Personal Finance

Breathe easy with a green home

Arvind Jayaram | Updated on March 12, 2018



It’s a little more expensive than your run-of-the-mill concrete block, but a green home has tangible payoffs in the long run

When you have a third of your net worth invested in your personal residence, opulence isn’t quite enough, especially if you’re an Indian HNI.

Socially conscious and environment-friendly home-owners are increasingly adopting expensive “green” building practices to minimise the footprint of their homes on the ecology, whilst maximising comfort.

As a thumb rule, one can consider the average cost of a green home at 9 per cent higher than a normal one. But there are tangible benefits over the lifecycle of the building, primarily in the form of 20-30 per cent energy savings and 30-50 per cent water savings, according to the Indian Green Buildings Council. The intangible benefits include excellent day lighting and the satisfaction derived from conservation of national resources.

So beyond the latest luxury bathroom fittings, marble floor tiles and technology time-savers, the wealthy are also investing in measures to harness solar power and rainwater that translate into big savings in the long run. The beneficial impact of greenery on ambient temperature levels is being factored into house planning and design with a view to create the perfect living space in sync with nature.

Keep out dust, heat

Sugandhi Gopalakrishnan, who recently completed construction of an independent bungalow along the ECR stretch in Chennai, says, “We did it from the point of view of aesthetics, looking at natural air circulation and lighting. You can’t exactly put a number on the savings and it costs you a lot more than a conventional house.” She pegs the additional cost of the design and green features in her house at about 30 per cent.

But, there are others who have a different perspective.

In the long run, the cost of running a green building is a lot lower. Typically, the electricity bill will be lower as you conserve energy through better insulation, some concede.

Few houses have features such as insulated roofs and walls to reduce heat ingress by up to 60 per cent (thereby reducing air-conditioning costs), sensor lights that switch on and off automatically in lobby areas, water conserving fixtures and fittings, rainwater harvesting technology and external solar lighting. Some are also designed so that the rooms are open on three sides to maximise cross ventilation and make the best use of natural daylight.

Though not essential, even the materials used in construction of green buildings can be more eco-friendly than the traditional brick and mortar. “Green” concrete, solar-reflecting roof tiles, thermal insulating plaster and water-proofing compounds, eco-paint, perforated bricks and even processed soil are some of the materials you could turn to for building the perfect green home, but this could increase the cost of construction exponentially. Whether you have an existing residence, or are constructing a new house, there are myriad ways to make your home the epitome of energy efficiency.

One way to save on energy, particularly air-conditioning costs, is to make sure that the building is well-insulated. Neither rain nor shine can dampen your day if you build walls that are insulated and air-sealed.

Design your house to make the best use of natural lighting during the daytime.

A Srivatsan, an architect, says, “The current industry focus is more on green commercial buildings, with hardly any attention to green homes. If you see certification programmes, they are primarily oriented in the commercial sector. So it’s left to individuals to make a choice on how to build.”

At the individual level, there are many options to make an eco-friendly house, starting from usage of material, recycling of gray water, use of solar panels and even dry toilets.

Some consciously avoid using energy consuming materials. Also, when you build large towers, placement could be a factor to cut energy requirements. The design can tap plenty of daylight so that you avoid using artificial light in the house, he adds.

In the case of doors, exterior wood doors under two inches thick don’t offer much in the way of insulation.

What is more, when weather-stripping is of poor quality or worn out, the effects are magnified. Keep in mind that with an existing construction, your options to modify the walls may be limited. Instead, focus your efforts on insulation of the space.

Let green take root

Greenery has more than just a calming effect on the mind. Renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito has described the building of the future as one big tree and it’s not too hard thinking of ways to achieve this.

Plants provide shade and are a natural complement to your green home; studies have proved this, so let your imagination run wild.

Beyond steps such as landscaping and planting trees of your choice, it would be prudent to consider a rooftop garden if you’re not planning on using the space for some other purpose.

This will act as a natural cover for your structure, providing it with another layer of protection. To boot, you’re likely to have more animals and birds for company as a result of the conducive environment.

Ecologically responsible

Think about it: what kind of inheritance do you want to leave your future generations?

Going green does entail a higher cost vis-à-vis an ordinary bungalow, but over the long run there is ample scope to recover these expenses through cost savings on electricity and water consumption. Besides, there’s also the added satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done your best to preserve the environment.

And for the ultimate recognition of your effort, get your home certified by the IGBC, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency or Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA).

But Srivatsan has a word of caution: “Countries such as Switzerland already have certification programmes. But many buildings are so material-oriented they are not good at energy performance.”

Going green can also improve your outlook on life — when there are flowers everywhere, one simply can’t but stop and smell them.

Advantage, technology

It makes ample sense to harness the best-in-class technology within your house to further reduce your carbon footprint.

Solar geyser/solar panel: A solar geyser is an alternative to a gas or electricity-powered geyser. For a normal household that spends 35 per cent of its electricity bill on water heating, the cost could be recouped as quickly as three or four years through reduced bills. With enhanced efficiency in solar panel technology, it’s now possible to achieve similar cost reductions through installation of solar panels. This can also reduce your dependence on diesel generators.

Geothermal heat pump: If you have central heating and air cooling in your home, the unit maintains the temperature by exchanging air inside your house with the air outside. But this is not the most energy-efficient method, as the outside air is usually much hotter in summer and colder in winter. A geothermal heat pump works the same way but its heat exchange apparatus is buried underground, where temperatures are stable. It can reduce heating and cooling costs by 30-40 per cent.

Dual flush toilet: The humble commode uses more water than any other fixture in the house, up to 27 per cent of total water, depending on the age of the toilet. Upgrading to a newer toilet can drastically reduce this usage, but even better is a dual flush toilet with two flush options: for solid and liquid waste. It might seem like nitpicking, but it’s simple planning like this that makes one home greener than others.

Programmable thermostat: If you don’t want to have to turn down the heat at bedtime or bump up the thermostat in your state-of-the-art house before you leave for work, a programmable thermostat can control your central cooling/heating system for you. You simply tell the system when to adjust the temperature and it does the work.

Published on May 25, 2014

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