Interview with Konstantin Filippishin for the Green Building Council
Konstantin Filippishin: we are interested in hiring highly qualified specialists! We offer a real opportunity to get involved with environmentally friendly construction.
More and more ecohomes and ecological development projects emerge in the Russian market. More and more often we hear about innovative technologies in energy efficiency. However many projects just use these words for PR and marketing without truly being “green”. A truly “green” house equally satisfies three principles of sustainable development – ecology, economy and sociology. One of the few companies that follows these principles being a leader in economy-class low-rise residential development is Ecodolie. I had an opportunity to interview Mr Konstantin Filippishin, General Director of Ecodolie, member of the Ecological Construction Board.
What principles does your company follow? What is your mission? What is your production centered on?
Yes, we do follow sustainable development principles which are used as a foundation for all developed countries. The Russian reality requires close attention to economic issues. The average income is not that high. Saving electric power and reducing expenses has not yet become a trend. Gas prices are considerably low. Following strict international environmental and power consumption guidelines is currently infeasible due to high costs of their implementation. Our goal is to reach a balance between insufficient government regulation of the market and current demand. We need to produce products which will find their consumer. We work only with the economy-class. Our company is focused on low-rise residential development for general public. We target buyers for whom are homes are a permanent residence and not just a summer house. We create communities rather than just build homes. This is our mission.
What needs to be done for the development of “green” construction in our country?
Let’s consider one of aspects of sustainable development – sociology. The social aspect is associated with quality. Unfortunately, quality is interpreted differently in the west and in Russia. In Russia quality is still associated with costly materials, regardless of their environmental qualities. Westerners realize that the quality of housing depends on many factors including minimum amount of natural resources used in construction, avoidance of artificial materials and materials requiring a lot of energy for processing. Energy-saving technologies are also crucial for creating high quality residential environment. The tendency to use all the above and such residential dwelling have not yet become fashionable, have not turned into an essential part of Russian lifestyle. All this for now is exotic. From the social point of view, wealthy people who can afford such homes do not buy them just because they are not trendy. The government does not provide sufficient support. The elite are not concerned with that. “Green” ideas are not popularized by major companies. I understand that all these solutions require certain additional expenses at initial stages, for instance, for developing new materials and new technologies but all these ideas need to be popularized, and that will lead to demand. Unfortunately, in our country at the initial stage insufficient attention is given to this issue by authorities and the elite which are still in the twentieth century in terms of industrial development. They all are very little concerned with energy consumption. A solution to this problem maybe to consider this issue from two points of view. On the one hand, we need to popularize “green” construction by building attractive pilot projects. We build such projects in the “economy-class”. They should be also built in the business class. We need to build energy efficient homes to make them fashionable and more attractive as an investment to make it popular to buy such homes. A home is always an investment.
On the other hand, we need government support. A law on energy efficiency was passed. The ministry of regional development made an attempt to regulate technical aspects of energy efficiency. Many aspects of energy service contracts, leasing and regulation standards are being discussed. We haven’t, quite honestly, made a lot of progress. We are at the very initial stage. It is good that authorities at least announce their interest. I see the accomplishments of the Residential Capital Construction Fund spearheaded by Konstantin Tsypin. Sixteen Russian regions have implemented projects similar to the one we developed in Orenburg that was accepted by the Residential Capital Construction Fund last week.
What technologies does your company use in construction? Do you build homes with interior finishing?
In Orenburg we built a twelve apartment house with Class A energy efficiency. This project was a certain laboratory for implementing advanced technologies. The entire region will look at this home as an example. They will study technologies, equipment and processes used in development.
