5 labels for climate-friendly renovation

From GEAK to Minergie: 5 labels for climate-friendly renovation of your investment property

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27.04.2023 | 5 minutes

Standards and labels are important tools in ecological construction and renovation. They help you systematize your project and make it eligible for potential funding. However, those who wish to carry out a sustainable building or renovation project in Switzerland are confronted with a palette of diverse labels from various associations and organizations. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the variety on offer. The good news is that thanks to the wide range of offers, it’s possible to find the right label for almost every project.

This article will give you an overview and familiarize you with the most important certifications currently available for your investment property. You’ll also find out which label is suitable for which type of renovation and should be aimed for.

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How is sustainability defined for buildings? There are various approaches to assessing how sustainable a building is. That is why there are many different sustainability labels. However, they each have a slightly different focus. Some labels rate sustainability criteria exclusively based on a few core criteria relating to climate-friendliness. Others also take social and geopolitical criteria into account. In principle, certifications help provide orientation for your energy-efficient building or renovation project. A catalog of criteria can help you monitor and implement your project in a focused way. In addition, sustainable certifications are often rewarded in the form of subsidies or tax rebates. You can also adjust the rent – and without this impacting your tenants, thanks to the lower running costs. In this article we focus on five labels that are relevant in Switzerland and frequently applied: LEED, DGNB, Minergie, GEAK and SNBS.

GEAK – the official energy certificate for buildings at cantonal level in Switzerland

The GEAK is the official energy certificate for buildings at cantonal level in Switzerland and is therefore standard throughout the country. It certifies the energy efficiency of the building envelope and the overall energy efficiency, providing a basis for potential decisions on renovation or for a funding application.

Unlike the aforementioned labels, not only does GEAK certify exemplary buildings, it also functions as a traffic-light-style, energy-efficiency ranking system. Buildings are ranked in seven energy classes from A to G on the basis of the building envelope and overall energy efficiency.

  • A: Excellent heat insulation and highly efficient building technology
  • B: Thermal building envelope and building technology in line with new-build standards
  • C: Old buildings with fully refurbished building envelope and comprehensive building technology
  • D: Fully insulated old building with thermal bridges and substantial renovation
  • E: Old building with improved heat insulation and partial renovation
  • F: Partially insulated building with some new components
  • G: Old building without insulation, with outdated building technology

The four-page report, which is drawn up by a certified expert and contains the most important information about the building, can supplement a Minergie label, for example. The fees charged by experts will vary depending on the complexity of the building to be analyzed. However, the GEAK association itself recommends getting multiple offers from various experts. In addition, most cantons and some municipalities offer grants for this process.

Further to the classic GEAK, GEAK Plus also offers concrete recommendations on how a house’s energy efficiency can be increased. It is also possible to obtain GEAK certification for a planned project. The energy efficiency is provisionally rated on the basis of the planned values.

Minergie – the highest energy standard for houses in Switzerland

Minergie is the highest energy standard in Switzerland for low-energy buildings, i.e., for buildings which generally do not require a conventional heating system due to their high level of thermal insulation and special design, and are therefore very energy efficient. The Minergie standard is a label which is used throughout Switzerland and applied at an economic, federal and canton level. It is suitable for any type of building – including single-family houses and apartment buildings.

In some cantons, the Minergie certificate allows a higher percentage of the plot to be built on (Ausnützungsziffer): in the canton of Valais, for example, this ratio is increased to 15 percent with the certificate. In the case of a planned apartment building this would mean one additional apartment can be built, thereby increasing the value of the property.

In its certification, Minergie differentiates between the various stages of a building project, meaning that different Minergie labels are awarded:

  1. Planning and project development:
    • Minergie: the building standard for above-average energy efficiency
    • Minergie-P: the certificate for buildings with the lowest energy consumption
    • Minergie-A: the label for buildings with a higher level of energy independence because they generate their own energy
    • Minergie-Eco: an addition to the above three Minergie building standards that also covers health and building ecology
  2. Implementation:
    • MQS construction: the quality seal for the building process and parts which are relevant to Minergie
  3. Implementation:
    • MQS operation: the energy-efficiency label for existing buildings

Across Switzerland, various cantonal or regional certification authorities award the Minergie label. You can find all the information at minergie.ch.

SNBS – the certification for a positive impact on the environment, society and the economy

The Swiss Sustainable Building Standard – SNBS for short – is a certification that evaluates how sustainable a building is. The label is generally used for large residential buildings, public buildings, offices and educational buildings – both new-builds and existing buildings. SNBS evaluates buildings according to a set of 45 indicators which cover the three areas of sustainability:

  • Society: including planning, diversity, usage and health
  • Economy: costs, return potential and other regional economic factors are evaluated
  • Environment: includes, for example, the evaluation of energy efficiency, emissions and resource and nature conservation.

SNBS certification costs CHF 16,500 for buildings with an area of less than 5,000 square meters. The costs can be reduced by several thousand francs if a house already has been certified to one of the above-mentioned Minergie standards. In addition, SNBS-certified building projects may be eligible for funding at cantonal or federal level.

DGNB – the German label for the entire lifecycle

The DGNB label is based on criteria developed by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). The standard is already used in 30 countries worldwide for large building projects such as apartment buildings or buildings used for commercial purposes. The DGNB certificate is based on an integrated approach, in which the entire lifecycle of the building is considered:

  • For new-builds
  • For renovations
  • For buildings in use
  • When dismantling
  • And also at the construction site

For new-builds and renovations, the following six criteria are used to assess whether a DGNB certificate can be awarded:

  1. Ecological quality: this includes, for example, the building’s environmental footprint or risks to the local environment
  2. Economic quality: flexibility and capacity for change of use are evaluated
  3. Sociocultural and functional quality: these criteria include key aspects of functionality as well as comfort and health factors
  4. Technical quality: These criteria are the yardstick for rating the technical implementation, e.g., sound insulation or deconstruction friendliness
  5. Process quality: this means assessing how the building/construction project is planned and implemented
  6. Site quality: this assesses the interrelation between the site and its surroundings.

The DGNB label is be awarded in the quality levels platinum, gold, silver and bronze, although bronze is not awarded to new-builds. In Switzerland, over 6,500 buildings are DGNB-certified or in the process of becoming certified. Certification is carried out by the Swiss Sustainable Building Council.

LEED – the best-known international label

The acronym LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is originally a US building label. LEED plays an increasingly important role both internationally and in Switzerland, especially for new-build and renovation projects by international companies.

To receive LEED certification, buildings must fulfill certain requirements in a number of areas, These include:

  • Integrative design of the overall project
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Waste
  • Building materials
  • Location and transportation to the site
  • Sustainable surroundings
  • Health
  • Regional impact
  • Innovation

Depending on how the building performs during evaluation by an independent institution according to the aforementioned criteria, it will receive a certain number of points. A maximum of 110 points can be awarded. The total number of points determines the level of certification awarded to the building. There are four levels of certification:

  1. Platinum: from 80 to 110 points
  2. Gold: from 60 to 79 points
  3. Silver: from 50 to 59 points
  4. Certified: from 40 to 49 points

In Switzerland, the association Green Building Switzerland operates as the official national contact partner for LEED certification.

How can you navigate the certification jungle?

When looking for the right certification for your project, it is first worth clarifying what purpose the label should serve. Different certifications cover different aspects of sustainability and are suitable for different types of buildings. International labels are suitable for buildings with an international profile.

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