Xavier Valladares
Associate Director
ECOstudio XV
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View from the Top

Promoting Sustainability in Residential Developments

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:19

The commercial sector has been extremely receptive to sustainability certifications and in raising the bar in terms of energy efficiency standards, but the residential sector is another matter. Of the 3,979 LEED projects registered by the USGBC in Mexico, only a fraction are fully residential developments. With housing responsible for more than 17 percent of the energy consumption in Mexico, the segment must fully embrace sustainability policies, says Xavier Valladares, Associate Director of ECOstudio XV.

For years, demand for sustainable developments has grown stronger in the commercial sector, but has been lagging behind in the residential sector, with only premium housing developments targeting a certification. “Commercial developments have adapted sustainability standards much more quickly in response to the strong demands of the international markets,” Valladares says. “The increase in competitivity has driven the local market to adapt high sustainability standards, whereas the residential sector has not had such a push.”

In 2015, Mexico’s commercial, residential and public sectors consumed more than 5,094PJ of energy, of which the residential sector was the highest consumer with more than 755PJ. The residential sector consumed around 52 percent of the total use of secondary energy flows before 2015 and in order for the country to reduce its energy consumption completely, controlling the total primary energy use (PEU) of the residential sector is critical. The need for more sustainability and energy- efficiency policies for the residential sector is there, yet the Energy Reform failed to include any policy instrument to regulate consumption in the sector. Because there is no strong demand or incentive from either the market or the government to adapt these measures, Mexico’s housing developments, especially social housing, have advanced much more slowly. “There needs to be a push in terms of public policy,” says Valladares. “Making evaluations and the fulfillment of sustainable practices obligatory is the best way to push the industry to achieving the country’s goals. This is the only way to truly have an impact on the country’s residential sector.”

Although the Energy Reform did not take into consideration the residential sector, CONAVI, other government institutions and international organizations have turned Mexico into a world reference in the assessment of sustainable housing. It was the first to adapt a policy that uses the “whole house” National Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) system for developing sustainable social housing and in 2012 INFONAVIT developed the Green Housing Evaluation System (Sisevive- Ecocasa) along with GIZ and the British Embassy in Mexico. This system enables an integrated and holistic approach to the implementation of energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable technologies, assessing compliance toward national standards, policies and how far the development performs from the baseline. It was adopted by the Federal Mortgage Society (SHF) for the Ecocasa program.

This evaluation method uses two tools to measure the efficiency of a house: DEEVi and SAAVi. DEEVi, which was created by the Passivhouse Institut (PHI), calculates the energy balance of a house. SAAVi was developed by CONAGUA, INFONAVIT and GIZ as a tool to estimate the water savings per house and person. Although it has proven to be a great tool to measure the status of the sector, few developers are actually using it. “SiSeViVe is not compulsory and because of this, the sector has not adopted it. Only a few developers are using it as a tool to differentiate themselves in the market,” says Valladares. What does not include any of the tools, but is fundamental for maximum optimization of resources, is an integrated bioclimatic strategy, which should be done during the design stage, ideally before starting to use DEEVI. This study should assess the ideal orientation, the adequate proportion and location of the windows, as well as the size and location of sun-shading, to ensure that the houses can achieve comfort levels without the need for or minimum use of heating or air conditioning.

Through the years, sustainability has become a buzzword in the vocabulary of most sectors and the only true path to differentiation is with a certification, says Valladares. But it is not only an increase in certifications that will transform Mexico’s homes but the adoption of green practices such as bioclimatic passive design, ventilation and even positioning.