Currently Spain is leading the way with its solar energy policy; from now on all new and renovated buildings must include solar power systems to harness the energy of the Spanish sun, which makes an appearance on most days of the year.
Far from feeling smug and complacent about Spain’s excellent eco credentials (Spanish solar energy farms provide more electricity than those in the United States), Environment Minister points out that, since Spain’s building regulations haven’t been changed since the 1970s, this change is long overdue: “We have to make up for lost time,” she said.
All new homes must now include – at the very least – hot water solar systems, while businesses must generate solar electricity. The new building code also lays out rules for the mandatory use of insulation, maintenance of heating and cooling systems and maximisation of natural light.
While eco-warriors have applauded Spain’s new policies, construction companies have pointed out that the new requirements will result in an increase of building costs of up to 10 per cent. However, government experts estimate that the saving on electricity that these changes will generate will result in householders recouping these extra costs within a couple of years. Many are embracing the opportunity to make their homes more eco-friendly merely as a way of reducing fuel bills. Whatever the motivation for building a green-friendly home or renovating an existing house, there are many ways of reducing one’s carbon footprint – or merely shrinking the monthly utility bills.
These improvements can range from such mundane changes as unplugging electrical appliances rather than leaving them on standby, adjusting water heaters – especially during the summer months – so that they provide water that is hot rather than scalding, using energy efficient light bulbs, defrosting one’s fridge regularly and washing clothes in cool water.
One of the key issues is insulation, which can help to maintain an even temperature throughout the year. New buildings obviously benefit from the latest in technology, but existing residential and commercial properties can easily be upgraded; the resultant savings will soon pay for the cost of the renovations.
One of the current buzzwords, however, is day lighting; when considering the design of new properties, a growing number of eco-savvy architects are aiming to make the most of natural light. Skylights have long been a feature of modern homes, particularly in loft conversions, but experts posit that day lighting takes this to a new level. Specialist companies have developed techniques such as high-reflective mirrors capable of capturing all available daylight and equipment that is able to maximise this and enable the householder to rely only on natural light from dawn until dusk.
While some North European countries might find that day lighting operates at a high level of efficiency only during limited parts of the year, Spanish homes will all be able to experience a marked improvement in their environment throughout the year.
Spain’s latest building regulations will no doubt help to improve the country’s eco credentials, but with the constant development of new green technology it will surely not be long before further requirements are added.