Edgars Ivanovs, a supporter of sustainable lifestyle, will broaden your horizons on building an energy-efficient home and what it means to be living in one. It soon becomes evident that an energy-efficient home is not only a beautiful and logical choice, but also a beneficial one.
It is no surprise that at the current rate of Earth’s resource consumption we would need another half-Earth to fully sustain the Earth’s population. The first thought that comes to mind is the age-old saying that all change starts at one’s home. “Energy-efficiency is just a small piece of the puzzle; considerate use of natural resources should always be kept in mind when building a house. We are consuming an excessive amount of natural resources already. If we do not change our habits, by the year 2050 we will need the equivalent of three Earths to sustain our demand for resources. Clearly we cannot consume more than is available on this planet. People take loans from banks when they are in need of additional financial resources; by our excessive use of natural resources, we are taking these resources from the future generations – our grandchildren and our children’s grandchildren. It is predictable that they will be facing a shortage of resources eventually. Our current thinking is irresponsible and short-sighted,” says Edgars.
When thinking of saving resources, one should look beyond insulation solutions. Along with choosing the proper insulation, there are many other choices to make and tasks to complete on the To-Do list long before installing the insulation. Conscious resource consumption is a two-fold process. On one side of it are all the resources that are necessary for constructing the building – construction materials, the energy consumption for the manufacturing or generating of the necessary resources, labour, time, etc. In other words, all the resources combined with the energy invested. On the other side is the consumption of resources throughout the lifespan of the building, which is of crucial importance. Whether the house will stand for twenty years or fifty years, the heating of the house during winter months and the increased use of lights when the days grow shorter should be factored in. As Edgars explains: “Resources – mostly energy resources – will be necessary. Before even starting the construction or choosing the right technologies, regardless the type or function of the building, it should be clear how many rooms will be needed and what will be the consumption of resources both during the construction phase and the future maintenance and life-span of the building. These decisions should be taken with careful and thorough consideration.” Unfortunately, in consumption driven society, the tendencies are opposite of energy-saving – with financial well-being comes the desire for a spacious and big home, but the size of a home is not necessarily proportional to the quality of one. The internet is abundant with various examples of ergonomic designs and efficient space usage in relatively small living spaces. For example, the tiny house movement has become quite popular in the United States of America. People create twenty to twenty-five square meter homes. The philosophy is simple – having very low maintenance costs people can afford to work only two days a week. Also, such homes can be built outside urban areas, giving the opportunity to fully enjoy the nature surrounding the home. Such lifestyle is not possible when living in a large house or downtown apartment. Edgars points out similar tendencies in office building construction as well: “Co-working office spaces are becoming more common all across the world. For example, sales people that spend the majority of their day outside the office do not require an office desk that is exclusively theirs. Shared desks considerably minimize the office space necessary per employee.” Re-evaluating the needs can reduce the financial dependency. The size of a building has a direct impact on the monthly payments for one, considering that most construction these days is done with funds from bank loans. Our quality of life is not necessarily dictated by the size of the living space – it is worth considering trading in the fifty square meters for a beautiful annual vacation.
Answers and solutions
When thinking of a building’s energy-efficiency, one must identify what will be the main points of energy usage. In Latvian climate the heating of a building requires the most energy; the second most used resource is electricity. When asked, what are the advantages of minimizing the consumption of energy, Edgars replies: “The main advantage is minimizing the costs. Instead of paying 1 Euro per square meter for the heating, you could be paying, say, 20 Euro cents per square meter. It is essential to comprehend that any investment in the construction process will pay back throughout the lifespan of the building. This means that a longer lifespan of a building also equals higher cost-efficiency. Another advantage is minimized dependency – both financial and political. After all, natural gas in Latvia is imported. Self-sustainability decreases the load on the infrastructure – gas lines, heating mains, electric grid. Higher energy consumption requires higher production and transmission power, which in turn increases the maintenance costs of the infrastructure itself. Last but not least is the often forgotten philosophy of a sustainable living – each individual is responsible for creating the world that we live in, and we all contribute to global warming in one way or another.” Energy-efficient building solutions can be divided in two general categories – high technology and low technology solutions. “Sometimes these solutions overlap. Energy-saving solutions do not always equal high initial costs – often these solutions are a result of the right thinking,” says Edgars.
Low technology solutions
- Thought-out architecture of the building and wisely chosen construction materials. It is the architect’s and construction engineer’s responsibility to design and construct a building that does not let through the cold air, retains the warmth during the winter months, maintains the appropriate microclimate with the optimal indoor humidity levels and the quality of air, as well as to choose breathing materials for wall construction and insulation. The easiest way for choosing the right experts is to talk to the people that live in the buildings and projects that were designed and constructed by these experts, finding out about the quality of the living environment and the costs from first-hand experience.
