The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Building your own ‘Green’ Home

Gloss vs Green
In my last blog I berated ‘Individual Homeowners’ (and others) for attempting to build their ‘green’ homes on their own without sound professional advice. In this blog, in a more ameliorative frame of mind, I have attempted to offer a few strategies and suggestions that they should keep in mind; before the design phase, and during the construction phase, of a project.

A) Read all you want on the subject(s) but remember it is a vast ocean of things that you have to assimilate and without a holistic view on the subject you are likely to miss the forest for the trees.

B) When it comes to designing a home, whether ‘green’ or not, please get professional help. Design and architecture are complex disciplines that cannot be equated with mere drawing work! Please remember, your sense of aesthetic, however, appropriate or ravishing, is little basis to think that you are a designer. Design in architecture is a function of putting forth an appropriate built environment through an understanding of engineering and structural dynamics; a knowledge of building materials and systems; ease of replication of processes and systems; cost of labour, materials and time; scheduling and project management; knowledge of essential services and amenities like water, energy and waste management; principles of good design (and bad design); aspects of alignment and joinery; understanding of local and regional climate and surroundings; building codes and regulations, incorporation of and referring to larger social constructs, building a continuity in terms of building traditions and cultures, and finally, a sense of aesthetics with functional purposefulness. If any of you think you can trawl through this quagmire with a little imagination and a spot of reading, think again. Look around statistic says that only four percent (unverified source) of all buildings in India are designed by architects: no wonder that we have urban-scapes which are crumbling edifices of our own imagination!

C) Work with the architect to get the design that you are happy with. There is an established process of interaction which is designed to bring about what you want with professional guidance, and recommendations, from the architect. Spend as much time with the architect at this phase and think of all that you might want; usually, it is better to have a long term perspective on your home. Do give your architect a good ear on his/her concepts and design solutions, and understand the minute aspects of design decisions, material choice, building system alternatives, etc. This will prevent a lot of heartburn, and ill spent cash, during the construction phase.
We will put out another post on 'specific questions an individual homeowner should ask their architect' soon.

D) Define the professional engagement via a properly written contract/agreement. Many a time, small misunderstandings due to a expectation mismatch arises and threatens to topple your home design/building project. Clearly write it all out (the architect should have a standard format for this) and seal it in ink!

E) Understand the greenness of design and materials suggested. For a sustainably built project make sure you understand the broad aspects of what makes it green, in terms of design, in terms of material/s characteristics, in terms of structure, in terms of social responsiveness, and in terms of its environmental implications. Your architects would show you a palette of materials, how the materials fare over longer periods, how they look over larger surfaces, what maintenance they require and so on. Try and get them to show you places where some examples have been demonstrated. In the case that no examples are there to show, then understand why the architects are convinced and see if that convinces you.

You would also need to understand
the innovative technologies that are being deployed in your project: their costs, their operations, and their maintenance aspects. Good green design also addresses water security, energy management, and waste management - ensure that you understand the goals that are being set for the project.

F) Do not get down to controlling costs yourself. Assign your architects to exercise an overall control on costs but be pragmatic where choices need to be made. Attempting to reduce the architect's or other consultants' fees to save money on the project is not a great idea. Professionals who bargain on their fees are likely to trade on other principles, too. Rather, give the architects an interesting challenge; get them to reduce these costs from construction, without loss of design value. The life-cycle costs of the project also needs to be evaluated and sustainability architects should be able provide intensive calculations on various costs (based on usage) over different periods of time. Sometimes your upfront costs be be marginally higher but if a certain technology or design element saves you money over the long term, it probably is the right way to evaluate it.

G) Always hire a contractor to build your house in tandem with your architect. The architect will be able to refer a good contractor. Working piece-meal with petty contractors is fraught with grave dangers. Even if you take a sabbatical and have the time to supervise the building of your house, you are likely to lose all your hair, and gain a stress level that could prove to be lethal! Your architect may suggest some specialized vendors/contractors to work with in addition to a main contractor, but do so only under the architect's guidance.

H) Never try to supervise a contractor’s work by standing around on a daily basis. If the project is large enough, hire a professional project manager to care of all issues. In most cases, your architect should be able to guide the contractor appropriately during construction works. After all, they have a better handle on the design and can ensure that it can be satisfactorily executed during construction.You certainly have the right to interject if things are falling apart, but ideally, all your inputs should have stopped at the design period; and at best, it is the architect/project manager’s job to interact with the contractor.

I) Again for green buildings, think local as opposed to global; think ideal as opposed to large; and think low carbon footprint as opposed to an intensive one! Sustainable development involves using resources sensibly to ensure that the status-quo is not tilted against the next few generations. By this measure, use less, recycle more, reuse and cut down the distance that any material takes to reach your site. It is possible to achieve very elegant and contemporary design solutions by adhering to this.
As a further guide to your home building process you could check our blog 'Tenets of Sustainable living'.

J) Take pride in your ‘green’ project: there will be many people who will want to scare you about some aspects of sustainability, or poke fun at your becoming an environmental crusader; but rest assured that no revolution is possible without relegating cynics and nay-sayers to the dust-bowl of history.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this very informative post! This is so interesting to know. I really love reading your stuff being posted ceiling fans online | plywood sheet prices