Jul 1, 2010

Sustainable Utilities - Energy & Water

Utilities are those essentials that sustain the building users and have the most impact on our environment. This is an area, when designing and planning Green buildings that can either cause tons of wastage and huge costs to the environment such as expensive usage of potable water and energy, waste management. Just by implementing some good old common sense most of the damage and wastage could be minimized. But the sad truth is that due to ignorance most constructions in the past have not at all considered these factors and continue to be a huge liability on the our eco systems. Perhaps that is another topic. Let’s say you already own/use a structure that has not been sensitive at all to the environment. Whilst you can’t break and reconstruct the structure costing even more wastage, the one area amends could be made and the most powerful is in Utility & Maintenance management. Will try and pick this up in a subsequent post. Water Oh, now that we are so acutely aware of how precious potable water is we shudder when we use good drinking water to water our large lawns, flush our toilets, wash down our huge glass facades, etc etc……. the list is endless. All of these could have been easily accomplished with water harvested from the rains, recycled from our baths & washing machines, most which right now uselessly flood our city’s storm drains sometimes causing damage. Our towns and cities due to hardscaped roads and landscapes flood storm drains with huge amounts of rain water. Water from rains can be harvested and funneled into a reservoir, from where it is diverted to bathroom flush tanks, garden hoses. This reservoir could be a simple rubberized/sintex tank, concrete tank with a storage capacity of 11,350 liter (3,000-gallon) and a 200-gallon cistern… at garden level or below ground level. This reservoir can be capitalized on in high summers to flush the toilets and water the gardens. Alternately, in extreme heat conditions, this reservoir can be designed to form an indigenous part of the house thus cooling the adjacent rooms also naturally. Alternately the rainwater runoff from the roofs and site could be channeled to pits clad loosely with gravel in close proximity to bore wells thus recharging bore wells with the run-off from the site. There are rainwater harvesting experts in Bangalore who actually channel the run-off through the storm drains into bore well recharge pits. Not only is he increasing his reusable water capacity, he also is easing the pressure off the city storm drains that usually get flooded during rains. The gains would be huge if many urban dwellers would give this a try. Energy Buildings can now be totally off the grid in India as there are solar powered solutions, where the entire building’s electrical needs including pumps, fridges are solar powered. Of course the initial costs are prohibitive and probably those who don’t have the necessary capital could go for a partial solar solution which would also have huge impact and savings. There would be substantial savings to the user also in the form of cheaper energy bills. There are solar panels also for hot water, which is quite popular and which qualifies the buildings occupants for substantial subsidies in energy bills in India from the government. Never cease to be appalled when I see folks still going for high energy consuming geysers in spite of such measurable short term gains. Another way to reduce energy losses and maximize savings is to use energy efficient appliances. Almost most household appliances are available now in energy star formats. In urban dwellings the biggest energy culprits are lights, fans and air conditioning. In a city like Bangalore despite increasing temperatures as compared to the past, air conditioners can comfortably be done away simply by designing the buildings smartly so as to reduce heat buildup. Higher ceilings, cross ventilation, deep shades/patios on the south, west, east (in hot places like Chennai), exhaust fans in the ceilings funneling out the hot air that rises up in the room with lower inlets for cool air, smart room orientations are effective enough to control the interior heat to a comfortable temperature without having to use air conditioners. Huge areas of glass and concrete brick walls bring in a lot of heat and must be in deep recesses or screened with trees & shrubbery. Passive lighting using translucent glass such as glass bricks, Acrylic glass are used to minimize heat gain without compromising on natural light. White colored roofs being extremely reflective reduce the heat island effect drastically. Interiors must be well lit so as to avoid switching on electric lights during the day. Skylights can be used effectively to tackle situations where walls cannot be opened to make way for windows. In the night landscapes can be effectively and cost effectively be lit with solar lamps. Not only are the lamps cheap, money is saved on wiring & Conduiting also. They are available everywhere now and suits the purpose well. It’s an absolute waste to use clean energy, when there is an alternate so easily available. However for more aesthetic options, solar lamps can be supplemented with LED lights. Interior lighting can be low energy consuming CFLs and LEDs. Waste Management Waste management would probably the most challenging feature to enforce as it involves cultivating an ongoing discipline and sensitivity transforming into a green lifestyle. If diligently practiced the rewards for the community are huge as otherwise harmful landfills are reduced and instead useful products are made such as plastics recycled to form a myriad of products, paper recycled again to form other useful products, garden organic manure made from kitchen waste f. In fact most families could start a composting pit of their own in the corner of the garden thus generating the manure for their garden at site without wastage of fuel for transporting the kitchen waste to a composting site and back again as organic manure.


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