In conversation with ...

Hans Vannuffelen, Wouter Hilderson & Bert Vanderwegen

The long-awaited training modules for first-line renovation advisors (FRA) are available on our online learning platform Learnworlds. The training modules and the renovation advice toolbox (RAT) that served as inspiration for this were the result of a fruitful collaboration with Kamp C, Pixii and Dialoog. BE REEL! spoke with three experts, one from each partner, who participated in the development of the modules. 

Hans Vannuffelen has been working as a project manager for Kamp C. for 5 years. He is an assistant psychologist by training. He started his career at the municipal youth service and ended up at Kamp C out of sheer interest in sustainable construction. There he manages various renovation projects such as Energy Measures and Sure 2050.
Wouter Hilderson works for Pixii, the former Passive House Platform (Passiefhuis Platform), as a technical advisor. He does this mainly in the form of training related to his specialty: the renovation of the building envelope. His background as an engineer-architect comes in very handy here. Recently, he has mainly been involved in the call from ESF (European Social Fund) to develop online training courses for future renovation master planners. He also tries to stay involved in numerous research projects.
Bert Vanderwegen is a content employee at Dialoog. He is a civil engineer-architect by training. After his internship at an architectural firm, he ended up in the sustainable construction sector out of interest. He first worked as a technical advisor for an importer of insulation products and air sealing materials, and the Passiefhuis Platform. At Dialoog he provides sustainable building advice to private individuals about renovation. He visits people and sees what can be done. He also does this for governments and municipalities. In addition, he also provides training about his expertise: the building envelope.

The partners

What exactly does KAMP C/PIXII/DIALOOG do?

Hans: “Kamp C is the support center for sustainable building for the province of Antwerp. As an autonomous provincial company, we are unique within the 5 provincial support centers. We already have most of the resources and expertise in-house. About 25 people work for us, of which about 10 are project managers, 4 advisors, people who are involved in education and the rental and management of our Conference and Business Center and exhibition space. We use these spaces, among other things, for physically implementing innovative ideas such as the 3D printer. Together with the participating companies, we then look at the future possibilities. This goes further than, for example, universities that print something out and see what is technically possible. We have a more direct bridge to the client. Another project that we are currently intensively working on is looking for a standardised way to make an office building circular. To this end, we started the process with masterclasses, which anyone interested could join. We then launched a call to start a consortium and we are now fully engaged in the field. Also with the intention of inspiring local groups with what is possible. In covid-safer times, of course.”

Wouter: “Pixii is a non-profit organisation that started out as Passiefhuis Platform to introduce the passive concept in the Flemish construction market together with many forerunner construction professionals. The themes are now broader, which is why we have also changed our name to the inventor of the dynamo Hippolyte Pixii. That is energy related and sounds dynamic. This dynamic is reflected in our projects at Flux50, which we co-founded, and also in a supporting project at the VVSG (Association for Flemish Cities and Municipalities). Nine people work at Pixii. We work around 5 pillars: the largest is undoubtedly the training component, both half and full days. We also organise Expert Days. These are thematic study days. A second pillar is advice and quality assurance. This concerns certification and planning advice for non-residential buildings for which we develop a complete trajectory guidance. We also
provide advice as a BENOvation coach for the city of Antwerp. A third pillar is research with projects such as Renofase. Finally, we also work on membership and policy activities.”

The training is thematically divided into 16 manageable modules
Bert: “Dialoog is a non-profit organisation that has gradually evolved from an organisation that coordinated training activities for students at KU Leuven to a recognized environmental organisation that provides sustainable building advice, both at home and through information sessions. We have a monthly magazine called De Koevoet with articles from the broader field of sustainable living and building. We are a completely independent non-profit organisation. 9 employees are working at Dialoog. Our team consists of content employees, two people who work on our magazine, a coordinator and someone for the administration. So quite horizontal.

PIXII/DIALOOG/KAMP C were commissioned by BE REEL! and contributed to the development of the renovation advice toolbox (RAT) and the basic training for first-line renovation advisors (FRA). Can you explain in your own words what these are and what they are for?

Hans: “The RAT is a kind of signpost where the FRA can go and easily find its way in the renovation landscape in Flanders in order to be able to give correct advice and refer citizens to the right authorities. The basic training is divided into different thematic modules where FRA can get their money's worth to sharpen their knowledge on certain topics and thus provide more qualitative advice.”

Wouter: “In concrete terms, the RAT consists of five major parts that the FRA can use before and during their advice. Firstly, there is the “do” section, which contains things that you can use during the advice itself such as premiums. The second part contains background information for FRA to further explore certain relevant themes. The third section contains links with useful information for the client. Finally, we named the last part “referrals” in which the FRA can browse stakeholders to refer the customer to the right person or agency for further assistance.”
The first-line renovation advisors are very diverse.
Bert: “For example, the FRA sits at a counter in a city or municipality and will receive concrete questions about renovation. He should try to sensitise and motivate citizens to renovate properly. He will have to be able to deduce and unravel the exact question of the customer. For example, sometimes customers are so keen to install solar panels, while in their specific situation they are better off with a heat pump. For successfully developing such skill you need a certain background knowledge. That is what the basic training is for. We have divided them thematically into 15 manageable modules so that the ELA does not get lost in the woods and learn what he or she needs at his/her own pace.”

