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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » March 5, 2008
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Sustainable Development in Polish Construction
March 5, 2008   
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The term "sustainable development" has come into general usage over the past 20 years. Agnieszka Domańska finds out what it means in the construction industry by talking to Bogdan Goławski, sustainable development manager at Orco Property Group, and Przemysław Małek, project manager.

"Sustainable development" has become a commonly used phrase. How is it related to construction?
B.G.: Talking about sustainable development in construction, we have several aspects in mind. The first one, of course, is connected with environmental protection and involves the use of energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy sources and natural materials, coupled with efficient material management. It is about getting the right design and maintenance for a building, but obviously everything depends on the type of project-whether it is a residential building, an office building or a logistics center.

There are also social and economic aspects to sustainable development. The social aspect means designing and constructing people-friendly buildings, that is, creating living spaces that meet people's needs and have a beneficial effect on their health and well-being. The economic aspect means a guarantee for the owners that the building is a good choice and a good investment for the future.

When it comes to industry or transport, it's obvious-they produce fumes, emissions and toxic waste. But as for housing, isn't it a bit of an exaggeration to talk about environmental protection? How much pollution can an ordinary residential building generate?
B.G.:You're wrong if you think it's not much. This problem was recognized by Western countries many years ago and they put considerable emphasis on environmental protection in housing construction. One example is Germany with its philosophy of "passive houses," that is, highly energy-efficient buildings designed to minimize their environmental impact. Modern technology offers a wide range of possibilities here, including ultra-energy-efficient lighting systems, solar water heaters, mechanical ventilation systems, ground heat exchangers, and windmills and solar panels to generate electricity.

But impressive technical novelties are not the only way to care for the natural environment. Very simple practices, like designing as many windows as possible facing the south and west, can also help to achieve the desired effect. The more sun that enters the building, the less heating and artificial lighting will be needed. Also important is the location of the housing estate and its multi-functionality. If it is close to the city center and if most of the services needed by the residents-schools, kindergartens, shops, hairdressers and so on-are available locally, private cars will be used less often. Access to public transport is of similar importance.

Orco says sustainable development has become one of its fundamental strategic goals. What does this mean in practice?
B.G.:In practice, all projects we have recently started or are going to undertake are analyzed in the context of sustainable development. We attach significance to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. One example is the Klonowa Aleja residential complex, where we have installed solar panels. The roof and wall insulation here are twice as thick as required by Polish construction regulations, and this increases the energy efficiency of the buildings. We install solar panels in all the buildings we construct, including the complex on Drawska Street in Warsaw's Ochota district and our housing estate in Szczecin [northwestern Poland].

It has been estimated recently that if all residential complexes scheduled for completion in Warsaw in 2008-a total of 98,600 sq m-had solar panels, carbon dioxide emissions in the city could be reduced by 5,400 metric tons per year. It is worth adding that the housing estate in Szczecin is a model project in terms of sustainable development.

Can you describe the Szczecin project in greater detail?
P.M.:The housing estate will consist of 19 low-rise, multi-family buildings. Recreation areas, green areas and playgrounds for children will occupy a considerable amount of space. It will not only be safe and healthy, but also aesthetically pleasing because the buildings will blend nicely into their surroundings. The buildings have a lot of windows to allow as much natural light into the homes as possible. They are also well insulated to reduce heat loss. In keeping with the principles of sustainable development, the estate will perform many functions, reducing carbon dioxide emissions as local residents will not need to drive too much. Additionally, the estate is situated close to the city center and has very good access to public transport. As for the construction process itself, we have selected the materials in the optimum manner, without any wastage.

B.G.:In our projects, we attach particular importance to using natural materials, like stone and wood. In contrast to plastics, these materials are not made in factories and do not contribute to pollution. The social aspect is also worth noting, that is, an improvement in quality of life, not only in this modern housing estate but also in the whole neighborhood.

Energy consumption in a building largely depends on the insulating power of its windows and doors. The U-value, a measure of heat loss, will be only 0.2 W/m2K for the walls and roofs of the buildings in the Klonowa Aleja complex, while Polish building norms require a value of 0.3 W/m2K. The high quality of workmanship and care for detail will ensure a low level of air infiltration, that is, outside air flow into the buildings. This will improve the overall energy performance of the complex. Good insulation and low air infiltration protect the buildings against unnecessary heat loss.

Other energy-efficient techniques used in the Klonowa Aleja complex include innovation in the wiring system, where movement sensors control the lighting and fluorescent sockets have electronic starters, which enable 20-percent reductions in electricity consumption. The temperature of the water used for heating will be automatically controlled by a special system that adjusts it to outdoor temperatures and reduces the amount of energy needed to heat the buildings. Solar panels fitted on roofs are the greatest innovation. They will save 35 percent of the total energy needed to heat water for the residents. Solar energy can be collected in this way even in Poland's climate and maintenance costs of such devices do not need to be high. According to Bogdan Goławski, sustainable development manager at Orco Property Group, much of the hot water will be produced by the solar panels from March until late fall. Apart from lower bills for hot water, residents of the Klonowa Aleja estate will also enjoy cleaner air thanks to the proximity to Bródnowski Forest.

Energy-efficient building innovations used in the Klonowa Aleja complex are also beneficial from the point of view of long-term investment in real estate. One of the reasons for this is the law on energy performance certificates, which is to come into force Jan. 1, 2009. Buildings in the Klonowa Aleja complex will certainly get better certificates thanks to techniques already used here by Orco. Buyers will take the certificates-which rate a building in terms of its energy efficiency-into account when deciding which home to purchase.

"As was the case with motoring, where the increase in fuel prices prompted drivers to look more at maintenance costs than purchase prices when selecting a new car, the growing energy prices will probably shift the home buyer's focus from the purchase price to the cost of maintenance and the rate of return on their investment," says Douglas J. Noble, regional director for Poland at Orco Property Group.

The energy-efficient building techniques used by Orco in its Klonowa Aleja complex are in keeping with the group's fundamental strategic guidelines. Under Orco's strategy, all of its projects should meet the requirements of sustainable development in terms of finishing and construction technologies to produce environmental, social and economic benefits for future occupants.
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