RISING energy prices and concern about the fate of the planet are affecting the real estate market. Users of real estate, whether residential, office or industrial space, are trying to reduce energy consumption by better use of insulation; and builders of new developments are using the latest technologies and materials as well as new designs to cut heating bills while keeping or even increasing the comfort of the properties themselves. The idea of low-energy or passive houses is not yet widespread in Slovakia but increasingly stringent standards set by law for new buildings, as well as rising energy prices, offer real hope that such properties will become more common in Slovakia despite their higher initial cost.
Buildings account for 40 percent of the European Union’s energy use and a third of its greenhouse gas emissions. To address this issue and improve the energy efficiency of buildings the European Union has adopted ambitious directives on reduced energy consumption and improved energy performance for buildings. It is requiring that all new buildings must be nearly zero-energy, i.e. have very high energy performance, by December 31, 2020. Member states are also expected to stimulate the transformation of buildings which are refurbished into nearly zero-energy buildings.
But as architect Darina Lalíková wrote in Eurostav magazine in September, energy consumption in many Slovak buildings is still very high.
“Even though the need to reduce the energy consumption of buildings of all kinds has been stressed for some years, buildings are still being designed and built in Slovakia usually with a very traditional energy concept,” Lalíková writes. “Interesting energy concepts for buildings which use not only technologies and materials but especially the wit and creativity of architects and designers to reduce the energy [consumption] of buildings are few and far between, especially when compared with abroad.”
The experience of sellers of residential real estate
Higher energy bills have made residential real estate with lower energy consumption more attractive to buyers. But while they often ask how much they will pay for energy in their new homes, buyers still tend to prefer traditional real estate.
“Slovak clients are conservative,” Daniela Danihel Rážová, director of real estate agency Bond Reality, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that buyers of new properties do ask about the energy bills they are expected to pay.
“In spite of some irrefutable arguments in favour of low-energy houses, trust is low for now and clients prefer classical bricks-and-mortar real estate.”
“My subjective opinion is that the offer is so wide and so incomprehensible for ordinary people that this may be one the reasons why people do not believe in these [low-energy] houses and prefer classical walled real estate,” said Rážová. “Probably this field will require more time, provable arguments justified by tangible constructions, and references for individual companies, of whom there are a large number on the market.”
The experience of Boris Škoda, a partner in Galéria Novostavieb (Gallery of New Construction), which offers apartments in new developments, is similar.
“This trend has not developed much in Slovakia compared to other countries,” Škoda told The Slovak Spectator. “Low-energy properties are a bit more expensive when compared to classical real estate, but the economies show up in their costs of operation. Other aspects are quality of life and protection of the environment.”
Škoda thinks that in some countries the concept of low-energy housing is popular thanks to widespread awareness of the need for environmental protection. State support for purchase of low-energy real estate is also important, especially since the state comprehends the significance of such housing in terms of its long-term energy policy.
“Alas, none of these two cases is common in Slovakia and thus low-energy concepts are slower in finding clients,” said Škoda, adding that this is reflected in the range of properties on offer to clients.
Houses which need only a little energy
In an average property annual energy consumption ranges between 100 and 195 kWh per square metre for heating and hot water, the Energy Centre Bratislava, a non-governmental information and consulting organisation promoting the rational use of energy and the utilisation of renewable energy sources, writes on its eFilip.sk portal dedicated to consultancy in construction and energy saving. An energy-efficient house consumes 50-70 kWh per square metre per year. In a low-energy house consumption is between 30 and 50 kWh per square metre per year, and in a passive house it is 5 to 15 kWh per square metre per year. In so-called zero-energy houses consumption is less than 5 kWh per square metre per year.
The energy performance of a building can be improved by selection of an appropriate location and design, as well as orientation to the south, better insulation, and use of new building technologies and materials. Bills can be also be reduced by using renewable energy sources.
There are several companies operating in Slovakia which say they are aware of the danger that high energy consumption poses a treat for the environment and which also see a business opportunity in improving the energy performance of buildings.
One of these is BASF Slovensko, which has already participated in several such projects in Slovakia. One of the examples is the reconstruction of an elementary school in Lietavská Lúčka to a low-energy standard. Thanks to this project, the school’s consumption of natural gas decreased by 75 percent.
“The Slovak consumer is aware of the need to save energy,” Ľubica Hromá from BASF Slovensko told The Slovak Spectator. “In this he does not differ from foreign clients. The problem, and the breaking point, is to solve the issue of finances, since new product technologies are usually more expensive compared with conventional materials although easily repay additional investment by the savings.”
BASF Slovensko together with its partner company PROMA address this with a tailor-made energy concept for each building, either in the case of new construction or refurbishment of existing buildings. Its experts calculate individual buildings’ energy consumption and propose construction adjustments or measures with defined energy savings which would benefit the client and improve his return on investment. Together with lower energy consumption, Hromá also points out that using modern materials also reduces CO2 emissions.
Based on Slovakia’s law on energy efficiency pertaining to the energy certification of buildings, BASF sees increased interest in the improvement of buildings’ energy performance and believes that this trend will increase further, especially with the target set by the European Union under which each new commercial building and each family house will have to meet low-energy performance standards as of 2018 and 2020, respectively.
“Energy efficient buildings are becoming a necessity and their advantages are more visible with each increase in energy prices,” said Hromá.
1. Nov 2010 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková