|Housing and Environment - Report of the Vienna Workshop (HABITAT, 1999, 394 p.)|
|Part B - Theme 2: Environment-friendly construction practices|
Ulf Troedson, Stockholm, Sweden
An integrated housing policy
The State and the municipalities have shared responsibility to implement the goals of Swedish housing policy. The State has guaranteed the provision of credits for housing and is also providing economic support to low-income households, allowing them access to dwellings of adequate size and standards. Responsibility for local planning and administration was delegated to the reformed municipalities, while, the State provides know-how, legal and financial means.
Municipalities have made arrangements to reduce speculative components of housing production, such as physical planning, building and land use control, construction, allocation of building rights, influencing the forms of tenure, and distribution of housing allowances. In order to reduce real estate speculation, the municipalities were provided legal means to acquire large areas of land for future development and urban expansion. An expanded right of expropriation and obligation for sellers to offer the municipality a first option land at the right price was the most important means.
The municipal housing production presupposed a right to establish non-profit municipal housing companies, which together with co-operative housing companies were favoured both with regard to access to credits and to adequate building lots. Municipal housing should be open to all categories of people, irrespective of their economic situation. They should be self-supporting and managed on a non-profit basis. One important principle of the municipalities was the maintenance of a desired level of high quality housing, when the private actor was hesitant. Such levels of housing production would have not been possible without the generous subsidy policies, which enabled households to acquire high standard housing.
The goals and the principles of Swedish housing policy were, widely, shared by private sector, citizens organisations, municipalities, and by the real estate sector. Almost all housing has been constructed by private enterprises. An important role was played by the two leading co-operative housing associations: HSB and Riksbyggen. HSB, a national federation of housing co-operatives, was initiated by members of the tenants movement as a reaction against the conditions that prevailed on the housing market in the 1920s. HSB is a multi-tier organisation with the objective of providing its members with quality housing. Riksbyggen, a cooperative housing union was initiated in 1941 by workers in the building unions to overcome unemployment in the building sector over a period of chronic housing shortage. Riksbyggen is, owned by associated building unions, popular organisations and housing associations. HSB and Riksbyggen have become leading agents in setting the quality targets for new housing, as well as in the improvement of residents influence and participation in housing management.
Some experiences from Swedish housing production in the past decades
The one million dwellings programme
In 1965 the Parliament decided that one million dwellings should be built in Sweden in the following 10-year period. A strong and forceful effort was needed to overcome the general housing shortage. As in many other industrial countries at that time, industrial building methods and large state subsidies were to be the means. New production techniques were employed, new products were tried and the site plans were organized to allow for maximum production speed and efficiency. Based on research, dwelling layout principles were developed to suit the needs of the families. These principles were made mandatory as minimum standards for financing and building permits.
The magnitude of the programme that actually was implemented in 8 years, may be understood by considering the total dwelling stock of that time which was around three million. The programme favoured large-scale projects by better financing, facilitated governmental and municipal planning procedures etc. The construction was carried out by private enterprises and most of the housing was privately owned, or was owned by municipal housing companies.
The programme was implemented in most parts of the country. The projects were dominated with multi-family and often high-rise buildings. They formed the basis for a massive wave of urbanisation, where not only people from Swedish areas, but also many immigrants from different countries were accommodated.
Improving the housing stock
When the housing market got less tight in early 1970s (partly as a result of the successful one million dwellings programme), families who could find better options, often, moved out of the estates of the programme. Many families wanted more living space, better outdoor environmental qualities and often preferred to live in a single family house with a private garden.
Responding to the oil crisis, to the need for substantial energy-saving measures and to the calls for general improvements of the existing housing stock, the Parliament, in mid-1970s, decided to launch a programme for housing rehabilitation, energy conservation, and improvement of outdoor environmental qualities in housing estates. One programme aimed at renovation of private and public housing built before 1960. Another programme financed improvements in run-down housing estates. In 1983, the Parliament adopted an ambitious Housing Improvement Programme for repairs, additions and modernisation, adding to the existing favourable Government support for housing renewal.
At the first stage, buildings built between 1880 and 1920 were renovated. Many small flats were merged into larger ones to attract families with children to the central parts of the cities and towns. Elevators were installed and kitchens and bathrooms were enlarged and modernised. Cultural values and social concerns did not always get adequate attention in the implementation of the programme. Despite the generous national subsidies, the improvements often resulted in sharp rent increases, displacing low-income families and people in need of cheap accommodation. At the same time, renovated inner city flats became attractive for households of relative affluence that could afford the high rents. Two-thirds of the dwellings produced after the completion of the one million dwellings programme were rather spacious single family houses, often built in the periphery of cities.
