, Vilogia pre-selected solution providers that have the capacity and knowledge to engage in such a project. The next step was to give them more specifications. As Agnieszka notes: “Our aim was to limit the complexity of the specifications as much as possible. So, we’ve set a clear goal: an NZE product that comes with a performance guarantee for 25 years, a construction solution that can be industrialised and limited construction time on the site. We want the solution provider to tell us how they will make this happen!” Vilogia will choose the solution provider in early 2017.

In the first year, Energiesprong France – GreenFlex invited all possible parties to share information about this project”, says Agnieszka. “Most of the solution providers travelled to the Netherlands to see Dutch realisations, so we hope they know what we expect!”

The tenants

What do the tenants know about the plan? “Tenants are told there will be a retrofit, but they don’t know the details yet”, Agnieszka explains. “First we need to know what their problems are regarding the houses. They have told us, for instance, that it is cold inside due to poor insulation. So we explained we are looking into possibilities to fix this. Once we have chosen the solution provider to work with, we will organise a meeting and explain our exact plans to the tenants.”

Keep it simple

I really like the way the Dutch deal with their tenants”, says Agnieszka. “I like for instance that they help tenants to buy new pans that are suitable for the electric stove when they cut the gas system. Or, that tenants themselves can choose the colour of their new kitchen. Things like this make the tenants’ lives a bit easier during the refurbishment and they feel they are participating in the set-up of their own ‘new’ home. I also learned to keep it simple. Tenants are not interested in all the complicated technical details. You need to explain everything clearly and simply. In this way we create a relationship, and we build this project together. Our task is to inform them, so they can understand clearly what the project is all about.”

Enthusiasm and scepticism

Agnieszka is already very enthusiastic about the project. Is everybody that excited in France? “Some solution providers are really eager and motivated to participate, and Vilogia was also very excited from the beginning”, she says. “However, some people who came to meetings organised by Energiesprong France – GreenFlex, were still sceptical. They do not think the Net Zero retrofit can be done that fast in France. But it is a usual reaction: everything is new and different and this makes people afraid. That is why building those prototypes in France is so important. We need to show the example, we need to try and learn. And if we have to, we will bring the people who are sceptical to the Netherlands once more, so they can see with their own eyes that it works. We keep on talking about the project and we keep on motivating people!”

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