Sustainable construction, leverage for innovation

Construction, and more specifically, building, is one of the activities, along with transport, agriculture and industry, that has a greater impact on the environment, as it is responsible for a high consumption of resources, both of energy and of water and raw materials, and it generates a large quantity of waste and pollution in the air, land and water.

It is estimated that the building sector is responsible for one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, around 30% of raw material consumption, 20% of water expenditure and around 30% of waste, as well as the obvious land use, which is under upward pressure due to growing developments.

In order to restrict this strong impact, new policies and regulations have been put in place in the building sector which are complemented with the technological process that has allowed for new equipment and technologies to be introduced that promote the reduction in energy consumption.

One of the keys to underscoring this aspect is in rehabilitating, more obviously in Spain, as there is a large stock of old buildings and a new build rate which is still at low levels. In this sense, the so-called building energy certificate, approved five years ago, has been required for all buildings that are going to be sold or rented out since then, making it a key stimulus for renewing or reducing the energy consumption for the stock of constructed properties.

Along this same line is the draft of the new “Circular Economy Strategy” which has just been presented by the government. The document includes a plan of action for the 2018-2020 period which incorporates 70 measures, to which 836.78 million euros will be allocated, of which 57.2% will be for reusing water. The initiative, coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodstuffs and the Environment, and the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, poses the general lines of action for driving the fully sustainable, competitive circular economy in 2030.

The strategy determines five priority sectors: construction, agro-food, industry, goods for consumption and tourism. Among these, there are five main lines, such as production, which 31.74 million euros will be allocated to; consumption, which will received 20.15 million euros; waste management, with 28.4 million euros; secondary raw materials, 997,362 euros; water reusage, with 478.2 million; research, innovation and competitiveness with 241.08 million; awareness and participation, 533,883 euros, and employment and training, which will receive 35.6 million.

Equally, the progress of the “Foundation document for updating the basic DB-HE document”, included in the Building Technical Code (CTE), forecasts that the Directive 2010/31/EU (WEEE) of the “Almost-Zero Energy Buildings” will come into force at the end of 2018 for the public sector. The regulation, which will be extended to all new constructions from 2021 onwards, determines the criteria to be fulfilled under the WEEE Directive. The government has also launched a second call for aid for building energy modernisation (PAREER II), equipped with 125.6 million euros, which will allow for improvements in thermal insulation, light efficiency or the change from conventional energy to solar, thermal or geo-thermal energy to be financed.

Finally, the “Renove” plans, driven by the different administrations, are an impetus for improving the insulation of buildings and reducing their electricity bill by installing new insulation, windows and profiles, coverings, low-consumption lifts, domestic appliances and movement detectors, amongst other products.

From the private domain, the equipment industry is also committed to innovation and the incorporation of technologies that increase the provisions of their products, extend their service life or help to reduce pollution and electricity consumption.

By sectors, heating/air conditioning and domestic hot water are responsible for 56% of the energy consumption in a residential building, and are the main elements to insist on in order to progress in terms of energy scoring, which affects both the actual heating, air conditioning and DHW equipment, and also the thermal insulation of the property. Therefore, the heating and air conditioning, insulation, façade, profiling and glass sectors are the most active regarding the research and development of more efficient products. In the climate segment, inverter type and VRF air apparatus, biomass and condensation boilers and “all-in-one” equipment that can provide climate control, heat and hot water in just one machine, have been launched by aero-thermal and geo-thermal equipment firms.

Also, other sectors like electrical equipment, automation or elevation are making huge efforts to develop new apparatus and equipment to reduce energy consumption. Building is also heavy on other resources like water, so bathroom fitting manufacturers are also doing their homework, by launching ranges that restrict the use of water and improve on its quality.