Eco-friendly and economical single-family construction – we need to revalue thinking about "constructing" houses

Promoting wooden construction, which perfectly meets the challenges of the circular economy (CE), is not enough today. When planning buildings that will be comfortable to use, and, at the same time, consider the growing environmental requirements, you must think of each of them as a high-quality product. It is supposed to be a well-thought-out solution that reflects not only megatrends, but also involves the available technological possibilities. In addition, we should think about the synergy of housing construction and electromobility, which should be integrated with each other so as to create a specific energy micro-ecosystem. For this reason, it is necessary to build a broad awareness of the individual investor and encourage it to pay attention to the expenses related to the monthly maintenance of the building, and not only capital expenditure.


Energy standard for buildings

As Red Snake, we have been promoting the idea of ​​independent and ecological houses since 2015.  We are leaders in this type of solution, recommending a combination of heating with foil heating and a photovoltaic installation, which allows to produce and balance energy in your own house. As a result, heating the house is almost free of charge, without emitting any pollutants into the environment. Five years ago, we introduced this solution to the market as a new form, focusing mainly on comprehensive education of society. Today, we can see that there is still a need to educate individual investors to show that the house is a comprehensive ecosystem, all elements of which must be consistent with each other, for the building to be energy independent and environmentally friendly. Choosing the right heating means not only providing heat, but also reducing the negative impact on the environment. Furthermore, it reduces energy poverty and health impact.

Poland has obliged itself to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This is a consequence of joining the European Green Order, i.e. the European Union's plan, which assumes that the EU will become the first climate neutral continent by the middle of the century. Meeting this goal will be a real challenge, especially for Poland, which due to its geographic conditions, historical baggage and the resulting investment backlog, is today in the worst situation among all the countries of the Community. It will not be easy to break this trend and get out of the impasse. The transformation awaiting Poland is a multi-stage revolution that will have a particularly strong impact on the professional energy sector. This is not all. Other areas of the economy will also have to adapt to the stringent requirements, including industry, transport and construction. 

A panacea for old… and new buildings

Thermal modernization is one of the tools that is to bring us closer to the low-emission future. Its role and importance are also included in the new EU budget for 2021-27. This is good news for Poland. Nearly 6 million out of over 14 million buildings in Poland are single-family buildings. We can safely assume that most of them are at a terrible energy level, and are heated by coal. Therefore, we agree that thermal modernization must be a priority.

However, we must not forget about regulations, support systems and the promotion of good practices for the construction of new facilities. These are created every year in the number of approximately 70,000-90,000, i.e. only single-family houses. This means that at this rate, up to 2.7 million new houses will be constructed by 2050. Each of them will impact on the surroundings and climate.

Across the European Union, construction is responsible for over 40% of final energy consumption and over 35% of greenhouse gas emissions. At the stage of construction and operation of the facility, this sector accounts for 30% of the consumption of treated water and over 50% of extracted and obtained raw materials.  Over 30% of generated waste is related to the construction, demolition or renovation of buildings.

As the data above shows, knowledge of the environmental impact of construction goes beyond air pollution. As Red Snake, we have marketed a heating system based on renewable energy sources, and reduced the amount of pollution resulting from heating in over 2,000 houses throughout Poland however, we believe that even more can be done in this area. Despite the visible increase in awareness among many investors, we still believe that the understanding of how much impact of the quality of the house's construction (including its insulation, choice of materials, method of construction) has on its thermal standard and environmental friendliness is too low. 

Figure1: Construction of single-family houses in 2019-2021.

Standards and regulations are very strict today. Since 1 January, 2021, buildings must be constructed in such a way that their maximum primary energy demand does not exceed 45 kWh/m2 per year for public buildings and up to 75 kWh/m2 per year for collective residence buildings. These values ​​are almost half of what was allowed 5 years ago.

But what does this mean for the individual investor? These are other norms and restrictions that it does not understand. Most people who start constructing a house consider this process as stages during which new specialists do their part of the work. So while at the design stage everything looks optimistic and in accordance with the guidelines, during various stages of work, an investor who has no knowledge of the construction industry is not able to verify their quality and correctness.

