As utilities bills rise, Basim Al Saie highlights the importance of good insulation and other high-performance building products – and explains why he thinks the government should work with the private sector to encourage homeowners to embrace these environmentally friendly options
You can’t fault Basim Al Saie for his passion, his dedication and his energy. Not a man to sit back and relax, he is still looking forward following the 20th anniversary last year of his company, Installux Gulf, and his election to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the spring. His current enthusiasm is the opportunity that homeowners have to improve the efficiency of their older properties.
“I want to emphasise the opportunity that exists in the market today for refurbishment or renovation. It’s important for developers to use high-performance products such as doors, windows and façades, especially since utilities rates are going up, but these products are also available to homeowners with existing homes, who used commercial products in the past because utilities were subsidised and so people did not see the need to pay for good-quality, efficient products. Now that increased utilities bills are having an impact on people’s income, we see an opportunity in the market for end-users – as in Europe – to change and upgrade their doors and windows.”
This focus chimes with Basim’s long-held commitment to environmental responsibility but it also makes financial sense for buyers. He says, “Around 95 per cent of the window area is glass, so investing in better-quality glass, with a high insulation value, gives you the best return on your investment, offering better performance and security.”
Upgrading old homes
With energy-efficiency in mind, he points out that doors and windows are only part of the story. “We need good insulation in our houses but existing homes can’t be demolished to achieve this – they need an add-on. This opens a new opportunity in the market.”
Basim identifies two ways to improve insulation in the home. The simplest is to clad all internal walls with gypsum panels, which he says is a great insulating material and perfectly flat, making it easy to attach. “Plus it’s not very thick, 2–3cm, and like gypsum ceilings you can fill in the joints and paint it and it gives an immediate improvement to the building’s thermal insulation.”
The other route is to clad a house from the outside with a special material, which is a better insulation alternative but slightly more expensive. Basim believes both are important options given that bills are becoming expensive.
A new opportunity
He acknowledges that these products are beyond the pocket of some homeowners. “One thing that is critical entering this phase of market maturity in Bahrain and the wider Gulf is that the authorities and private sector need to work hand in hand for this to be a success. The authorities will save on energy costs – some rates are still subsidised – and the private sector saves on the bills it pays. It won’t happen one without the other. The authorities should work with local banks to provide loans to homeowners to install energy-efficient, rated, specific doors and windows, or insulation for the house from preapproved suppliers or contractors, because the average homeowner might not have the necessary upfront payment.
“If the government works with private commercial banks, it’s a win-win situation: the homeowner can get a subsided interest rate over a long period, which benefits the local government, the bank and the homeowner. Alternatively, the banks and authorities try to control financing and the payments are built into the cost of utility bills.”
Taking a long view
With his customary energy, Basim identifies that all of this needs a proper vision in order to succeed. He says, “Talking about alternative energy, it’s easy to say the words without having a vision, but the key question is how are you going to implement it? How do you generate momentum and create an incentive to make people shift? It all starts with a vision – a practical vision and being able to see the big picture. Often, people know what needs to be done and why, but the ‘how’ is missing. How should we go about it? What’s the best, most practical and realistic way to achieve it? And, central to all this, is the question of whether we are going to follow or to lead the way.”
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