The Chinese government is trying to improve the energy performance of existing buildings through renovations, but much is still going wrong. The use of incorrect nails or window frames can often be traced back to deeper causes, notes Yuting Qi in her doctoral research.

Buildings account for no less than 35 percent of the total energy consumption in the People's Republic. That is why the Chinese government set up a program in 2007 to renovate homes on a large scale in an energy-efficient manner. Unfortunately, the quality of these renovation projects is lacking. As a consequence the desired energy efficiency is not achieved and project costs often soar. “There is a large gap between the desired and actually realized energy savings,” notes Yuting Qi. “This is mainly due to mistakes in implementation and coordination.”
Her research into the causes focuses on the cold North of China. Here good insulation and double glazing can significantly reduce the energy consumption of buildings. From an analysis of the renovation of a number of residential buildings in the pilot city of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, Qi encountered numerous mistakes. Problems range from window and door frames with incorrect dimensions and incorrectly placed nails to the use of EPS panels without a fire resistance certificate. How can it go so wrong? It has to do with issues such as insufficiently qualified staff, inadequate quality control, inaccurate designs, fraud and inefficient cooperation between different departments, she notes.

Cost and time pressure

Based on interviews with experts, she comes to a total of eighteen causes. Further analysis shows that incomplete project information and insufficient professional construction site management are crucial reasons why things go wrong. High cost and time pressure imposed by the government are external causes that play a role. “At the start of a renovation project, the selection process is often so short that the government, which organizes the projects, cannot find people with sufficient experience,” says Qi. “That continues throughout the project.”
Lack of time and money can also affect the implementation. Project managers, insofar as they are competent enough for it, cannot do much about that. It is difficult for them to bring a project to a successful conclusion, sometimes through unauthorized design changes.
Since there is also chronically inadequate building information and poor construction site coordination, things often go wrong. The residents are then the victims. Sometimes they revolt halfway through a renovation project, when poor coordination leads to nuisance and unsafe situations.

Smarter

The big question is how things can be improved. Qi notes that many mistakes can be prevented by implementing quality management. Appointing skilled managers will affect overall quality. So it is important to improve the selection procedure for project managers.
It is more difficult to tackle external causes. Governments and contractors must learn to communicate better with residents. Communication between the Chinese central government and local governments must also improve. “Plans are being shifted from central government to provincial governments and ultimately to district governments. When a plan can finally start locally, it is too big and there is not enough time left,” Qi observes. “That should be done smarter.”