The consequences of this can be observed in the context of the heating itself. The building requires much less energy expenditure for heating purposes, if we limit heat loss through ventilation and transmission. Heat "escaping" from the building increases the amount of energy consumed and, as a result, electricity bills. This negatively impacts not only on the condition of our money, but may also discourage some people from the innovative, ecological solutions promoted today. Especially if the mechanisms related to the consistency of all construction elements are not understood.

New technologies support not only the environment, but also the ordinary person, providing him/her with convenient and cost-effective solutions. However, they require appropriate conditions and support from the level of other construction elements. An ecological house must therefore not only be a smog-free one, but also an energy-independent house with high-quality workmanship, consciously managing all of the energy produced.

Construction materials

W Polsce tylko

Only last year, 2020, in Poland: “Residential construction was dominated by traditional improved construction technology1, which was used in the construction of 98.5% of new residential buildings completed”.2 Estimates say that cement production is responsible for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The steel production sector, which accounts for 7-9% of these emissions, is just behind it. The construction sector would not exist without steel and cement, from which concrete is made. Is it possible to limit them? In the housing construction, we can limit these two materials only to the foundation of buildings, and use natural materials, mainly wood and its derivatives, for the remaining elements of the house. The largest obstacle here seems to be the lack of sufficient knowledge of individual investors about the modern technology of a heavy wooden skeleton. There are often myths about its low durability, poor construction or insufficient fire protection. In turn, in other countries such buildings are very popular. An example is Norway, where Mjøstårnet was built - an 18-story skyscraper with a load-bearing structure entirely made of wood.

Why wood? It is an excellent material not only for construction, but also for insulation. Wood has the lowest carbon footprint of any building materials available on the market. In addition, it regulates the microclimate of the interior the best, and thus has a positive effect on the health of inhabitants and users.

Electromobility and electro-construction

The RES Act, which entered into force in 2015, caused a rapid development of the market of individual photovoltaic installations in the proconsumer model. The record allowing to use the power grid as a virtual energy storage completely revolutionized the approach to house photovoltaic installations. Thanks to this, a private investor can use the energy production from its own power plant almost entirely, leaving the grid operator only 20-30% of the part of the energy deposited to it. In practice, energy use has increased from approximately 30% to approximately 90% without the need to invest in expensive physical energy storage. This opportunity contributed to the development of the industry and led to the spread of photovoltaics for houses use.

Considering the current trends and increasingly stringent construction standards, we can assume that the nearly 3 million houses that will be constructed by 2050 will basically use their own solar power plants. It also results from a purely economic calculation. However, the question arises for what needs will investors use this energy, and what if the provision on the possibility of "storing" energy in the grid, which is legally guaranteed until 2035, ceases to apply?3 The answer to this question is not clear. On the one hand, there are technologies today that can replace the current solution, but they are beyond the financial reach of the average investor. However, this market is growing rapidly, and the price of kWh capacity has decreased by half since 2015. 

This decrease, of course, is driving the development of electromobility. Electric vehicles are more and more useful in the confrontation with combustion engine competition, which is already a realistically considered option, both by companies and individual recipients. They are an alternative to internal combustion vehicles. When they are being used, they do not emit harmful substances into the atmosphere. In addition, electric vehicles are supported on several levels, from direct central subsidies to local regulations allowing the use of parking lots or bus lanes on preferential terms. In the context of single-family houses, they have one more advantage - they become an additional energy storage.

Is an individual investor able to make good decisions?   

An investor constructing a single-family house faces numerous dilemmas:  which technologies to choose? How to connect them together?  Who is to do this? Not only the number of components, technologies, materials and solutions has changed, but also the selection criteria. Physical safety, construction, fire, burglary protection, which has determined the choices in construction over the last decades, remains the basic criterion. However, these needs should be supplemented with new ones, related to ensuring an appropriate microclimate of rooms in the face of energy efficiency requirements, impact on the environment and health, but also related to entertainment or even the possibility of remote work. Choosing the optimal size of the house to suit its needs is another challenge facing the investor. The functional optimization of rooms, their appropriate and optimal arrangement, both in terms of functions and energy efficiency, is also a real challenge for professionals.