We realized that this was not enough and we went even further. As developers we built the same home in seven variations. We offer various solutions from standard SNiP energy efficiency regulations to class A homes. We use available thermos, frame, frameless, permanent form technologies and brick multi-slotted blocks. We monitor the cost of all these solutions. Each quarter we assess differences in price and energy efficiency. In the current market conditions, in most cases homes are sold without interior finishing or communications. Competition is exactly in this aspect. It is important to point out that we offer both house shells and finished houses. All energy efficient solutions for equipment are offered as options. The client can choose add-ins including a turnkey project. Interior finishing could be of economy or higher class. We would like to offer the most to our clients to benefit from their financial abilities and social aspects, to select what is “fashionable” and “necessary”. The young generation does not want to live in costly, not environmentally friendly, not “green” homes no matter how luxurious they look. The modern generation wants to live in fashionable popular developments.
What is the cost of economy class housing?
Suburban residential low-rise homes in the Moscow Region cost up to 5 million per home. We as developers are not trying to cheat anyone, and all expenses are included in the contract price. The cost of land, all incoming internal and external communications is included in one contract. In the regions, our apartments in three storey buildings cost up to 800 thousand rubles, and a detached home with land – 2 million rubles with all central communications brought to the house without any additional connection charges. We sell about 5% of homes with an area of 200 sq.m. In Orenburg such homes cost 6 million rubles. It is the maximum price according to the public private partnership contract. We are now considering building larger homes. There are families with many children, families where two or three generations would like to live together in a large home. They would like a large family home but also of the economy class.
Now let’s consider “green” development tools – certification systems. Do you think a project market value may be increased through ecological certification?
I think that is possible and that is something we should strive for in the long term. Unfortunately, these standards have been presented in the market just recently. Only very few projects are certified, mostly commercial real estate, real estate financed by foreign institutional investors – banks, insurance companies, pension funds, companies and corporations involved with “green” management for their corporate purposes. I’m sure that this will happen in Russia. Our country will not be an exception. It has long been integrated in the world economy and will inevitably follow this path to generate profits.
What energy saving technologies do you use in your projects?
Energy saving in itself is multifaceted. It includes prevention of heat losses and using renewable energy sources. As I mentioned earlier, we work with environmentally safe materials. In the twelve apartment home in Orenburg we winterized filler structures creating a more effective resistance to heat losses through walls and windows. Windows were coated, and heat recovery methods were used. Just saving heat is not enough. It needs to be preserved with proper ventilation and in comfortable conditions. Exhaust air, especially in the winter, leaving the building should give the heat to the incoming air stream. We use various waste heat exchangers including individual heat exchangers in each room. Instead of large noisy central waste heat exchanges that cannot be adjusted for each room, we install equipment which provides comfort and is easy to adjust. Such waste heat exchangers are manufactured only at one plant in Omsk similarly to their German analogs.
The next step is a solar collector. We hope that solar collectors will find commercial application. Solar collectors heat water with solar energy using both direct sunlight and infrared waves which can heat up water up to 9 months in a year. It reduces expenses for non-renewable energy sources such as oil and gas. Orenburg has many sunny days, and this system would work effectively.
Then in a pilot project we use a heat pump system. Geothermal sources are used in the secondary circuit for heating in the winter and for air conditioning in the summer. To be quite honest, current electricity rates in Russia, lack of Russian equipment and a considerable payback period require a lot of work for this system.
And, finally, a solar battery system. We use it for lighting to save on electric power from the grid.
All these systems (including intermediate points) are equipped with gages. All gages are joined into a single controller transmitting data online. We can monitor the systems in a real time mode, make conclusions and decide how to use them most effectively. If a heat pump cannot provide sufficient heating in the winter through the floor, a backup gas boiler installed in each apartment is automatically turned on which activates heating through a regular battery. If a solar collector cannot do the work, water is heated by the boiler. That is the system we use.
What after-sale services do you offer to your clients?
This process has not been fully developed yet. We consider creating a managing organization to act as an agent for collecting utility payments representing gas suppliers, power suppliers and other utilities as well as to partially operate the networks we built. We focus not on collecting payments but on developing services. We even intend to call bills reports. We will offer additional services to residents - not only standard services such as security and garbage disposal but also mowing laws, cleaning common areas, parks, alleys, and personal services (helping with yard work, watering flowers, finding a babysitter, calling a taxi, delivering groceries). They will be easy and accessible. Of course, services are limited by the purchasing power.
