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Posted at: Oct 5, 2019, 12:42 AM; last updated: Oct 5, 2019, 12:42 AM (IST)

Simply sustainable

Planning to construct a new house or renovating an existing one? Make informed choices and go in for basic structural changes for a green living

Dhruva Sondhi

We all want to do our bit for the environment. Going green is not an expensive affair, even though many believe it is. Besides good karma, there are many practical benefits like long-term savings, healthy indoors, and of course, stunning landscapes. Some of the techniques we will discuss do not actually require you to make dramatic changes, as simple modifications can go a long way in making a home more sustainable and comforting. These will be most helpful to those who are planning a new home. Some will help if you are planning to renovate your existing home.

Room orientation

At the design stage, close attention must be paid to the orientation of rooms with respect to the movement of the sun. The spaces must be allocated and oriented to take the maximum advantage of summer and winter months. Since the rooms in the south-west are exposed to the sun for the maximum amount of time, avoid large-sized windows in this direction. The solar heat gain must be stopped outside the windows through shading rather than adding heavy curtains inside the house. Even if you want to opt for glass windows, make sure you have doubly insulated glass or add a nominal plywood shutter before the glass — this way you could get the benefit of glass opening during morning and evenings, while keeping the sun out during the day.

Courtyard planning

Consider having a courtyard in your dream home which could naturally light up your home without having to use lights in the day time and serve the dual purpose of ventilation. Beautifully landscaped courtyards have stood the tests of times and have always been a part of an Indian home design. Courtyards are particularly beneficial where the depth of the plots is more than twice the width.

Cross ventilation

Think twice before having a fixed glass window in any of your rooms. Provision for cross ventilation for all rooms helps the warm air to go out, and cool breeze to come in. Fresh air circulation in early morning and late evening hours becomes even more important if air conditioning is being used for majority of the day and night time.

Water conservation

The simplest way to conserve water is to install cisterns, above and below the ground to collect surface run offs from roof tops and other impervious surfaces. This water could then be used for watering the lawns or simply recharging the ground water. Consider installing low flow fixtures in toilets and energy star rated washing machines and dishwashers. 

Cut down the heat

Concrete surfaces absorb heat from the sun throughout the day and cool down at night by emitting that heat. You can avoid this by simply painting the roofs white with heat reflective roof coatings (though you would need to keep it dust free). Having a roof garden is the most effective to keep the roof cool but it involves having the slab designed for soil loads and specialised waterproofing. Placing hollow bricks on the roof after a layer of waterproofing or inverted earthen pots is another alternative.

Another effective way is to add layer of polystyrene with aluminium foil just above the false ceiling, creating an air gap between the roof slab and false ceiling. These techniques have been proven to provide a three to four degree difference between the outside and inside temperature.  

Protect indoor air quality

Did you know that indoor pollutants can harm us more than the outdoor pollution? The toxic effects of volatile organic compounds can result into respiratory problems, irritation of the throat, nose, eyes and potential damage to nervous system. While choosing engineered wood (ply, mdf, blockboard, etc.) for your home, make sure that the product is free from benzene, xylene, ammonia and formaldehyde. Opt for water-based, non voc paints, varnishes, stains, sealants and adhesives. There is a list of air-cleaning plants like Ferns, Snake plant, Spider plant, Peace lily, etc. which are low in maintenance and are proven to remove volatile organic compounds from the air.

Roof top cooler

Roof top cooler with ducted air supply is the most cost-effective way to keep your home cool during the pre-monsoon months. It is especially efficient to cool large or double height areas of the open plan homes these days. Nowadays coolers with dehumidifiers are available.

Choice of material

Try and opt for natural materials for furnishing and upholstery over synthetic materials. If the materials are sourced locally, less is the travel distance, and thus, it reduces the carbon footprint. Use of locally available stone will always be more beneficial in the long run. Whatever you can incorporate will improve your immediate environment. Homes built today will stay on for at least next 60 years and more, and hence have a lifelong impact — on us, on our family and our surroundings. By making informed and conscious choice, if we all do our bit, we are well on the way of an environmentally sustainable and a healthy world.

Solar electricity plant

Use your roof to generate electricity for your home, supply it to the grid and to keep your roof cool by providing shade.

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