Whereas a conventional renovation, focused on energy systems, would take a superficial look at how to better improve the existing infrastructure of a building or home (i.e. windows, HVAC system, lighting, appliances, etc), we believe in a more integrated, whole-building approach that proposes a renovation as an opportunity to redefine the consumption pattern of a building.

The reason we don’t advocate individual systems fixes is that the client ends up spending more money for less performance over the life of the building. Often, some of the energy retrofits that are suggested here in Italy are put forth by the manufacturer or contractor that stands to profit from that isolated upgrade. They may tell you that you can tackle one element of your house (for example the windows), and expect significant improvements in energy efficiency. Without an integrated approach and diligent quality controls on the construction site, it is not uncommon to see newly renovated buildings with condensation and mold problems.

We are more interested in delivering a comprehensive building envelope design that not only meets the goals of improving a building’s energy efficiency, but also addresses the quality of construction and degree of health and comfort for the occupants..


For more information, please read the relevant articles listed below the questions (these are being added as we write articles on our blog).

1. Is it better to invest in external insulation or new doors and windows?

Both. You’ve got to approach your energy renovation comprehensively: that means thinking about the entire building envelope. The walls, windows, doors, and roof create this envelope, almost like a balloon protecting your indoor air quality. It can only be as strong as it’s weakest link. What use is a balloon if it has a hole in it?

2. Can’t i just add external insulation to the North side of my house because it’s coldest there?

You can, but you may be throwing money towards something that won’t give you the result you want. Again, think of the balloon metaphor. If you insulate the North side, what is to stop heat from escaping on the West side?

3. Doesn’t external insulation seal off my house too much? How does it breathe?

Your house, most likely, wasn’t “breathing” very well before. In order to reduce energy transfer through your building envelope, increased insulation is necessary. In humid climates, like where we have here in Emilia, this means that your integrated approach should also include mechanical ventilation to help your house “breathe” without losing all of it’s energy with each exhale.

4. What happens if I just replace my old leaky windows with new air-tight ones?

Without also addressing the rest of the envelope and a proper ventilation method, you will most likely have condensation and mold problems.

5. What if I install windows that have built-in air holes to allow the house to “breathe”?

Then you will also be allowing the house to lose great amounts of energy through those holes. There is no point in spending money on new, efficient windows, if they are installed with the intention of negating their ability to insulate.

6. Is it better to insulate the interior or exterior of the walls?

In general, it is much better to insulate on the exterior of a building. We will dedicate an entire article to this subject soon, but exceptions could include homes of historic value or particular design interest, as well as second homes or vacation homes which are not in use year-round.

7. What is the best insulation material?

This depends on the location of your insulation (walls versus roof, for example), and whether or not you are insulating for cold winter only or also hot summers. Again, we will soon write an article dedicated to this subject, but another consideration is the chemical content of the insulation material and your feelings on using “sustainable materials” versus more traditional ones. There is not one material that excels in all cases, and each project design has to weigh the pros and cons of several insulation material options.

8. Is it possible to renovate part of building envelope now, and do another part at a later stage?

We strongly advise against this, for the reasons that we mentioned previously. Think again of the balloon metaphor – while there can be varying degrees of the thickness or strength of the balloon’s skin, any hole will render it useless. Similarly, there is a wide range of insulation materials and an equally wide range of performance values for windows and doors… So it’s possible to design anything from a slightly more efficient building envelope to a very strong near-zero-energy transfer building envelope (like a Passive House). It is the integrated approach that is most important – making sure that your investment is equally spread out amongst all of the elements that make up a building envelope.

9. Is it always better to renovate instead of rebuild?

This depends a lot on the quality of the existing structure and the specifications of the site. Sometimes it may be more convenient or economic to consider reusing the demolished material in the existing building or selling reclaimed materials to recuperate some of the cost of demolition.

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