Evita Krūze, Civinity Latvija renovation project manager.
To achieve the targets of the apartment buildings renovation, some important homework should be done, and the institutions should be involved in working together.
Energy-efficient and renovated apartment buildings are a very important step in achieving Europe’s intended climate neutrality. Although in Latvia the renovation of a large apartment buildings has been talked about for years, the results are not very satisfactory. Especially in Riga, where the renovation of buildings is difficult. To improve them several long-known problems should be resolved quickly.
As you know, the European Union is committed to become climate-neutral by 2050. And smart and efficient renovation of apartment buildings plays an important role in this goal. Such buildings consume around 40% of the European Union’s total energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. In Latvia there are not too many new houses as in other European countries – it is estimated that 85% of apartment buildings are at least 20 years old, so the European Commission is committed to promoting such old buildings’ renovation and making them more environmentally friendly by various means.
This is good news, as it means that financial resources will continue to be available on good terms to support the renovation. In Latvia, most apartment buildings are not energy efficient, so we must use all available opportunities and try to do even more than it is offered. It is known that 180 houses are planned to be insulated and 57 million euros will be allocated for this purpose. They will complement the funds already available at Altum. It plans to invest 169 million euros in renovations by 2023.
However, if there are no improvements in building renovation procedures, that will be the only good news. Because we can clearly see how slow the renovation of buildings has been so far.
The most important thing would be to set up a fast and efficient decision-making system. In Latvia, in fact, all responsibility for the house lies on the shoulders of the apartment owner. Of course, it is undeniable that a person must be responsible and take care of his real estate. However, apartment owners often do not see the house as the common property of all residents, so it is difficult for them to understand the importance of decisions made together. They are left alone with their knowledge at a time when decisions must be made, and commitments must be made for huge sums of money to be spent on incomprehensible, technically complex matters.
Renovation of one medium-sized building costs about 300,000 euros, which seems insane to a low-income family. It is quite understandable that it is easier to say ‘no’ or simply not to get involved in deciding process than to try. But for the community of apartment owners to support the renovation, two-thirds of the votes are needed if the house is divided into properties, while if the building is jointly owned, 100% of all co-owners must vote in favour. This is very difficult, even impossible. Especially in Riga, where successfully renovated buildings are most often the result of the work of individual, very active residents, or a responsible and enterprising manager.
Civinity project managers meet regularly and talk to residents about building renovations. However, absurd and desperate situations tend to develop. The manager informs about the necessary repairs and improvements. Residents listen, nod their heads, but do not act – do not decide to repair the building. The idea that timely repairs also mean a longer home life is not considered at all. On the other hand, the manager may not do anything without the consent of the apartment owners, unless an emergency has occurred.
And very often it happens – decisions on major repairs are made shortly before an emergency. The manager simply does not have the tools to force people to make decisions that are ultimately in their own interests. Therefore, in my opinion, the manager would need more powers to be more involved in the renovation and funded maintenance of the buildings.
Home maintenance can be compared to car maintenance. A technically untidy car is a threat to other road users. But what if there was no mandatory roadworthiness test once a year? There may be a lot of cars on the streets that don’t have the brakes in place, the lights are off and they could endanger others.
The second is to look for ways to speed up the approval of renovation projects. Currently, it takes a couple of years, but often during this time the prices of construction materials change, builders’ salaries increase. For example, currently, due to the crisis caused by Covid-19, prices have risen by 20-30% and experts do not predict a fall. For residents, these are, in fact, unplanned additional payments, which in no way increase the desire to renovate their home and undermine confidence in the project managers. In the case of standard houses built during the Soviet era, the best solution would be standard renovation projects with pre-calculated sample estimates, which would be left to be easily applied to the specific building. This would make the work easier for both insulation financiers and project implementers, and possibly easier for the citizens themselves to understand.
And the third. So far, when we talk about the insulation and renovation of buildings, including the renovation of engineering networks, we mostly mean Soviet-era serial houses. However, serious renewal is also needed in pre-war houses. It is much more complicated and more expensive, very often it is necessary to strengthen the coverings, to change the engineering networks. Among these buildings are architectural monuments, they tend to have luxurious facades, which are not covered with a new layer of panels.
Over the next nine years, it is planned to renovate and insulate 3,000 apartment buildings in Riga. If nothing is changed in procedures or regulations, this goal may prove as unachievable as previous insulation plans. However, the residents of Riga can no longer afford doing nothing – the depreciation of many buildings now exceeds 50%.