Knowledge-based construction

Knowledge-based construction

Knowledge-based construction report


The introductory document of smart specialisation reports can be found here. This document describes the process of smart specialisation up to now, and gives reasons for the selection of growth areas and domains. Additionally, it contains an overview of the structure of sector-specific reports – the objectives and indicators of the sectors, measures of smart specialisation, and the methods for identifying the necessary activities.

The following analysis will explain which economic sectors of the knowledge-based construction growth area could be the most promising from the point of view of increasing the added value of the economy and which sectors could be prioritised. It also proposes measures that could increase the added value more that others.


The construction sector plays an important role in the Estonian economy. In 2012, the construction sector accounted for 7.4% of GDP and 9.4% of total employment. However, the added value of the construction sector is less than half of the EU average per worker (15). The construction sector is badly fragmented, there is no shared vision for the future, and the current legislation fails to promote the application of new methods of co-operation and ICT tools. Those involved in the sector hold on to traditional contracting methods and forms of contract, and the planning, design and construction processes take place in an atmosphere of constant urgency.

The energy consumption of buildings in Estonia is much higher compared to the European average, consuming half (50%) of the country's total energy output. On the other hand, the construction sector will be facing major changes in Estonia as well as throughout Europe in the coming years. As a result of the increasingly stricter energy consumption requirements, from 2019 the public sector buildings, and from 2021 all new buildings that are granted a building permit, as well as all buildings that are to undergo major renovations will need to meet the near zero-energy requirements. This in turn means that every building constructed or renovated must include equipment that generates renewable energy in order to balance the building's energy consumption. On the other hand, the establishing of near zero-energy requirements will facilitate the transfer from using fossil fuels for heating to using renewables, mainly biomass, which in Estonia generally means wood chips, pellets or firewood.

If we take 1.5% per year as the renewal rate of buildings, it can be presumed that nearly 10 GWh of produced electric energy is added annually. This amount is relatively small in comparison to the annual energy consumption in Estonia (nearly 8 TWh) and forms only 0.12% of it, but grows each year at the same rate. This amount of energy will probably be generated by PV-panels, which means that production fluctuates on a daily and annual basis, cumulating mainly during the summer months.

This in turn will lead to a need for managing the electricity grid in a different way than it has been done up to now. Smart grids, that are capable of integrating different dispersed electricity producers and co-ordinate them according to the necessity have to be constructed. With smart grids, it will also be possible to involve consumers into the co-ordination letting them to switch off the grids according to their needs or if the load on them is too big. Such development of virtual power plants will make it possible to optimise the use of resources both in the physical and financial sense.

The “think tanks” dealing with the use of renewable energy agree that due to the characteristic features of renewable energy sources, one of which is much lower energy density in comparison to fossil fuels, it will be necessary to reduce energy consumption and significantly increase the efficiency of energy consumption before transferring to renewable energy sources. It is a fact that half of the energy consumed is used up within buildings, therefore, it is clear that these buildings constitute the greatest potential for energy saving and increasing efficiency.

Reduction of energy consumption is a process that has two aspects. On one hand, it means reducing the heating expenses in existing buildings by additional insulation and modernisation of technological systems. On the other hand, the reduction of energy consumption in new buildings means a completely new approach to the whole lifespan of buildings. Besides reducing the traditional operative energy (heating, cooling, light), it is aimed to reduce the energy consumption during the whole lifespan of the building. The possibilities for reducing the lifespan energy are as follows:

  • Use of materials containing less embodied energy;
  • More detailed planning of buildings by using new technologies, such as building information modelling (BIM);
  • Reduction of waste in construction by making use of more economical technologies for organising work – lean construction, IPD (integrated project delivery), etc;
  • Increasing the use of prefabrication in building construction.

According to research1, the rate of waste in construction activities is 57%, while in prefabrication it is only 12%. Each percent of reduced waste and increased productivity will mean 20 million euros of increased added value for Estonia.

More efficient and effective production requires the smooth co-operation of all parties, which in turn requires more detailed design and planning of work. This will be achieved through the implementation of information models of construction, from spatial planning to the maintaining of construction. Making use of such new technologies will naturally require thorough additional training of the specialists using these technologies.

Another way for reducing the energy requirement in buildings is to use materials with low embodied energy in their construction. In Estonia, the main building material is wood, and it is hard to find a material with such a comparably low embodied energy as this. Naturally wood is a great source of renewable energy when biomass that is no longer required, is used for heating. However, it must be stressed that wood is the main construction material for Estonian wooden houses industry.

Estonia has earned a good reputation in the construction of wooden houses, being the largest exporter of wooden houses in Europe. The volume of export in 2013 was 202.4 million euros. However, more can be done in this area. The measures to develop the export of Estonian wooden houses:

  • Increase in volume;
  • Development of technology;
  • Increase in added value.

Focusing only on a limited number of larger markets can be considered a risk in the export of wooden houses. More opportunities can be found in developing energy efficient solutions, and making use of the development of timber composite materials, like CLT (cross laminated timber), that would enable the building of wooden multi-storey apartment houses and office buildings.

Construction of wooden houses has also a domestic potential. The wider use of wood enables a larger saving of imported energy, which is currently being used for producing energy-intensive materials. Several European countries have implemented a construction policy that prefers wood. Ireland has been especially successful in this area. It would be possible to increase the percentage of private dwellings in Estonia from 51% to 75%, and the percentage of apartment houses from 5% to 30% in wooden construction. The existence of some kind of a showpiece city district or something similar would be excellent for promoting wooden construction.

Export-ready energy efficient factory-made (pre-fabricated) dwelling house that is integrated with renewable energy equipment and accompanied by maintenance readiness based on BIM-technology is the flagship Estonian knowledge-based construction. On the basis of EstCube and Student Formula, it can be said that for developing the energy saving technologies and for growing specialists the participation of the Estonian team in the competition of energy-efficient houses Solar Decathlon is the best opportunity. The initiative of the Smart House competence centre to have such a competition in Estonia in 2018 should be supported and it could be a part of the construction of the showpiece city district.

1 Overview of the sector

1.1 General data on the sector
1.1.1 Overview of the global trends in construction

Construction as a part of the economy has existed in all economic formations in history. In this sense, it is a universal area of activity and sector of economy. Construction as a global and universal activity depends on various local circumstances, from the social formation to the availability of materials. Construction as a universal field of activity has also been used as an indicator as to the health of the economy.

The general prevailing trend in European countries with a developed free market economy and climate that is similar to ours is to increase energy efficiency during the entire life of buildings, from planning and design through construction and use to the utilisation of the building at the end of its life. In Europe, buildings produce nearly 36% of all emitted greenhouse gases, but the renewal rate of buildings is extremely low, staying at 1–2% per year (Eurostat). In the whole world, the construction sector is regarded as a traditional or low technology sector where innovativeness or rapid development are not really expected. According to Diekmann et al. (2004), in comparison to factory production, nearly five times more resources are wasted in the construction sector, the added value is around six times smaller and support activities are needed nearly 1.3 times more. Thus the potential for reducing waste and the increase in productivity can be considered significantly greater in the construction sector.

The main technological innovations in global modern construction are digitalisation of construction through BIM (Building Information Modelling) applications, automation of construction processes with the help of lean construction, increasing of IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) and the availability of prefabricated products, and general preference for less energy intensive materials (like wood) and technologies. They also include 3D printing, but in our circumstances these technologies will most probably not be implemented during the next ten years because it requires the use of totally new materials that would have both load bearing, and excellent insulation properties.

Construction of the houses that correspond to the near zero-energy requirements can also be regarded as an important technological innovation. It is not a specific technology, but rather the implementation of existing technologies in a new way that creates new quality to a building.

1.1.2 General overvew of the estonian construction sector

The construction sector plays a major role in the Estonian economy. In 2012, the construction sector accounted for 7.4% of GDP and 9.4% of total employment. The energy consumption of buildings in Estonia is significantly higher than the European average, accounting for up to half (50%) of the country's total energy output. Nowadays people spend nearly 90% of their lifetime in buildings (Hänninen et al. 2005: 252; Seppänen, O.; Seppänen, M. 1998: 11), and for the rest of the time, they are also closely connected with constructed objects, like, for example, roads (structures) and recreational training tracks (complex facilities). Thus the additional added value, additional functionality or a saved non-functional move, that seem unimportant in the case of a single object, are of defining importance in absolute values for the whole population.

In addition to influencing the economy, the construction sector, together with the spheres of architecture and maintenance, shapes the whole built-up environment. Decisions regarding the built-up environment concern the economic potential of a country, its tourism and export potential, and the welfare of every citizen. Built-up environment is a support environment that is necessary for the functioning of the state, and the operating costs of the state are connected with it. Efficient managing of the primary sector, or the real estate environment of the state, enables a reduction in state expenses and in this way increases spending in areas of higher added value.

