Monthly Archives: July 2015

In cities, electric car is ideal

It is non-polluting and saves on precious fuel.

Reva_i_silverIt is now well understood and goes undebated to say that an eco-friendly lifestyle should compliment designing and building an eco-friendly house.

Just imagine owning a green home saving energy and then living an energy guzzling lifestyle! Among the major compulsions to consume non-renewable energy is local travel, burning petrol and diesel.

Do we have alternatives?

Majority of gadgets we use today suffer from a modern disease called technological overkill. Computers can do wonders, yet no one individually uses more than possibly 10% of its built-in potential, but pays for the unused 90% possibilities.

It is the same story with cameras, cell phones, tabs and such others. It was not so in the past – be it kitchen items, cultivation tools, furniture or a house itself. Mostly they were used to their fullest extent.

Cars too come with so many capabilities in terms of highest speed, boot space, passenger seats, music, AC, load carrying capacity and such others. But for public taxis, most of these go less noticed or unutilised. If we do not require such a feature-filled car for a city drive, it makes sense to own a car judiciously suited for city conditions, just about serving all our daily needs, doing least harm to nature.

Image booster

This is where an electric car can step in. The feel-good factor about driving a non-polluting vehicle, along with the happiness of saving on precious fuels, can be an image boosting act.

It’s a matter of pride for India to be among the few nations producing an electric car, despite tough competition from fuel-based car makers. Though electric cars are marketed for having the least running cost, the real reason to drive them should be their green sense.

The battery is among the most controversial parts of these cars. Despite the advanced lithium iron batteries with more than five years life, they surely need to be replaced someday.

Since one full charge of a new battery runs up to 120 km. before it drains out, electric cars are made for a city – both large and small.

Charging

Charging is easy and can be managed at home itself in about five hours, especially if made into a daily night charging routine.

If charging stations can be organised along highways, these small cars can also be considered for medium distance highway drives. In case the car battery is not ready, on those few annual occasions one may make alternative arrangements, instead of negating the ecological advantages of electric cars.

For those aiming at a small car, the electric cars may appear costly due to batteries and a few prospective buyers may find the overall upfront cost high. However, the electric cars pay back very well across the years, thanks to the battery costs.

The Karnataka Government has announced a special subsidy on electric cars.

Hopefully, all States will follow to make this alternative to fuel-based cars a success.

The zero emission, no sound, no-nonsense electric car can compliment a green home, in more ways than one.

Evergreen ideas

The Heritage Village in Manipal, where old mansions have been relocated, gives us valuable lessons in eco-friendly construction principles.

18bgp-greensens_18_2477434eMuch has been written about the eco-sensitivity of our traditional buildings and how they are a good fit for their climatic contexts. While it is imperative to travel to their actual location for a proper study of such aspects, for a quick understanding one could observe them in a relocated context also, at the Heritage Village located in Manipal.

Singularly started by Vijayanath Shenoy, and built up over a few decades with a small team, the centre has 36 heritage buildings, all shifted from elsewhere and reassembled here, besides having thousands of traditional items and artefacts.

Majority of these houses have substantial areas without walls, saving not only on the wall resources, but also reducing the energy required to light up and ventilate indoor spaces. Front entrance verandahs, often beyond 20 ft. depth in two or three raising levels, function as our modern living rooms, open to glare-free indirect day light.

These semi-open spaces do not get direct breeze, yet have cool air thanks to the external edges of the verandahs screening off the wrath of direct wind, sun and rain. In a sense, they are as much climate controlled as are our modern spaces, but without any energy consumption.

High plinth

The high plinth may have expressed social status, but from a climatic consideration, they reduce ground-level dust from entering the house, safeguard it from rain and reduce the risk of raising dampness reaching the floor levels. Also, the sloping roofs with low heights project wide out to keep the rains away from the walls and the open verandahs.

The upper floors, when provided, became the preferred sleeping area with good breeze across the perforated walls letting in cool air. Being a floor-based lifestyle with very few tables and cots, the wall openings were provided at floor levels, to create comfort during any hard task. The upper floors also created spatial segregation then required between men and women or between storing and living.

