Three Wise Men

Renovating a home saves energy

What do you get when two pensioners and a 65-year-old start thinking about the building they and their neighbors have almost given up hope on?


Former mine workers Meho Mehinovich and Ahmet Begovicha, and the 'youngster' Milenko Lukich, who still works in the mines, decided the state was never going to sort out the problems with their condominium in Bonivici. The three realized it was up to them. Now they needed a catalyst.

The spark came in the shape of Esad Smajlovich. Smajlovich, an energy efficiency manager, was doing a series of home improvement seminars throughout the Tuzla canton of Bosnia. Engaged by Habitat for Humanity, the seminar in Banovici, a small mining town in the north of the county with 23,000 inhabitants, was just the impulse they needed. They finally saw a way of refurbishing their building.

Their tasks were split into two 'easy' lists, they joked. On one was finding a bank that would give them a loan considering their ages, deciding on the repayment rate, choosing the builders, and selecting the materials, start date, and on who would supervise. The second list, however, was just as tough and had only item—convince the other five tenants that they should join the venture to improve their building.

Help from all sides

The first step was getting advice. Enova, an energy audit company, stepped up. They advised Meho, Ahmet and Milenko on the best materials and ways to install insulation and replace the roof. Enova also advised on the benefits and savings the occupants could get from the building when work was completed.

What really surprised the three was that every tenant agreed—even 88-year-old Katica Kordic, who is not only the oldest tenant in the building, but probably the oldest in Banovici. When asked why she agreed to a loan she might not be able to repay, because of her age, she said her late husband said she was so stubborn she would probably live to be a hundred! Plus, she said she had a caring son abroad. But what sealed the deal was that she didn't want to disappoint her neighbors.

As for the loan, they got 18% of what they needed from the canton, 38% from the municipality, and took out a personal loan from the bank, with everyone serving as each other's guarantor, for the rest.

Working together

The tenants are an interesting mix—all the nationalities and religions of the former Yugoslavia live here. And they say they get on well with each other and there has never been a dispute. "If it was up to us," says Meho, the second oldest resident after Katica, "there never would have been any war in Bosnia. But, eh, the politicians, they didn't listen to us ordinary people. All we want is to live together in peace."

“Because of the war,” Milutin adds, “we couldn't start the refurbishment sooner. As soon as the peace came and the situation was normalized, the only thing we wanted to do was to transform it from a crumbling building to one that looks and feels good.”

Under the watchful and excited eyes of Meho, Ahmet and Milenko, worked started in April 2015. First, the walls of the two-story building were completed and the entrance door replaced. Then the builders started to replace the roof. As it changed from grey and dilapidated in the morning, to bright red with new tiles by mid-afternoon, the happiest of all seemed to be Meho. He kept on smiling. Is this how he imagined it would be? “No”, he said. ”It is thousand times better, a thousand times…”

Some residents has been watching their homes slowly deteriorating for the past fifty years.  For the first time in its history this apartment block is being renovated.

Some residents has been watching their homes slowly deteriorating for the past fifty years. For the first time in its history this apartment block is being renovated.

Inspired and working together and making the three wise men and their fellow residents the best of friends.

"Our building will look fabulous"
Banovici's tenants happily following the work on the roof

Savings up to 30 percent

In Teshanj, a picturesque and affluent town in the Tuzla canton and a hundred miles away from Banovici, residents kicked off Habitat's energy saving program.

Like-minded enthusiasts, unhappy with their building's appearance, insulation, and leaking roof, got together with the entrepreneurial president of the tenant’s association, Shefket Turalich. They got a loan from the bank and help from both the municipality and the Tuzla canton governments. The result—an incredible change in their lives.

"Before, I wore a coat in my flat," says Abzia Hasanovich, one of the tenants. "Now I wear short sleeves all day long," interrupts her neighbor Munevera Sofich. “We have also increased the value of our flats,” says Dusanka Cheharich. They have already started saving on electricity bills, paying 20% less than a year earlier.

Their next step is to save money for the calorimeters, so they can control the heat in their flats and save even more.

They all agree that Habitat for Humanity has started something special in Bosnia. Thanks to the energy efficiency information seminars, residents are starting to think about taking concrete steps to improve their homes, save money, even earn money by selling back unused energy to the utility. What has started in Tuzla canton has proven to be a winning formula.

“Habitat for Humanity got the ball rolling,” says Arnesa Alemerovich, a consultant for Enova, an energy audit firm working with Habitat in Bosnia. “Habitat is the main reason why those projects have started in Tuzla,” she said. “Habitat is championing the energy efficiency measures that are saving people money.” Arnesa is passionate when she talks about it. “You know,” she says, “people can save up to 30% of their heating bills if they insulate their buildings properly like they did in Teshanj and they are doing in Banovici. They have already seen the benefits in Teshanj, and they will definitely see it in Banovici next year. I just wish more people in Bosnia were part of the program.”

Photos: Terry Wilson for Habitat for Humanity EMEA
Video: Production Dissident, Camera work: Terry Wilson

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