Greening the Housing Authority
The greening of the Housing Authority started when, together with the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Environment, George Pullicino, we decided to set up a working group that would advise the Housing Authority board on an energy saving project.
The Tal-Ftieh site on the so-called Birkirkara bypass was chosen as a pilot, which was ideally located and where we were already about to start our work on site, and a working group made some recommendations. The cost was capped at a certain amount per flat, and the project is now complete, although monitoring cannot really start until all residents have moved in.
At the time, we thought we would wait for the monitoring results before extending these measures to all our building projects. However, it was then felt that while all our housing need not be environmentally state-of-the-art, it still made sense to include some basic energy-saving features in all our future projects.
In fact, following this board decision at the end of the summer, Minister for Family and Social Solidarity Dolores Cristina announced that all our new Housing Authority projects would incorporate some agreed passive and active energy-saving features.
There will hopefully come a time when the Housing Authority will not mainly be a builder of new units but also the rehabilitator of older ones, but for this we will have to wait for the transfer of all government-owned housing to us so that empty government units can be fully utilised as they so badly need to be.
Then we will also have to take a decision about how to include energy-saving features for our older buildings too.
I want to make it clear that despite the impression given in some reports, we commissioned no major reports nor did we, or do we employ a consultant in this area. There was a voluntary working group that made important recommendations on the first project only, but the new decision to make all our projects more environment-friendly and how we are going to do this was a decision taken by an informed board and not by any advisers or consultants.
Essentially some of the new features are just plain old-fashioned common sense, some are meant to be done anyway but are today largely ignored by many architects and our building industry, and others are more active and newly environment-friendly
First all, housing blocks built by the Housing Authority (largely with the Department of Building and Construction) will now have extra insulation in the roofs and walls. Double glazing and persjani (louvres) will now become a regular feature in most projects. A well, which should always be there, but often isn't, to collect rainwater will be insisted upon and residents who buy our units at heavily subsidised prices will need to fit in solar water heaters.
It is a small start, but an important one.
When you realise that the measures we installed in a small block of ten flats at Tal-Ftieh will actually save 133 tonnes of carbon emissions at the power station per year, extending these measures to around 150 to 200 units for a year will mean an even greater saving of 15 to 20 times as much.
There is a cost, of course. The polystyrene in the cavities of external walls will cost around Lm105 per apartment, while roof insulation will be as much as Lm180. Double glazing will cost around Lm240 per apartment, while the most expensive single item will be the solar water heater at around Lm500. We will also be insisting that residents buy solar water heaters that corrode less, and making proper use of these measures will now all be part of the contract of purchase.
We also hope to get some EU funding for this very important project and have recently identified a person who will be trying to earmark more funds for our environmental projects.
Of course, the Housing Authority is not the plot giver of the past. We build a very small percentage of all the units being built annually. Hopefully, though, energy audits for all new buildings are round the corner and Malta should soon be a place where solar water panels are as common as TV aerials or satellite dishes.
Anyone who claims that nothing has happened since we became EU members only this year needs to open his eyes and listen. The Housing Authority has taken the lead and set an example. Will the private sector now follow suit and most importantly, will the consumer be willing to pay for these improvements in our current sellers' market?
Ms Micallef chairs the Housing Authority