In Estonia, the added value of construction sector per worker is half that of the EU average (respectively, 25,200 and 53,100 euros per worker in 2012), and one of the main reasons for that is, without doubt, the insufficient innovativeness of the sector. The extremely poor level of qualifications in the Estonian construction sector has to be pointed out as another reason for the low added value. 49.4% of the workers employed in construction were professionally trained in 2012. By 2014, the percentage of professionally trained workers had fallen to 41.5%1. The fall in the number of professionally trained workers causes some concern, taking into account that the construction of buildings corresponding to modern standards requires a better prepared workforce than construction using traditional methods.

Construction of wooden houses is the niche market with the greatest potential in the knowledge-based construction of Estonia. Industrial production of wooden houses is an important branch of the economy where more than 140 enterprises operate. The annual sales turnover of the sector is nearly 250 million euros, which is mostly for export. According to the Business Register, only 16% of enterprises give 80% of the sales turnover of the sector, which means that it is a relatively concentrated business and the enterprises are strong in their field. This fact is an important precondition in the context of increasing the RD expenses of the private sector, taking into account that larger enterprises are capable of investing more in the research and development activities.

Considering the emphasis on different components of value chain, the enterprises of Estonian wooden house producers have very different approaches. One of the largest producers, Kodumaja Grupp, has concentrated on production, using the help of its partners for designing and marketing. As the enterprise produces nearly 100% for export, most of its partners are companies established in target countries. Acting this way has proved successful for Kodumaja. Nordic Houses KT, that evolved out of Kodutare OÜ, has taken a completely different path. Together with the architecture bureau TEMPT, they have developed a conceptually new type of wooden container house2 that is marketed in Norway. Nordic Houses KT uses subcontractors in its production process.

We have managed to enter the market of the Nordic Countries thanks to the relatively low price of our wooden houses. Whilst the price of a prefabricated house in Sweden is nearly 3600 dollars per tonne, the price of the Estonian house is only 2700 dollars per tonne. In the Norwegian market the price level of the Estonian producers competes with that of the Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Chinese producers. In the future, there should be greater co-operation between the domestic producers, making better use of the experience of the enterprises who have managed to put their trade mark into foreign markets. In addition to that, the activities of the Estonian Wooden Houses Cluster in promoting the trade mark Estonian Wooden Houses in Scandinavia and Germany. Such activity deserves the cluster measure support in the future.

In 2013, the wooden house producer Kodumaja AS with a turnover of 40.7 million euros was among the Top 100 Estonian enterprises. It is predicted that the turnover of this year will be 55 million euros. Kodumaja AS is currently taking part in the construction of the highest wooden house in the world in Stavanger, Norway.

Palmako AS, with the turnover of 37.6 mln euros in 2013; Harmet, with the turnover of 22 mln euros in 2013; Matek, with the turnover of 7 mln euros in 2013; EstNor, with the turnover of 3.6 mln euros in 2013; Timbeko, with the turnover of 5.2 mln euros in 2013; Seve Ehitus, with the turnover of 8 mln euros in 2013, are also among the biggest wooden house producers in Estonia.

1.1.3 The position of knowledge-based construction in the value chain

The construction sector is largely dependent on local circumstances, mainly on climate and the availability of building materials and other resources. Naturally, construction also depends on the established traditions and the influence of the society. Construction as a sphere of activity has pointedly been in the central, low added value part of the value chain. As a part that seemingly produces no value, the activities connected with the design, planning and maintenance of buildings have been undeservedly underestimated. This also applies to the introduction of new materials and new construction methods. However, these activities produce greater added value than straight-forward construction itself.

The objective of smart specialisation in knowledge-based construction is the moving of construction activity towards both ends of Stan Shih curve. In the movement towards the beginning of the curve or value chain, this means the introduction of the near zero-energy building concept into ordinary construction activities and the developing of construction solutions pertaining to this concept. Taking into consideration that in some years the near zero-energy requirements will take effect everywhere in Europe, including in the main export markets of the Estonian wooden houses exporters, the developing of conceptually new and technologically new solutions has a direct commercial impact. At the same time, it is also possible to commercialise the developed solutions themselves.

Shifting as much volume of work as possible into the design and planning stage and the reducing of construction work in the terms of traditional site work will also increase added value. By making designing precision work with the help of BIM and increasing the detail of preparatory activities, it is possible to reduce the excessive spending of nearly all resources in the construction and use stage.

Moving towards the end of the curve shows the supplying of houses provided with control engineering and renewable energy equipment, and also cluster-based marketing and establishing of our own brands.

