Conservationist construction

Buyers not willing to pay more for innovations offered in housing in Kfar Saba’s new green neighborhood, but business still brisk.

Green neighborhood (photo credit: Courtesy Kfar Saba Municipality)
Green neighborhood
(photo credit: Courtesy Kfar Saba Municipality)
The city of Kfar Saba, in the heart of the Sharon region, was the first local government to promote green building projects within its boundaries. Its northwestern corner, an area of 560,000 sq.m., or approximately 140 acres, has been designated as a green area, and the municipality will only allow building projects to go ahead if they follow the Environmental Protection Ministry’s specifications.
According to ministry regulations, a green building is one that uses building materials that are either recycled or less harmful to the environment, which means minimum use of plastics and maximum use of natural materials. A green building is designed to consume the least amount of energy possible in both heating and cooling. This means that the openings of the building – windows, terraces, etc. – are situated so as to make the most of natural factors such as wind and sun, and that insulation minimizes heat leaking out in the winter and leaking in in the summer.
Other characteristics include an efficient garbage collection system that separates paper, plastics, solids and organic garbage, and filters that clean and purify fumes coming out of the kitchen.
In the future, a green building will use solar power not only to heat water, but also to produce electricity for domestic use. It will also make maximum use of water resources by having water recycling facilities, as well as catchments to utilize rainwater for irrigating gardens and other purposes – an important factor in a country with few freshwater resources.
In a green neighborhood, the houses and infrastructure are integrated with a garbage removal system designed to cause minimum inconvenience to the residents and to bring the garbage to recycling centers. Such a neighborhood has a low noise level and large green areas, promoting a high quality of life.
Living green appears to have many advantages for residents, and in recent years there has been a growing number of building projects classified as “green.” If one were to judge by the number of such projects going up, one could get the impression that demand for green building projects is on the rise.
But this is not the case. The public, it turns out, is not much concerned with green building methods.
Eyal Gilad, the general manager of G&A building and development, which has a large building project in Kfar Saba’s green neighborhood, says, “When we first started the project we expected a favorable reaction from the public. After all, ecology is an issue in this small country of ours. But we were disappointed. The vast majority of the potential buyers are not interested in the properties of a green apartment.
When they come to our sales offices, they inquire about the technical specifications, type of ceramics, the color scheme of the kitchen, size of the terrace, etc. Very few ask about the green aspects.”
As a result, he says, “despite the fact that building green is more expensive, we cannot increase prices, because buyers will not pay more because their new home is designated as [a green one]. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the population does not know what a green building is, and how it is different from one that is not.”
Still, he is not too disappointed.
“I would not describe myself as a development and building company that specializes in green building, but rather as a company with a building project of 200 units that are being built according to the specifications of green buildings,” he says.
Jackie Mukmel, the chairman and general manager of real-estate company MAN Properties, is not worried by the public’s reaction.
“Green buildings are very beneficial, and in the long run they will cut maintenance costs,” he says. “But in some ways this is a new concept for many, a revolutionary concept, and it takes time to catch on. But once it does, most potential buyers of a new home will not consider buying a home that is not green.”
He agrees that building green is more expensive, “but that should not deter developers, and in the not-so-distant future, most of the building in Israel will be green. This is a fact of life. Israel is a small country, a densely populated country, and by building green, we protect the environment.”
At present, it is the municipalities that are keen on green neighborhoods.
Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo is very supportive of ecological developments in his town.
“The ‘Green Neighborhood’ is part of our strategy of creating a green, ecological city,” he says. “It is our policy to make Kfar Saba Israel’s greenest city, the most ecologically friendly urban entity in this country. I believe that the new green neighborhood, which is the first of its kind in Israel, will be a model for the whole country.”
The municipality, for its part, is investing the necessary sums in the special infrastructure as part of its green agenda. The area is in the process of development, and activity in the Green Neighborhood is brisk. Construction began in 2009, and 100 apartments have been completed and occupied.
When completed it will have nearly 5,000 apartments, which adds up to some 18,000 residents. The estimated completion date is 2019.
Many large well-known real-estate companies are building in the neighborhood, among them names such as Africa Israel, Shikun Ovdim and Minrav.
Generally speaking, prices are holding steady: Recently a 110-sq.m., fourroom apartment was sold for NIS 1.6 million; a five-room, 135-sq.m. apartment was sold for NIS 1.9m.; a 110- sq.m. garden apartment with a 100- sq.m. garden was sold for NIS 1.95m.; and a 180-sq.m. duplex with a 50-sq.m. terrace fetched NIS 2.5m.