Try retrofitting first
If people think that eco-friendly ideas should have been incorporated in the design right upfront and all the existing houses with stuffy air, dark corners and badly heated-up bedrooms need to stay so for ever, they are wrong. Any building can be worked upon towards becoming a green structure, with some studied ideas, thoughts and interventions.
The green technology can be divided into 2 broad sub-divisions – passive systems and active interventions. The former is rooted in non-mechanised, no or low energy ideas, locally applicable and easy implementation possibilities. In contrast the active ones need machines, power, maintenance, skilled execution, high-ended materials and such others.
In existing buildings both are possible, but the active ones would effect the building envelop more due to the need to run wires, cable and pipes. It is wiser to start with the passive solutions first, check out for their implications and then decide upon the alternative solution.
To start with…
Making a small displacement ventilation hole just below the roof level is the easiest one to start with. The opening needs to have a chajja to stop rain water from spraying in or be a perforated opening. There could be a mosquito mesh, so fixed that it could be removed for cleaning it periodically. If it does not work, only then there could be an electric exhaust fan to throw the foul air out. Every site has certain directions of predominant breeze, which the occupants might have observed.
Alternatively, small hand-held equipment can be used to check them out during the different periods. Using this knowledge, openings could be created in windward and leeward directions, that let in air automatically.
If light is the issue, skylights should be first considered before going in for more windows in the wall. The latter can be made ineffective by the space between neighbouring structures, orientation of the window and presence of chajjas. As such, let us look out for factors that may negate the idea of window before we decide on them. People have started with fitting mirrors outside the house, to reflect light inside during sunlit hours, of course in extreme cases. Putting on the electric bulb should be the last option.
Many buildings from the olden days come with too many walls, doors and compartmentalised spaces which neither allow free flow of air nor let the light spread. Removing the possibly unnecessary walls could be a tricky decision, but open planning helps a lot with air, light, sense of space and functionality.
Tackle the south and west
Watching out for heated interiors always point out to some walls in south and west that face direct solar radiation. Roofs also receive much of the heat. Simply block the radiation from reaching the building by tress, sunshades or shading screen walls and we see the room being cooler.
Cladding the walls with hollow core materials and clay products with heat sink qualities also helps a lot. Generally, we can work upon an existing building, but mostly people do not. Why? One would have got accustomed to the structure!