Conventional houses with thickly plastered walls and westernised interiors are slowly giving way to sustainable, energy-efficient 'green houses' built of natural material in Kerala.
According to architects and builders, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of people opting for eco-friendly methods while constructing homes which, in turn, has given rise to several 'green' builder groups in the state.
Architect G Shankar says green architecture is not just a matter of fashion or taste but something that involves the very survival of the earth.
"Construction poses a great threat to world’s natural resources which are fast depleting. Five billion litres of water go into construction sector alone in a year. Nearly 40 per cent of the wood felled around the world goes also into the building industry," Shankar, a recipient of Padmashree this year, told PTI.
The Habitat Technology Group headed by him has been in promoting green architecture for the last two decades in Kerala, where cost-effective and eco-friendly building methods have been strongly advocated by late Laurie Baker since late 1970s.
"More than 150 million houses are there in India alone. We have no option other than becoming sustainable. Fortunately, people are more aware about the situation now-a-days," Shankar said.
Since the traditional building articles were getting expensive and shrinking day by day, the only practical solution to meet the challenge is to tap the available resources which anybody can easily find in their surroundings, he said.
The green building groups largely depend on natural resources like mud and lime which are available aplenty in the country.
"Ours is a tropical climate and we should keep that in mind when we choose our building articles. Plastic-rich interiors in America will not be suitable for the climate of India or Kerala, Shankar said.
"Mud is not just a low cost but no-cost material which could be used for buildings. India has a rich deposit of lime which can also be used as a raw material in construction sector," Shankar, who is also involved in tsunami rehabilitation housing projects in India and abroad, said.
‘Cost Ford’, another prominent 'green builder' in Kerala, has evolved a method in which the use of traditional articles is minimised while maximising the use of renewable resources.
"Our green homes are mainly based on mud, bamboo and bricks. We are following our own unique methods in the processes like concreting which generally demand a larger amount of cement and sand. It will surely help to reduce the expense to a great extent," P B Sajan, Joint Director Cost Ford, said.
If material like mud is sourced from nearby areas, it would further reduce the cost by way of saving transportation charges. This would also help reduce burning carbon fuel by running vehicles, thereby saving energy and ill-effects of emissions, he said.
Recycled or recyclable materials like bamboo, earthen blocks, clay grains and coconut fibre also have the advantage of being non-toxic substances. In majority of cases, a considerable portion of the construction waste was also recycled within the structure under construction.
The green building methods also lays emphasis on interior designs that allow natural energy sources like air and sunlight to enter the houses so that the occupants could afford to live without air conditioners and other artificial cooling devices, Sajan said.
The green home dwellers could enjoy a cool environ because of the high-efficiency windows and insulation on walls, ceilings, and floors. They would also provide good lighting within the house, green architects said.
"Our focus is to create climate-responsive buildings. We design rooms and interiors based on the path of the sun light and wind. Depending on the demands of the customers, we install solar panel and biogas plants to tap the solar and bio energy. Even septic wastes can be recycled into bio-gas," Sajan said.
"We also advice people to plant maximum number of trees and plants in the surroundings of the houses,” he said.
The cost of construction could be saved by 35 to 40 per cent by omitting costly articles like cement and steel. However, there would be a five per cent increase in labour wages in green method, which could be offset by enhancing the work quality, he said.