Increased building costs
The national credit expansion in the late 1980s resulted in growth of inflation with substantial increases in building costs and interest rates. Construction of new housing almost doubled. In 1990, construction of almost 70,000 units was started, that was equivalent to 1.7 per cent of the housing stock. However, unlike two decades earlier, it was not possible to keep the building costs down. Subsidies to the housing sector increased rapidly, despite attempts to brake their growth, including making deduction for interests less profitable at taxation.
This period was followed by an extremely deep regression in the early 1990s. A tax reform was to a large extent financed through the housing sector, increasing the average households housing costs considerably. Households in the higher income layers could compensate this by lower income tax. For others, increased housing allowances gave a certain relief. In a few years, rising unemployment and pessimism regarding future prospects for the economy, made the demand for new housing to almost vanish. The production of new housing was reduced to approximately 90 per cent. In 1994, only 12,000 units were started. This was, to some extent, caused by an over production of the previous years and to some extent by the almost explosive raise in building costs. The financial crisis of the early 1990s made it clear that previous housing subsidies and housing allowances would have to be reduced.
An instrument of fundamental importance to the implementation of Swedish housing policies has been the involvement of the Government in financing. The Government offered long-term, low interest loans for the portion of the housing capital that was hardest to finance through the ordinary credit market. Almost all dwellings in Sweden are built with the support of the Government. Since 1975, there has been a general system of interest subsidies for housing, provided in the form of compensation for interest expenses related to construction or conversion of housing. Apart from minor adjustments, the system remained unchanged until 1992.
Since 1993, an entirely new approach has been applied to State support for construction and maintenance of housing. The allowance system is simplified and in the long-term allowances would diminish. Interest allowances are granted in proportion to the interest cost of a capital arrived at by a standard calculation. The standard sum is linked to the size of dwellings. The total State interest subsidies for housing in the fiscal year 1994/95 was estimated to SEK 32 billion.
As of 1992, investments in new construction and renovation are financed entirely from the capital market. Credits are usually loans, repayable in about 40 or 50 years. A State guarantee for the part of the loan with the highest credit risk, covering about 30-40 per cent of a guarantee basis, is obtainable upon payment of a charge. As part of the labour market policies, special subsidies were introduced in the spring of 1995 to support renovation, extension and improving the housing stock. As the subsidies cover also some major maintenance activities, the programme has led to considerable activity in the building industry.
Sustainable building development
The experience of Swedish methods and technology give evidence of progress and of failure. Buildings built in compliance with former requirements, generally, resulted in well-functioning and adequately equipped dwellings in multi-family as well as single family houses. Criticism was often associated with the exterior of buildings and the quality of the outdoor environment.
The specialist and the general public have expressed their concerns on: the handling of certain modern buildings, the introduction of new techniques in the ventilation of buildings, the recent knowledge about the effects of exposure to radon within the building premises, and the widespread fears of negative impacts of certain electrical equipment in the buildings. Lack of knowledge in technical functions and qualities of traditional buildings has increased costs of renovating the existing old buildings. Insufficient competition and reliance on State subsidies is also part of the explanation for high building costs.
The building industry is an important partner to sustainable resource management. The Swedish industry needs to change its present practices when it comes to resource management, material flows, general recycling, and not the least, the management of potentially hazardous building materials and components.
The Nordic climate makes energy conservation an imperative process to achieve the goals of sustainability. The current abundance of nuclear and hydropower and electricity, has resulted in low consumer prices. To raise interest in the production of buildings for a future situation with higher energy costs, political interventions have been necessary. They have included extra taxation on electricity and subsidies for rigorous insulation of buildings. Heating of well-insulated new buildings will demand only 100 kWh/m2 annually. In the existing buildings special programmes have been implemented to improve efficiency in the use of energy.
Recent studies show that Swedes spend on the average, 90 per cent of their time indoors. Many health problems related to draft, cold and poor hygiene are no more in existence. In recent decades, Swedes have, however, experienced health problems of new kinds that may be related to the indoor environment.
