Building homescomes with a great responsibility. In addition to meeting a series of technical and regulatory requirements, a multi-family building is primarily an essential space for the development and growth of its residents. Their needs are as diverse and rich as the community that will inhabit it, with a blend of cultures, ages, and lifestyles coming together. Therefore, right from the start, prioritizing flexibility is fundamental.
The residential sector has the greatest impact in terms of construction activity in order to meet the housing needs of our population. According to the ERESEE 2020 (Long-Term Strategy for Energy Rehabilitation in the Building Sector in Spain), the creation of 4.2 million housing units is projected by 2050. However, providing this quantity of housing will only be possible if we build under a model of minimal environmental impact. This model will enable us to mitigate the effects of climate change and keep the global temperature increase below two degrees, pursuing the collective goal of climate neutrality by 2050, as proposed by the European Union. Although 2050 may seem distant, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), makes it clear that the necessary changes must be profound, rapid, and continuous for our survival.
Thus, we must combine the commitment to creating socially necessary living conditions with the duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we must do so in an accessible and inclusive manner that involves the entire community. Sustainability cannot be a luxury or an incomprehensible concept limited solely to the technical sector. Sustainability must become a common tool to ensure the well-being of humanity and the planet’s ecosystems in the long term. In this regard, at Omplim, we understand sustainability from a global perspective and apply it rigorously and strategically. This approach allows for access to more sustainable, healthy, and high-quality housing in an affordable manner. This interpretation aligns with our understanding of the constitutional right to decent and adequate housing. To make this possible, we always seek a balance between environmental, social, and economic factors, aiming for maximum efficiency in terms of investment, reduction of environmental footprint, and positive impact on the local community.
In this way, we combine various design measures to construct responsible buildings that provide great comfort and well-being. Here are some of them:
Energy efficiency and affordability in usage.
All the residential buildings we develop are rated level A in both energy consumption and emissions. This is the highest level of energy efficiency currently endorsed by the local Energy Efficiency Certificate issued by the Catalan Institute for Energy (ICAEN). It is an official document that must be available to anyone interested in buying, renting, or renovating a property, providing useful information about its energy characteristics. It can also be found through their search engine by entering details such as the address or cadastral reference. The energy consumption level indicates the estimated annual consumption expressed in kilowatt-hours per square meter of the dwelling. On the other hand, in the “emissions” category, the amount of CO₂ in kilograms that we would emit into the atmosphere through projected electricity consumption is expressed.
According to data from the Green Building Council Spain (2022), eight out of ten buildings in Spain are rated E, F, or G, consuming much more resources than necessary to achieve optimal levels of service and comfort. The difference between these levels is also significant. In Catalonia, the energy certificate also includes a comparison between the consumption (in energy and emissions) of an “A” rated dwelling compared to a “B” rated one, representing a potential energy savings of between 50% and 60%.
The “A” energy rating is defined by certain qualities of the building, including excellent thermal insulation, the presence of high-efficiency climate control systems (cooling and heating), and control of critical areas of the building. These critical areas can be found between walls, doors, and windows, where energy leaks can occur (also known as thermal bridges). Optimizing these areas helps maintain a stable temperature and enjoy thermal comfort throughout the year. To achieve this, aspects such as increasing the thickness of the installed thermal insulation and incorporating high-performance windows are of particular importance. These windows eliminate thermal bridges, and their low-emissivity double glazing reflects energy, providing better insulation and protecting us from solar radiation without sacrificing natural light.
Designing alow-energy demand building leads to a decrease in consumption and a reduction in energy poverty. This aligns with the concept of “sufficiency” proposed by the IPCC, which aims to avoid unnecessary demands for energy, materials, and terrestrial resources while ensuring the fulfillment of human needs within the planet’s limits to produce and regenerate resources, maintaining levels of balance and safety – also known as “planetary boundaries” -.
Furthermore, achieving an “A” certification in both categories is important not only for representing a lower environmental impact, but also for ensuring greater affordability in housing by facilitating a significant reduction in energy bills. If we multiply the monthly housing expenses by the total number of years we can live in a building (with an estimated lifespan of at least fifty years), we realize that the energy cost carries significant weight. This total cost is known as the “energy mortgage.” The cost of this “second mortgage,” as well as its potential variability over time, will directly depend on the energy efficiency of the building (lower efficiency leads to a higher risk of exponential increases in monthly bills). Therefore, investing in an energy-efficient home ensures lower and more stable long-term expenses.
