With all this talk of climate change, how can we “go green”?
There has been, of late, a renewed effort to sensitize the world to the hazards of global climate change. Governments, companies, institutions and individuals are fast recognizing the urgency of the situation and are becoming more proactive about incorporating sustainable, “green” design. But Indians have always known how to build green—be it as a way to cope with harsh climatic conditions in most parts of the country or because of the sheer lack of resources, we have always put together sustainable building technologies and designs best suited to our conditions.
Most modern architects don’t pay attention to these traditional methods and many structures today are unfriendly to the environment. But there are plenty of quick and easy ways to make buildings environment friendly. Here are three:
Two of the biggest guzzlers of power in modern buildings are air-conditioning and artificial lighting. Much of the waste of energy comes from poor planning. To understand how best to avoid the unnecessary waste, we first need to revisit a basic natural phenomenon: the movement of the sun. In our part of the world, the movement of the sun is such that maximum heat is generated from the west, since that is where the sun is for the most part of the day. The east gets just a few hours of morning sun, when it is not that harsh. The north mainly gets diffused light and the southern sun can be controlled by using sun breakers.
This means we need to minimize openings on the west side of a building and design houses in such a way that lesser used areas are in this zone. The openings on the north face of a building can have larger windows to maximize the daylight coming through. The southern face can have sunshades (chajjas) and canopies to control the entry of direct sunlight into the building. This would keep the building cool, and the building’s air-conditioning requirements would decrease. Natural light will be in plenty, resulting in a decreased dependence on artificial lighting.
Another major area for improvement in any structure, office or house is the amount and the type of glass used, especially when there are big windows to deal with. One option is to replace the existing glass with glass that has a low-emissivity (low-e) coating. Low-e glass lowers the total heat flow through windows by increasing the amount of heat reflected back from the glass, cutting cooling costs. The glass should also be sufficiently shaded from direct sun.
Finally, terraces and outside open spaces tend to be sparingly used in the summer. Tempering these spaces by way of terrace gardens and green areas with pergolas not only increases their usability, but also act as a buffer space between the harsh outside and the interiors. And, of course, plants help regenerate our environment.
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