A low energy sustainable home
Cas Concos recently has become the core of a pilot construction project. Andreas R. Schlund, a Swiss amateur architect, is building – in his own words – the “first low energy house” on the island. The concept is called Optima Casa (“the perfect house”). If the example gains recognition, Optima Casa could become a trademark for energy-efficient home building in Mallorca – with front man Schlund as energy consultant for construction companies and private builders. The entrepreneurial Swiss ventures to do all this, despite not being a qualified engineer. In fact, he´s a graphic designer. In 2002 he sold his company and moved to Mallorca one year later, having taken over a finca in 1997.
Schlund hits the mark, because Mallorca is often not as warm as we believe it to be. On Saturday, January 9, 2010, it snowed heavily in Palma – something that hasn´t been seen here for at least 20 years. During the following nights, the temperature fell to minus five degrees. Strong winds and torrential rain dominated the weather. The majority of apartment buildings and houses, built decades ago, were constructed for different climate conditions. Such a cold winter, as experienced in 2009 and 2010, was almost unknown in 1980 or 1990. Well-insulated walls and windows, and a durable central heating system, weren´t necessary. Every spring, the sun would quickly dry the damp walls and an electric fan was enough to provide relief during the peak of the summer´s heat in July and August.
Positive side effect: Additional living costs were much lower than in Central Europe.
Climate change – affecting the whole world – is now the great challenge for the local construction industry. Due to winter becoming colder and colder, and summer´s heat intensifying, a more solid construction technique is winning recognition. Items like insulation and sound absorption have come into vogue. Many modern buildings on the Balearics include these features. The sales of ecologically sustainable construction materials – see also our Eco Guide at pages 72 ff. – are thriving as never before. Besides, energy saving is an issue gaining importance. Private solar panels for the production of electricity and hot water are also being subsidized by the Spanish government. Spain is predestined for the use of solar energy with its high number of days of sun and its intense sunlight.
The builder of Optima Casa believes, that energy saving possesses the biggest market potential in Mallorca. Schlund’s first experience was renovating his rural finca near Felanitx. The idea of Optima Casa was born and the artistic village of Cas Concos became the venue for the showcase house, pre-financed with Schlund´s private funds. A glance at the façade reveals a typical Central European style. The walls are 50 cm thick, assembled through a double brick layer with an outstanding buffer: multi-layer cork damping. This form of insulation blocks heat, cold, noise and is breathable and resistant to the damage caused by ants. A stable indoor temperature is secured – whether cold or hot outdoors. Schlund: “Air conditioning is no longer necessary.”
The technical fitting of the building – which will eventually be concealed behind a traditional village-style façade – excites energy-saving supporters. The top-of-the-range insulation starts with a humidity blocker beneath the base. At a depth of three metres, a collection field is installed, working as a heat exchanger under the house. Lime plaster instead of cement plaster facilitates air circulation.
Huge windows are natural lighting sources. Triple-glazed Schüco windows with gas infill insulate to a K-factor of 0.7. That´s six times better than Klimalit (K-factor 4 to 5), the insulating window commonly used in the Balearics.
All living areas are fitted with floor heating and impact sound insulation. Glass and stone wool dampen sound between rooms.
Energy supply does not depend on oil and gas. A solar plant on the terrace of the first floor provides heat energy through panels mounted at a 60º angle. If there’s not enough sun, energy is produced by a storage tank and a warm water pump. There´s never a shortage of water for showering, due to a giant 1,300 litre boiler in the basement. In addition, the villa houses a rainwater reservoir in the cellar and a grey-water facility, which recycles sullage from sink and showers – saving 90,000 litres of water annually. Town water is also connected. When taking a shower or a bath, warm water comes immediately from the tap, thanks to a temporally assessable circulation pump. Every floor has its own manifold, in order to minimize loss of warmth. All taps and pipes have additional foam insulation. Quality valves, in combination with a reprocessing plant, eliminate the effects of hard water.
A central vacuum cleaning system makes the task easy, quick and silent. House dust mites, for example, are blown out of the house and not back into it, unlike usual vacuum cleaners.
The bedrooms have another interesting concept: A so-called network clearing eliminates electric smog. LED lighting, wherever possible, reduces electricity demand.
Staircases are built of natural stone from Binissalem. The living room has direct access to a lower secondary room, which could be used as a wine-cellar or a TV room.
The construction field fascinated Schlund, “because it creates something that lasts and isn’t quickly discarded, like newspaper ads.” While playing golf he gained his first commission. A Spaniard asked Schlund for an energy analysis of his house: “His level of insulation and the efficiency of the heating were poor. I created a plan to improve his quality of life at home through a well-directed long-term investment.”
Construction of the low energy house in Cas Concos started September 2008. The building offers over 400 sqm living space: 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and 2 separate toilets, plus side and basement rooms. Terraces total 250 sqm. Including the cellar, four floors are useable. By estimated completion in May 2010, an outdoor 13m long swimming pool will be added. A photo-voltaic system for private electricity production or subsidised feed-in can be installed optionally. This would mean a zero energy house. Market price: 1.73 million euros.
Dr. Helen Cummins is the Editor of abcMallorca Magazine a high quality guide to mallorca printed in three languages including informative Articles about Mallorca, up to date Events Guide and a Business Directory.
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