Oct 10 2013
A green home entails a little more capital cost at the start, but in the end it helps you recoup the additional cost in 5-10 years
A green home, on the other hand, is what you ‘architect’ and ‘engineer’ in terms of solutions for a regular urban home, taking into account the use of building materials for floors, walls and roofs and windows; the use of systems that reduce consumption of water and energy without compromising comfort or convenience the way you define them as a dweller. If you were willing to spend a little more as capital cost at the start, you can secure savings into the future that can help you recoup your additional capital cost over five to seven or, may be, 10 years, depending on the feature you are adding to your green home.
Green homes can help you save as much 30-50 per cent in your energy bills. With the right elements in place, you can rely less on fresh water and, therefore, increase water security. Beyond savings, green homes can help you generate some wealth from waste, by managing its conversion into either manure or compost or even energy for your kitchen. The important thing is that a green home in the urban context will enable you to reduce your dependence on government infrastructure for water, energy and waste.
First, green homes don’t cost more — they need a different approach to design and planning; they need your effort to find the right vendors for the right inputs that can offer your solutions that either cut energy and water bills; or increase lifecycle of products you install at home. It is a question of how you spend the money, and not how much more — or less — you spend in building a green home, as opposed to a regular home with conventional materials that we have known for the past 50 to 60 years.
The cost, like in any house, is to do with what you want in a house. Where a green home distinguishes itself is in the way you have employed materials. For example, using soil blocks instead of bricks increases the duration of your building, helps you avoid plastering externally (therefore reducing cost), while also adding to the looks of the building. The use of natural floors increases the aesthetic appeal and even the therapeutic value of your house. Ask anyone with arthritis or rheumatism who walks barefoot at home on vitrified or ceramic tiled floors, and then for some months on natural floors. Their pains dramatically ease with natural floors!
So, a green home is not about price, it is a whole new order of the future. It is building technology that emerges from careful thought on design and human needs.
In India, 10 years ago, a few green buildings that were built by pioneers like the government’s Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and by some private sector initiatives, witnessed a capital cost delta of about 16 to 18 per cent in going green. Today, that figure has come down to a cost differential of near-zero — for two reasons: one is that products have become far cheaper (for example, waterless urinals are now available at Rs 6,000 against Rs 30,000 in 2003) and two, for the greater knowledge of how to achieve resource-efficiency among a growing group of architects and water-energy consultants.
This means that a green building costs the same as a regular building, although there is still a segment of the mainstream building industry (and Indian industry at large) that is not willing to concede this for their lack of understanding of design solutions, and the dearth of professional architects and service consultants who have the expertise of incorporating such energy efficiency into their design approaches.
The sum and short of it is this: clearly there is no cost difference. However, there is need for many thousands of professionals who can guide such approaches for promoters and managements of builder companies and industry at large. This is where the concept of zero energy development (ZED) comes into play.
The idea of ZED is central to going green. People do not connect the dots between the specific benefit that a product or a service offers them and the contribution they are making to save the ‘only house we have, our planet’. A ZED idea in action relates to how a customer sees the benefit of financial savings or ROI for the money she puts in to purchase a product or service. It also at once offers the customer the feel of why she is doing well for herself while she is also doing good for the planet. How her purchase is lighter on her wallet, while being lighter on the planet, too. It is therefore not just the buying, but what she is buying into.
Your average home consumes about eight units a day. If half your need (four units) were to come from localised solutions like solar photovoltaic power, the total demand for domestic energy will drop by half as well.
Examples of such ZED ideas in action are: an air-conditioner that saves about 70 per cent on energy and therefore offers a payback of less than four years for the investment on the air-conditioner. You can buy a regular AC at Rs 22,000 and pay three times the energy cost for every hour of its use; or you can buy a green zero-energy-developed AC that (a) uses no ozone depleting substance for cooling the air, (b) works on a 5-amp mode (avoiding therefore the installation of too many 15-amp switches in your home and so saving on the energy peak load for the house), and (c) consumes less than 400 watts as energy load while keeping your room as cool as any other AC.
The example extends to other simple household appliances like a pump for drawing water from a borewell, a washing machine that saves energy or water, a microwave oven that needs a lower ‘surge load’ and so saves on designed energy peak load of the house, or a geyser that works at 0.5 kw against the regular 3 kw system now on the market …. there are dozens of such examples.
The ZED idea in action usually also demonstrates reliability, economy, efficiency, excellent function and finishes that are the finest. The customer also understands how to connect the dot to the larger picture of how a saving in his house can bring down dramatically at the city’s level (if all of us take to such ZED practices) the demand for energy; how a saving of 70 per cent in energy will reduce our dependence on coal for thermal plants and therefore bring down the abuse and degradation of forests for coal extraction.
Another example of such ZED ideas in action is the purchase of a house that reduces about 3,000 carbon tonnes for every set of 70-80 apartments of 1,500 sq ft. The natural resource-efficient structural systems, the avoidance of bricks and clay blocks (because of top soil abuse), use of chemical-free waterproofing compounds and non-toxic waterproofing treatment systems or paints, avoidance of use of ceramic tiles which are high on embodied energy in their manufacture.
Use of ZED air-conditioning systems that are pollen-free and not ozone-depleting in their functioning, treatment of all waste water in a way that they can be up-cycled and reused for flush tanks or gardens or car wash, and such other use at home (which account for over 50 per cent of water use in any house), use of rainwater harvest systems to ensure that about 60 days in a year come from such capture of rainwater, use of flush tanks that reduce by 70-80 per cent the drain of water with every flush, use of reused steel where possible for construction, use of treated water for construction and reduction of construction water with systems and smart protocols for construction management.
These are just a few examples, there are, in fact, about 58 such ZED practices that make for either reduction in use of manufacture energy or offer post-occupancy efficiency in the use of energy and water. Going green, actually, is not just about eco-friendliness, it’s about economics as well.
(The writer is executive chairman and co-founder of BCIL, Zed Homes)