- The orientation of the building and the prevailing wind. This is ancient wisdom. The sunlight has not been taxed yet – that being said, window placement on the south side of the building provides energy for no additional costs. Thought-out awning placement blocks the intense mid-day sunshine in summertime, preventing the rooms from overheating; the sun is lower in winter months, which means that the warmth of the sun will enter the rooms in the desired seasons. This solution can be observed on the log houses of the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum.
- Good quality construction work. This aspect is especially crucial because no architectural design or thoughtful choice of construction materials or technologies will yield the desired results if the construction work is not executed properly or at a good quality. One can face an unpleasant situation when the additional funding is not giving the anticipated return. It is wise to have an independent construction supervisor that would ensure that the quality requirements are met. The quality of construction work can be measured with blower door tests and power audits, allowing timely prevention of potential construction faults.
High technology solutions
- Air recuperation system. An energy-efficient construction should have fairly low air permeability through the construction and joints of the building; it should take place only through the ventilation system. If the fresh air is supplied from outdoors, the temperatures can differ up to 30 degrees and more, which requires considerable energy usage for heating the air. The air recuperation system heats up the incoming air with the outgoing air, reducing the required energy for the heating.
- Intelligent building control system or climate control system. This system is more commonly used in office buildings. The system can identify the location of people on the premises and automatically adjust the air ventilation. For example, if thirty people have entered the conference room, the system increases the fresh air supply in that particular room; when people leave a room, the air circulation is automatically reduced. The system saves the resources by eliminating unnecessary ventilation.
- LED or fluorescent light bulbs. Each type of light bulbs has its pros and cons, but the idea remains the same – to use energy efficient lightning. Bear in mind that white rooms require less hours of electric light than, for example, dark grey rooms.
- Local energy production. Very responsible decision. Local energy production can completely relieve the strain on power infrastructure, but the technology should be chosen carefully and accordingly. Common choice that homeowners are facing these days is one between wood burners and pellet heaters for homes. Solar panels are not efficient when placed on the northern side of the building or on a small house deep in the woods. Top of a hillock in Kurzeme makes a good location for a wind generator. This decision is highly personal and should not be taken lightly. Any of the solutions mentioned above can be highly beneficial, but without proper installation – completely useless.
Edgars admits: “Good quality manpower is of the utmost importance; such labour force is scarce nowadays. It is definitely a goal to aspire to.”
The creator of life
We should become more thoughtful about our water consumption habits. “Luckily – or perhaps unfortunately – water is a very cheap resource in Latvia; people do not pay too much attention to saving water. I do not believe that such excessive use of water will be possible in long-term. Sewage waters and agricultural fertilisers have turned the unique ecosystem of our Baltic Sea eutrophic and oversaturated with nutrients. A considerable portion of the Baltic Sea has suffocating waters or is lifeless – the lack of oxygen has caused all life to perish. Some seasons this contamination affects as much as 70 000 square kilometres or one sixth of the Baltic Sea. European Union regulations, too, require sewage treatment before it is drained in aquatoriums. If we wish for our grandchildren to be able to swim in Lielupe, we should take sewage treatment seriously,” says Edgars. Sewage is just like household waste – the less we create, the smaller our impact on the environment. “A simple solution for saving water is having the water from the sink and shower drain in the toilet flush tank. It is a simple solution that does not require great investment, but it considerably reduces the consumption of water; 5 litres of water per flush add up quickly over time,” suggests Edgars. Collected rainwater can be used for watering the garden. It is unmistakable that we are too careless with our water consumption.
When it comes to saving energy resources, the society as a whole is on the right path; the only thing left to desire is that it would happen at a faster pace and the society would become more ambitious in reaching sustainability. “Latvia is only now slowly catching up with its western neighbours; sustainable living in the Old Europe is self-evident. Such way of living is slowly gaining recognition in Latvia, but it often gets lost in translation. People think that by installing solar panels, buying a hybrid car and using reusable grocery shopping bags is enough for environmentally conscious action. That is a step in the right direction, but environmentally conscious thinking begins with insight and understanding; it is not just a fashion or status statement. The growing bicyclist movement in Latvia pleases me. I am looking forward to witnessing energy-efficiency becoming the new norm; it would be exciting to see a new trend developing when two new home-owners meet in an energy-efficient building and discuss environmentally conscious solutions,” Edgars shares his visions for our future.