Do you expect strengthening of laws in energy efficiency and ecological construction?
I do not see an alternative to improving the situation. Non-renewable energy sources are currently used very inefficiently, in particular in construction. One of unpopular measures is dacha amnesty. Detached homes are built without professional builders on private lots and commissioned without inspection or expertise. All this has nothing to do with energy efficiency. Non-effective homes are built, outdating housing is used, and we are heating air for nothing. We cannot waste money this way. Subsidies need to be given to certain groups of people. They definitely need help. It is the right thing to do and it will help development of all industries. They will develop and implement new technologies and new materials. Conditions and incentives need to be created to make it advantageous to builders and buyers to own efficient and “green” housing.
What trends do you see in the ecological construction market in Russia? What is your expert opinion?
The market develops at a very slow pace. I put high hopes on the National Low-Rise Housing Development Agency (NAMIX) and personally on Ms Yelena Nikolayeva. She is one of the most advanced representatives in our sector. She changed the attitude of officials to low-rise development by demonstrating opportunities and challenges in this sector with such eloquence that she made the government favor low-rise residential construction. And this is just the beginning.
What qualifications in “green” construction are lacking in the market?
The profession of a developer does not currently exist as no schools teach developers. We have many talented specialists except those who integrate knowledge into a single project. This is quintessence of development from planned to market economy. The market requires marketing expertise and adjusting to demand and not just producing any products.
The most in demand professions are architects and designers. Unfortunately, we often use foreign architects and designers as there is no such experience in our country. Look at sites developed without a professional contractor. What a sad sight! You can see huge mansions in a settlement with negative angles. They have nothing to do with style, environmental friendliness and aesthetic value. For making proper engineering solutions we need qualified designers.
We would like to use the Ecological Construction Board as a connecting link between us developers and architects-designers. The company is only three years old, and we may not have worked close enough with modern experts. We are very interested in working with highly qualified specialists! We offer an actual opportunity to participate in developing ecological construction. We need concepts. We would like to accumulate best Russian practices in conceptual general planning.
All the plans we announce are being implemented. In Orenburg, we built 350 homes in a year and a half. We built 60 homes in Obninsk. We are currently developing two projects in cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We are in the process of selection and will soon announce two new projects.
We have many unclaimed assignments for home design. We expand a variety of homes we built. We develop many attractive one-storey economy class homes with Americans. That requires detailed engineering with inexpensive and quality materials.
In the near future we intend to start development in the Kaluga Region. We are now developing a private public cooperation program with the Governor of the region which would help us offer our products to residents.
Where do you find information about “green” construction?
We need to take the best from international experience. It is important to adopt experience of specialists in “green” construction. I visited BedZed in London. We have been to an interesting village in Denmark considered the largest “green” and energy efficient village with several hundreds of residents. We have also been to Austria. I think an analysis of practices, contacts with developers, and communication with designers contributed to integration of all available information.
What construction materials have potential in Russia?
An important aspect is Russia’s specific conditions, its climate and materials. I think that wood is underestimated. We need to develop demand for it. We wanted to build two plants for industrial assembly of homes based on wood frame structure and unfortunately we faced two problems with the first being an erroneous undervaluation of the quality of such homes by the market. Panelized homes in the post-ware period cast a bad reputation on this material. Currently we used high tech methods to produce panel or module structures and they deserve to be in demand with consumers. The second reason is that there are so few components and production facilities in this country for these technologies that in the crisis they became more expensive than the standard gas block technology. Now a difference in prices is being reduced, and the economy is going up.
Each quarter we monitor the net cost and prices of these structures for different technologies. We believe that industrial technologies will take their rightful place in Russia and worldwide.