1.2 The role of education and rdi in construction
1.2.1 Global overview

Construction is traditionally a conservative sector. Greater changes in construction traditions have been caused by the changes in external circumstances and requirements. The buildings of each period reflect the social structure and technical level of development of that period. Up to date, modern requirements to construction reflect the times we live in. These requirements can be summarised as follows: sustainable use of resources, while living conditions improve or remain the same; adoption of the near zero-energy standard and, proceeding from it, the use of renewable energy integrated with the buildings. This brings along the technological development of the construction sector in the directions that make the consumption of resources more effective. They are the following:

  • Digitalisation of the construction process and the maintenance of buildings;
  • Automation of the construction process;
  • Making use of less energy intensive materials (wood in the Estonian context);
  • Renewable energy applications.

BIM or Building Information Modelling is the synonym for digitalisation of the construction sector and a precondition for its robotisation. Essentially it is a breakthrough in construction activities. The use of BIM is the most widespread in North America. Between 2007 and 2012, the use of BIM applications by construction companies increased from 28% to 71%3. There are more BIM users among construction companies than among architecture and design companies, 74% and 70% respectively4. Overview of global trends: see Annex 1.

According to the estimation of the leading producers of wooden houses, under normal circumstances the sector grows by 10–15% a year, which is really noteworthy. In the opinion of the entrepreneurs of the sector, the main issues that have to be developed are:

  • The use of wood instead of concrete constructions and buildings;
  • Development activities connected with the construction of apartment houses of wooden elements;
  • Developing and making use of new composite materials.

Overview of some export markets in Europe, see Annex 2.

1.2.2 Situation in Estonia

Research and development in the context of knowledge-based construction is rather modest in Estonia. There are competence centres at institutions of higher education and universities:

  • The Chair of Structural Engineering and the Chair of Building Physics and Energy Efficiency at the Department of Structural Design of the Faculty of Civil Engineering, at the Tallinn University of Technology, deal with research in the field of energy efficient buildings.
  • Institute of Technology at the University of Tartu hosts the Energy Efficient Building Core Facility that deals mainly with the promotion and certification of the type of buildings provided with the Passivhaus Institut trademark.
  • Faculty of Construction of TTK University of Applied Sciences has founded a BIM CAVE laboratory that is able to visualise and teach BIM applications and lean construction.
  • Smart House Competence Centre is being built in Rakvere; it will be a regional centre of innovation partnership concentrating on building automation and smart house solutions.
  • In addition to educational institutions, Estonia has “Mudelprojekteerimise üldjuhendid 2012” („General Guidelines on Building Information Modelling 2012) that are based on the Finnish materials5 translated within the framework of the COBIM project. The guidelines are a good starting point for adopting the BIM technology, but need specifications that take into account specific needs.

The agencies mentioned in the list deal mainly with training and specific projects, and very little with research and development work is ordered by companies.

Developing and implementation of solutions connected with using renewable energy have an important role in increasing the competitiveness of Estonia for the following reasons:

  • The use of domestic fuels instead of imported ones has a strong positive influence on the Estonian economy (see also http://www.energiatalgud.ee/index.php?title=ENMAK:Stsenaariumid);
  • Obviously the irreversible shift from the energy system that is based on centralised power generation to a more consumer-centred energy system will bring along many technological problems; Estonia and its enterprises will have an advantage here, thanks to the smallness of their system;
  • The requirement to conform to the near zero-energy standards, which will apply to all new buildings from 2021, has globally brought about considerable research work in this field, with the aim of making near zero-energy buildings cost effective. Implementation of the near zero-energy concept necessarily means the application of energy solutions based on renewable resources.

Estonian research and development activities connected with renewable energy have so far been rather un-systemised, mainly because the companies active in this field are relatively small. In recent years the situation has changed, and the companies contribute, and are continuously ready to contribute, to developing and making use of new products and technologies. Tallinn University of Technology in co-operation with Harju Elekter is working on electricity storing substations, Estonian Renewable Energy Association in co-operation with Elering and Ericsson is developing the first virtual power station in the Nordic Countries. The Paldiski Industrial Park, which is being currently developed, aims to be the best development centre of renewable energy technologies in Northern Europe.

1.3 Strengths, weaknesses, competition advantages


From the point of view of knowledge-based construction, Estonia has the advantage of the existence of good research bases in Tartu and Tallinn. The Institute of Technology at the University of Tartu hosts the Energy Efficient Building Core Facility headed by Tõnu Mauring. On the initiative of Professor Jarek Kurnitski, the near zero-energy research group, the members of which are also professors Targo Kalamees and Heinrich Voll, has been founded at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Tallinn University of Technology.

