"We are lucky to have such scrupulous workers, the way they work means we will spend this winter in more safety and warmth," said Serozh from Spitak, who spotted us from the 5th floor of the multi-apartment building and pointed to the builder who was performing insulation work under his balcony.
"Serozh is the 'deputy' of our building, he is right in what he says," says Elmira, his neighbor who lives at 17 Suren Avetisyan Street in Spitak and invites us to take a closer look at the works underway in their building.
The building on 17 Avetisyan Street is one of those “lucky ones” in Lori region to have been included in the list of multi-apartment buildings undergoing thermal retrofits under the state subvention program.
The "De-Risking and Scaling-Up Investment in Energy Efficient Building Retrofits - Armenia" project is implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Armenia, funded by the Green Climate Fund and under the coordination of the RA Ministry of Environment.
As a result of cooperation between UNDP and the Ministry of Territorial Administration of the Republic of Armenia, the energy-efficient retrofits of multi-apartment buildings were included in the list of measures available under the State Subvention Program for the first time in 2020. In the first year, applications were received from 14 communities in Armenia for thermal retrofits of 125 buildings, of which 110 were approved. At present, 84 multi-apartment buildings in Vedi, Tashir, Spitak, Stepanavan, Ijevan, Ashtarak, Kajaran, Dilijan, Berd and Akhtala are in different stages of completion.
In case of partial thermal retrofit, primarily the roof of the building is insulated, energy-efficient doors and windows are installed in common areas, the lighting system is upgraded. In case of full-scale thermal retrofit, thermal insulation of the building’s exterior walls as well as the basement roof cover are performed in addition to the above.
As a result of thermal modernization, heating costs in apartment buildings decrease by about 50%, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, the market value of apartments is increased by 15-20% and the buildings become overall more attractive. It also contributes to the creation of temporary jobs and the activation of the construction materials market.
Works on the 17 Avetisyan building were launched in April of the current year. Residents will spend the coming winter in warmer apartments and at a lower cost.
"The most difficult and time-consuming part of the work is accomplished. "The 'bonding' and the rest of the decorative finishing works take much less time to complete" says Ashot, the foreman of construction works, boasting 80% completion of the work in the building.
Neighbors gathered in the yard noted, that in addition to reducing heating costs, another important issue is solved: jobs are created in the region, albeit temporary.
"Currently, about 15 people are employed in the works carried out on our building, all from Spitak. They attend at a regular shift schedule, with only one free day on Sundays to take care of their house and land plots; on the other days of the week, they are engaged here from 9:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m. "Well, with the help of the residents, we offer them 'moral support' and make our contribution in the form of a daily cup of coffee", says Serozh, one of the residents, adding, "We believe that in the winter we will be able to savings enough to cover our family’s budget costs for bread, potatoes and oil."
"We are very satisfied with both the project and the meticulous work of the construction workers. I can say this on behalf of all the neighbors. Ruzan, tell me, aren't you thankful? (she addresses one of the neighbors standing nearby). Ours was a very cold building - it was built before 1988 and is one of the few buildings to withstand the earthquake. Finally, it will get warmer in here and we will no longer have to pile up all together in one room during the winter. I wish all the buildings in Spitak were renovated this way”, says Elmira.
According to Arman Avetisyan, Head of the Urban Development, Land Use, Utility Services and Transport Department of Spitak Municipality, within the framework of the 2020 Subvention program thermal retrofits of 3 buildings in Spitak are currently underway at 17 Avetisyan, 21 Torosyan and 14 Manukyan streets. About 165 temporary jobs were created in Spitak to carry out the thermal retrofit works of these buildings.
The total number of temporary jobs created across the whole country for thermal retrofit of buildings under the Program reaches 1,260.
The thermal retrofits of the building on 21 Torosyan Street in Spitak have already been completed and the residents had already been able to evaluate the results of these works in the winter. One of the youngest residents of the building, 10-year-old Susanna, no longer has to look for a warm corner in the house during the winter months to make her tapestries.
As her grandmother tells us: "Previously, in winters, we had to wake up early in the morning and turn on the gas stove straightaway, to be able to send the children to school, it would be impossible otherwise. This was not the case this winter, the heat stays inside the house. Not to mention that we are relieved from the need to use electricity for heating along with gas.”
Gor Minasyan, one of the residents of another building in Spitak, at 14 Manukyan street, shares a funny story to illustrate the results of savings achieved due to energy efficient retrofit. "One old lady, living alone in our building, visited the gas supply office in the winter and said, "My meter is out of order, please change it, the readings are too low."
In addition to Spitak, 3 multi-apartment buildings in Stepanavan and 12 - in Tashir are undergoing energy efficient retrofits within the framework of this program: works for 5 buildings are completed and for 7 buildings - partly completed.
