Sustainable construction in Malta

Oct 15, 2021

Despite its small size, in the previous year, Malta has been experiencing really high inmigration numbers with 107,000 foreign residents out of a population of 515,000 and therefore, it has the highest population density in all the EU with 1,265 inhabitants per square kilometre. All of these people need a place to stay but then immediately pops up the question of, how can new comfortable and pleasant houses be built for them respecting the Maltese landscape? First, let’s take a look at the country’s landscape characteristics. 

The Maltese archipelago was created through the uplift of sedimentary rocks. Malta forms the crest of a tilted block on the edge of the Malta Graben. As a result, the Maltese landscape is very unique, offering the view of terraced fields, dry vegetation, rock and limestone. The country receives approximately 3,000 hours of sunlight per year and there are no permanent rivers or lakes in Malta. Nevertheless, there are a few waterways that supply limited freshwater such as Lunzjata Valley in Gozo. Occasional temporary small rivers appear after times of heavy rainfall. 


There are no Maltese woods either and the only trees that survive today are the tamarisk, olives, citrus, ficus, carob trees and pine. In Malta and Gozo, there are crops of grapes and vegetables placed at the hills and the Maltese coastline is primarily rocky with few. Sandy beaches, which are mainly located on the Northside of the islands such as Mellieha Bay, Golden Bay or Ramla Bay. The south side is just the opposite, remarkably high cliffs and at last, it is worth mentioning the concentration of natural harbours in the West.


With all this in mind, the construction sector in the country according to the National Statistics Office (NSO) shows that there were 8,980 units and it employed more than 13,800 people generating a 14% Gross Operating Surplus. Thus, it represented almost 5% of the total employment in Malta, generating a big impact on the Maltese economy as one of the biggest drivers of the country. In addition to this, the Malta Business Registry (MBR) shows that there has been an increase of registered construction firms, which has quadrupled over the past five years. 


As a consequence of the economic weight and the exponential growth of the construction sector over the last decade, many associations, from NGO to engineering firms, going through Commerce associations, banks and the Government itself, pointed out the need to have a review of the Government Construction Guidelines so that the building system lines up to a sustainable activity. This course of action is also mandatory due to the green buildings measures ruled by the EU.


Just recently, the Maltese Finance Minister, Clyde Caruana, announced the Malta Budget for 2022, among some of the measures detailed in the budget, are some important ones regarding sustainable construction such as tax exemptions regarding new properties construction following a traditional Maltese architecture or are built in a UCA (Urban Conservation Area). However, besides those tax exemptions, in the new year’s budget, there are more keys policies related to real estate and greener building construction which can be reviewed in our last article Malta Budget 2022.


The focus of sustainable construction is to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment by utilizing sustainable development practices, employing energy efficiency, and taking advantage of green technology and materials. The goal of net-zero carbon emissions is a priority and it is by sure means a game-changer in the well being of the life of the inhabitants. The vast majority of the buildings are more than 10 years older and the HVAC system they offered is outdated, the renovation and the mindset change are a must. Many initiatives are also trying to show a way to proceed in order to achieve efficient buildings with almost Zero Energy Buildings as we stated previously.


The health of the country’s citizens is impacted directly by the insulating housing conditions, with warm summers and mild winters, the tenants should have some minimum conditions to reach a thermal comfort within their properties, with the adequate temperature appropriate to the season of the year. Moreover, one could ask himself, will developers see a cost increase with the aim of complying with these “green measures”? According to some international associations that will not be the case. 


The aftermath shown in these studies states the complete opposite, similar design costs, higher sales rates and faster selling times compared to the properties which follow the traditional construction methods. In addition to this, owners can rent their properties obtaining higher rent incomes with less operating costs and on the other side, tenants enjoy a healthier stay with less stress.


Maltese architecture is unique and should be preserved, there is no question about it. However, the innovation in construction in order to achieve a more sustainable and ecological result is a duty of all the economic agents involved, directly or indirectly, in this sector. The merge of the typical use of some native construction materials, such as limestone, with other kinds of materials with low environmental impact and better insulation conditions, needs to occur in order to help the conservation of the typical Maltese structures and at the same time guarantee the safety of the archipelago inhabitants from the temperatures or the collapses, just to mention some important aspects of the citizen’s wellbeing. As we mentioned before, there are many new regulations being proposed and introduced by the official authorities to help to achieve this goal.


Therefore, we recommend that developers, architects, real estate agencies, governmental agencies, property owners, renters, buyers and the whole society overall, have to pull together so energy building efficiency becomes the rule and not the exception. It is a doable task that for sure will turn into a “win-win” for everybody.


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