Excessive requirements to new buildings

PHOTO: TAIRO LUTTER/EESTI MEEDIA/SCANPIX

A cube with windows like loopholes or a sphere – this is a house adequately meeting the energy efficiency requirements implemented in Estonia. Mihkel Tüür, the architect criticizing these standards, believes that Estonia has been excessive in following the European standards, yet officials assure that these standards grant the architects more creative freedom.

“Construction in Estonia is already quite practical and now we are going to undermine it with these new standards. There will be the same situation as with the alcohol excise tax, where they exaggerated,” Architect Mihkel Tüür complains.

The Ministry of Economy and Communications announced earlier this year that starting from 2020, construction permits would be issued only to near zero energy buildings (Class A) due to the European Commission directive. But the European Union recommended its member countries to consider the local situation when implementing the energy efficiency requirements.

Tüür believes that the Estonian officials have gone too far. “I do not like the campaign “Our tax revenue goes to Latvia”, but the same thing will soon happen in construction business as well; more complex buildings will be constructed in Latvia or Finland, because server parks or physics buildings cannot be constructed in Estonia any more – they would not achieve the required A energy class,” he predicts.

No more new buildings

According to Tüür, this spells trouble not only large buildings with specialized solutions like sports halls, it will pose problems to people building their new homes. First, the construction prices would go up significantly and secondly, several building types popular in Estonia would no longer meet the energy efficiency standards.

Tüür pointed out as an example that when building a house in an isolated place, stove or pellet heating would no longer be an option, since the Estonian analysis methodology views them as district heating – the fuel would come outside the land plot.

“If you live on Muhu Island among juniper bushes, do you have to wrap your house in and buy solar cells? Why cannot a person cut trees from his own forest and live as before,” the architect wonders about the officials’ logic.

Tüür warns that building new houses in smaller locations may become impossible after the implementation of the new standards.  The architect, who is currently designing an apartment house in Võru, says that the cost of one square meter there is 1,400 euros.

“The construction cost if 1,000 euros per square meter, meaning that 400 euros will remain for the land plot and other costs. This price cannot be changed,” Tüür said.

But if the cost of construction will increase further due to the new regulations, it would become impossible to build new houses, since no one could afford them. “Class A buildings cannot be built so that Võru residents could afford them, meaning that they would have to live on in their Soviet-era houses,” Tüür said.

Trying to be smarter than the Finns

While the Estonian officials have established the new regulations using the examples of a hypothetical office block and an apartment house without studying the real expenses, Finland carried out an exhaustive macro-economical analysis before imposing the standards, studying the impact on district heating and regional development, the architect claims.

“I would recommend copying the Finnish methodology, because they have studied it enough and have carried out a macro-economical analysis. Let us set our standards according to their example and live on without care. Why must we rush forward and set the standards one year before Europe does it?” Tüür asked.

He added that the Estonian standards are so strict that a Finnish near zero energy house built here would only meet Class C requirements; i.e. would not receive the construction permit.

“This is caused by the different reckoning with the renewable energy component used in district heating in the weighing factors. The share of renewable energy in district heating and energy production is already higher in Finland and the weighing factor considers regional policy,” the architect explained.

Tüür added that the imposing of standards should also consider the regional origin of the building materials and their CO footprint so that Estonian timber could be told apart from steel made in China.

“As of now there is no different which you use in construction, since the energy spent on construction has been fully ignored and only the hypothetical heating cost is analyzed,” Tüür said. He added that the actual later energy consumption of the building does not interest anyone and would not be monitored.

“Why shouldn’t we establish concrete heat-proofing standards for walls, windows roofs and floors the way they do in Finland?  If the indicators of the enveloping construction elements meet the norms, the building should be granted the construction permit,” the architect said.

Cube-shaped, with tiny windows resembling loopholes and solar cells on roofs – that is how buildings ideally meeting the energy efficiency standards should look like, said architect Vahur Sova.

“But you cannot beat the sphere, because the larger is the volume and the smaller the envelope, the more energy efficient the building,” he said.

The energy efficiency standards in force from 2020 would rule out the construction of buildings with articulated outside walls, large glass spaces and also with traditional stove heating, Sova said.

“The forced ventilation with heat recovery is mandatory (for Class A), but a stove will consume air in the room while being heated and the ventilation system would become confused,” he said.

Architects do not like the new standards, because they limit their creative freedom. “If they take away your box of color pencils, leaving only two shades and then tell you to draw a beautiful picture, you would not like it either,” Sova explained.

But he admitted that the state is basically correct in imposing energy efficiency regulations, since the whole world is moving in the same direction.

Architects are facing a reinvention of esthetical categories, which is obviously uncomfortable. “The contradictions, which require a reasonable compromise between the laws of nature and mental, cultural traditions and the existing environment, would not go anywhere,” Sova admitted.

Margus Tali, advisor of the Ministry of Economy and Communications department of construction and housing, cannot understand Mihkel Tüür’s criticism, since in his opinion the values of energy efficiency figures in Estonia and Finland are in good correlation and only the principles differ.

Estonia’s different approach

The Finns have established definite standards for every window, door or wall, while in Estonia the energy efficiency value must be met. Tali admits that Estonia is one of the few countries, which has selected this methodology.

According to him, the more general standards ensure greater architectural freedom of expression and leave room for development of the energy efficiency requirements. He also argues that Estonia’s regulations, compared with those of most other EU countries, are more integrated, easier to implement and more open to innovation.

“It would be short-sighted of the ministry to stipulate to the builders that energy efficiency can be achieved only by using solar cells or to determine the height of doors and the number of windows. Such standards could become obsolete in a few years as technologies and materials advance,” he defended Estonia’s approach.

According to Tali, the result is more important that the materials or construction technologies - the building must be energy efficient.

According to Tali, it is not correct that stove or pellet heating is considered district heating according to the new requirements. This is heating based on renewable materials and it is considered the most environmental solution. “The measure is the weighing factor – the smaller it is, the better for the environment,” Tali explained.

According to the official, a huge share of Estonia’s energy output, nearly 50 percent is spent on operating buildings. “The energy consumed on operating houses can also be precisely measured, while a common methodology for measuring the energy spent on construction is still being developed,” Tali said. Finland, for example, intends introducing the requirement for calculating a building’s complete ecological footprint in the next few years.

Although the official considers the architects’ objections groundless, he admits that the standards concerning private homes would be revised this year.

No regulation or act would stipulate how exactly the energy efficiency must be achieved, Tali says.

“Just like a Ministry of Culture official would not teach a Song Festival conductor how to lead the choir, the Ministry of Economy would not teach architects how to build hoses,” he added.

The first analysis of cost optimization was carried out in 2012 and the corresponding requirements came in force in 2013. These regulations made exceptions to log houses and very small private homes.

Other additions and exceptions regarding the near zero energy building standards are still being developed and would come in force in the end of 2018.

Small buildings will be addressed in greater detail and the standards will be divided in three categories; the weighing factors of energy sources would be revised.

It is also planned to reduce the air leakage coefficient stipulated by the energy efficiency calculation methodology. A catalogue of linear heat penetrations for addressing cold bridges has been compiled and it already accessible in the Kredex website.

Tali said that certain exceptions could be made even after 2020.

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