Hrahat Abrahamyan, Deputy Mayor of Stepanavan says that the works on the Ruminakan 4, Virahayots 78 and Desini 36 buildings included in the program, will be completed in September.
"Next winter, I believe, the heating costs for the residents of these three buildings will be reduced by almost half." Apart from saving money and having attractive-looking buildings, it is very important to note that the program has created jobs for the residents of Stepanavan and nearby villages, which kept many of them from the idea of leaving for other countries for seasonal work."
The deputy mayor also observed certain rumors among the residents: they would like to know why only these three buildings were retrofitted, and whether their turn would also come?
"I am hopeful that the state Subvention program will continue to prioritize the energy-efficient buildings retrofit program and that our cooperation will be regular, and that we will have thermally insulated, attractive-looking buildings not only on the left-bank, but also on the right-bank side of the city", says the deputy Mayor, and adds, that apart from multi-apartment buildings, they also have similar expectations for public buildings.
In Tashir, on the other hand, the struggle is more "intense" among the residents to enhance energy efficiency in more of their buildings. The residents, gathered in the yard of Ani district, meet Mayor Edgar Arshakyan with a question: when the turn will come for their buildings, too?
While trying to get the answers to their questions and complaining: "So they do it selectively – one gets it, and the others don’t?", Aleksan from Tashir shares with us an experiment he has made in the apartment after thermal retrofit.
“During the winter I used to pay 50-60 thousand AMD a month for heating my three-room apartment. In the winter this year, I set the heating to a minimum and the highest amount paid for a month was 20 thousand AMD. One cold winter day - I made an experiment by turning off the heating for the whole day, and the room temperature was 18 degrees. The next day, it decreased by only one degree”.
Ruben Velitsyan, coordinator of construction works in Tashir, says that the program resolves a range of issues: social, economic, environmental and urban development.
"From the social perspective, the program provides people with jobs and adequate pay; economically, it almost halves the cost of heating for the population, and hence, solves an environmental issue, as some families were in the habit of using firewood to heat their apartments, while in a building with thermal retrofit, they will be able to use gas heating only, and not exceed 25,000 AMD monthly costs; also, they will be living in a neater and more civilized environment, and all of this will presumably result in less deforestation. In terms of urban development, we have the example of Ani district, which represents an improved urbanistic image” he says.
While Ruben Velitsyan was presenting the works performed and the outcomes achieved, the issues raised by the residents regarding their involvement in the program, and the situation which was gradually escalating to a debate, found a positive solution, based on the mutual agreement between the mayor and the residents.
Residents express their willingness to contribute to this project to some extent in the future, providing they have assurance that the turn for their building will come, and that they will be able to experience the positive change resulting from thermal retrofit.
The investment of the residents in this case will be in the form of a cumulative fund, which will be formed by the contributions collected from residents. The funds accumulated in the fund will be used in the future to ensure the operation and maintenance of thermally retrofitted buildings.
The city of Kajaran is making substantial progress towards energy-efficient buildings, where 36 out of 71 multi-apartment buildings are included in the thermal retrofit program.
Vahram Jalalyan, UNDP-GCF Project Manager, says. "The thermal retrofit of 25 buildings in Kajaran will be completed within a short time, and for another 11 buildings the works will launch by the end of the year."
Vedi provides the best representative example of a thermally retrofitted building. Energy efficient retrofit works at 26/1 Kasyan street multi-apartment building are fully completed. As a result, the energy efficiency of the building increased by more than 60%, and the heating and cooling costs of the building residents were reduced by 40-60%. In addition to reduced costs, the building has an improved modern look and stands out against other buildings in the community.
The UNDP-GCF project also provides support for the thermal retrofits in public buildings. As a result of cooperation with the Municipality of Yerevan, construction works are currently underway for thermal retrofit of 15 kindergartens.
Thus, thermal insulation works of 55 buildings are near completion within the framework of the 2020 state Subvention program, with 55-70% of co-financing provided under state funding, 25% - under UNDP funding, and the remaining portion – under community funding. As concerns the remaining number of buildings approved under the 2020 State Subvention Program, and awaiting thermal retrofits, the government currently proposes a new co-financing modality in terms of these buildings, although the applications for these buildings had been previously approved under the previous co-financing proportion. The works for 29 of these buildings are planned to launch and to be completed within this year. However, in the light of the the new co-financing mechanism proposed by the government, the financial burden on communities will increase significantly, which may put the implementation of the program for the remaining 26 buildings under a risk, and furthermore, may also jeopardize all further cooperation.
The heads of the above-mentioned communities expressed hope that the government would reconsider its approach and will continue to implement the program with the previously agreed co-financing proportion, as the proposed revision will impose significantly higher burden on community budgets, which will result in inability to continue the thermal retrofits of the buildings at the same volumes.
Photos by Emin Aristakesyan