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Go green with ease written by Harsh Bhutani, published in Financial Chronicle. June 6, 2014

Nearly 30 per cent of India’s population lives in urban areas, that population is estimated to increase to 50 per cent in the next 15years. It is impossible to solve the problem of sustainable architecture without addressing the issue of urban living. A growing urban population with its changing lifestyles is straining the supply of natural resources. Crucial today is finding appropriate sustainable urban, industrial and rural models for the Indian subcontinent — not something imported from the industrialised nations, not exclusively dependent on globalisation, but those that render themselves suitable for our lifestyles — sustainable, socially and culturally engaged.


Master plans for the cities must be master plans for the environment, with all our material requirements as a subset of the larger environmental vision. Architects, designers and urban planners need to engage in order to institute a stance to consolidate our position as global Indians. The country is clearly witnessing a paradigm shift —technology has positively affected our lives and a well planned, technologically-designed space is now well within our grasp. Something that is being increasingly reflected in the construction industry. Hence, design flexibility that allows sustainability as per client’s requirements is hugely popular with consumers.


Effective utilisation of glass


Large, multi-storeyed buildings with exterior glass walls have caught up in India, especially after the advent of the IT sector, in a big way. There have been instances of not-so-well-planned glass buildings that end up consuming high electricity for air-conditioning, as often the glass lets in too much heat. Contrary to this, the use of glass in buildings does not always lead to high energy costs, if properly designed. It all depends on how the building is oriented, that is, what façade of the building uses glass.


One should keep in mind that too much glass should not be placed on the west façade, especially in hot places. It’s the west face that gets more of the hot sun. This indicates that one has to study the weather in a region to decide which façade of the building should have glass. If you intend using glass in the west or southern facades, consider low-heat glass panels (that reflect most of the heat back and provide maximum light inside) and sandwich panels which have double-insulated glass windows to cut out the heat as well as sound.


Solar energy


There is plenty of scope to tap renewable sources such as solar energy. However, the cost effectiveness of this will depend on the kind of building and open space available. For instance, in a large spread-out place such as a resort, there will be enough land to place solar panels. The more the space for the panels, the higher one can save on conventional consumption. So with enough space, a resort can save 30-40 per cent of energy consumption. On the other hand, if you are looking at a 50-60 storeyed building built on about an acre in a big city, then the free area after providing for other amenities such as parking is limited. In that case, the rooftop does not provide enough space to lay sufficient solar panels to serve a large building. Rooftops, therefore, are ideal for smaller buildings or apartments with just 3-5 storeys.


Water conservation


Another area that offers plenty of scope is water conservation. While most buildings now adopt rainwater harvesting, building developers in hot regions/deserts take to innovative ways. For example, there is a project in West Asia that generated its own water by using a simple physical principle that says when hot air, which has more moisture than cold air rises, the moisture condenses. To achieve this, the 20-30-storey building used a sandwich wall — two walls with a cavity in between. A system was devised to suck the hot air from the bottom and run it through the cavity between the sandwich walls. As hot air rose, it cooled and the moisture condensed into water. This water was collected in little drains at the bottom of the cavity and was then used to irrigate the entire landscape of the property.


Besides these, there are many other ways to make a home eco-friendly. For one thing, instead of the usual marble or hardwood, why not think out of the box and use bamboo or ceramic and glass waste tiles. In addition, there’s a whole world of recycled furniture out there waiting to be explored. Also, fabric for furniture, cushions and pillows made of organic cotton or dyed with water-based or vegetable-based inks are smarter green choices.


A room filled with beautiful eco-conscious flooring and furniture will fit perfectly within walls painted with low-VOC paint. Volatile organic compounds are gases emitted by certain chemicals in paints and other household products. These can have damaging health effects. The smell of a freshly painted room or the new smell of furniture is from VOCs being released into the air. Spending a little more money for low-VOC paint that is clay, mineral pigment or milk casein-based is worth the health of your family and their exposure to harsh chemicals. Many non-toxic paints are on the market today.


Then there are earth-friendly lighting solutions from reclaimed wood to coral ones that make the most of nature’s bounty. And instead of regular bulbs, use LED lights that consume less energy and have better light lumens. In bathrooms and kitchens, you can use water saving devices such as basin mixers and double-flush WC cisterns that save water by 30 per cent in comparison to normal fixtures. So, plan well and get a green home that’s in harmony with your environment.

(The writer is the managing director of ED&P Group)