Green Buildings – Will These Help ?

Green Hotel in ChinaBuildings, being a major cause of energy consumption, should be the prime concern of people and the authorities. Only then, the concrete jungles of today will become attractive.

With growing awareness in the recent few years, a term eco-friendly or green buildings has emerged. Green buildings are energy-efficient implying that both heating and cooling is realized by a combination of design features and operational processes. The preference should certainly be for choosing right design options when the building is constructed. However, energy audits and retrofit changes to existing buildings are equally important. Yet, this is easier said than done. We always cut corners to cut capital spending, completely oblivious to the fact that later piece-meal enhancements end up in recurring costs that may exceed the initial capital cost. While technologically it may be possible to achieve a good retrofit eco-friendly status for a building, much more can be achieved by tuning the existing legal bye-laws, which open-up major options during the design stage. Lethargy in amending the bylaws causes frustration to the people, while it contributes to global warming in a big way.

It is customary to give grades to the level of eco-friendliness of a building, and sometimes certificates too are issued. The grades could be named such as platinum, gold etc or numbered as 1 to 5. Obviously, the higher grade of eco-friendliness requires stricter features.

Considering the Design Options

There is a lot to learn from primitive constructions of the past, which have survived the vagaries of weather, including natural calamities like earthquakes, storms and tornadoes. It is pleasing to see many buildings constructed centuries ago, using bricks, mud, and unpainted on the exterior, still standing firm. Many of these are cool / warm from the inside. Using insulation and special materials to thwart external heat is one way of achieving indoor comforts, but orientation of buildings that take the benefit of Venturi draft of air through the buildings, comes at no extra cost.

For ages, diagonal bonds instead of rectilinear placement of bricks have withstood the shaking and shivering caused by earthquakes. Local building materials not only cut cost but also are better for the local weather. These concepts should not be discarded without sufficient examination and consideration.

Prudential Investments

That we missed making buildings eco-friendly during the design stage, should not deter us from taking steps now, in spite of the incremental costs. However, we cannot go awry while making these expenses. For example, wisdom lies in not embracing the wind or solar energy options, if this is going to incur tremendous capital cost, and the payback period is in the range of 10 years.

If we need extra pumping, additional distribution pipelines and maintenance effort for the facilities that deliver 24 hours backup, we are going wrong. If potable water is used for washing clothes in today’s times, it only highlights our imprudence. If water transfer is required, and we use energy to make this possible, we are on a wastage mode. Instead, we should be shifting the users or buildings, close to the water bodies or sources.

The point is that any extra cost or extra consumption of natural resources that is of a supplementary nature must be carefully debated for implementation. It might be easier and more effective to change the bylaws to negate the wastage of energy or water.

Modifying the Bye laws

It is strange that the regulatory authority, which is unable to discharge its obligation of providing sustained power, has no objection to the procurement of captive supply by the consumers. It fails to notice the increased demand of fossil fuels, and the consequent greenhouse gas generation, caused by this silent approval. While increasing the supply of electricity is a specific exercise in itself, promoting energy-efficient buildings should not cause any hesitation; but it does. The authority should not be balked down by extraneous considerations, political or otherwise. It should not be bulldozed by the product manufacturers, whose products would go out of demand if new rules were enforced. No one can justify, even on commercial or financial grounds, avoiding features that save energy.

Not much of intellect is required for change in regulations as listed below.

  • Subsidies should be provided for the incremental cost for converting an existing building to a green building, since this effort is in the direction of reducing  greenhouse gases
  • Allow and encourage frameworks that provide protection from heat and dust, such as collapsible metallic window covers on the outside, as are prevalent in the middle east
  • Allow covering of open verandas, balconies, by approved and standardized frameworks that can give protection against heat, dust, storms, mosquitoes, insects and mice. Such coverage should not be deemed as additional carpet area.
  • Solar panels, unless erected or laid in strong frameworks or structures, may become a nuisance as the time passes. Raising them in beautiful structures or frames is not a possibility until the authority allows these as independent of covered area calculations. Innovative bylaws are required here
  • It is, by all means, possible to lay separate feeders for drinking and general use water. This should be enforced. The drinking water pipeline should be subjected to periodic tests for the quality of water that flows in them. Wherever required, local water treatment plants for each tower must be encouraged by providing additional subsidy.
  • All street lighting should have two circuits; only one should be switched on as a matter of routine. The second circuit may be switched on only during prime time when the traffic (vehicles and people) increases, or in times of inclement weather
  • For condominiums or high-rise complexes, the bye laws should make it mandatory the at least two levels of basement parking are constructed. A good option may be to place these basements not under the towers, but below the lawns and greens inside the complexes.

Green Buildings in Isolation May Not Help

Green buildings seem like a feasible solution for reducing the greenhouse gases effect. If implemented on large scale they could resist the degradation of the planet in a big way. Yet, measures directed to individual buildings cannot be productive unless the overall urban or rural plan is in place. There is no use of having glamorous green buildings surrounded by slums on all its four sides. Likewise, there is no point in having green buildings without sufficient parking space for its occupants. In fact, large buildings create traffic jams and increase the fuel consumption of cars.

If we are convinced that eco-friendly buildings are important contributors to our efforts towards energy saving or for reducing greenhouse gases, then this effort should not stand in isolation. It should be merged with concepts like neighborhood living to reduce vehicular traffic, shifting building complexes towards existing natural water bodies, and implementing innovative sewerage disposal systems. There is a lot to be done still for urban planning or rural development initiatives. We are miles away from dismantling the concrete jungles of today, which some greedy individuals built.

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