Rense van Dijk worked in the energy sector for many years yet always felt uneasy about the amount of CO2 that is emitted. That’s one of the reasons why he eventually he went on to do something else. Last year he launched a company which is dedicated to making homes more sustainable. In the past month he has signed several agreements with investors that will enable the company to expand into this new market, including, amongst other things, the installation sector.

What motivated you to set up Woon Duurzaam and what problem does this resolve?

“When my own central heating had to be replaced three years ago, I wanted to find out what the alternatives were. I wanted to stop using a gas boiler so I asked several installation companies tocome up with a solution and give me a quote for it. Most of them said they couldn’t, so they wouldn’t give me a quote. Others did give me a quote with a solution that didn’t suit my house. That was because they hadn’t looked into my living situation. Then I started to find out for myself how I could make my house more sustainable. I installed a heat pump which draws in heat from the outside air. It heats the water in my radiators. I replaced the radiators with a type that, thanks to an improved technology which uses less hot water, still generates a lot of heat. This also saves a substantial amount of energy. I also installed a heat pump in the attic. This works as an airco during summer and provides heating in winter. And I had insulation material installed in the cavity walls. Chips that were blown into these walls through little holes. These holes were then cemented up again. I haven’t done certain things because they didn’t really offer much energy savings compared to what they cost. You could also insulate the floor and I could have replaced double glazing that isn’t HR++. But the return on those kind of investments was outweighed by the costs. All in all, the whole process cost me about €20,000. I borrowed this at a low interest rate through a government scheme. This loan can be deducted from your income tax, just like your mortgage. On balance, I am saving money, despite the loan that has to be paid off in 15 years. While I was doing all this in my own house – which was built in 1938 – I came to realize that a lot of people must have been asking the same questions. And that there was a need for advice on how to make homes more sustainable. That’s how I came up with the idea to start Woon Duurzaam.”

The founder, Rense van Dijk van Woon Duurzaam (second from left), with new business partners Els Hoenkamp from Greenchoice, Wouter van Westenbrugge from Stichting DOEN, Jaap Willems from Mijndomein and Alexander Goos from InnoEnergy. Photo: InnoEnergy

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“We still haven’t completely overcome the biggest obstacle yet. We have to get rid of gas over the next 30 years. What has been difficult so far is that politicians and the media are giving out mixed signals about this. In the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, you read about how none of this is affordable. Former leader of the Dutch Labor Party, Diederik Samsom, was at the head of the negotiating table on the built-up environment at the climate conference in Paris. He told the media that he himself hadn’t done anything to eliminate gas from his own home either. He said: ‘I’m not going to do anything yet. I’ll wait a little bit longer.’ Because the Netherlands was so shocked by biased articles in the media and he just wanted to reassure people. I get that. But they just fail to understand that there is a real need to get rid of gas in houses and make these buildings more sustainable.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“When we realized that in order to make 80 percent of the homes that were built after 1930 more sustainable, a financially attractive deal could be made. We are talking about around 5 million homes across every category: terraced houses, detached houses and apartments. That was in November 2018, half a year after its foundation. A second breakthrough happened this year when we entered into agreements with large market players who want to work with us. This month, we signed an agreement with the energy supplier Greenchoice to run pilot projects next year in order to make their customers’ homes more CO2 neutral. Various manufacturers of heat pumps such as Vaillant and Panasonic as well as Nathan, a representative for Alpha Innotec pumps, have asked us to do their installations for them. That’s because the regular installation companies are not able to do this. Generally, they are only specialized in the installation of gas boilers.”

 What can we expect from Woon Duurzaam in the coming year?

“Next year we want to remove the gas systems from a hundred homes and offer a deal that will help consumers make their homes more sustainable step by step. You don’t have to do everything at once. But it’s important that you do all the right things properly and not do anything that’s unnecessary.”

Where do you want Woon Duurzaam to be within 5 years? What is your ultimate goal?

“We would like to have made 10,000 houses more sustainable by then. We are working in the Netherlands at present. Through our relationship with InnoEnergy, one of our investors, we see that markets in other countries differ from those in the Netherlands. But we also see that there is also a need there for a reliable party who is prepared to make homes more sustainable. So we want to work on that as well.”

What does Woon Duurzaam’s innovation do better compared to other products in your segment of the market?

“Our sole aim is to offer solutions when it comes to making homes more sustainable. These must be geared to the situation of the people we work for. We don’t work with standard quotes. We offer well thought-out plans that are carried out properly. Such a service wasn’t available in the past. It is now.”