Creating, do not destroy: how to preserve the ecology during construction

ECOPlanet
| 22 September 2021

The founder of Eco-bud building Pavel Somov, published an article on the Business News portal. There he told why it is so important to develop the infrastructure of the city.

The problem of environmental protection is one of the most discussed in our time. Scientists around the world are looking for ways to improve the ecological situation. With an “eye on the environment”, most businesses are already writing their concepts, and the construction segment is no exception. Pavel Somov, the founder of Ecobud Building Group, spoke specifically for Mind about how to combine comfort, practicality and environmental friendliness in homes, and why “smart” home does not always mean “environmentally friendly” and vice versa.

The number of more “correct” projects, that is, focused on people and their quality of life, taking into account modern eco-trends, is growing every year. The package of innovative developments, both foreign and purely Ukrainian, is also increasing. Urban and suburban buildings have their own characteristics, so it makes sense to dwell on the main aspects of each of the formats.

Urban construction

Engineering systems. Nowadays, it is popular to criticize multi-storey buildings, calling them “stone jungle” and “concrete anthills”. But the number of storeys affects the ecology to a much lesser extent than everything that is under the houses, namely, city communications, or rather their condition. Illiterate technical solutions for wastewater disposal can backfire with a disproportionate burden on the environment, which will only grow from year to year. The costs of eliminating all kinds of emergency situations will also multiply – gusts, leaks, blockages, etc.

But with large-scale urban construction, not everything depends on the developer. Developers receive technical specifications from specialized government organizations responsible for connecting to the networks. And those, in turn, set such “rules of the game” under which it can be extremely difficult to comply with all the standards.

Therefore, the main question is in adequate standards and high culture of the performer. That is, an interest in conforming to sound constraints. Such interest should be formed both among officials (so that there are no motives to “invent” a violation, and then receive a bribe for approval), and from developers (to do it efficiently, reasonably and lastingly, and not “pay – agree; apartments will be bought up anyway, increase profitability project “), and from the tenants themselves (to take care of water and energy resources, and not to adhere to the principle” not mine – do not mind “).

Parking. What is seriously affected by the number of floors and building density is how many people will organize their daily activities on a conditional square kilometer. And then another “painful point” is on the agenda – parking spaces.

This problem is as acute as it is multifaceted. On the one hand, the lack of parking spaces forces car owners to “cut circles” every morning and evening in search of a free patch, filling the courtyards with exhaust gases. And the massive transition to electric cars is a “bright tomorrow”, to which one still needs to live.

On the other hand, if you build residential complexes on the basis of “two parking spaces for one apartment,” then the profitability of such a project in the current Ukrainian realities will tend to be a dead “minus”, taking into account the cost of parking spaces in the underground parking. After all, not all apartment buyers are ready to buy a parking space right away. Although, using the example of the same China, it can be predicted that very soon a full-time parking space will become a necessary investment. Only then will it be profitable for the developer to construct high-quality multi-level parking lots, when places in them become a mandatory purchase along with housing.

Yes, earlier it seemed like a utopia: there were fewer cars, more free space around houses, and it was cheaper for 20-30 years to rent a place somewhere in the nearest parking lot. But now it is more profitable to give a certain amount at the start, and in return get comfort with the ability to park the car in your underground parking.

Green areas. If someone cuts trees in the park for the sake of building, this is a clear violation. Another issue is planned rejuvenation and replacement of green spaces. But there are clear norms here, and they cannot be violated. And in order to carry out such work, certain permits are required, and this is already an active environment for corruption.

Many developers can be accused of paying bribes. But, if you look at it from the other side, a person enters into a project in which it is almost impossible to calculate everything from the beginning. Or it will take a very long time. And in business, time is the main resource. Given the pace at which the market is evolving, the speed of decision making often has to be lightning fast. And if serious money has already been invested in the project, then it seems that it is easier to give a bribe in order to move it further, turn around the invested funds and return them.

There is only one way out – a balanced, reasonable approach, in which the existing green zones are preserved as much as possible, and if it is impossible to preserve, they are restored as quickly as possible. But prudence will be required not only from the developer, but also from the officials responsible for the permits.

Suburban construction

Engineering systems. One of the most important aspects of construction outside the city is the sewerage system. You can’t just dig cesspools near every house. You need to think over and work out the project to the smallest detail.

And here the responsibility falls on both the developer and the architectural departments of local councils – government agencies that agree on everything. Here, too, there are clear, long-established norms, so there is no need to invent anything. Do you need a septic tank or not, where should everything drain, where and what kind of well should be. You just need to work out and implement the project in accordance with these standards, and then control it with high quality.

In the meantime, the most common scenario in suburban development is “my territory, whatever I want, I do it”. But in the end, it very often happens that when the cesspool is improperly designed, then the water that oozes and drains can come out somewhere – through several sections. Especially if the area is being built up not far from natural reservoirs.

Why it happens? Because people often buy a “picture” from the sales department. We arrived, looked – everything was beautiful, I liked everything. And what kind of engineering is there – very few people think. So you will have to delve into all the details, no matter how routine this task may seem.

Energy efficiency. One of the fresh trends in cottage development is the so-called autonomous townships. There are such cases in the portfolio of our company. What does this provide? In heating – the refusal of gas in favor of geothermal pumps. Due to them, it is possible to get away from the active cold – air conditioners. Passive cold – wall and ceiling cooling – brings fewer health risks.

