The sustainability of buildings as a strategy
The European Union is determined to reduce the environmental impact on the construction and maintenance of buildings as it estimates that 40 percent of the total energy consumed corresponds to this area. It is not a new idea. Already in 2010, the Building Energy Efficiency Directive (2010/31 / EC) set a guideline for energy efficiency to reduce these emissions – up to 20 percent since 1990 – and encourage the use of renewable energy in buildings, among other measures.
In its background, the objective is to achieve greater energy efficiency in cities and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since buildings are responsible for 40 percent of this type of emissions. The goal is to reduce energy consumption by 80 percent. Both the buildings themselves and the activities we carry out in them generate an ecological footprint and great environmental impacts throughout their entire life cycle. this means energy consumption, resource depletion, air pollution, contribution to climate change, waste generation, water pollution, noise, change of land uses and impacts on biodiversity, etc.
The same directive almost a decade ago referred to almost zero energy consumption buildings or Nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB). An utopia? At all, there are already more than 200 properties of this type distributed throughout the world, but they are taking longer to arrive than expected.
According to European regulations, public buildings should be the first to adapt – as of December 31, 2018 – and then private ones – as of December 31, 2020 -. However, the regulator has left each country free to write its rules. Some countries already have their “official definition” for nZEBs, others are in the approval phase of that definition and others are seeing how it should be. The different speeds have to do with the level of requirement of the regulatory energy requirements, some seeking to reach almost zero energy consumption requirements in 2020 in all buildings. In other countries, it has been decided to initially implement the definition of nZEB in some typologies, and then adapt it to the rest.
The application of the new regulations definitely in Spanish public and private buildings will seriously modify, from 2021, the design, construction, rehabilitation and management of buildings as we know it until now. Buildings in which, in general terms, two types of environmental strategies are applied: mitigation and adaptation.
Climate change mitigation strategies in buildings mainly focus on promoting energy savings, the use of renewable energies, proper waste management, the integration of vegetation into building projects – such as roofs, walls and green terraces – and the incorporation of elements that facilitate the use of non-motorized transport – such as the installation of parking lots for bicycles or charging stations for electric vehicles -, among others, and are applicable in different sizes both in existing buildings and in new buildings.
On the other hand, climate change adaptation strategies are strictly related to the specific context in which the buildings are located. For example, in a context where water is a scarce resource, and / or projections indicate desertification processes, buildings can employ strategies that promote efficient water use, water reduction, and / or water treatment, as the installation of a system of collection and treatment of gray or black water for use.
More in detail, the first purposes focus on reducing air conditioning and sanitary running water. How can it be achieved? Reducing energy consumption in buildings and ensuring that the essential use comes from renewable energy sources. For example, taking advantage of intelligent architectural design and environmental conditions. This requires an exhaustive study of the space where it is going to be built – or has already been built. In this aspect, the climate of the place is fundamental, not only for the light, but also for other meteorological factors such as the proximity to the coast or the wind. Primary energy consumption will be delimited and those works that exceed it will not be on the list of ‘nZEB buildings’. Therefore, they will not have it validated in the Energy Certificate of the property, a mandatory document since 2013.
It affects newly constructed buildings since 2021. As we have commented previously, according to European regulations, public buildings should have been the first to adapt – as of December 31, 2018 – and then private ones should do it – as of December 31, 2020-. Europe has left each country free to write its rules and Spain in this line has not yet published the modification of the Technical Building Code.
However, there is no need to be alarmed because it is not necessary to reform the current buildings. This regulation will apply to all new constructions as of January 1, 2021, although it is possible that a certain commitment may be requested in some reforms and rehabilitations. But the guidelines will be more flexible in those cases. In case of default, Fomento has already warned that there could be sanctions. In that sense, to help in this transition towards “zero” energy consumption in our public and private buildings, the Administration offers aid through the State Housing Plan.