Sustain home & hearth

Design

Sustain home & hearth

It’s the time to go green which also brings down the bills considerably while retaining the original spirit and soul of a home for a long time to come. Priti Kalra lists out simple but effective steps to achieve this.

Sustainable architecture (or green architecture) is architecture that employs design methods which are least harmful to the environment. In the broader scheme of things, this movement is backed by pressing economic and political issues prevalent today.

To begin with, the environmental benefits that come from sustainable development include protection of our biodiversity, improved quality of water and air, reduced waste streams and importantly, conservation of our natural resources for our future generations. By maximising the efficiency of materials, water and energy in a building, we reduce operating cost and increase occupant productivity.

This automatically translates to economic benefits, increasing value of assets and profit percentage. Socially, too, green buildings play an important role, improving air quality, health, comfort and reducing the load on the infrastructure, thereby enhancing overall quality of individual life.

Buildings account for almost 40 per cent of the total energy consumption of our nation, making it of utmost importance to ensure that this energy is not wasted in situations where more efficient techniques could be exercised.

So, how can you make your home more sustainable? Let’s begin with HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. The most important and cost-effective aspect of an efficient HVAC system is a well insulated building. Such a building requires less power to generate or dissipate energy, but in turn, needs more openings to allow polluted indoor air to exit.

The first step would be to insulate your roof. Next come the walls, but this is much easier to do in a house built from scratch. In an existing house, it is necessary to remove the wall cladding and possibly start with insulating the top half of the walls outside the living areas. Heat rises, therefore, the top requires maximum insulation. Another way is to grow creepers on the external walls which have an immediate cooling effect.

Planting shade and deciduous trees and situating them in the southern and western regions of your site contribute massively to bringing down the temperature of your property. Situating water ponds outside windows also enables evaporative cooling systems to be generated within the house.

It is important to filter the heat coming in through your windows, either with the use of double-glazed windows, or the more cost-effective thermal-backed curtains. Note here, that windows should be designed to allow maximum natural light to enter, reducing the need for artificial energy intensive lighting.

Timber floors could be insulated with perforated concertina foil. However, in most cases in India the floors are concrete slabs. These could be insulated by fixing foam sandwich board around the edges, as maximum heat transfer happens here. With respect to the climate of the Indian subcontinent, keeping your home naturally cool plays a great role in reducing the energy consumed through artificial cooling means.

The next facet of sustainability is the idea of renewable energy production. Generally, the methods employed are solar panels and wind turbines for natural power generation, solar water heating for cost-effective hot water at home and heat pumps as reversible air conditioners in colder climates.

In building a house from scratch, the first step would be to orient your roof in the direct path of the sun and to install photovoltaic cells which can produce electricity for any use.

Efficiency of these cells ranges on orientation, latitude and climate and further advice could be sought from your architect. Solar hot water, these days, is considered to be the most positive investment.

Although initially expensive, it pays for itself generally within seven years time, and can completely replace electric heating and reduce long-term costs. One could even look at installing a small-scale wind turbine or micro-hydro system in your backyard for low impact energy generation.

Several materials are known to carry inherent properties of sustainability, such as sustainably harvested wood, linoleum, sheep wool, high performance self-healing concrete, rammed earth, clay, cork, coconut, locally available stone and bamboo.

Intelligent use of the right material in the right climate has a direct effect on temperature within the house. Architects also use recycled materials like lumber and copper for certain types of construction, which in a broader sense, save on the energy utilised in producing new materials. Non-toxic paints with low VOC rating should be mandatorily used, as these not only have insulating benefits but are also known to be much superior to their toxic counterparts which have detrimental health effects over time.
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Installation of a rainwater collection tank on the roof is a good idea. Water tanks are easy to fit to downpipes and can be used for gardening and toilets. It requires no energy to pump the water to your house, as the force of gravity does its trick. In certain cleaner regions, this water could be used for washing and drinking as well, depending on the air and rain quality.

Some people even recycle water, which basically involves cleaning grey water (from laundry and bath areas) and black water (from toilets and kitchens), and putting them to another use, e.g. watering non-food plants.

There are several other lifestyle changes which can also contribute to sustainability on a large scale if these practices gain enough momentum. These include starting a compost pile, landscaping with edible plants, starting a community garden and eating lower on the food chain. Moving closer to work, carpooling and using public transport are other ways to reduce impact on our environment.

The simplest thing to start with would be to select appliances with high energy-efficiency ratings, and replace incandescent and halogen lights with CLFs and LEDs respectively. Finally, effective waste management and inculcating the habit of recycling really go a long way in sustainable development.

At first glance, incorporating green features into your home seems like a herculean task.

No doubt, it is the architect and builder’s responsibility to build with a vision for sustainability. But, it is every citizen’s duty to make sure that his/her daily lifestyle does not have a lethal impact on our ecology. The first step to every big initiative is education and awareness.

A famous architect once said, “If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeros.” Let us join hands and consciously decide to reduce our energy loads, our household inefficiencies and everyone’s favourite, our zeros.

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