BIM and lean construction laboratory which is led by Aivars Alt, is developed at the TTK University of Applied Sciences under the name of BIM CAVE.

In addition to research, Estonia has an important production base for the construction of wooden houses. Estonia is the greatest exporter of wooden houses in Europe, with the annual capacity of more than 200 million. Wood is the best material for the construction of near zero-energy buildings, especially when the energy consumption of the whole lifespan of the building is taken into account instead of only the energy necessary for operating.

In connection with the renovation loans and subsidies offered by KredEx, which have made possible the renovation of a significant number of apartment houses, it has been possible to collect information on the results of large scale renovation and make assumptions on the effectiveness and feasibility of different renovation methods.


Shortage of an educated workforce can be considered the greatest weakness of the Estonian knowledge-based construction industry. According to the research6 conducted within the framework of the BuildEst project at Tallinn University of Technology, 41.5% of the workers in Estonian construction companies were professionally trained in 2014. In 2012, the percentage of such workers was 49.4%. These results show that, Estonia comes in last place in Europe. The number of engineers dealing with the development of technology is also very small, only 11 persons. This weakness shows a alarmingly large gap between research and putting its achievements into practice. For the same reasons, the use of IT-technologies in construction in Estonia is also low.


Estonia’s opportunities in knowledge-based construction come from its strengths and weaknesses. There are possibilities to use the existing research potential and experience in the production of energy-efficient wooden houses and renovation of apartment buildings, and at the same time develop the ID-capability that is expressed in the use of BIM-technologies and the implementation of the IPD- method.

In new construction, the opportunity is in developing multi-storey wooden houses that would be energy-efficient and use mainly domestic raw materials.


The possibility of a global economic crisis is naturally a universal threat. Mitigation of environmental requirements, which may result from the failure of international contracts, is also a threat to knowledge-based construction.

The insolvency of potential customers and the significantly faster economic development of neighbouring countries that could bring along the emigration of a qualified workforce are more local threats. A real threat is also the inability to train a sufficient number of workers with necessary skills, which may lead to the construction of near zero-energy buildings with defects, and thus discredit the idea of the energy efficiency of buildings.

2 Objectives and indicators of the sector

Objective by 2021IndicatorObjective of the indicator 2021
Main objective:Increase in the competitiveness of the construction sectorAdded value per worker35 thousand euros per worker
Developing the market of smart construction solutionsNumber of near zero-energy buildings2021 – 100% mandatory; interim target 2017 – state and LG 100%
Greater use of wood in constructionThe material of the main constructions of the buildings with building permit is wood, percentage of houses that have received the building permitapartment houses – 30%
small residential buildings – 75%
Greater digitalisation of working processesPercentage of digital administration during the whole lifespan20% completely digital

The indicators and objectives shown in the table are aggregate by their nature – they sum up and generalise different facets of the development of the sector in smart specialisation domains.

The near zero-energy standard will come into force with regard to public buildings in 2019, and with regard to all other buildings in 2021. In order to achieve a technological lead in this sphere, we should voluntarily impose this standard by 2017. This would enable the export of the know-how we have acquired. In 2014, the share of granted building permits with “A” label, which corresponds to near zero-energy, is 5.7% of all residential and office buildings.

The granting of building permits to buildings with mainly wooden construction shows the efficiency of using Estonian vernacular construction material as a resource. The percentage of apartment houses with wooden constructions also shows the spread in the use of such new products that are suitable for construction like various composite materials, e.g. CLT (cross laminated timber), and the acceptance by the authorities that wood as a material can be used in the load bearing structures of multi-storey apartment houses. The share of building permits granted to wooden small residential buildings should increase from the present 20% to 75%, and in the case of apartment houses, from the present 5.7% to 30%.

Greater digitalisation of working processes is connected with the automation of construction, and is an urgent precondition for that. Automation of construction in its turn is a precondition for the significant reduction of waste of resources in construction. The reduction of waste of resources and more rational use of them are important also in the use of buildings. Digitalisation of construction during the whole life of the building is necessary also for the latter process. Taking into account the speed of digitalisation in the countries that actively deal with it, the Estonian construction sector should also be able to use BIM-solutions through from the design to the administration of the building by at least 20% in the case of new and thoroughly renovated constructions.

Digitalisation of construction is unthinkable without the specialised training of the people working in construction. Thus the level of complete digitalisation also indirectly indicates the general specialised training of the work force active in the sector, which is only 41.5% according to the poll of 2014.

