Turning basements into shelters while saving on energy bills: a successful experiment in Odessa

Turning basements into shelters while saving on energy bills: a successful experiment in Odessa

Ukraine is entering the second year of a full-scale war, and yet, the issue with bomb shelters has not yet been solved. They are either closed during the alarm, or they are not usable at all. But in such situation, the example of Odesa proves that people can make changes for the better. And it is not only about saving lives, but also about reducing energy bills.

What is energy poverty?

Odessa Housing Union (OHU) is one of the partners of the EU-funded project ComAct (“Community Tailored Actions for Energy Poverty Mitigation”). Its goal is to make energy-efficient improvements in multi-family apartment buildings in Central and Eastern Europe affordable and manageable for energy-poor communities, as well as to create the necessary assistance conditions for lifting them out of energy poverty.

“Energy poverty is when people do not have the financial ability to maintain a constant, comfortable temperature in their homes” says Yevhen Malnev, from OHU. In 2019, the number of Ukrainian citizens not being able to maintain comfortable temperatures reached 30%.

The installation of individual heat substations (IHS) in the buildings’ basements significantly reduces the amount of energy usage for heating, enabling significant energy savings. Additionally, IHS allows to regulate the temperature of the coolant to equalize it on different floors of the building.

More than 50 housing cooperatives and homeowner associations expressed interest in participating in the project. The buildings, between forty and sixty years old, were examined using a thermographic camera, in order to determine the locations with highest heat losses in winter. Project participants could then determine the main energy saving measures to implement.

But the war dramatically changed the course of action. The question is now: how to convert basements into shelters where people can stay during air raid alarms?

The proximity of the shelters can save lives

Most of the residents of the houses that joined the project are elderly, so the bomb shelters should be located at a short distance from their apartments, ideally in the basement of the house where they live.

This is probably the best option,” says Yevhen Malnev. “Only under such conditions do they have a higher chance of quickly reaching the shelter and getting to safety”.

As part of ComAct, Yevhen Malnev suggested combining the installation of Individual heat substations (IHS) with the rehabilitation of basements into shelters. The proposal was welcomed, and representatives from Habitat for Humanity International came to Odesa.

By March 2023, in just 3 months, the basements of ten houses were modernised: insulation of pipelines, replacement of lamps with energy-saving ones, installation of individual heat substations with weather regulation, provision of emergency lighting for ten hours and air conditioning – benefiting over 2200 residents.

“Many elderly people are now left on their own in their apartments – their children and grandchildren have gone abroad or to the countryside,” says Yevhen Malnev. “That’s why they were very scared every time there was an air raid alarm. After all, the nearest bomb shelters are inaccessible for most of them. And when a safe shelter was installed in the basements of their homes, it changed people’s mood, gave them a sense of security and faith that they can survive this war too; so that once the war is over, they can wait for their children and grandchildren to return and participate in the reconstruction of the country.”

Facts and figures

As of June 4, 2023, 29,000 shelters in Ukraine were inspected: 1,800 of them turned out to be closed, and more than 5,700 were unsuitable for use.

Original article published in Ukrainian here: https://napensii.ua/articles/241413-bomboubezhishha-i-ukrytiya-i-ekonomiya-na-kommunalke/

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