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Life without overhead tanks

Many cities around the world are not dotted with water tanks forming their skylines, yet get 24×7 water supply

16bgp-green-sen_16_1654347gWhat is the nightmare for designers as a house nears completion? One answer is overhead water tanks! If they happened to be visible from the road, no design seems to be convincing enough. Possibly so, most house owners do not bother about how it appears, leaving it as a sore thumb rising from a beautifully designed house.

Besides the matter of aesthetics, the very idea of high-level water tanks is an energy consuming proposal. The electricity required to pump water from low levels to cities at higher plateau, then take it from ground level treatment plants to large neighbourhood water tanks demands a good share of the city electricity supply. Though the supply to individual sites is on gravity flow, imagine each building again pumping it up – the whole exercise appears to be against the natural principles of water flow. Though the story of reaching water from a far-off river to the house kitchen is exciting as a civilisation achievement, it is also a story of battling against nature, consuming resources.

Many cities around the world are not dotted with water tanks forming their skylines, yet get day long water supply. From the treatment plants or a nearby surface level water sump, water is pumped continuously such that the houses need neither underground sump nor overhead tank. Just turn the tap on to get water anytime. It has been studied that such an arrangement does not necessarily increase water consumption, makes the pipes last longer avoiding the dry and wet conditions, avoids duplicating storage at every level keeping the final supply fresh, and saves lot of money otherwise spent by individual families. Above all, it negates the illogic of pumping water up the sky twice, against gravity.

Direct pumping is possible at the house level also with pumps connected from the sump to outlets. Whenever we turn a tap on, the pump automatically starts pumping water and stops when we close the tap. This measure avoids the need for an overhead tank and reduces the overall running length of pipes, offering monetary savings. Of course there should be regular power to ensure pumping at any time.

Inadequacy of supply

The present approach of having tall and large water tanks supplying water for a few hours to a large area means inadequacy of supply by gravity flow, pumping as a necessity, provision for sump with tank and longer lengths of pipes with pressure loss. One alternative lies in smaller water tanks spread over smaller areas to ensure full day water flow by gravity such that no house needs to build either a sump or a tank. When we feel the scarcity of water we tend to store it, only to use it later carelessly, but an assurance of regular supply automatically regulates the consumption as well. There is no proof to claim that longer supply means greater consumption, for everyday we all need water only for specific purposes, hence only in specific quantities.

Back to the past, for a stable future

The vernacular architecture of yesterday is the net zero carbon building of today.

It is now nearly proven that to relook at our past, pick sustainable ideas of every region and apply them appropriately during construction makes more green sense than many other material and technology driven solutions. The vernacular architecture of yesterday is the net zero carbon building of today. If so, returning to the past could be the ultimate solution towards a sustainable future. Of course, we all know, this sounds too simplistic for our times have drastically changed, the quantum of construction has grown manifold beyond the reach of traditional methods and in many areas the local materials or expertise could be in short supply.

However, if we observe our reactions to the past, we realise that not many fingers are pointed to the past saying traditional ideas are invalid, indirectly suggesting that the problem could be lying in applying and operationalising them. At the deepest level, however, we need to understand that the root cause lies in nobody patronising the spirit of the past today.

Overhead tank

A simple example could be to narrate the story of the overhead water tank. Traditionally, they were built with bricks, plastered and painted. Of course, there were issues such as leakage if they were not properly constructed. When the PVC tanks appeared in the market, the brick tanks were relegated to the backseat quoting examples of leakage or construction time, which actually need not be the core issues. Incidentally, the PVC tanks cannot be fully cleaned, water gets hot during summers when actually we desire it cold, create a problem if the pipe joints leak and are not necessarily cheaper. Yet, today we see PVC tanks everywhere!

During the complete cycle of the product, numerous people are involved starting from the raw material suppliers and manufacturers, carrying and forwarding agents, stockists and wholesalers, sales agencies and retailers, and finally, builders and installation team. Everyone needs a share in the profit chain; hence each one aggressively promotes the product through printed brochures, sales personnel, trade discounts, websites, promotional gifts, event sponsorships, newspaper advertisements and every other means available. What counts here is the sales figure and not carbon emission or embodied energy counts.

It is the same story with lime coat vs. chemical paint coat, mud block vs. cement block, oxide floor vs. vitrified floor or digging an open well vs. drilling borewells. While we know all about brick tanks, lime, mud, oxides or open well, with no one talking about them, it’s but natural that they get relegated.

No dearth of ideas

There is no dearth of eco-friendly ideas and construction options that could be discovered from our local tradition which can compliment the recent research findings, modern design ideas and new superior materials. No one argues for doing only what our ancestors did, and the need to blend the past and present has been widely accepted. To that end, traditional concepts also need to be popularised and local materials also need to be promoted.