3 Growth area and the explanation of the selection of domains

3.1 Selection of domains

The reasons for low added value in the construction sector are multi-faceted. The construction sector is largely fragmented, there is no shared vision for the future, and current legislation fails to promote the application of the possibilities of new co-operation methods like IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) and ICT. Those involved in the sector hold on to traditional contracting methods and forms of contract, and planning, design and construction take place in an atmosphere of constant urgency. The peculiarities of the construction sector are contract-based activity, great price pressure due to competition, and the smallness of enterprises and their insufficient co-operation. The background system and specifications described here have helped create certain typical problems, and the development needs of the sector necessary for improving the situation are highlighted.

On the other hand, the requirement that will soon come into force, according to which all houses that are to be constructed, or undergo renovation, must meet the near zero-energy standard, and the prospect to start calculating both energy and financial expenses of buildings, on the basis of their whole life, have posed a serious challenge to traditional construction and the need to make changes. Purely from the point of view of construction physics, the construction of near zero-energy houses and relevant renovation require more responsible work than has been done by following the existing practice. In a building with small energy use, both the building shell and all technological systems operate together effectively. It means that the deficiencies of one component cannot be compensated by adding dimensions to another, at least not without non-proportional expenses.

Such exact construction requires very good planning and the possibility for detailed supervision and quality control in the whole construction process and also during the use of buildings. In order to achieve such a situation, wide implementation of ICT solutions is inevitable. BIM-applications, which are becoming universally standardised by their distribution and are growing into the second literacy skill of construction workers, should be considered especially important.

Massive application of BIM together with the principles of lean construction enables a saving of all resources in construction – money, energy and working time. In principle, one and the same application works from the conceptual idea, designing and construction of the building up to its use, maintenance and also utilisation.

Due to the complexity of near zero-energy buildings, they cannot be constructed as strictly defined stages of subcontracting, but have to be completed with the co-operation of all participants. The party who orders the construction, the designer, constructor and the future user of the building have to take part in this co-operation. Only then it is possible to achieve the result that satisfies everyone.

Keeping in mind the possibility that in the near future, the resources spent on a building will have to be calculated on the basis of life span, it is important to consider the embodied energy of building materials. In Estonia, there is a vernacular low energy value construction material in the form of wood, and we have much experience in using it – Estonia is the biggest exporter of wooden houses in Europe. The potential for the construction of wooden houses has not been utilised so far. To a large extent, this has also been caused by the traditionally conservative nature of construction and market preferences, which can mainly be explained by social psychological and not rational arguments.

The precondition for establishing a near zero-energy standard, is that a part of the energy needed in a building is produced in that building, or its immediate surroundings. When the energy produced in such a way is not needed in the building, it is reasonable to send it to other users. This mainly concerns the PV-panels, wind turbines, and electric energy. Such developments raise new challenges connected with the rational use of electric energy to the constructors and administrators of power networks. Generally the times of the production and consumption of electric energy coincide. This means that the amount of electricity that is produced also has to be used. Thus the implementation of near zero-energy standard poses a problem that is connected with adapting electricity networks to the storage and distribution of renewable energy.

From the point of view of smart specialisation, the following issues are especially important in the sphere of knowledge-based construction:

Opportunity-based choice:

  • Construction of wooden houses – conceptual planning of near zero-energy buildings, introduction of new composite materials, marketing and shaping of brand. Estonia is the biggest exporter of wooden houses in Europe and has earned a reputation in this field. A wooden house, as a low energy value building , has the potential of becoming one of the landmarks of the new century, keeping in mind also multi-storey buildings and office blocks. For using all potential opportunities, extensive development activities both in the innovative use of material and also design are needed.

Needs-based choices:

  • Digitalisation and automation of construction – BIM and lean building, increase of prefabrication, IPD, etc. Digitalisation and automation of construction are the preconditions for the construction of energy-efficient buildings with high-technology solutions, where it is necessary to ensure the planned low energy consumption during the use of the building, but also to avoid the waste of materials and resources during the construction of the buildings.
  • Renewable energy solutions, including:
    • Local and central technologies for production and storage of renewable energy (battery storage, power to gas, etc.), managing of consumption, and effective co-production of heat and electricity.
    • Development of energy (incl. gas, electricity, heat and transport fuel) transmission infrastructures (incl. covering of peak demand, keeping of frequency, etc.)

Development of renewable energy solutions is necessary in order to ensure the objectives of energy saving and reducing the consumption of fossil fuels raised at several levels and supported by various guidelines.