In addition to energy-efficient building design, residents’ habits also play a crucial role. It is important to learn about the mechanisms provided by the building to maximize its efficiency. For example, using ventilation systems correctly and utilizing solar control elements such as blinds, curtains, or awnings that protect against solar radiation during the summer.
Building free from fossil fuels and powered by renewable energies
All systems in the building, including heating, cooling, lighting, kitchen, and hot water production, are powered by electricity, eliminating the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas. Additionally, two types of renewable energy sources are incorporated: photovoltaic solar panels and aerothermal systems. Aerothermal energy is obtained primarily from the air through a heat exchange pump, which allows for the production of hot water and the efficient climate control of the building with low electrical consumption.
Hygrothermal comfort and efficient ventilation.
We can choose between natural, mechanical, or hybrid ventilation systems. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. Opening windows does not involve any additional installation or electricity cost, but it does require keeping them open all the time – which would be necessary to completely renew the indoor air. However, this would conflict with energy efficiency for a significant part of the year since the outside air temperature would either cool the interior too much in winter or heat it excessively in summer. Therefore, all buildings incorporate mechanical ventilation systems that ensure controlled air renewal through ducts. In turn, this helps maintain a stable and comfortable temperature inside the dwelling due to its high level of insulation.
The ideal mechanical ventilation solution is analyzed based on the project, but in many cases, elements such as the following are incorporated:
- CO₂ sensors: devices that regulate the flow (quantity) of air necessary for continuous indoor air renewal based on the concentration of CO₂ in the space. They can also be manually controlled.
- Microventilation: systems integrated into door and window frames, leaving a small gap of a few millimeters (between 4mm and 8mm). This allows for a slow and constant circulation of air, maintaining a balanced temperature indoors. They can also be manually adjusted by changing the position of the handle.
These solutions allow us to enjoy a well-ventilated environment without generating significant temperature differences between the interior and exterior. As a result, the building’s insulation is maximized, contributing to energy savings and reduced consumption in cooling and heating systems. On the other hand, if we want to open doors and windows for natural ventilation, do so during the central hours of the day in winter and during the early morning hours in summer, thus minimizing the temperature shock.
Materials free from health-risk compounds.
Many of the materials commonly used in construction (such as paints, insulation, flooring, resins, among others) can contain compounds that pose a risk to human health. These compounds can be released into the air as gases (such as volatile organic compounds – VOCs) or through contact with the material (as is the case when a child crawls on the floor). This becomes particularly relevant when we consider that we spend most of our time indoors. Additionally, in the pursuit of greater energy efficiency, indoor environments are becoming more insulated and airtight, leading to increased exposure to the chemical compounds present in these materials.
The problem with these substances is that they are bioaccumulative. These substances accumulate in our bodies over time and can contribute, in the long term, to the development of respiratory diseases, disruptions to the endocrine and nervous systems, and even illnesses like cancer. That is why we take special care in selecting materials that are free from toxic compounds, certified through eco-labels (which are verified by external entities) such as A+, M1, Blue Angel, Greenguard, Cradle to Cradle, among others. In this way, we prioritize the creation of a healthy space that promotes the proper physical and cognitive development of its occupants.
Low-impact construction systems and materials.
In order to reduce the impact of the buildings we construct, we promote the use of systems and materials with a lower environmental footprint. We favor those made from natural raw materials, using renewable energy sources or with a high content of recycled materials. These products should provide transparent information about their environmental impact through Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). All wood-based products have FSC or PEFC certification, indicating sustainable forest management.
Furthermore, we encourage the use of locally manufactured products and the engagement of local suppliers. This not only reduces transportation emissions but also contributes to the local economy while ensuring compliance with fair rights and conditions throughout the value chain. In any case, we prioritize components of the building that have high durability and resistance, ensuring long-term quality.
Significant savings in water and energy consumption.
Water is a finite resource that we must conserve, especially in a context where drought alerts are increasingly common due to climate change. To address this, we incorporate sanitary fixtures that contribute to lower water consumption while maintaining high efficiency. Dual-flush toilets with 4/2-liter options (compared to older cisterns that used up to 10 liters per flush) and faucets with aerators that mix water with air to provide a consistent water supply with reduced consumption are installed.
