Issue 1, 2015. February-March

   

KEEPING OUT THE COLD: TBILISIANS EMBRACE INSULATION, TENTATIVELY

For years the idea of insulating apartments and houses was alien to Georgia, where common wisdom held that cement walls meant that no extra material was required to keep a house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Today, however, new insulation materials in the market and access to studies about energy efficiency are helping change consumer demands and construction habits.

Maia Edilashvili

As cold weather sets in and heating bills rise, energy-efficient housing - and especially heat- trapping insulation - is gaining traction in the Georgian market.

Insulation was once a little-known phenomenon in Georgia and in the countries of the former Soviet Union generally. Today, however, a growing number of construction companies are starting to include insulation in walls, windows, doors and ceilings.

Research conducted by Energy Efficiency Centre Georgia (EEC), a non-profit NGO working to promote energy efficiency, found that over the past five years, the use of energy-efficient construction materials has increased by 25 to 30 percent each year.

M2 Real Estate, a real estate developer withfour building projects underway in Tbilisi, uses insulation in its roofs, walls and ceilings in all its projects, according to Irakli Beridze, the head of M2 Real Estate's development and project management.

The company has calculated that, "at a minimum," these energy-efficient technologies can reduce energy consumption by 23 percent.

"Even three years ago no one would talk on this issue, neither developers nor customers," Beridze told Investor.ge. "I think that the trend is going to become even more popular, as consumers are starting to appreciate the benefits. This means that insulated apartment buildings are becoming attractive in terms of marketing as well."

Government's role?

But there are still many in the market - both construction companies and consumers - lacking knowledge either about insulation or about the impact it has on saving energy and costs. The government, however, is hoping that the country's new construction code will help fill the gap. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development is considering a new draft of the construction code, which will include several articles on energy efficiency and even note building materials that can help reduce energy consumption, said Davit Gigineishvili, the head of the spatial planning and policy department at the Ministry.

This draft code was already reviewed by the Prime Minister's Economic Council. After some important corrections are made, it will be sent to the Parliament for consideration and is expected to be passed during the spring session. The new code does not include any measures to force construction companies to use insulation in building projects, however.

"This [code] will be just a legislative framework and will not define how the law can be enforced," Gigineishvili told Investor.ge.

"Later, the Parliament will instruct relevant agencies with the task to make these articles functional. As a recommendation, we just write that it must take a maximum of three years to achieve this. But this is only a recommendation and the Parliament will make the final decision."

Giorgi Abulashvili, the director at the Energy Efficiency Centre Georgia, believes energy efficiency will become a higher priority for construction companies and consumers as Georgia implements the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, which spells out energy efficiency and energy savings measures.

M2's Beridze agrees, saying that the practice in Europe to have an energy passport for each apartment is very important, so that consumers know all of the energy-related details about their homes. "The sooner Georgia gets such passports the better," he noted.

Beridze added that a lack of knowledge and experience with insulation is keeping some market players from using it in their buildings. He explained that they do not understand the extent of its benefits, which are great compared to the small increased cost for materials. "The construction price increases on average by just 2 to 3 percent," he said.

In fact, according to a study by the Energy Efficiency Centre Georgia, insulation reduces construction prices by 15 percent and energy consumption in a building is reduced by as much as 45-50 percent. Abulashvili thinks that is it important to introduce modern norms for not just new apartments, but for every building. The great majority of buildings in Georgia, almost 95 percent, are old, built 50 or even a 100 years ago - and they completely lack the trappings of modern energy saving culture.

Abulashvili believes that the toughest task would be to create a financing tool to fund insulation and other energy-efficient measures in old buildings. "The communities created by residents of these apartments have been successful in the past in terms of installing new elevators or changing their roofs; insulation installment can also be done if these communities can again successfully attract enough funds."

There are signs that residents are eager to try. Nino, 39, a resident of Tbilisi, said she and her family sought out a building that was insulated. "We will save on energy costs and also have full comfort inside," she said.

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