3.2 Necessity of monitoring

Of the domains of smart specialisation mentioned in the previous section, digitalisation and automation of construction constitute the application of existing technologies more extensively than it has been done so far. All other domains of specialisation are connected with the expected development in the economy and social sphere. Normally with development, the trends that seem to have possibilities have no need to be viable or current at a later stage. That is why it is necessary to observe the chosen trends of specialisation, to compare them with prevailing global trends that have long-term development perspectives, and make the necessary corrections. Technology develops fast today, and thus new possibilities for global specialisation that cannot always be foreseen, may emerge in Estonia.

4 Sector-specific barriers and activities

The problems of the construction sector summed up in the context of this report:

  • Public procurements (and often also private procurements) are conducted on the basis of stages and do not support the integrated drafting and implementing of cost-effective, energy saving life span solutions that take into account the customer’s/owner’s values and functionality;
  • Customer’s (in the public sector and often also in the private sector) failure in preparing the initial task, in procurements and low capability to implement new ICT solutions;
  • The sector has not agreed on a common integrated data model in regard to the life span of a building;
  • Capability of the construction sector in research, development and innovation is small; co-operation between enterprises is insufficient in this field;
  • Knowledge and skills of the members of project teams do not support the introduction of new methods, technologies and concepts;
  • Low productivity and significantly large wastage prevailing in the sector;
  • Development of smart grids is hindered by the outdated legislation in regard to data protection, standardisation and defining the role and functions of different parties.
Activities of knowledge-based construction by objectives of the sector
4.1 Objective: developing the market of smart construction solutions
4.1.1 Barrier: capability of the state as a smart customer

All new buildings and buildings that undergo major renovation have to meet the near zero-energy requirements from 2021, and pursuant to the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, this requirement will apply to public sector buildings from the beginning of 2019. Unfortunately construction is an inert activity and the solutions that correspond to new requirements will be applied only when it is essential.

Activity: establish proactively near zero-energy requirements for new and substantially renovated buildings used or owned by the state institutions from 2017.

This would give an experience of massive transition to near zero-energy in 2–4 years and test potential bottlenecks in different stages of construction, like organisation of work, impact of weather on the quality of work, level of professional qualification of workers, exactness of draft documentation, etc.

Target group: State and local government agencies

S3 measures: policies related to demand, Enterprise Estonia development programme

4.1.2 Barrier: lack of instruction materials on the use of new construction technologies

Construction of near zero-energy buildings requires specific knowledge and skills. Therefore, it is necessary to have a detailed set of rules, or instruction information, on the construction process. Probably such instruction information exists in the countries where near zero-energy and low energy construction has been practiced for some time, thus it may be possible to translate a relevant instruction of some foreign country and adapt it to the conditions in Estonia.

Activity: Preparation of specific instruction materials or the adaptation of existing materials from another country.

Target group: Design and construction enterprises, specialised educational institutions, professional associations

S3 measures: policies related to demand, professional grants, applied research

4.1.3 Barrier: low level of professional qualification in the construction sector

One of the greatest problems of the Estonian construction sector, which causes many smaller problems, is the low level of professional qualification (see 1.1.2 “General Overview of the Estonian Construction Sector”). Raising this level is the first precondition for increasing competitiveness. Professional training is also necessary in connection with the introduction of new technologies and construction methods.

It may be useful to prepare the professional standards for both skilled workers and engineering-technical staff engaged in the construction of low and near zero-energy buildings, and to apply business diagnostic measures to enterprises ensuring their readiness for the construction process with relation to new requirements.

Activity: Preparation of a professional standard of near zero-energy construction both for skilled workers and engineering-technical staff

Target group: Construction sector enterprises

S3 measures: Professional grants, Enterprise Estonia development programme

4.1.4 Barrier: adapting micro-production of electricity to general energy network

Proceeding from the specifics of near zero-energy buildings (low energy building where part of the required energy is produced in the building or its immediate surroundings), it may be presumed that the contribution of micro-production of energy into the total sum of energy consumed will increase and reach 10% by 2021. Besides that, the equipment for producing energy from other renewable sources will be used, which generally has a non-continuous production regime. In addition to that, new kinds of consumers, like virtual power stations, energy cooperatives, etc., are expected to arrive on the electricity market. The co-operation of such new market operators requires the development of the so called smart grids. The issue of smart grids has been discussed in the Energy Market Development Plan 2030 (ENMAK 2030+).

Activity: Preparing the structure of renewable energy sources that is optimal for Estonia.

