Few Takers for "Green" Homes
By Francesca Colombo*
There are an estimated 1,500 ecological homes in Italy, a relatively low number in a new market, despite the fact that these "green" properties can represent savings of up to 43 percent annually in utilities.
MILAN - Ecological houses respect humans and nature alike, they save energy and improve environmental quality, say proponents, but there are just 1,500 such homes in Italy, where the peripheries of the cities sprawl in enormous blocks of cement.
An eco-house costs 15 percent more than a traditional house, but in the long term represents savings of 30 to 43 percent in costs for electricity, natural gas, heating and water.
According to estimates by Federhabitazione -- a federation of 3,300 Italian housing cooperatives -- these expenses reach 2,000 dollars in a traditional house of 100 square meters, and 1,200 dollars for an eco-house of the same size.
"In Italy, awareness of green homes is low," Giovanni Vaccarini, director of the Vaccarini architect study in the eastern region of Abruzzo, told Tierramérica.
However, the government provides incentives and benefits, such as regional financing for renewable energy or discounts on municipal taxes for such properties, which ultimately could give a boost to the market, according to Vaccarini.
"The ecological house is based on a philosophy that studies the orientation of the building, the terrain and the nature around it. There is an analysis of the rational use of resources and energy. In the summer it protects from sun and heat, and in the winter from cold. It uses recycled water and non-toxic materials," the coordinator of the European project Federhabitazione Roberto Ballarotto told Tierramérica.
The land is selected based on its relationship with the sun, wind, water and vegetation. It should be far from the electromagnetic fields produced from electric powerlines, transformers or mobile phone antennas, and from sources of noise pollution, like highways. The surrounding vegetation is also utilized in a sustainable way, as a means to save energy and to provide clean air.
The orientation of the facade and roof ensure the maximum availability of natural light, and optimizes the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels.
Eco-homes are built with natural materials, like clay and brick. The paint is made from water and natural pigments. Wood flooring is made from lumber from tree farms, not the deforestation of natural forests.
In contrast, traditional homes use thousands of toxic substances -- varnishes, fungicides, synthetic materials -- in construction and decoration.
"Italy is running behind with respect to the Nordic countries, but it is catching up," architect Ugo Sasso, of the National Institute of Bioarchitecture in Bolzano province, told Tierramérica.
In the last 10 years there were some efforts to create incentives for sustainable construction, especially in northern Italy.
In Milan, for example, the old industrial district of Bovisa, in the northern periphery, is in the middle of transformation. There is where the first Italian film studio was born, Armenia Films, where the first silent movies were made, like Dante's "Inferno", based on the Divine Comedy. Today it has one of Italy's four eco-office buildings.
Bovisa is part of the Sustainable Housing in Europe project, which between 2003 and 2008 is operating in Portugal, France and Denmark, and building 714 sustainable homes.
It is coordinated by Federhabitazione and financed by the European Commission through a research and development program with the focus "Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development, Cities of the Future and Cultural Heritage".
"Before, it was thought that bioarchitecture was limited to the elite because of the cost of the technology and materials. Today, more and more cooperatives are interested in sustainable construction projects," Serena De Natale, of the non-governmental Italian environmental group Legambiente, said in a Tierramérica interview.
* Francesca Colombo is a Tierramérica contributor.