Google+ Consumer Psyche: What makes a house ‘green’?

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Monday, February 23, 2015

What makes a house ‘green’?

Green is in vogue. Many buyers begin their search with a strong interest in green, even if what they understand by a “green home” is vague. While the growing interest in green homes is an exciting and positive development, some buyers are falling victim to green washing, the practice of marketing a product as eco-friendly when it really isn’t. So, if you want to buy a green home, you definitely have to do some extra homework.

The first thing you should do is ask yourself why you want to invest in a green home. It’s an important question because people tend to buy a green home for one of the three reasons, and while each of those reasons overlap to some extent, they determine what the buyer really means by green. Green can be as simple as saving on energy costs, which means buyers will want to focus on energy-efficient appliances, weather-proof windows and good insulation. A green home can save 30-40% energy from day one of occupancy, which, our research shows, can light up 35 village homes per year. Similarly, water savings are 20-30% above a conventional home. This can provide water to one village home for an entire year.

Alternatively, some buyers define green in personal health terms, so they want a home that uses non-toxic materials. Lastly, some buyers define green as contributing to a sustainable future. For those buyers, it’s often important to look for building materials that are locally sourced and sustainable.

Unlike earlier, when energy-efficient or water-efficient homes could get away with being called ‘green’, new rating systems ensure that a green home needs to address all facets of environmental concerns. Everything from the site of the building, water, energy, materials and indoor air quality are considered in the rating system. A green home isn’t just a green structure; it’s a home that makes the best use of the land and the resources around it. Asking simple questions such as which direction the home is oriented toward can tell you a lot about the home’s green credentials.

Let’s look at the different parameters and how they matter:

Site selection: Here the focus is local building regulations, soil erosion control, basic household amenities, natural topography, heat island effects, parking facilities for visitors and design for differently abled people. Something as simple as the house’s orientation determines how much sun exposure it gets, which affects heating and air-conditioning use.
Likewise, it’s important to understand prevailing winds, because these have an effect on temperature inside the home.

Water efficiency: Evaluate the property on the basis of whether it has rain water harvesting systems, efficient plumbing fixtures, landscape design and waste water treatment systems. A good tip is to pay attention to the landscaping. If it’s dominated by non-native plants, that should raise alarms for green buyers. In some parts of the country, water is a serious issue, so non-native plants are going to raise your costs and make it harder to be green. Apart from sustainable landscaping, you can also use water conserving taps, which save you up to 35,000 litres every year.

Energy efficiency: This rating is based on use of chlorofluorocarbon-free equipment, enhanced energy performance, on-site renewable energy, solar water heating, energy saving measures in appliances and other equipment and energy metering. The simplest fixture you can have is a solar water heating system. You can also have more complex solar systems for providing energy for lighting as well. Also, as a house owner in a green project, you could spend as much as 40% less on energy bills every month. So, clearly green homes are not for any particular economic segment; it is a choice about making smarter energy-efficient buildings.

Materials and resources: Rating parameters for this are based on household waste segregation, organic waste management, handling of construction waste materials, reuse of salvaged materials, materials with recycled content and local materials. You should ask your builder if they plan on using green building materials such as autoclaved aerated concrete bricks, which are not only lighter but also more eco-friendly than regular red bricks. Solid waste collection and disposal that involves composting is essential in minimizing waste from your home.

Indoor environment quality: Parameters considered under this head are based on measures for tobacco smoke control, minimum artificial lighting during day time, fresh air ventilation, exhaust systems, low volatile organic compound materials, paints and adhesives, building flush-out, cross ventilation, and others. You can design the house to maximize ambient light during the day to reduce the use of artificial lights. One can also use special building materials that help to reduce indoor temperatures and thereby decrease air-conditioning costs.

Design innovation: This is all about following standard sustainable design practices. Your house or building can give you significant savings over the long run if designed cleverly. Nobody buys an eco-friendly home just because they are inclined to be green. They see the value of cheaper costs of energy and greater security on water. You can do without the water supply board, bore wells or tanker water suppliers. The energy bills can be minimized and can reduce your dependence on the external grid to just about 30% of all the electricity usage.

It’s a matter of choice.

Prem C. Jain is chairman, Indian Green Building Council (IGBC).

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