An interview with Marjolein Cazemier. Together with 9 other couples they transformed a former school building into family homes.

“We live in a hyper-modern and energy efficient house, but with the character and atmosphere of a nineteenth century school”.

Marjolein and her husband, along with nine other couples, bought an old school building in Amsterdam,  Oud-West. Together with their son they now live in a former classroom that has been converted into large house. All 10 homes are completely self-sufficient, without gas. Thanks to the City-zen funding they were able to add extra energy efficient measures.

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• Why did you decide to renovate your home?

The idea was to create a large family home in the city centre of Amsterdam, so that we did have to leave Amsterdam, which most families with young kids normally do. We were able to buy this building, a former school, from Amsterdam City Council. We participated in a tender and along with 18 other parties submitted a sustainable plan. Our plan was then selected which meant we could buy the property, along with nine other families.

• How did you determine what you wanted to do?

The sustainable measures we have implemented, were dependent on the property. We aimed to be as self-sufficient as possible, we wanted to go “off grid” without gas. We subsequently established OnsDorpAmsterdam ODA (Our Village Amsterdam) Goes Electric and together with an expert, we looked at the different possibilities.
In the beginning it was very exciting to see whether we could execute our sustainability ambitions in this house. Mortgage lenders (banks) failed to take into account the fact that you build such a sustainable building. European legislation is unfortunately very conservative as they measure a certain % for gas, water and light. Initially we could not pay the sustainable measures, because we could not get a mortgage for it. Therefore we applied for a special loan from the Amsterdam Investment Fund (AIF).

• What energy measures do you apply?

Triple glazing, four heatpumps, a sedum roof, and we have 210 solar panels!

• What is special about your project? On which energy measures are you most proud of?

What’s special is the fact you make such an old building van 1906, hyper modern. To complete such a large project along with 10 families and that we have succeeded to stay within our planning and budget, while we are not professionals. Plus the 120 solar panels on the roof of Amsterdam City Council building was such a major obstacle. Because our own roof was not big enough for all 210 panels, and we only had room for 90, we needed an extra roof. That big roof was located on a building from City Council a bit further down the street. But the negotiations with the municipality and drafting up the contracts, lasted almost a year.

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• How much money have you invested in total in the renovation? And how much in the energy measures?

We decided that all building regulations (directive from the government) were not counted as energy saving measures. If the building regulations said double glazing, we did not regard that as an energy saving measure, but everything we did on top of that we did, such as 3-glazed windows. All added up, we spent € 300,000 euros in energy saving measures, which amounts to € 30,000 per family. The City-zen funding totaled € 80,000 euros. A funding like this makes so much easier to make choices and to get results. We initially were not sure whether we could include everything we wanted to do, because our mortgages were all stretched to the max. But with the help of the City-zen funding, we were able to include it all, including the final stretch of the solar panels !

• How far is the project now?

Completely finished! When we won the tender we worked out all of our sustainability plans in three years. We executed a plan selection, selected an architect, selected the contractors, requested licenses. Then we started the renovation, which lasted a year.

• Have you changed your behavior after the renovation?  Did you think you will live more energy conscious or not?

We have deliberately decided not to go for 100% sustainable, but 85% with the idea that you change the rest of your behavior, which eventually means the 85% becomes 100%. That fits with our philosophy. It’s a very different life when you do not have gas and another form of heating. For example. It will take longer before the house is warm. And we now have a large boiler with hot water, and when the hot water is finished, it’s finished! So we are very conscious of that and therefore we shower much shorter. Plus all of our appliances are equipped with heat recovery equipment which is very efficient and all are lights are LED lights.

• So you really save on energy?

Because of the heatpumps we consume a lot of energy, and therefore we have a lot of solar panels. Once the loan from the Amsterdam Investment Fund is paid off in 15 years, we only pay between € 15 and € 85 euros per month, depending on how energy efficient you live. If we had not had the solar panels, the cost would have been between € 200 and € 400 euros per month. So due to the solar panels we save a lot!

• What did you learn from this project? What tips do you have for others?

When you do a project with more people, the pitfall is to quickly look at the technical aspects such as the technology (heat pump). While we first looked at the ambitions and our dreams, why do we want to do this?

• Are the measures you have applied up scalable?

Absolutely! Our whole project is very easy to copy. Sometimes when you insulate your house, it can feel quite cramped, like a new construction. Our house whole house has a very pleasant climate, so I’d recommend it to everyone!

• Do you have any future wishes for your home?

We would still like to have wind turbines on the roof.

• Have you been able to enthuse other people for your energy saving measures?

Yes, there are a lot of people really excited. They say: Wow amazing that this is possible! And people in our street are now also looking into solar panels.

Want to visit Marjoleins House? You can on 5 and November 12, 2016 at the Sustainable Homes Route!

For more information visit

  • The Project

    A city operating entirely on clean energy. In theory, it's possible. But in real life? How to integrate new solutions in existing buildings, systems and people's lives? What are the technical, economic or social barriers? And how to overcome these? That's what we've learned by doing in 20 projects in Grenoble and Amsterdam.

  • Our Activities

  • Achieved Impacts

    • 20 innovations in Grenoble & Amsterdam
    • 35,000 tonnes CO2 saved per year
    • 76,000 m² renovated residential buildings
    • 10,000 dwellings connected to a Smart Grid