With thermometers in Portugal showing the lowest values in the past decade alongside an obligatory confinement in January 2021, requiring all citizens stay home, energy and gas bills hit record values. The latest “European Chill”, has called for a serious reassessment of residential Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) solutions. And although it does get cold in the Algarve, summers can be very warm, increasing monthly bills once again.
“Sustainable housing solutions present economical benefits which can be seen in the show term of 2 to 6 years”
- Nuno Fidelis, Consulting Architect
Home Sustainability Legislation in Portugal
Although the Portuguese legislation has established rules in building acclimatisation, which look to encumber the cost of homes between 2% to 4% in the total purchase value, this has not yet helped in sensitising the purchaser. In most cases the goal, in the purchasers perspective, is to save in the overall cost, sometimes disregarding the future costs involved.
In terms of sustainable efficacy, if renewable energy sources are not available (i.e. solar panels, energy battery storers) the most appropriate methods to be thought of in the construction phase are the incorporation of natural ventilation and underfloor heating, which always imply extra costs, predicted at more or less €42 p/sqm.
Since 2006, Portugal established its construction legislation where all buildings are to be rated and analysed, being given the adequate energetic certificate. Although this was put in place it was only set as an obligation as of 2013, where the minimum rating required was of B-, which still, in most cases does not include the most efficient and climate aware construction.
Sensitizing the Housing Buyer Market
One of the problems put forward by Nuno Fidelis, an architect who works as a real estate consultant, seems to be that, HVAC is only a money saving solution when discussing renewable energy solutions for properties. Further to the cost in the implementation of these in the project (2-4%), the economic benefit is only availed to if the building client is the end consumer.
However, if the investment has an end goal of re-sale it will not be the seller who reaps this profit, which can be noted in the short term of 2 to 6 years. The seller sees benefits in a higher energetic certification and perhaps a higher selling end price. They will not take advantage of the sustainable solutions put in place in terms of monthly billing efficacy, for example. As has been noted throughout the years, the consumer has not been sensitised to this and this factor no longer becomes a priority.
João de Sousa Redolfo, a Portuguese architect based in Lisbon, puts forward solutions which would not add extra costs to either the seller or buyer. However, these need to be managed by an experienced architect and construction team. Details such as an efficient management of window and wall display or an adapted natural ventilation.
Fidelis suggests that the issue does not lie solely in the current and future new-builds, but essentially in homes built prior to these. This situation worsens in houses built in the past century, where the malpractices were serious and at many times, when looking to flip these projects, the investment roll-over matters most, disregarding simple solutions for an energetically efficient end product.
Homes built in the past century followed more or less the same structure, whether you were in the south or the north of Portugal, such as simple structure masonry with little to no isolation alongside inefficient windows. José Murta Lourenço, a civil engineer behind projects such the Ritz, Tivoli and Sheraton Hotels suggests that there is now an opportunity to reformulate the legislation and its portrayal of the use of land in Portugal, creating regulations which normalize the process instead of further complicating it.
Lourenço highlights that this needs to be reinforced in all ranges of property offer, from social housing to the luxury market. Many times in lower budget projects, the suggested materials will be of a sustainable standard however, as the building process proceeds the first budget cuts are made in these materials, reinforcing that sustainability is placed as second priority.
Changes Introduced by the European Union
The president of the Portuguese Association of Mediation Real Estate Professionals and Corporations (APEMIP) confirms that the real estate market has not yet given great importance to sustainable living and this seems to be regarded as a new issue, for which the buying consumer has not been made aware of its importance. It could be added that this reinforcement has neither come from the real estate market, neither the Portuguese Government.
It could be said that the real changes need to come all the way up from the pyramid, from the European Union and then trickled down to Government representatives. Funds could be redirected by the EU, specifically allocated to building a sustainable residential housing future. Funds which respond to rigorous criteria, that go beyond the inclusion of underfloor heating and natural ventilation.
If we were to assume the adaptation and further incorporation of electric cars in our highways and streets, the initial incentives came from the EU and then were further monitored by each individual European Government. The same approach could be taken here for Portugal in specific. Perhaps future suggestions could lie in be lowering yearly property tax or the sale transaction tax for sustainable housing solutions, or even “Zero Energy” emitting projects could be given approval priority.