Dilemmas

Home insulation          


Model stories home insulation

Home insulation

The heat insulation of residential apartment buildings has become a popular way to improve their energy efficiency. The widespread use of insulation has been prompted by the continuous growth in the price of energy, and the increased share of heating costs in family budgets. The insulation of external walls is one of the most common and efficient methods of thermal insulation.

The insulation of apartment buildings has specific features that differ from the insulation of private houses. An apartment block is the shared property of a large number of co-owners, thus collective decisions need to be made about the thermal insulation of jointly owned walls. In practice, insulation is installed in individual flats within the building in a random and chaotic manner, without consensus among the co-owners regarding the type of materials and technologies used. In many cases, the work is carried out by non-specialised subcontractors. This situation represents a violation of the rights of the co-owners of the apartment building and often results in the deterioration of the protective building envelope. Very rarely are apartment buildings insulated comprehensively on the basis of a joint decision made by the building residents. In the vast majority of cases, the regulations and standards applicable to the choice of insulation materials and technical solutions are neglected.

Several owners in an apartment building decided to insulate the external walls of their apartments. To reduce costs, they agreed to hire workers with construction experience, but without the respective permits. Most of the building residents opposed this piecemeal approach, arguing that the result would not be attractive. However, the owners of the respective apartments decided to ignore the complaints and go ahead with the insulation. They even went as far as to say that if any of the building residents interfered with their plan, they would sue. The situation arose due to both a lack of awareness and a lack of effective control over the use of the jointly owned property. The different level of income among building residents was also a factor.

The results were, of course, unsatisfactory:

  • The owners who went ahead with the piecemeal insulation made dubious energy savings. In fact, they caused an overall disruption in the building’s micro-climate due to the use of vapour-proof materials without adequate ventilation.
  • Since technological requirements were not adhered to, cold bridges were formed that will result in gradual damage to the building structure.
  • Further insulation work in the future has been made difficult because of the use of different technologies and materials in this initial piecemeal approach.

Discuss the conflicts and possible solutions. What are the perspectives of the different stakeholders? Do you think the problem can be solved?

Negative

Conflicting interests
  • During the privatisation of the apartment building, the local authorities failed to make clear to residents that the structural elements of the building are jointly owned by the residents, and residents were not informed about how the property should be maintained. As a result, most residents think that the buildings are owned by the local authority, which is therefore expected to take responsibility for retrofitting, including thermal insulation. As local authority budgets are not able to cover these costs, the expectations of residents are not met.
  • Some of the residents make individual decisions about the commonly owned property without the approval of the other co-owners. This gives rise to conflicts among residents who undertake piecemeal insulation work using a variety of incompatible materials and techniques, as well as conflicts between them and other building residents who would prefer to see the comprehensive retrofitting of the building as a whole.
  • Disagreements may also arise if the homeowners association decides to go ahead with comprehensive insulation, as this may involve removing or dismantling individually installed insulation solutions. Some of the co-owners, who have already opted for an individual approach, refuse to contribute financially to the comprehensive insulation of the building walls.
Positive

Possible solutions
  • Co-owners could be told that, according to common property rights, they own all the structural elements of the building, including the protective structures, thus before retrofitting can be carried out the consent of all co-owners is required.
  • Draft provisions and procedures could be developed for the use of the common property in the apartment building, and associations of homeowners in other apartment buildings could be asked for their recommendations.
  • The piecemeal insulation of apartment buildings could be prohibited, and existing insulation dismantled at the expense of the owners who installed it.
  • Workshops could be organised, chaired by the homeowners association, to raise awareness among residents about the need for provisions and procedures governing the use of the common property in the apartment building.
  • Awareness-raising meetings could be organised for the co-owners of apartment buildings, to explain how the common property in the apartment building is maintained.
  • Subsidised loans for the thermal insulation of buildings could be provided to homeowners associations that have developed related project proposals and presented them to the local authorities.
  • Awareness-raising meetings and consultations could be organised about the technologies required to implement energy-saving measures, and about typical errors, with the aim of preventing similar errors in the future.

Varying viewpoints


Civil society organisations
Resource centres that support homeowners associations, and CSOs, have experience in working with homeowners associations and local authorities. They are able to organise awareness-raising meetings and workshops for the co-owners of apartment buildings, focusing on how the common property should be maintained. They can also develop draft provisions and procedures for maintaining the common property in the apartment building.

Homeowners associations and residents
Homeowners associations have the right to make decisions regarding the maintenance of common property, and have the authority to control the observation of these decisions by all co-owners. They work in the interests of all co-owners rather than with individual members and are not able to demand that local authorities carry out comprehensive building retrofitting, including heat insulation.

Co-owners tend not to care about issues related to common property, but instead try to address their personal needs in the easiest possible way, without the approval of other co-owners. With respect to energy-saving measures, and in particular the insulation of external walls, co-owners are guided by economic factors. They typically opt for the cheapest materials and hire non-specialised subcontractors to carry out the work. The insulation does not therefore conform to the relevant standards and is generally not installed in accordance with technological requirements. Overall, a lack of awareness and the absence of an established practice for the maintenance of common property in apartment buildings are barriers to identifying appropriate solutions and reaching a consensus.

Local authorities
The local authority has not responded to the conflict, based on the argument that the co-owners should decide among themselves whether or not the building should be insulated. The local authority has merely transferred the ownership of the apartment building to the residents, opting out of responsibility for the future condition of the building. The local authority staff includes officials responsible for creating homeowners associations, although typically they require additional training.

Business sector
Producers of energy-saving equipment employ qualified personnel who can offer consultations on implementing energy-saving measures in apartment buildings, and specifically on the topic of insulation.