A few conclusions following a debate with representatives from the industry on the topic of energy efficiency and sustainability
This year, we were asked to participate alongside Romania Green Building Council (RoGBC), at Building Home Forum , one of the most important events in the country in the segment of civil engineering. Apart from meetings with partners from the field and work fellows, we took part in the debate on The Green House. The Efficient House. The Smart House. The Beautiful House, alongside 27 professionals in the industry: architects, engineers, real estate agents, representatives of the Higher Education and suppliers/manufacturers of materials and equipment.
The topic of discussion is a very broad one and 2 hours were not enough to discuss each guest’s opinion and that is why I believe a follow-up will prove to be very useful, a follow-up presented from 2 very important and presenting interest to us points of view:
1. ENERGY EFFICIENCY
The first point of view, regarding the Efficient House, refers directly to the nZEB (nearly Zero Energy Building) standard which became effective this year for the residential sector. This standard entails that the new buildings have a “power consumption equal to almost zero” and from the 100kWh/m2/year energy requirement, at least 30% has to be covered from locally produced renewable energy sources: photovoltaic systems for electricity, thermic solar system for hot water, heat pumps or even electricity supplied from renewable sources that are produced near the house, through the energy supplier.
The reason this standard exists is that, in the European Union, the issue of climate change is a priority and the building sector has the biggest part in the total power consumption (40%) and greenhouse gas emissions(36%) compared to the other sectors (industry, transport, energy). Therefore, the building and use of the buildings we live, work or shop in takes large quantities of energy, which mainly comes from fossil sources (coal and gas). A big part of this energy is used for heating, according to the statistics below.
Although the standard became effective at the beginning of the year, its deployment is a challenge both on the administration level ( who gives authorization and who verifies) and on the level of draftsmen and building contractors ( who comes with the technical solution and who deploys it accordingly. At the moment, MC 001-2007 is being reviewed with the following changes and addendums: Methodology for calculating the energy performance of buildings. This will include an assessment report/ energy compliance of the building to the project phase, compiled by the energetic auditor, who will prove that the project in question respects the nZEB norms. We have written a separate article in which we approach the nZEB standard in more detail.
In the meantime, it is crucial that our professionals have the required knowledge for the correct designing and building in accordance with the nZEB standard. That is why, organisations such as Cluster Pro-nZEB start numerous awareness-raising and professional training projects within this segment. One of them is NZEB Roadshow, where we are also involved and that will display, in the big cities in the country, several scale models with nZEB standard technical details in multiple structural systems: brickwork, timberframe and metal). Find below the first nZEB scale model of this project. Moreover, RoGBC has also introduced a nZEB course in the Green Building Professionals training platform.
2. GREEN BUILDINGS AND SUSTAINABILITY CERTIFICATIONS
Regarding the Green House topic, we come across a field that is frequently misunderstood. For instance, during the debate, I heard opinions of real estate agents who considered that it was enough to expand the green area in residential compounds ( green spaces, balconies, more spacious gardens) in order to affirm that the projects were green. On the surface, they are green, but if we take a look at things from another perspective, they are different. An extremely important aspect worth mentioning is the fact that, even though a house is energy efficient and meets the nZEB standard, it is not fully sustainable from certain points of view, After all, concrete can be used for building and polystyrene or polyurethane foam can be used for insulating in order to achieve an appropriate thermal resistance and there are no specific requirements for harmful substances emissions(formaldehyde) and the nZEB standard indoor environment quality.
About the percentages mentioned above, the greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) come from building (the manufacturing of materials, installations, finishes etc. in a building) and its usage (energy consumption for heating, cooling, electricity and water consumption). Well, studies show that 90% of the CO2 emissions come from the manufacturing of building materials. And it seems to be so. For example, the manufacturing process for 1 CBM of concrete liberates 800 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere and 1t of steel liberates over 2.5t of CO2, while 1 CBM of wood stores in its structure 600-700 kg of CO2 when it is put into practice in a building. This means that every building material has an associated carbon footprint. I have approached this topic comprehensively in another article.
