Generally, eco-house building is associated with Western trends. But there are people in this field in Russia as well, who develop such ideas. We discussed this subject with Igor Ogorodnikov, CEO of “Ecodom”.
– Mr. Ogorodnikov, you are the head of the company engaged into eco-house building. But also you are a physicist. So what are you – a businessman, a scientist or maybe an engineer?
I graduated from the faculty of physics. The area of my interest is dynamics of media with a structure, self-organization in such media and the theory of solitons. Solitons are waves functioning like particles. I got involved with eco-house building by chance. I had to accommodate four postgraduate students who joined our laboratory in 1985. No place at the hostel was available, so we decided to build a house for postgraduate students in the nearest village. Thus, the “Ecodom” project began.
At first, it was just an autonomous house; the concept of “eco-house” was formed in 1987. In the same year, I started to use the term “eco-house” to describe the subject of our work. This project was not simple. We had to coordinate many areas not yet developed It just seemed that it was easy to build a house, to create a home. Home is a complicated concept. By the way, “home” is the most often repeated word in the Bible. It turned out to be so successful that the project appeared in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok. A world of free access to related scientific disciplines is created and maintained in Akademgorodok. It provides a great opportunity for development of complex projects. The “Ecodom” was such a project.
– So how did you start?
As I said, I started in 1987 and the ecological house building began to take shape after the UN report on “Our Common Future” (1989), as on of the mechanism necessary to solve global environmental problems.
Then, in 1992, a UN conference was held in Rio de Janeiro and all our actions were connected to “Agenda 21” being accepted at the conference. In 1993, being the members of the Russian delegation we participated in EXPO 93 in Taejon, South Korea, with the model of our eco-house, and in 1997 we won a United Nation grant to develop the project of eco-house building in Siberia.
– And what role have you taken in your project?
My role in the project is related to the development of the “eco-house” concept, and also working on implementation plans, searching for leading experts and companies. I work a lot with this subject and want it to be included into education programs at various levels and to see a popularization of the project in general terms.
The goal is to organize the process of mass building of eco-houses in Russia.
My little contribution was the appearance of groups working in this direction. It should be considered that ecological energy-efficient house building is a worldwide trend. But when I started, I was often seen as being a bit weird.
– You mentioned staff training for your project. Can you tell me about it?
In Europe, 60% of employees involved into construction are professionally trained specialists. In Russia there are 6%. In this case, education plays a very important role. We work in several fields. Together with professional school No.55 in Novosibirsk we worked on a model for training and retraining resource center. We were planning to organize a laboratory as an eco-house, where we would teach students to produce materials and learn about plumbing, engineering and other technical things. The full range of eco-house technologies and equipment would be provided there. We have already developed the training program for a professional school.
Additional training of managers and postgraduate students would be provided on the same equipment.
Near the center, there is the Akademgorodok Institute of Thermal Physics. We managed to collect all information related to energy efficiency and conservation within the Institute. The eco-house subject is introduced as one of eight main subjects at the Institute. We formed a technological platform for low-rise building. It included two universities, the Institute of Thermal Physics and a professional school, along with several specialized companies. “Ecodom” LLC is a coordinator.
As for higher qualifications – 3 theses on “Eco Housing” were defended.
– Can you give an example of an interesting approach to Eco-house building in other countries and tell us about any experience you studied?
The Canadian experience is very interesting. What do you think, why did it start? It is strange, but it was the problem of catastrophic population aging in Canada in the 80s. They needed young new people. The necessary decision on how to do it was quickly made. Legislation was regulated; favorable conditions for migration of young people were created etc. In the first place, engineers were attracted. But in the course of time they faced another problem: people were available, but there is no accommodation for them. A solution to the housing problem had to be found. That was in the mid 1990’s.
So, the state authorities recognized the necessity to solve the housing problem in a cheaper way. A number of organizations were formed: a research center, a mortgage company, agencies and supervising ministries. First of all, global trends were studied – environmental construction was already under development, although it was named differently. As a result, the research center developed and built two houses – the best possible ones for that time.
The Canadians worked on the regulatory bases within these houses. First, one of the houses was equipped with all modern facilities: automation, sensors etc. The built-in system operation was studied. Access to the house was given only to three specialists. Second, exactly the same house, with the same specification was built nearby, but that was a house for modifications to test new developments. And it was gradually finished over time.
– Then why did not you just adapt the Canadian experience to Russia, and instead try to create something new?
I believe that each nation must build its own houses. This is associated with cultural traditions, climatic conditions and an existing infrastructure. Canadians have great experience, but nonetheless to build a Canadian house in Siberia, you need to put a piece of Canada over here. Then the conflicts between Canadian and Russian conditions will appear.
It means you can take an idea, but implementation and creation should be adapted to the local environment. The same is related to the equipment – all have to be adapted to deal with local characteristics.
So we chose our own way when we formulated the eco-house concept and matched equipment optimal for the conditions. In general, I think, less than five or six different sets of equipment were made of the same material, but with different parameters would be enough for the whole Russia. I mean, we came to another important conclusion – to simplify and harmonize.
Consequently we rejected standard building techniques and used an approach that could be called “miniaturization”. This is a mini-production of building materials and construction techniques at the construction site. We chose well-known foamed concrete, reinforced with plastic fibers as the base material. We developed a version of the straw building used in rural areas. Then we make wooden houses, but with a natural insulator.
The importance of the natural insulation is connected with the fact that the life of foam and other artificial insulation is 20-30 years, maximum – 40 years. After this period, they started biodegrading. The basic house life of less than 70 years is pointless according to our approach. We needed to capitalize on the population – so that one generation builds a house, and the next two generations are involved into the further development of their accommodation. It is a completely different quality of life. That's what we do.
Now Canadians, especially Russian-speaking ones, are trying to open up the Russian market; they want to integrate Canadian technologies, developed in the1980’s and at first glance which seemed to be good for the economically most inexpensive method of solving the mass housing problem. But we have different requirements and restrictions now. Many of them do not meet our requirements developed in the “Ecodom” project.
Actually, I believe that everything we do must comply with the sixth technological mode -natural technology. Even the process of house building utilization after use has to be natural.
We can build houses for 18-19,000 rubles per square meter at break even. Comparing today's real estate prices it is not much. But this concerns energy-efficient and energy-independent houses. At a price of 32,000 rubles, declared by the state, we might construct energy positive building with an excess of energy. And this is in the Siberian climate zone.
– Are you currently involved into any global project?
Yes, I will tell you about one of them. The project is called “Etnomir”. The span of the project site is 140 acres and 2,000 people (up to 4,000 people are expected). The project is a kind of museum of different national cultures gathered in one place. It was initiated by a private person. We got an order to develop a strategy of “Etnomir” using environmental technologies. Now we are finishing it off – we have just formulated the prototype for an eco-district of the city. “Etnomir” is the minimum where all our technologies can be implemented in a closed loop. Now we're making an eco-box as my friend said. In fact, it will be a demonstration model. And we are planning to build 1,500 houses like this in all Russian cities. But in addition, we have to prepare information, technical support and service systems for every house. That is, it will be not be just a house as it is, but an actual object, as an information center. If the house is built but not equipped with an electronic system, the house will not work.