Monumental canal house from 1733 off gas – If it can be done here it can be done everywhere

A canal house from 1733 on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is intended to show that it is possible: to get rid of natural gas, even in the oldest and worst isolated parts of the city. But because of all the rules that exist to protect monuments, isn’t that very complicated and outrageously expensive? Architect André van Stigt keeps his spirits up. “When it comes to a monument, this is very quickly used as an excuse.”

In front of the national monument that could use a makeover, he is happy to show what is possible. On one floor, the old, traditionally made windows are still in the rebates. They must remain, so the draft on that floor is combated with secondary windows that form an extra insulating layer. But on all other floors the windows had already been replaced, so that’s where modern insulating glass comes in.

Pricey middle ground

It immediately shows what difficult dilemmas monuments pose. Inch thick high-efficiency glass is not a sight here. Instead, there will be less thick glass that still insulates well. Pricey it is, this golden mean. “It’s all manual work,” says Eddy de Veer of contractor Nico de Bont.

Another dilemma: to close the facade like an oyster against the draft, 12 centimeters of insulation was actually needed. But that would clash with the requirements that monument protectors set for the renovation. Compromise is that the walls here are 4 centimeters thicker. This gives the canal house energy label B, so the sustainability is not perfect. But energy savings are rapidly approaching 90 percent, says Van Stigt. “This is so much better than doing nothing.”

The insulation is good enough to heat the entire property with heat pumps. The required electricity is partly generated by 22 solar panels which, as required for monuments, cannot be seen from the street. The heating for the four residential floors comes partly from the underground via heat exchangers that are concealed in a special type of piles.

It would be even better if the oldest parts of the city were tackled as a whole and together drew on the canal water for their heating. This can then be combined with the enormous repair operation of the quay walls that awaits Amsterdam. Van Stigt expects a lot from such a collective approach. “We have a few thousand of these old monuments in Amsterdam. If we approach them all individually, we will not make it.”

canal water

All these dilemmas can easily lead to procrastination. “We had enormous choice stress in a forest of what can and cannot be done,” says Janny Alberts of NV Zeedijk, which has been buying and letting properties in the Red Light District since 1985 to improve the quality of life in the area. It bought this monument in 2018. “You can wait until the developments have progressed, but if you don’t start, nothing will happen.”

“We don’t just have to make plans, but also just do it,” says De Veer. The supply of materials is also complicated in such a busy place in the heart of the city. The plan is to let everything run over the canal water, up to and including making the concrete, which at the same time puts less strain on the shaky quays. The logistics become quite a puzzle on the cramped construction site. “It’s all custom work.”

The crowds in the neighborhood are an additional reason to insulate the building thoroughly. With that, it is finally quiet on the residential floors. Alberts: “So that residents can be themselves again in their own cocoon.”

Green Light District

The canal house is a pilot for the rest of the neighbourhood. To this end, various organizations including NV Zeedijk, TU Delft and DeGezond Stad have united under the name Green Light District. The underlying idea is that the canal belt and even the entire city can take an example from this monument from 1733. Alberts: “If it can be done here, it can be done everywhere.”

Technically it is all possible, but whether making the canal house more sustainable is also financially sensible, remains to be seen. NV Zeedijk does not want to deal with the costs of removing the gas from the monument, because they cannot be separated from the much-needed renovation. But Alberts immediately admits that it has not been examined very precisely whether the investments are recouped through a lower energy bill. NV Zeedijk sees the possible costs of making this monument more sustainable as learning opportunities for future renovations in the further real estate portfolio in the Red Light District.

But is that compatible with NV Zeedijk’s objectives? Wasn’t it actually founded, with capital that comes for 78 percent from the municipality, to make the neighborhood liveable again by buying up real estate? Alberts sees no objection. “Real estate is also the means to achieve our goal when making the city more sustainable. This monument will soon be ready for the next hundred years.”

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