YIT has developed a new concept of Environmentally positive residential areas.
An environmentally positive residential area both minimises its environmental impact and creates well-being in its surroundings.
“The starting point for the concept was the notion of ‘plus energy’, i.e. when the area generates more energy than it consumes,” says Juha Kostiainen, YIT’s Senior Vice President, Urban Development.
“The model goes further, however, and takes into consideration not only energy but also other aspects, such as quality of life, convenience in everyday life, water consumption and waste management.”
The concept of an environmentally positive residential area has been created in cooperation with a large group of experts from architects to designers of renewable energy solutions. The experts were found through the Solved expert pool and the work was carried out using the digital collaboration platform Solved.fi.
“We examined the ecosystem of the entire residential area. The results included many interesting ideas regarding, for instance, new sharing economy applications,” says Solved’s project manager Santtu Hulkkonen.
The concept of an environmentally positive residential area is not a collection of definitions but an approach. It is not science fiction.
“The initial idea was that an environmentally positive residential area could be achieved with current technology,” continues Juha Kostiainen.
What is new about the concept is that, instead of individual properties, the solutions are designed on a larger scale.
“Finland has already done a lot for improving the energy-efficiency of buildings. Now is the time to optimise these matters on a regional scale,” says Kostiainen.
“Different technical solutions and details are actually secondary in this concept,” continues Tero Karislahti, Vice President at YIT.
“In the past five to six years, the current regulations have already succeeded in almost halving the energy consumption of a new apartment. Therefore, in the future, we should concentrate more on the aspects that can be taken care of in a centralised way in order to achieve an end-result that would serve both the environment and the residents in a better way.”
Smart energy systems
As buildings become more energy-efficient, regional heat networks may become a noteworthy option in the future.
“If the energy consumption of buildings is reduced, it might not be wise to extend the centralised heat network to cover the entire area,” says YIT’s Juha Kostiainen.
In an environmentally positive residential area, solar power and air source heat pumps complement district heating and the electricity network. The new management tools optimise energy consumption and, as feed-in tariffs become more popular, buildings and housing companies can feed some of the energy that they generate back to the network.
“When implementing solar panels, it would be unreasonable to expect that an individual housing company would have the required skills. A functional solution would be, for instance, that a local energy company installs and owns the panels. This would, of course, require new co-operation methods between different operators,” continues Kostiainen.
In an environmentally positive residential area, energy efficiency is taken into consideration in all design, construction and operational activities. New digital services may also help in reducing energy consumption.
“For instance, electricity, water and heat consumption can be monitored automatically and in real time in a way that attracts the residents and guides their behaviour automatically in a more environmentally friendly direction,” says Solved’s Santtu Hulkkonen.
“Digital solutions help optimise energy consumption on behalf of the residents, following changes in production, price and demand.
Resource efficiency in focus
The environmentally positive concept includes the assumption that buildings are always constructed using the best possible materials based on the evaluation of environmental impacts. However, the choice is not a question of either/or between, for instance, concrete and wood.
“It is not a question of one type of material being automatically better than another. The end-result depends on, for instance, where it is used and how it can be re-used afterwards,” says Professor Jyri Seppälä, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production at the Finnish Environment Institute, who has participated in the project’s working group.
“For instance, correct recycling, crushing and long-term storing of concrete can neutralise the carbon dioxide emissions generated during its production. It is essential to consider material choices throughout the lifespan of a project. This also includes aspects related to maintenance.”
Efficient resourcing also covers waste and water management. Automatic underground systems can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of waste management by one-third. Efficient and user-friendly water supply fittings can reduce the water consumption of apartments by 50 percent. Recycled water in some operations (e.g. toilet, carwash, watering) and rainwater harvesting according to the so-called zero runoff principle reduce water consumption even further.
More with sharing
Environmental positivity is not just technology but a change in one’s way of life.
“It is important how we as citizens and residents use our residential areas. Do we keep our windows open and underfloor heating on, do we recycle our waste? The energy-efficiency of living is still perceived too much as a technical matter,” says Juha Kostiainen.
“Technology does not replace environmentally conscious choices but can make them easier.”
New sharing economy applications can offer more to everyone. Efficient public transport, smart optimising of private transport and applications intended for sharing cars, bikes and rides can significantly reduce the environmental impact of a residential area and improve the quality of living.
“It is not necessary that everyone has their own car. With creative thinking, shared spaces could also be exploited better in residential areas. For instance, not every apartment requires a guest room but, instead, the housing company could have a studio apartment for this purpose,” says Solved’s Santtu Hulkkonen.
In Europe, environmentally oriented urban planning has been in broad use in some regions. For instance, the city of Freiburg is known for its far-reaching solutions regarding public transport and passive construction. A full-scale environmentally positive residential area remains to be seen, however.
“A single house is too small a unit for the implementation of these ideas,” says YIT’s Juha Kostiainen.
“The overall solution must be designed already during the land use planning phase, which requires that the cities are closely connected to the process from the beginning. It would be great to find a big enough area in order to develop these ideas.”
“The development project of an environmentally positive residential area has already been an excellent opening act in its own region,” says Jyri Seppälä at the Finnish Environment Institute.
“Similar projects with an open-minded approach to finding new solutions and innovations between different operators are warmly welcome in Finland.”