With the worldwide trend towards sustainability and the need to protect Mother Earth and her resources, sustainable home design is gaining popularity in India not only among homeowners who are building new houses but also among those who are looking at giving their existing homes an upgrade with a few eco-friendly house design features.
It’s always easier to incorporate sustainable home design when building a house as one can plan the location, size, material and management of water and energy. In older homes, smaller measures towards sustainability can be taken by upgrading fixtures and appliances.
By consulting a professional architect, one can get a clear picture of the various possibilities.There are certain elements to consider when including sustainable features to the home. In this ideabook, we highlight some key features that can contribute to the design and construction of a sustainable house.
The orientation of a house can have a huge impact on its sustainability, especially if the house is in an area that experiences extreme weather, either cold or hot. In cold regions, it’s preferable to design the orientation so that most of the windows face the south so that the interiors can benefit from direct sunlight during winter. Similarly, in a warm region, it’s best to restrict the number of windows in the west as it will result in overheating the interiors, besides increasing the glare.
For sustainable home design, passive features such as planting trees to provide shade over the windows in the west or fixing sunshades to minimize the glare can be incorporated based on the orientation of the house.
When it comes to sustainability, small is always better than large for house layouts. The reason is that small houses use less energy and resources compared to large ones. Additionally, for simple sustainable house plans, a compact layout is preferable to one that is spread out. For instance, when designing a 3000 square feet house, it’s better to have two floors of 1500 square feet each rather than a single floor of 3000 square feet. In terms of shapes, it’s best to stick to conventional cubes or spheres rather than irregular shapes.
Sustainable houses should be built using materials that have a minimum impact on the environment. This could be locally sourced or recycled materials, among other options.
Local materials: The idea behind using locally sourced materials is that it minimizes transportation. For instance, using local granite for the flooring is a greener alternative to using imported Italian marble. Not every region has access to local materials. In such cases, sourcing from the nearest supplier is the recommended solution for sustainable design.
Recycled materials: Not every city or region might have access to recycled materials that can be incorporated into sustainable house design. However, if it can be easily sourced, it’s worth considering to reduce the environmental impact of construction. Among the materials that are available are recycled steel, reclaimed wood, reclaimed bricks, plastic components made from recycled materials and recycled glass countertops. For the landscaping or garden planning, reusing soil from the excavation is another idea for improving the sustainability of the build.
One of the simplest ways to introduce sustainable house design features to both existing as well as new homes is to install energy efficient fixtures and appliances. These include:
On-demand or Tankless water heaters: Energy savings is a key element of a sustainable home. Therefore, instead of a storage water heater that stays on for a longer time to maintain the desired temperature, a tankless water heater that produces hot water on demand is a more efficient alternative.
Energy-efficient windows and doors: Whether it’s to maintain a cool indoor temperature during the summer months or to keep the house warm in winter, insulation is the key to saving energy spent on keeping the indoor temperature comfortable. When choosing the material for doors and windows, opt for those that provide the right amount of insulation as well as sealing. Insulated glass windows and doors are more expensive than regular glass, but it helps to save energy in the long run.
Appliances with an energy-star rating: As far as possible try to install appliances with a high energy-star rating as they are more energy efficient than ordinary appliances. In general, the higher the rating, the more efficient is the appliance. In India, these ratings are available for most household appliances, including televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners.
Lighting fixtures: Install LED lights or other energy-efficient options that consume less electricity than incandescent bulbs. The advantage of using LED lights is that even though they are slightly more expensive, they last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often as incandescent bulbs.
Water is among the precious natural resources that should not be wasted. Therefore, when looking for tips on how to build a sustainable house, it’s essential to incorporate features that efficiently manage water. Dual flush toilets and low-flow taps and faucets can help to reduce water consumption. Additionally, providing underground tanks for rain water collection or installing systems that recycle grey water can ensure that the house uses every drop of water as efficiently as possible.
Once used mostly for water heating, solar power is gaining momentum in India as an alternative to electricity. By using photovoltaic panels that convert solar power into electrical energy, one can add another sustainable feature to the home. In some states, power authorities currently have a buyback arrangement so that the excess energy can be transferred to the grid and adjusted against actual consumption.
Depending on the area, windmills are another alternative for generating power for a sustainable home.
One of the most significant factors of sustainable home design is to ensure that the house blends with nature. Gardens and landscaping, when carefully planned, can contribute to improving the insulation and energy-efficiency of the house. For example, growing tall shade trees outside the windows in the west or the south will ensure that the house doesn’t get overheated, thereby reducing the energy spent on cooling down the interiors. Similarly, growing a lawn on the terrace will provide an extra layer of protection from the sun and keep the upper floor cool during the summer.
There are many elements of smart and sustainable housing that one can adopt when designing a new house. However, it’s not easy to find the best solution for a home as the conditions vary depending on the local climate, availability of materials and a range of other factors. That’s why we recommend that you consult a professional architect for advice on how to build a sustainable house. From evaluating the plot to get an idea of the best orientation for the house to designing the layout to optimize the existing natural features such as trees or slopes to reduce the home’s energy dependency, an architect can provide sustainable home design ideas that are best suited for your home.