Does my house have to be brown to be green?


Sunaina Kumar tackles this and other worries that wrinkle the brow of the environmentally conscious home-owner

Home Owners

Nimish Patel & Parul Zaveri
Ahmedabad, Gujarat

FOR ARCHITECT couple Nimish Patel, 63, and Parul Zaveri, 59, their house not only had to reflect their passion for sustainability but also be a role model for others to follow. “One has to live in the house, so it must be comfortable. We wanted to live in a house where we were in harmony with the environment,” says Patel, who along with Parul has been practising sustainable architecture for several years now.

‘The electricity consumption in our green house is half of the other houses in our neighbourhood,’ says Nimish

Even though there are barely any contemporary elements in the house, it does offer all the modern comforts. To make the house pleasant during the dry summers of Ahmedabad, the couple have small openings across the house with eaves hanging to create shadows. There is also a central atrium that is open from the basement right up to the ceiling for air circulation. They claim their electricity consumption is half of the other houses in the neighbourhood. The materials used are all natural — limewashed walls and wooden doors and windows. The duo have also relied heavily on reusing material from dilapidated buildings. “We have minimised consumption in the house, and the house is paying for itself,” says Patel.

Home Owners

Shanthi & Ashish Chandola
Bengaluru, Karnataka

WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY filmmakers Shanthi, 47, and Ashish Chandola, 56, took their passion for nature a step ahead when they moved into their current house seven years ago.

“It took us a year to construct as we knew exactly what we wanted, and the cost was at par with a regular house,” says Shanthi, who did intensive research on eco-friendly houses before she and her husband went on to get one. This is the second house the Bengaluru-based couple have built on sustainable principles. The first house, which is in the same neighbourhood, has been converted into a recycled furniture boutique.

‘I did a lot of research on eco-housing. It took us a year to construct this house and the cost was at par with a regular house,’ says Shanthi

The house is built on stabilised mud blocks, quarry dust and very little cement. The centre of the house is the courtyard with a skylight that opens into all the rooms. The courtyard is covered in grass. In winter, the house remains warm and in summer, it is usually so cool the couple have not felt the need to install an airconditioner. They have also made provision for rainwater harvesting and recycling of grey water. In their kitchen garden, they grow vegetables.

“There are some people who find the look and feel of the house boring, but many appreciate the cosiness it offers,” says Shanthi. It is a house that blends seamlessly with its environment. Their house has inspired relatives and friends who have now built at least four houses modelled on Shanthi and Ashish’s eco-friendly one.

The Architects


What is an eco-friendly house?
Lall: A house that maximises savings and minimises consumption. In which little or no aluminium and cement are used. It uses natural materials that can be recycled, like timber, stone and earth blocks. It is a house in which you feel comfortable without using much electricity and air conditioning, where water is harvested and recycled. In an eco-friendly house, waste management is taken care of. For instance, the kitchen waste is used for compost. There ought to be alternative power sources like solar power. It enjoys closeness with nature.

Will it cost me a bomb?

Vishwanath: The term sustainability goes with economy. With good planning in place, there is no way that a house like this should cost more. Besides, the house pays for itself, as the maintenance, water and electricity bills are much lower. And whatever you pay for the house, there is the comfort of knowing that you are giving back to local craftsmen (most of these houses rely heavily on traditional techniques of architecture) and paying for quality and ecology. If you think of an average house as 1,500 square foot, the cost works out to Rs 1,800 per square foot.


‘Whatever you pay for the green house, there is a comfort of knowing that you are giving back to the local craftsmen’

Chitra Vishwanath is a Bengaluru-based architect


Will my house be mud-coloured and Dull looking? 
Vishwanath: These things are subjective. But it has to look good, otherwise people will not live in it. It’s also a house that feels good. There is fresh air and you feel healthier and close to nature.

One keeps hearing of leed and griha Ratings. What are these?
Lall: These are the two rating systems in place in India that are awarded to sustainable buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an American system that has been adapted for India. But since it follows the standard of a highly consumptive American way of life, 95 percent of houses in India would get platinum rating under LEED. Griha is our own system and more appropriate for the Indian way of life. The idea is to help people improve their quality of life.


‘Far from being a way of life, most developers see the green tag as something they must tick off their list’

Ashok B Lall is a Delhi-based architect and a visiting professor at Indraprastha University


How do i know if my developer is lying?
Lall: For a lot of developers, the green tag is something to be ticked off a list and not a way of life. The system is free for all. Anyone can claim anything. They often plant trees around houses and claim it is sustainable. There should be a legal binding for every project to declare its sustainability level under a formal rating system. If the house is complete, the simplest test is to see if it is comfortable without air conditioning. If it is in the developing stage, check the specifications, the building material used (the less steel and aluminium, the better), green energy and water management.

Why are only 5 percent of Indian homes green?
Lall: In India, we are currently touting land shortage as the excuse to build high-storey buildings, even in smaller towns where there is no need for it. The taller you build, the more energy you consume. While there is rampant construction, there is no one designing middle-class homes in a sustainable way. The awareness is there in people but it has to be converted to a market demand and a legal commitment.

The developers

‘The biggest advantage in mass housing is that green technology becomes affordable’

If you think you want a green house, you might find one in the growing number of eco-housing colonies. Hiten Chavda, principal architect of Bengaluru-based green builders, BCIL and Chitranjan Kaushik, senior vicepresident, Ecofirst, a sustainable design consultancy service, tell us what the future holds.

How is sustainability relevant in mass housing?
 The biggest advantage is that of cost. As opposed to individual houses, the cost of systems and technology can be shared. Things like solar panels, water harvesting and recycling become a lot more affordable. You can load the housing complex with more eco-friendly features without worrying about cost. Then there is the social sustainability factor as people live together in a community following ecological principles.

Is India developing new technologies in the sector?
 Unlike Germany, Japan and Canada, we are not developing any new ideas or technology. Products that are available for energy (solar, wind and gas) are expensive, as we are directly importing them. We need to develop our own indigenous systems.

Does the high-storey model work for India?
 It does not. We must follow lowrise, high density model. It’s a myth that you can only provide dense housing if you go higher. Sensible floor area ratio can be achieved with low rises too. You can have a few towers, but not all of it has to be high rise. In our hot, dry climate, it’s better to have high density in low rises with lots of courtyards and green spaces to cast shadow and remain cool.

Suanina Kumar is a Special Corrspondent with
[email protected]


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