An illustrative analogy for this problem can involve the comparison of the construction site to the automotive market. If a natural person with the need to move had to select all the vehicle components on his/her own without appropriate education in this field, he/she can only imagine what the effects would be.  What if an individual investor could choose a house the way it chooses a car - i.e. as a finished combination of elements optimized for its needs?


Providing comprehensive, proven and compatible solutions

In the report "Living Planet - Report 2016" the WWF states that since the 1970s, humanity has required more than the Earth can sustainably provide. We would need 1.6 planets so as to meet humanity's demand for natural resources. However, even today houses can be constructed entirely powered by electricity produced from their own solar power plants, which will meet all of the energy needs of the building - heating, hot water, household appliances, RTV, lighting, etc. The same solar power plant will also power the electric vehicle, which will be used by household members. This requires additional technical solutions which, on the one hand, increase the cost of the investment, but on the other hand, significantly reduce the cost of using the house and vehicle.

Such comprehensive thinking about a house and a vehicle fully electrically powered by our own photovoltaic installation should be promoted by building investors' awareness that higher capital expenditure (CAPEX) will significantly reduce the subsequent operating costs (OPEX). If the investment is financed with a loan/leasing, it will be a more profitable solution in terms of monthly flows, and will also allow us to become independent from potential increases in energy now and in the future.

Importantly, the planned new call for applications in the "My Electricity" program also provides for co-financing of house energy storage. The Polish Chamber of Energy Storage (PCES) already pointed out a year ago that Polish proconsumers increasingly need warehouses that allow them to use solar energy in the evening and at night. Thanks to them, households have a chance to achieve up to 90% of energy self-sufficiency.

Using new technologies in construction

The so-called Smart Home is standard in construction. On the one hand, they provide entertainment, but also increasingly improve the functionality and security of the home, which involves interfering with the fabric of the building itself. When leaving for work and school in the morning, we should close anti-burglary roller blinds, taking care of safety, or leave them open, so that thanks to large glazing, we should let in enough solar energy to reduce the need to turn on the heating in an energy-efficient house? A house that is to meet stringent energy efficiency requirements must be equipped with modern HVAC system4, which work with a photovoltaic installation. Coordinating the work of these devices requires specialist knowledge in the field of electronics, energy management, building physics and even... psychology. 



Launching an educational campaign and easy access to help for an individual investor

In our opinion, supporting an individual investor in the process of constructing a house is one of the most important tasks that should be implemented as a priority in Poland. Comprehensive public education, increasing awareness of new technologies, changing law and ecology must be the basis for making such important decisions for many years to come. Considering the above aspects, we have been taking steps to educate our target group and develop services for some time. We believe that they will directly impact on the quality of life of the investor and their family.

Development of companies and services in the construction industry based on CSR

Due to the significant impact of construction on the environment, construction companies must support investors in making the right decisions, both in terms of content and providing a comprehensive service. At Red Snake, we want to offer not only a product, but most of all we share our knowledge and support in choosing the best system for the future. We also provide substantive support to those who want to modernize older buildings.

In response to the dynamically changing needs of the environment and people who construct houses, we want to expand our offer and provide an independent system of compatible innovations, available as one product. Among the technologies used, we can distinguish: prefabricated houses, vehicle induction chargers, solar roofs and an intelligent energy management tool. For this reason, we cooperate with leaders in the construction industry, including: a brand that produces innovative 2-in-1 solar roofs. 

As a company, we want our solution to guarantee independence, peace of mind, and security to household members. Such an attitude would give us satisfaction from combining high-quality services with business indifference to the changing world. Construction companies should construct houses not only according to today's standards, but also looking to a better future and based on even better innovative solutions that will save our planet.

Text compiled by Red Snake

Subheadings prepared by the TOGETAIR editorial team