Energy and environmental regulations for building favour wood construction

In the coming years, environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be applied comprehensively to construction. New energy regulations for the construction of new buildings entered into force at the beginning of July, but new regulations especially for repair and renovation will come into effect at the beginning of 2013. In the next few years too, the environmental impact of building materials will have to be taken into account in future construction.

Jarek Kurnitski, an energy specialist at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, thinks that the new construction regulations will improve the competitiveness of wood construction. ”Wood construction will manage better in this than other forms of construction, because it acts as a carbon sink so, as a building material, it does not cause emissions,” says Kurnitski.  In Kurnitski’s opinion, additional development investments should now be targeted at wood construction.

As a result of the regulations, during the next decade it will be possible significantly to improve the energy efficiency of construction and living. Kurnitski believes that the European trend of green construction will also come to Finland. ”Because, at the beginning of July, new construction was made subject to new energy efficiency regulations, and the energy efficiency of the existing building stock is also being put in order, during the next ten years the energy consumption of the building stock will start to fall and the energy efficiency of new construction will improve to a level of almost zero,” predicts Kurnitski.

Construction and living constitute about 40% of Finland’s entire energy consumption, which is more than industry and traffic. In 2008, Sitra launched a programme, the aim of which is to reduce the use of energy by communities. According to an estimate by Professor Olli Seppänen, up to now Finland has been clearly lagging behind the leading countries in promoting energy-efficient construction. ”Because of this, we urgently need to influence the use of energy in construction and living, says Jarek Kurnitski, a leading specialist at Sitra. The energy regulations for construction that came into force at the beginning of July concern new construction, but from the start of the next year the existing building stock will also be required to have improved energy efficiency through repair and renovation work. Prof. Seppänen considers the new-build energy regulations that have just come into effect as amongst the most progressive in Europe, and at the same time as a significant challenge and opportunity for the whole construction sector. 

The ERA17 action plan for an energy-smart built environment has assessed the measures and impact of construction, both from a perspective of new and repair construction. ”From Finland’s point of view, the results are interesting. By completely transferring new construction to a level of zero energy, even greater energy savings can be achieved than in repair construction,” says Kurnitski, interpreting the results of the programme.

More subsidies needed by the repair construction market

In Kurnitski’s opinion, an improvement in energy efficiency is now required in both new and repair construction. ”Preparation of regulations for repair construction is challenging, if you really want to make an impact. It is correct to say that the application of the regulations will be conditional. I have been quite pessimistic about the impact of regulations in repair and renovation work. It can best be promoted and implemented through correctly allocated subsidies, which will really have an impact on the achievement of repair construction targets.”

Kurnitski considers that the State and local government could create a market for repair construction and energy-related renovation through subsidies targeted at repair projects. ”Possible social subsidies should be allocated to buildings that are difficult to repair, thus promoting good repair practice. This earmarked method of financing has been underused in Finnish building control in respect of promoting good repair practice. A condition of receiving such a subsidy could be the implementation of a certain type of repair package, which could result in, for example, the reduction of energy consumption to one-third of the present level,” says Kurnitski.

”Renovation projects could be partially financed by adding additional storeys, which could be done through light wood construction. Additional storeys added to well-situated apartment blocks, even in the suburbs, and energy-related and façade wall renovation will add value and make the buildings better places in which to live.”

Development work needed in the energy-related renovation of apartment blocks

Kurnitski thinks that different attitudes should be taken to energy efficiency in apartment blocks and residential houses. According to him, good solutions have been found for houses, but work on developing the renovation of apartment blocks is only just beginning. ”As apartment blocks are mainly served by relatively cheap district heating, it has not been possible to start energy efficiency repair work on market conditions. In houses, the interest of owners and residents is different, and in this field the energy-related renovation market is already going strong, with houses with oil-fired and direct electric heating switching to water circulation and geothermal heating pumps. The use of household tax deductions in the energy-related renovation of houses has been very active, and state energy subsidies are perhaps also unnecessarily filtering down to easy repairs, which could be carried out on market terms.”

”Now we also need to develop the service side of the construction sector in repair and renovation work, where there is room for the improvement of repair services and for their productisation and commercialisation,” says Kurnitski. 

Construction guidelines favour wood construction

The EU has ready-made standards, based on which it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of building materials and the carbon footprint of a building throughout its life cycle. Kurnitski reckons that, in addition to the obligation of current material manufacturers to prepare environmental reports, in future there will also be building regulations relating to the carbon footprint of a building, whereby buildings will have to be inspected throughout their life cycle.   Of the energy consumption and emissions of a building, part originates from the materials and part from energy consumption and repair during its use, and from its demolition at the end of its life cycle.

In building control based on carbon footprint, the builder himself will be able to choose whether he makes a house with a small carbon footprint, according to which he can then select greater energy consumption during its use. A genuine competitive situation will be created between different building materials,” predicts Kurnitski.

From a point of view of wood construction, Kurnitski says that there is no problem in monitoring a building throughout its life cycle. ”It is easier to do this in wood construction than other types of construction,” says Kurnitski. ”In Finland, wood construction is still underdeveloped, and requires further investment in its development. It must be possible to support through research the wood construction projects now starting, so that by development work we can find the right ways to improve the competitiveness of wood construction.” 

Puuinfo article service/Markku Laukkanen

More information: Jarek Kurnitski, +358 (0)40 574 1870,