Expert: Soviet-era apartment blocks may last another century if maintained

Jarek Kurnitski on Monday's edition of 'Terevisioon'.
Jarek Kurnitski on Monday's edition of 'Terevisioon'. Source: ERR

For as long as Soviet-era apartment buildings in "sleeping districts" in Tallinn and other larger towns in Estonia are properly maintained and renovated, they will last another 100 years, Jarek Kurnitski, director of Tallinn Univeristy of Technology's (TalTech) Institute of Construction and Architecture says.

Such edifices, which grace districts such as Lasnamäe and Mustamäe, in Tallinn, are structurally sound, Kurnitski added, hence their likely longevity.

Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Monday, Kurnitski said that given the active apartment market in many of Estonia's cities, renovating an existing, Soviet-era apartment often works out cheaper than buying a new build.

In smaller settlements, however, where many such apartment blocks remain vacant, there may be no other solution than demolition, he added, as they can quickly deteriorate if not maintained or lived-in.

"It is enough for just one heating season (October to March-ed.) without a building being heating, along with a leaking roof – in that case, buildings like that will rapidly deteriorate," he said.

Maintaining the existing Soviet-era housing stock in larger towns also has environmental considerations too, he added.

"Pulling down main structures is not a very environmentally friendly activity either. But putting a new coat on old houses, plus ventilation pipes as well – well, we have all the technical solutions to do so nowadays," he went on.
If maintained, with main structures remaining at room temperature year-round including in winter, the basic buildings could last another century, he added.

Another issue, however, is balconies and stairwell canopies – care also needs to be taken that these don't collapse, Kurnitski added.

Balconies were only designed with a 30-year time span in mind, Kurnitski said, while many apartment blocks have passed that mark – since the Soviet occupation of Estonia ended over 30 years ago.

One solution while a block is being renovated is to simply install new, often larger balconies, he added.

There are also considerations regarding energy efficiency and quality of life, which were not uppermost in Soviet-era planners' minds, decades ago.

As to cost, Kurnitski put the average price of renovating a Soviet-build apartment at €450 per square meter.

Nonetheless, such renovations have not been carried out at a uniform pace, he continued.

"In 2020, which was the peak time, around 300 houses were being renovated annually, but since then the pace has fallen close to zero. This issue would be solved if KredEx's minimum 30 percent support was constantly available to those interested. Then we wouldn't need to keep saying that these buildings have to be fixed," he went on.

Economies of scale could also be achieved if the renovation volume was raised significantly, as corresponding services would follow suit, and the whole economy might benefit.

Soviet-era apartment blocks come in several different varieties, from those early on in the Soviet occupation, to the "Krushchevka" buildings, named after the leader of the time, and ending with the large concrete blocks common in, for instance, Lasnamäe.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: 'Terevisioon'

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