To define if the green sense of our good old mansions was design driven or were they culturally created is difficult, for the design and lifestyle are complimentary, even while both being derivatives of their climatic contexts.

The idea is not to blindly glorify the heritage homes, for they too have their share of criticalities in dark interiors created by lack of light or small cell-like rooms limited in size due to limitations of structural possibilities. While some houses could overcome these imperatives by courtyards or long wooden beams, the majority could not.

However, the fact that our earlier generation found comfort in such homes and they continue to be eco-friendly with low carbon footprint cannot be denied. With thousands of such ancestral homes still being inhabited in India, it proves that these time-tested design ideas can last many more centuries in rural India and the spirit of these homes can be adapted in urban India.

Design matters

Buildings need advanced construction ideas, but without much energy consumption to keep themeco-friendly.

Designing the ideal shelter for varying climate conditions in India is an impossible task, with so many annual seasons, locale-specific micro-climatic modifications and increasingly unpredictable shifts in rains, heat and humidity.

The summer is over and the monsoon rains are lashing us. In many regions, it will be both hot and humid, leading to an uncomfortable sweating even while it is raining outside. It is a challenge now to keep the water and heat out, yet have air circulation through the building.

Indoor comfort conditions cannot be achieved through a singular design idea, but demand multiple interventions.

Monsoon times pose such a critical problem, most known solutions can rarely satisfy all our needs for mid-range temperature, glare-free light, big windows, protection from rain, moderate humidity and appropriate indoor to outdoor connectivity. However we may attempt as many solutions as possible to arrive at the best possible option. Traditional architecture did not face this problem as much as we face it today since they had fewer functional needs from buildings.

For the largely residential, few civic and some market related buildings all with shorter spans, they could manage with the local materials and construction systems.

Places of worship were never supposed to be the comfortable kind, with devotees willing to sweat it out.

BAMBOO PAVILLIONS

Bamboo pavillionTravelling to far off places opens our eyes and options exponentially, and makes us apply the new learnings locally, back home. From this perspective seeing houses completely built with bamboo can be an exciting proposition and there are many of them in varied regions of India. However, suddenly jumping into the dream of doing a bamboo house in Bangalore or Chennai will not be easy. Local materiality and construction practice always holds fort and discourages new ideas from pouring in.

In such cases, introducing bamboo step by step, slowly expanding to more elements could be an easier way out. Since we have extensive bamboo constructions as a proof for their performance, even in heavy sun or rainy regions, having some certain building parts may not become a bothersome issue. Of course, proper treatment with Boric acid Borax solution or gentle burning or seasoning with flowing water and such other measures for reducing the sap content, to keep it well seasoned is a pre-requisite. Also, we need to follow basic code of practice like avoiding poles with visible splits and such others.

Pavilions are amongst the easiest to start with bamboo in any building. Like any other roof, it needs column support done with 6 inches or larger diameter poles, or if spans are longer, we may use structural steel as advised by the engineers. Such members can even be wrapped with bamboo peels skinned from its outer surface to give the looks of bamboo. Machine pressed bamboo mat, hand woven mats or local regular mats could be used as ceiling finish, supported on split bamboo. Thereupon, coated G.I. sheets, water proof thick plastic or any other metal roofing can be laid to ensure protection from rain. Incidentally, traditional homes achieved it without metal anywhere!

The top is finished with small bamboo poles or sometimes, with half split bamboo laid with the curved part upwards. When tin sheets became popular, they replaced the bamboo top, considering complete bamboo roof is more cumbersome and maintenance heavy when it comes to rain protection. However, they deny the bamboo looks – an aspect many people prefer to see, hence the idea of composite roof with both sheets and bamboo. Being lightweight roof, bamboo pavilions need lesser cost for support members.

Bamboo members should not run across the slope, obstructing the flow of rain water. Point of contact between metal inside and bamboo top can hold water dampness affecting both the materials, hence pre-treatments are mandatory. The mat between the rafter supports may sag as people work on it or by age, hence proper spacing should be maintained between the supports.

The pavilion idea can be easily extended into a room itself with bamboo pole flooring support, floor finish of one’s choice, better security and rain protection. If we have the desire to start with bamboo, it is not difficult to end with a bamboo house.