At one time, there were concerns that due to geothermal probes, or rather their number, the aquifer might be disturbed. This should be foreseen at the design stage, taking into account the aquifers at a specific location. Indeed, in the above system, the main thing is the total length of the probes track, and not their number; accordingly, the drilling depth can always be adjusted. By the way, the groundwater map is changing. And this also has to be taken into account. As well as climatic shifts that are visible literally every year.

Ventilation systems are designed directly with heat recovery. Under the conditions of quarantine, this approach turned out to be quite justified. The house turns out to be completely closed around the entire perimeter. You don’t have to open the windows, but fresh air still comes in.

Such technologies at the start can scare off the price. But they should be seen as a long-term investment. Of course, to install a gas boiler and get heating from gas is several times cheaper than installing a geothermal pump, which will pay off in 15 years. But then an ideological, conceptual moment comes into play: firstly, gas is a non-renewable resource. This means that by consuming it, we “drain” the planet. And secondly, there are many political risks associated with gas, and its price in the future is an equation with all unknowns.

The same goes for electrics. Solar panels have already become mainstream, and even with all the controversy surrounding the “green” tariff, they (like electric cars) are an unequivocal step into a greener future.

Construction Materials. Here, too, progress does not stand still. There are classic materials, the leader among which is wood. Timber frame houses are in great demand. They are inexpensive and quite reliable. Yes, such a house will not stand for 100 years, but it will last long enough for a person to live his life comfortably in it.

The second most popular material is ceramic blocks. It is easy to use and provides good thermal insulation. Plus, there is a pleasant opportunity to support a domestic manufacturer: the blocks of the same Sumy plant are practically not inferior in terms of indicators to the Austrian counterparts, which are twice as expensive.

The niche of alternative materials is gradually expanding. For example, prefabricated wall panels made of pressed straw are used in the construction of eco-houses. This is a domestic know-how.

Green vs smart home. Recently, the so-called green houses are becoming more and more popular. They are considered by many to be the most effective way to improve the environment. True, people very often confuse a “green” house with a “smart” one. But these are two fundamentally different things.

“Smart” home – certainly sounds very cool and therefore is more used for advertising. It has two main engineering systems that are responsible for its “mind”: heating / cooling and lighting. The first system is heating, ventilation, pumps and a boiler room, which are linked into a single circuit and controlled through a special application using in-house sensors. Such a system once again neither heats up nor cools the house, and therefore does not waste resources in vain.

For example, a person left for a few days, set the desired parameter – and heating or ventilation works in light mode. Returns home – and, driving up, starts heating / ventilation so that the temperature increases / decreases.

Lighting in a smart home adjusts to the needs and lifestyle of residents. Even the curtains on the windows open / close automatically. It looks beautiful, it is worth cosmic money. But in terms of importance, it is not comparable to heating and ventilation.

So basically everything is tied to heating, air conditioning and electrics. There is nothing more “smart” about it. You can install heating, cooling, ventilation-recuperation systems without a smart home system, insert a module into your smartphone and adjust all parameters in the same way.

“Green” house – these are the materials from which it is made. To determine which materials can be replaced with “eco”, and which ones to refuse, you need to clearly know the characteristics of a particular structure and features of the landscape around. A one-story house can easily be made of wood, on a strip foundation. And more powerful, two-three-storey, and even if on a slope – here you cannot do without piles.

It all depends on the design. Now many people like huge spans without columns so that they can put large windows. But without metal, it is almost impossible to do this. Basalt reinforcement is sometimes used, but it will still bend. An ideal replacement for metal structures has not yet been invented. We thought about it, consulted with experts. But there is always a risk. And the designers are not ready to subscribe to such projects so as not to endanger the life and health of future residents.

There is also such a thing as a “passive” house. Such a house is considered to be the most energy efficient. He – in theory – does not use external sources of energy, but provides himself for everything. But its main systems – geothermal pumps, ventilation-recuperation, water pumps – still run on electricity. If there is no at least 1 kW of external electrics in the house, nothing will start. Yes, solar panels can be installed. But the question immediately arises: how to save this “solar electricity”. This means that we need energy storage – accumulating batteries.

And again, a “passive” house assumes minimal heat loss, which means that well-insulated small windows are installed in it. But everyone wants beautiful large floor-to-ceiling windows to admire the surrounding scenery. And when such windows appear, heat loss, unfortunately, increases. And this also needs to be taken into account.

What to expect in the future? In my opinion, the future is in mobility. Capsule, collapsible-prefabricated, migrating houses will replace rigidly fixed dwellings, which have grown into the ground with foundations. People already now strive to travel, to see the world, not to be locked in their cocoon. Yes, the pandemic has pretty much crippled these aspirations, but the general trend has not gone anywhere. The Internet and all related information technologies make it possible not to depend on housing offices, offices and city authorities. Therefore, it is likely that sooner or later humanity will come to such technological solutions that will even make it possible to fly in their own homes to other countries.

In the meantime, it is not a problem to fit modern developments into existing buildings. But all innovations are basically just engineering systems that can be introduced into any home, thereby making a contribution to improving the “health” of your family and our planet.