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The green circuit
Forget McMansions, eco-homes are the new trend in these power-strapped times. As for electricity bills, the neighbours would turn green.
As huge swathes of the country plunged into darkness over two consecutive days this week, a few homeowners weren't grumbling about grids. For, over the last few years, they have actively, and without prompting, reduced their dependence on industrial power, water and other utilities. "Climate-responsive architecture creates better indoor environments by allowing more natural light,
fresh air circulation, optimal use of space and suitable temperature, " says Bangalore-based architect Chitra Vishwanath, principal architect and managing director of Biome Environmental, a consultancy that designs and creates sustainable systems for homes and offices.
The World Health Organization estimated that as much as 30 per cent of the world's buildings suffer from poor ventilation and lighting, which could be tied to a number of comfort and health conditions - collectively referred to as the Sick Building Syndrome. "Studies have shown that placing a strong emphasis on integrating natural elements into a building's environment can increase work efficiency in commercial buildings by up to 15 per cent and increase the comfort quality in residential buildings, " says Chitra, whose own work has been inspired by that of architect Laurie Baker - considered by many to be the father of sustainable and vernacular architecture.
Chitra and her husband S Vishwanath, civil engineer turned rainwater harvesting expert, own an iconic green home in Bangalore. Built in the '90s, the home has been constructed using blocks and mortar made on the site from earth dug up from the plot, creating an airy basement that functioned till very recently as Biome's office. It has extensive rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling systems, harvesting 90, 000 litres of rainwater from a 1, 500-sq ft plot, and all its cooking, lighting and water heating are powered by solar energy. It has no fans and is naturally ventilated through the year.
Chitra's clients are interested in eco-friendly homes but, she says, they are apprehensive about it being high maintenance. She maintains, that contrary to popular impressions, green homes are not costlier to build. As per a study conducted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the real cost difference between building a green structure and a conventional one is only around 5 per cent. "And this marginal difference is more than made up in the long run because green buildings will be more energy efficient in the long run, saving its owners money in the form of electricity and water bills, " says Chitra. Studies indicate that green buildings can lower energy consumption by 30-50 per cent and water consumption by 30-70 per cent.
The green building movement is gathering pace in India. But experts say it should be growing at a faster pace given that India's native architectural heritage lends many of its ideas to contemporary green architects.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a Delhi-based environmental not-for-profit, launched a green certification system for individual houses this January. Mili Majumdar, director, sustainable habitat division, TERI, says, "We had developed Swagriha for homes, which helps with design as well as ratings. We received a fair response. Currently, we have have 17 projects on the field and 30-40 in the pipeline across the country. " The extent of awareness is far from optimum though. TERI in a recent survey found that just one per cent of all buildings are green.
But has technology changed the way green buildings are crafted? Surprisingly, the answer is not much - apart from making certain components such as solar photovoltaic panels cheaper and more efficient. "The technology that has really helped us as a community of people who work in this space is information technology, which helps connect us across the country, putting experts in different fields in touch with each other and clients in touch with experts. The rest is all common sense, " says Chitra.
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