Homing in on green truths

Homing in on green truths

For scientist A R Shivakumar and his family, ecofriendliness is a way of life. And it is showing the way to others too. Sourabha, their family home, is truly extraordinary.

From the past 14 years, it is 100 per cent self-sufficient in terms of water resources including drinking water, and has no municipal connection. It draws water from a depth of 30 ft in an area where the groundwater norm is 250-300 ft. It uses just 80 units of power monthly for a four-member family; boasts of natural airconditioning; zero-bacteria drinking water without waterfilters; a biodiverse environment; and is cockroach-free, etc.
Shivakumar has perfected a range of award-winning eco-friendly measures and inventions for this. He is Executive Secretary, KSCST, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore; and provides technical support to the world’s biggest rainwater-harvesting project.

Groundwater recharge

Total water self-sufficiency is achieved through rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge using a pop-up filter and barrel system, both his inventions.
With Bangalore receiving about 1,000 mm rainfall annually, his 2,400-sq-ft plot receives 2.4 lakh litres.

And not a drop is allowed to run outside. Sourabha has an overall 45,000-litre storage capacity––the rest is discharged into the earth via Shivakumar’s (named after him) barrel system of groundwater recharge.

He has also rejected conventional steel pipes to save energy loss from friction and used instead single-piece HDPE pipes. Before the water flows underground, it passes through the pop-up filter which removes large impurities. 

The filter can pop up and release extra water in case of excess flow or filter getting choked when the family is away.  We are offered water by Shivakumar’s wife Suma, herself engaged in greening the colony by planting saplings and herbal plants, from a jug containing a silver foil. They explain this innovation: “We get pure drinking water from rain water without using electricity, chemicals or water filters. Collect raw water in a clean, closed container for a day’s requirement (eight to 10 litres per family per day) and immerse in it a pure-silver foil (10 by 30 cm) or wire for eight hours.
The water is 100 per cent bacteria-free, has no side-effects, and the foil doesn’t impart any taste or odour to the water.”  

The other power savers are a solar cooker and a right-door refrigerator.
Shivakumar removed the hinges and reversed the door direction, thus, right-handers keep the door open for less time, saving power, since power used by a fridge is directly proportionally to the time its door is kept open.

Solar energy

Solar energy panels on the terrace provide hot water for bathrooms through a low-wattage, high-efficiency water heater with a paddy husk insulator, an invention that fetched Shivakumar a national award for New Innovations.
Solar energy also powers most bulbs; the rest are CFLs. The skylights in the home-centre, two of which also serve as ventilators, and profusion of enormous windows and glass doors provide natural illumination during daytime.
The fans are rarely used thanks to a natural air-conditioning system achieved through: (a) Windrose diagram. The wind direction in the plot is gauged and doors and windows constructed to guide the wind along the ‘Green Curtain’ i.e plants/trees and waterbodies around the home. These filter the air since greenery absorbs carbon dioxide and deposits moisture. Thus, only fresh, clean and cool air enters the home. (b) Laurie_Baker inspired rat-trap design for walls wherein bricks are placed with three-inch gaps in between, which act as insulation.

Fewer bricks

This design also consumes 40 per cent less bricks. And these are high quality bricks, so no plastering and painting were needed on the outer walls. Non-plastering saves 50 per cent of cement costs. Benches in rooms are in natural stone, the cheapest option for seaters and also maintenance free.

The window grills and house gate are of powder-coated bright steel bars which require no painting.

On split levels

Sourabha is located on an incline of nearly seven feet on the northern tip. To benefit from this topography and avoid cost and effort of excavations and fillings, Shivakumar built Sourabha on split levels.

The home has a white roof so heat gets reflected away in summer. “Experts at IIS have proved that 62 per cent of a home’s heat comes from the roof. With this trick, the figure becomes 17 per cent,” he explains. The heat-contributing south and west walls have been made blind with bright paints while the north and east directions have maximum doors and expansive windows which together with skylights ensure full air circulation and diffused light.  A neem tree serves as a natural pesticide for the profusion of greenery including the terrace garden, all organic.

Shivakumar’s family doesn’t use the municipal garbage bin––plastic/metals generated are given to ragpickers for recycling, and organic waste deposited in vermicompost pits to generate organic manure. 

He’s even kept out cockroaches. And wouldn’t every housewife love to know how! “A little research revealed they generally don’t breed in homes but mainly in the municipal sewerage pipe, and enter homes by crawling through connecting pipes which each home has with that master pipe. So, I broke the existing connecting pipe and built, instead, one with a U-shaped tube (water trap) which doesn’t allow cockroaches to crawl through.”

For all the scientific innovations, there has been no overlooking design aesthetics in the process.

The home is well-designed and elegantly accessorised too.

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