Kamp C has done the preparatory research and made an inventory/needs analysis. How did you go about doing this?

Hans: “We conducted in-depth interviews with the renovation advisors and energy houses. What knowledge is there? How do they see the implementation of the FRA? What do they need? These are all things that we have mapped out and shared with the partners. They also conducted interviews, but mainly with end users. During the joint meetings, we continuously gave each other feedback. For the basic training, I also worked out the module on premiums myself.

Something that struck us is that the FRA are very diverse. You have advisors with a solid technical background and you have administrative employees with a social background. So there is a lot of differentiation. That is why we have developed the training into modules, so that the future FRA can shop, as it were, and choose the modules from which he or she can learn something.”

Pixii prepared the actual RAT based on the inventory. How did you work and why exactly that method?

Wouter: “We have turned it into an interactive PowerPoint in which you can easily navigate between the menus. It can easily be converted to PDF format or integrated into a website.

So how exactly did we proceed? We first collected all information from various sources, such as interviews with advisors from our network and the preparatory work of Kamp C. Since the RAT and the training are so closely intertwined, we divided the work among the consortium. Pixii mainly took on the development of the RAT and worked out a few modules for the training.”

Dialoog has largely drawn up the curriculum for the training of renovation consultants and the majority of the final training modules. How did they come about?

Bert: “We have divided the curriculum according to expertise. I worked out most of the modules myself, as Pixii already had a lot of work to do with the RAT. In concrete terms, this concerns the modules limiting the energy demand, installations, EPB, capacity building and renovation policy.”

What are the lessons learned from the entire process?

Hans: “That it is difficult to find a balance between providing technical background and keeping it generally accessible.”Wouter: “In my experience, this project was a very good collaboration with a clear target group and objectives.”Bert: “You quickly tend to put too much content into it. That was also a specific question from VEKA. Don't make it too elaborate. Which is perfectly understandable. The target group is the FRA. They do not need to be able to explain in detail how something technically works. No, they should be able to refer you to someone who can help you. That is exactly what the RAT and training courses are for.”

Opinion questions

Suppose: as a policy maker you are allowed to change/draft 1 policy measure to help achieve your objectives. Which one do you choose and why do you choose it? (You can choose the policy level yourself)

Hans: “If we are talking about renovation and being energy neutral, I wouldn't work with interim measures. Look, the ultimate goal is energy neutrality and in recent years we have divided the road towards it into phases. First it was EPC E100, then E80 and so on. That's a shame, because that way you intrinsically build a brake on your ultimate goal that doesn't really need to be there. The average Belgian is in fact such that he does the obligatory and only the obligatory. If the law says your roof insulation has to be 12 cm thick, it usually won't go much further. If you make the entire investment in one go, you will save time and be more efficient. Although I realize that this is a bit more complex from a policy point of view. But the focus is now too much on those intermediate goals, in my opinion.

Wouter: “I would focus more on communication about deep renovation at key moments. The policymakers are becoming more and more aware of it. However, I think the focus is still too much on simple individual measures. The general objective is somewhat evaded. When the standard was still E100, there were no stricter rules or deadlines. People who wanted to live energy-efficiently built their home with a value of E80 . Barely a few years later, that turned out to be outdated. But when the government communicated the full path to E30 and BEN, a dynamic was created and this transition happened without much problem. Although the final goal for renovation is already known (A-label), for many people this goal is still too non-committal and abstract.”
I would focus more on renovation at key moments.
Bert: “I realise that as a policymaker you have to make compromises, because if you go too far, you lose part of your audience. Still, I think the regulations do not go far enough, which dilutes the compromise somewhat. I miss measures that show ambition and long-term thinking.”

On which hypothesis/theme about energy efficient renovation would you like to see a study or concrete action published and why?

Hans: “I rather look for it in the psychological sphere. A bit like Jill Peeters did in her series: what's stopping us? But then for renovation. What are the motivations to or not to renovate? There are people who absolutely want to tackle their bathroom, but if your building envelope is not yet properly insulated, it makes little sense. How you can convince people that this is an interesting topic for further research. People realise that there is a climate problem, but too often have the reflex to think: I shouldn't do this alone, should I? So we have to nudge that, investigate how we can strengthen people's sense of responsibility. Companies and contractors could also make it clear to people that if their roof is not insulated, solar panels cannot be installed.

Wouter: “One of the accents that Pixii is working on a lot is circularity. The entire renovation wave will irrevocably create a lot of waste. The activity in the construction sector will double. That is why I would make sure that everything that is added is used efficiently and that we do not create new problems with the use of new materials in 30 years' time. How we should approach this in practice in the case of renovation is anything but simple, so some research is welcome.”

Bert: ““ More concrete actions are needed that have an impact in the long term. What does it take to move away from short-term thinking to long-term thinking? Feel free to research that. Technically, a lot is already possible today. But why are we not doing it or not doing enough?”
Thank you for this conversation!