The reasons behind allergies and hyper-sensitivity, that seem to increase in Sweden in a worrying pace, are not quite clear. The need for cross-sectoral research, including building research, is generally agreed upon. Based on present knowledge, quality of indoor air, may cause allergy and hyper-sensitivity. Emissions from different materials are more frequent when the materials are in contact with moisture. According to several studies, inadequate procedures in the introduction of new production technology, in the use of new and untested materials and in the installation and maintenance of ventilation systems, are to blame. Discomfort and ill-health symptoms are more common in multi-family blocks than in single family dwellings. It is reported from the business sector that 40 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women working in offices, experience at least one symptom per week of allergies or over-sensitivity.
The Parliament took fundamental decisions in 1988, requiring a thorough review of the problems as well as proposals for preventive and mitigating measures. Consequently, a Committee was appointed for questions regarding sick buildings. In 1990, the Committee presented a report, suggesting a number of measures. Almost every year since then, the Parliament has considered proposals from the Government regarding in-door air. Decisions included: mandatory controls of ventilation systems in most buildings, mandatory negotiations during the building process, and insurance systems covering costs due to building errors.
About 130, 000 dwellings in Sweden are calculated to have or have had rates of radon that are higher than the recommended highest value of 400 Bq/cu.m. in existing dwellings. The radon rate in new buildings may not exceed 200 Bq/cu.m3. Most measures necessary to reduce radon levels in existing buildings are simple and inexpensive. It is mandatory for homeowners to arrange for acceptable conditions in their own buildings.
The alleviation of health problems in buildings is to a large extent related to controlling dampness in buildings and to proper maintenance particularly of ventilation systems. Well functioning ventilation systems obviously are a prerequisite for acceptable levels of dampness, radon and other emissions. Municipalities are responsible for the control of ventilation systems. A recent study showed that 60 per cent of the municipalities failed in carrying out controls to the extent expected by Parliament. A 1995 survey of the effects of on-going preventive and mitigating programmes showed remarkably little progress, in spite of satisfactory knowledge about how interior air pollution can be avoided, and how high rates of dampness or radon can be avoided.
A proposal was presented to Parliament in the spring of 1995 to allow SEK 2 billion be used for concrete measures to improve the indoor climate in dwellings and public premises, like schools and nurseries. The programme will include improvements in ventilation systems, sanitation and exchange of damp or emitting building components and other allergy preventing measures. Other proposals aim at improving efficiency in established control systems.
The Swedish public has, over the past decades, showed an increasing interest in ecology-based construction as part of the development of environmentally friendly life styles. The eco-municipality project involves municipalities all over Sweden and the concept of eco-villages has won wide acceptance. Many initiatives have been taken by individual families, architects and builders to apply new ways of building design and new ways for adjusting buildings and the technical contents of buildings to local environmental conditions. Such new ecology-based approaches have often raised questions with regard to previous local land use and building control policies. As customers and clients ask for environmental impacts of construction, many builders now use environmental arguments in their promotion of housing projects.
Quite a few successful examples of technical solutions for ecology-based construction are found in Sweden. It is important that new experimental projects are carried out, that can serve as best practices and as sources of inspiration for future buildings. There are some forms of national support to ecology-based building projects. Funds for building research and for experimental construction may be used. Several projects have also been implemented through regular channels of support to buildings.
Waste management and recycling
Much waste is produced in the process of building, reconstruction and demolition. The quality and the chemical contents of building components play a crucial role for the impact of the building industry on resource management and on the environment. The annual production of waste from the building sector in Sweden was estimated to 1,750,000 tons in the early 1990s. Roughly 30,000 tons of lead, 400 tons of freon, 10 tons of cadmium and 400 kilos of mercury were included in the total waste production. Statistics in 1990, showed that 91 per cent of the total waste was brought to deponies, 5 per cent was burnt and only 4 per cent was re-used or re-circulated.
In recent years, there seems to have developed a common understanding of the need to radically improve resource management and re-cycling in the building sector. Some builders have started internal programmes to increase environmental awareness in their company. In the spring of 1995, the Government proposed an amendment to the Planning and Building Act requiring that a demolition plan be mandatory for the demolition of qualified buildings. The main purpose of the demolition plan is to ensure re-circulation of building materials and re-use of building components. This will be of importance also for the preservation and revival of buildings and of interiors being part of the Swedish cultural heritage.