All this data is very important and it needs to be taken into account starting from the designing phase when an investor seeks to build a green building. A LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) analysis is crucial to the project stage in order to assess the impact on the environment that a building has through its construction and usage in the next 50 years. But before we go into detail, what is a green building and who certifies that a building is green or not?
In Romania, RoGBC is the organisation that brought home, over 10 years ago, the sustainability certifications for buildings: LEED (the American standard) and BREEAM( the British standard) and that supported its deployment alongside partners in the industry (independent certifying officers). However, these standards are more suitable to the office and commercial segment, while for the residential sector they imply a quite high unjustifiable cost in the case of single family households. For instance, the LEED certification for a single family household can reach up to 10.000 euros.
For this reason, RoGBC has created the GREEN HOMES green certification scheme strictly directed at the residential segment. This implies a holistic assessment of a project in the following directions: building location, materials used with their associated carbon footprint, waste management during and after construction, deployment of the principles of the circular economy, indoor environment quality, water consumption and last but not least, energy efficiency measures and power consumption in parameters of the NZEB standard. Basically, GREEN HOMES goes the extra mile and besides nZEB ( which reduces the impact on the environment through a low power consumption), this standard requires for a building to have a reduced impact on the environment through the building materials and how they are put into practice.
Therefore, if following the assessment during the design, during the construction and at its receiving, a project meets the requirements and criteria of the certification, this achieves the GREEN HOMES accreditation by RoGBC, acknowledged by World Green Building Council alongside the other green certification schemes. The difference is that GREEN HOMES reflects the needs of the Romanian market and represents a low cost compared to the value of the whole building. The certification of a single family household does not surpass 3000 euros. Although it is more accessible from a financial point of view, the requirements are the same. To quote the founder of RoGBC, we are talking about the same God ( green buildings) with more religions (GREEN HOMES, LEED, BREEAM, DGNB, WELLS etc) and different approaches.
Furthermore, through the GREEN MORTGAGE program, investors or GREEN HOME certified homes buyers ( flats or houses) can benefit from a green mortgage, namely a “preferential interest mortgage loan”. Banks involved in the program are willing to offer a property finance at a lower interest rate compared to the average of the market ( discount of 0.25-0.75%), the non-payment risk of the credit drops for a debtor who has a dwelling with lower monthly maintenance and maintenance costs, which represents an indirect income which can be used to pay the credit. In the end, when you take out a mortgage, the bank is the de facto owner of the dwelling until you pay the credit. Furthermore, that household has an internationally acknowledged certification which keeps its market value over time.
Hence, RoGBC has created GREEN HOMES GREEN MORTGAGE, a successful functional program for the residential sector in Romania, proof being the numbers: over 10.000 certified and in the process of certification units (flats and households), over 50 developers and investors who have adopted the standard, 2 partner banks and the worth of the certified residential project exceeds 1.5 billion euros. Furthermore, the program is extending to other 11 countries in Europe, under the umbrella of SMARTER Finance For Families, the latest country to join is Moldavia. You can find out more about the program from their website RoGBC. We have also joined this program as Green Homes Solution Providers.
The notion ‘’Green Building’’ can be easily misused even in fake marketing purposes (that green wash). In the absence of an internationally acknowledged certification that certifies the quality and the performance of the building, we can only talk about open to interpretation concepts. Following the things mentioned earlier, the nZEB standard does not suffice and this is why it is important that the designer, the auditor and the certifier are brought to the discussion table starting from the initial stage of a project. A project that is emerging well developed on the market will be able to save not only during execution (through well-developed technical details), but also during use, with low maintenance costs and why not, a lower mortgage.
In the end, as a reminder to the question ‘’Why do we care about nZEB and sustainability certifications?” , I will leave this article about a situation to which we will be confronted more and more in the near future. The climate is changing and the unsustainable means of building represent a big part of the problem in question. Other consequences we experience that are closer to us comprise the desertification of South Romania or tornadoes from our neighbours in Europe.