Furthermore, the faucets also feature a default cold-water opening system, as the usual default option, when we open the faucet in its central position, mixes hot and cold water, resulting in automatic hot water consumption and increased energy consumption. By having the faucet default to cold water, we save energy by not heating water unnecessarily for routines such as handwashing or toothbrushing.
In all developments, the use of sustainable modes of transportation is encouraged by incorporating bicycle parking in the community area and pre-installing electric vehicle charging points (ICT-BT52) in all parking spaces.
Acoustics – tranquility, rest, and privacy.
Acoustic comfort is determined by the acoustic properties of interior spaces (geometric shape, reverberation), the type of sound (character, sound level, spectrum, etc.), and its continuity over time (a constant sound can become background noise that we are not aware of until it disappears, and a sudden sound can be more disturbing).
With this in mind, acoustic insulation is optimized in facades and between adjacent spaces – such as apartments and communal areas – to promote optimal levels of rest, tranquility, and privacy in the homes.
Warm, adjustable, and energy-efficient lighting.
Light not only has a visual effect but also an emotional and physiological impact that directly affects our well-being. In addition to maximizing the use of natural light through architectural design, it is also important to consider the quality of artificial lighting.. A well-lit environment is not only one that has a lot of light, but one that has the appropriate light for the activity taking place. Additionally, the type and amount of lighting we are exposed to are also linked to the organization of our biological rhythms, including sleep patterns.
We propose the installation of lighting systems that adapt to the different activities performed in the home (cooking, remote work, watching a movie, having dinner with friends, etc.). This way, we can adjust the intensity and color temperature according to our needs—cooler for tasks that require focus and attention to detail, and warmer to create a calm and welcoming atmosphere. This also allows us to gradually adopt warmer and dimmer lighting as the day progresses, facilitating better visual comfort and improved sleep quality.
Furthermore, all lighting in the building is designed with energy-efficient LED luminaires (with a Energy Efficiency Value -EEV- of 4 or lower) and timer and/or presence sensor systems in sporadically used spaces, such as hallways and parking areas.
Reduction of the urban heat island effect.
The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon that increases the temperature in cities due to elements such as cars and lights that heat up the air in urban centers, as well as the use of materials like asphalt that absorb more heat and release it slowly. This has a negative impact on people’s health and leads to increased energy consumption.
To mitigate this effect, we promote the use of light-colored exterior finishes (facades and pavements) that have low heat retention (high solar reflectance index). Additionally, we incorporate green surfaces, permeable pavements, and create shaded areas. These measures help to reduce the absorption and retention of heat, thus lowering the overall temperature and creating a more comfortable and cooler urban environment.
Global impact measurement.
To reduce the impact of construction, we start by assessing the environmental, social, and economic footprint of our building activities. That’s why we measure the impacts generated in all stages of a building’s life cycle (material manufacturing, construction, use, maintenance, and end of life) through a standardized methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Additionally, we generate environmental recovery and community development projects in the same area where we construct, aiming to mitigate the negative impact created by economic activities.
Promoting transparency in the materials and systems used in housing is important to provide a summary of the specific products installed and their recommended maintenance. This encourages their optimal preservation over time and maximizes the utilization of the resources (both environmental and economic) invested.
There are many ways to approach housing construction. For Omplim, building starts with an ethical task that can only be carried out by being responsible with the planet, as our long-term existence depends on it. At the same time, we aim to create spaces that provide health, well-being, and vitality to the people who inhabit these communities. Additionally, if we have the goal of making it affordable—within an economic and cultural context where there is still much progress to be made for circular, low-carbon, and non-toxic systems to become the default option—we need to be strategic and invest in what has the greatest impact.
That’s why our focus is on maximizing sustainability and efficiency in the elements of the building that have a longer lifespan, such as the facade or thermal and acoustic insulation. These aspects have a direct impact on the well-being of the community and are difficult to change. Health and energy efficiency, as guides against energy poverty in a landscape of constantly rising electricity prices, are undoubtedly two non-negotiable factors.
By doing so, we can create a space that provides all the essential needs as a foundation, a blank canvas to be filled with life. It becomes a place for regeneration, rest, socializing, self-care, and personal growth, which will be enriched by the dynamics and personalities of the individuals who reside within it.
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