The energy crisis of 1970s resulted in the introduction of the first Swedish Energy Management Regulations in 1978. Regulations and rules for loans and allowances have since then guided energy use in housing. Between 1970 and 1994, the specific gross energy use for heating and hot water in Swedish housing was reduced from 340 kWh per m2 to 220 kWh per m2. For Sweden, this means that the total end gross energy use has remained at 150 TWh annually, while the heated floor-space has increased from 430 million m2 to 630 million m2. Energy use is thus more than 50 TWh lower than if energy management measures had not been applied. For consumers, this means an annual saving of SEK 2,5 billion.
Over the same period, the annual electricity use for hot water, heating, and household equipment increased from 15 TWh to 35 TWh, while transformation losses was reduced from 34 TWh to 19 TWh. Buildings use more than 50 per cent of the total electricity and options for using other energy sources are, however, manifold. Distribution technology has become simpler and more effective and remote cooling is a new technology on the edge of introduction. The technology for heat distribution should be oriented towards reparation, maintenance and more effective use of existing systems.
Public building control
Swedish legislation, regulating the quality of buildings, has recently been revised. The basic assumption is, only qualities of importance from the public point of view should be controlled by public authorities and that the developer has the full responsibility for construction quality.
The building control process is regulated by two laws, the Planning and Building Act of 1987 and the Act of 1995 on Technical Requirements on Construction Works. All buildings and other construction works have to meet the technical demands stipulated in the National Building Requirements. These requirements specify qualities of importance from public point of view, satisfying fundamental demands with regard to hygiene, health, environmental quality, energy conservation, water management and waste treatment. Also aspects on the design of dwellings and requirements to meet disabled persons needs of a barrier free environment are included.
Before starting construction works, the developer must inform the municipal building committee. Except for the simplest cases, the developer must produce a control plan for the works, to be approved by the building committee. The committee can demand the control plan to include inspection of layouts and design and of the works by independent bodies. Such bodies must be certified by a certification agency or be approved by the municipal building committee. The committee may also inspect the works itself. If the building does not fulfil the requirements, the committee may stop the works or forbid the building to be used.
All builders are obliged to appoint a person responsible for carrying out the control plan. Selection of that person has to be certified by a certification agency or approved by the municipal building committee (in the case of a single specified project). The certification agencies must have accreditation by a national board for accreditation. Professional builders of residential buildings are obliged to have an insurance to cover any fault and/or damage in the finished building.
New environmental policy
The development of industrialized, large-scale construction was an important part of the modernisation of Swedish urban areas. Swedish housing and built environment are, generally, of reasonably high standard. Many buildings and many parts of the built environment need to be adapted to new economic, social, cultural and ecological requirements to allow for a sustainable human development.
Calls for healthy homes and healthy buildings have high relevance. As the building industry is becoming more market-responsive, it must introduce eco-cycles approaches systematically and must manage flow of building materials and components efficiently.
Since Habitat II Conference, major changes in policies and legislation on environmental issues, on land-use planning and sustainability have taken place in Sweden. As of 1999, the Environmental Code has become the legislation that covers most environmental problems. The Environmental Code is the result of a major review of the environmental legislation. Specific laws on many subjects such as environmental protection, chemicals, etc. have been brought together in one code. It covers aims and general principles on the relation between human society and the environment. It also covers general land-use principles and replaces the earlier Natural Resources Act and is also, considerably, sharpened. Its overall objective is to safeguard a sustainable development.
The Environmental Code is supplemented by possible Environmental Standards for certain areas. The standards can deal with noise, NOx, etc. Furthermore, fifteen Environmental Goals decided by the Parliament, to be of guidance in the implementation of the strategies are also linked to the Codes.
The Planning and Building Act which governs the more detailed land-use decisions, in comprehensive municipal planning, in detailed planning and in building permits, is not included in the Code. The Planning and Building Act has, however, undergone a major review in 1996, strengthening the demands for considerations of sustainable development. The requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments have also been harmonised between physical planning matters and development projects. Sweden has also introduced a change in policies for the transportation sector. Investments in the road infrastructure are now turned mainly towards safety and environmental considerations.
The land-use planning in Sweden is already dealt with almost entirely at the local level in the municipalities. Only matters with impacts in several municipalities are dealt with a regional level. Central Government is active in land-use planning only through legislation, standards and principles. A three-year subsidy programme of SEK 7 billion is also in progress. It is directed towards the municipalities and the purpose is to encourage local investments for sustainable development.