Target group: Energy enterprises, institutions of research and education

S3 measures: CCT, applied research, professional grants, demand side policies  

4.1.5 Barrier: insufficient co-operation between research and business

Typically, various joint projects of research institutions, universities and companies, like Formula Student or Robotex, have an important role in the introduction of new technologies. Solar Decathlon is such a forum in knowledge-based construction. This competition combines modern construction, nature friendly materials, renewable energy and informatics. The participants are usually university teams supported by the top technology companies in this field.

The initiative of the Smart House Competence Centre to compete for organising Solar Decathlon 2018 in Estonia should be supported in every way. If universities are interested, involvement in previous and subsequent competitions, which are held during even years and promote the direct implementation of the achievements of science, deserves to be supported. Without doubt participation in Solar Decathlon is a valuable sales argument for the Estonian Wooden Houses Cluster.

Activity: participation in international competitions of energy-efficient construction (like Solar Decathlon)

Target group: universities, institutions of higher education, research institutions, high technology companies

S3 measures: CCT, applied research, professional grants

4.2 Wider use of wood in construction
4.2.1 Barrier: existing legislation does not allow construction of multi-storey wooden buildings

Countries where the climate is similar to that of Estonia are aware that wood is one of the most energy efficient construction materials for these conditions, and it is now used also for the construction of multi-storey residential houses. At the moment, AS Kodumaja is participating in the construction of a 13-storey apartment block in Trondheim, Norway. Estonian legislation on fire safety does not allow the construction of such buildings.

Activity: Review the construction regulations and norms regarding wood, especially in regard to the fire safety of buildings, in order to enable the construction of multi-storey apartment blocks made from wood.

Target group: Ministry of the Interior, MEAC

S3 measures: Policies related to demand

4.2.2 Barrier: lack of modern wooden structures solutions

The more wood that is processed, the greater the added value of wooden buildings is. Regarding the wooden houses, the spatial constructions of composite elements have the highest level of processing. Drafting of such solutions could be the objective of developing of technologies and the object of applied research. Considering the specifics of wooden construction, there is a need for material-specific instruction information manuals for both designers and builders. Such instruction manuals should contain advice on modern wood composite materials, like CLT. Paradoxically, Arvo Veski’s handbook of wooden construction (“Puitehituse käsiraamat”) from 1940 (sic!) is still widely used and highly regarded.

Activity: Preparation of instruction materials on wooden construction, taking into account the using of high-technology composite materials.

Target group: MEAC, Ministry of the Interior, universities, institutions of higher education

S3 measures: applied research, professional grants

4.3 Greater digitalisation of working processes
4.3.1 Barrier: low readiness of engineers to use modern information technology

For the implementation of exact construction solutions, it is necessary to have exact planning, including the perfect matching of different parts of the draft, which in turn requires the skill to read a digital three-dimensional draft for all engineers coming into contact with construction and later also for workers.

Activity: To enhance BIM training both in primary and further training, making it an integral part of the “engineer’s literacy”.

Target group: MEAC, universities, institutions of higher education, professional associations

S3 measures: professional grants, policies related to demand

4.3.2 Barrier: lack of official format of digital construction documentation

The definition of digitalisation and automation of construction requires the existence of a data model (BIM, Building Information Modelling). By now the instruction for such information modelling COBIM 2012 has been translated from Finnish in co-operation with State Real Estate Ltd, MEAC, TUT and ET INFO. Giving an official status to the instruction would enable using it in all state and private construction procurements and further use of buildings, which would open the possibility to calculate the resource efficiency of buildings, on the basis of life span.

Activity: Giving an official status to the Building Information Modelling

Target group: MEAC, State Real Estate Ltd

S3 measures: policies related to demand

Focus Groups were held in June and September.

Members of the FG of knowledge-based construction

  1. MEAC Construction Department
  2. Estonian Woodhouse Association and Estonian Wooden Houses Cluster
  3. Kodumaja Group
  4. TTK University of Applied Sciences Faculty of Construction
  5. Tartu Regional Energy Agency
  6. Tallinn Energy Agency
  7. Estonian Forest and Wood Industries Association
  8. Estonian Energy Saving Association
  9. Estonian University of Life Sciences Institute of Forestry and Rural Engineering
  10. Estonian University of Life Sciences Institute of Technology
  11. Estonian Development Fund Energetics and Green Economy Department
  12. Estonian Association of Architectural and Consulting Engineering Companies 
  13. Estonian Renewable Energy Association

 See the annexes of the report here (PDF) >