Window installation, Hungary

Sustainable housing

Europe, Middle East and Africa

Energy efficient homes

It is estimated that between 25-40 percent of all energy use in the ECA region is generated by households and most of this energy is consumed for heating during the winter months. Because of poor insulation in the decaying housing stock, a lot of energy is wasted.


Moreover, low-income families spend a disproportionate amount of their budget on energy bills and often face a sinister choice between “heating or eating.” Sometimes they turn to “dirty” fuels and cheap stoves, which increase pollution, endanger safety and have a detrimental effect on the health.

Better energy efficiency is an important step in preventing climate change but it also protects vulnerable families from energy poverty. Habitat contributes to building energy efficient homes in the following ways:

Renovations and retrofitting

Many people in the former socialist countries live in dilapidated condominium buildings built in the 1960-70s which have since fallen into disrepair. After the fall of the Soviet Union the ownership has passed to the former tenants who lack the money and skills to maintain their homes and buildings. Because of poor insulation, in the winter families have to use additional heaters (usually electric) to keep warm, but they face frequent blackouts as the wiring cannot cope with the increased demand.

Habitat works with condominium associations and individual households to carry out low-cost repairs:

  • Installing insulated doors, windows and flooring
  • Roof replacement
  • Repair and installation of heating systems

With renovations and retrofitting we are able to achieve a dramatic impact on the energy consumption of families and their heating bills, in a low-cost and affordable way.

Innovative design

In Romania, Habitat for Humanity has started working with ArcelorMittal, one of our corporate partners, on developing light steel frames that are easily assembled into a house that is also energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Three months of labor resulted in the “Casa Buna” (Romanian for “Good House”) prototype. ArcelorMittal engineers adapted Habitat for Humanity’s timber frame technology into a light gauge steel framed housing solution that is affordable, durable and environmentally friendly, as steel frames last much longer than similar structures from other materials.

The frame can be deconstructed and all materials recycled for other needs avoiding depletion of natural resources. Moreover, steel frames have a better thermal performance—they can hold cool temperature in the summer while preventing heat from escaping in the winter, so they are more energy-efficient than other technologies.

Environmentally friendly solution for sanitation

In rural areas of Kyrgyzstan many communities have no access to water and sewage systems. In response to this need, Habitat developed an environmentally-friendly toilet—an innovative, low-cost solution that provides clean, sanitary toilet conditions and prevents the pollution of soil and water with waste products. The toilet converts the waste into safe compost which can be used as a fertilizer. The design for the eco-toilet is simple and can be constructed by using local materials.

Low cost construction materials

In Kyrgyzstan we build houses with locally harvested cane reed by adapting a centuries-old local technology. Cane reed is widely available, inexpensive and environmentally friendly. Coupled with wood beam framing and clay plaster it provides an earthquake-proof structure which is as strong as brick and steel but much cheaper. And there’s more—the combination of cane reed and clay insulates better than brick and steel, helping families stay warm during the long and harsh winters while keeping the houses cool during the hot summers.

Similarly, in Tajikistan we use mulberry branches to construct houses that can withstand earthquakes of up to 9 degrees on the Richter scale. Mulberry trees are found throughout rural Tajikistan and they are cut seasonally to harvest the silk cocoons—the branches have no further use and are freely available. This innovative building technology was invented by Habitat staff and it provides an affordable local solution for preventing disasters in a region which is prone to earthquakes.