Air pollution, high energy consumption, water shortage and waste management are acute problems. They also increase our monthly expenses. However, there are investments you can make in your house to do good to the environment while also getting returns by way of savings.
There are at least five different ways by which you can save on your power bill, some of which do not add to extra cost. One is through the design of the house. A well-ventilated house with suitable lighting can reduce heating, cooling and lighting energy needs. For example, orienting the house to face south helps minimise energy consumption by capturing the sun’s heat in the winter and blocking it in the summer.
Two, the materials you use in construction can alter your energy consumption. Many traditional and local building materials may be more suitable than mass-produced or popular ones such as red brick or concrete. For instance, mud and bamboo and other natural materials can offer more energy-efficiency. There are also many new-age materials that can provide more thermal comfort. In a completed house, fixing air leaks in windows and doors and adding curtains can save you cooling cost.
Three, harnessing solar power is a great way to reduce your lighting bill. This can be done in a few ways. A simple one in design is using skylights that can reduce your lighting requirements. Solar lanterns that can be charged during the day cost under ₹500.
Four, you can install and use solar water heaters to cut your geyser usage. The caution, however, is that this investment may take a while to payback, based on your geyser usage and whether there is enough solar power during the periods you need them. As the calculations vary with regions, be sure to do the maths on the investment and energy savings. Five, solar panels can be used to generate electricity. Here again, the cost economics need to be worked out based on your usage and whether there is net-metering (which reduces your battery storage costs, which can be substantial). In apartments, given the limited roof space and multiple users, the economics may work out better than in independent homes.
Given the water shortage in many cities and the need to buy water, solutions that reduce water usage pay for itself. A first step that many apartments take is installing individual water meters to monitor usage and bill based on that. This has been shown to reduce consumption (by up to 30 percent in some cases).
There are also many adapters that you can attach to taps. Rainwater harvesting is a great way to recharge groundwater. Reclaiming used water with sewage treatment plants is another way to reduce water intake. Units that run on power are the mainstay, but models that work with the help of anaerobic bacteria are also available. These can save up to 90 per cent of power costs in operation. Treated water can be used for gardens and flushing, and would require changes to the plumbing system, if done as a retrofit.
You can also buy units that generate drinking water from the moisture in the air. These may cost about ₹40,000 and can give 20 litres of water in a day. There is also running cost of about half a unit of power per litre of water. These can save water wasted in RO purifiers.
Having a terrace garden helps cool the house and supply vegetables. You can also compost kitchen waste and use it in the garden. There are also urban versions of bio-gas plants that can be used as a replacement for cooking gas. For example, 10 kg per day of bio-waste material generates fuel to cook for about two hours per day. Bio-gas plants cost about ₹40,000, and there are extra costs such as installation and a new stove.
Installing smart sensors — that detect usage — and controllers — that turn off devices when not used — is another way to save power and water. When doing calculations, giving weightage to the overall cost to the society can tilt the balance towards sustainable products.
The writer is an independent financial consultant
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