Building homes, the natural way

Eco-friendly homes will be far cheaper, if conventional homes start paying for the ecological cost of the materials that they use, explains architect Chitra Vishwanath

Bengaluru-based architect, Chitra Vishwanath, has been a pioneer in green living for over 25 years and has used her experience, to design ecological spaces that conserve and use natural resources judiciously. Her firm, BIOME Environmental Solutions Private Limited, has created over 700 mud homes in India and Nigeria and many eco-friendly homes, schools and resorts. She is also an expert on rainwater harvesting.

Vishwanath believes that the time is right for people to adopt eco-friendly lifestyles, through sustainable architecture and not wait for the future. “Our resources are getting scarce. The more we trash our environment today, the bleaker our future will be. I believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy – The future depends on what you today,” she maintains.

As an architect, she strives to minimise the use of natural resources, like energy, water and materials. The materials for her buildings are procured from the construction site’s surroundings, as much as possible. The need to create sustainable architecture, motivates her to find innovative solutions. Most of her constructions have a basement and the soil used from its excavation is used for the home, as well. In this manner the ecological and carbon footprint and embodied energy are reduced.

Building house with adobe bricks.

Vishwanath’s house also reflects her conscientious building philosophy. Her two-storeyed home in Bengaluru, is made of mud and doesn’t have fans or air-conditioners. Moreover, it also has facilities for rainwater harvesting and recycling waste. Her home has a basement, built with stones and the earth so removed, has been used to construct the walls of her home and also of a smaller home nearby, where it was not possible to build a basement.

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The home’s roof has an Eco san toilet, which generates fertiliser for the vegetables and fruits grown on the roof. It has a rainwater tank, which supplies clean water for drinking and cooking throughout the year. It also has a grey water treatment system, with the resultant water being used for flushing and landscaping purposes. The terrace also has a solar and biomass water heating system and solar photovoltaic panels.

Using harvested rainwater for domestic purposes, can alleviate urban flooding and also ensure that this scarce resource lasts longer, says Vishwanath. Contrary to popular belief, eco-friendly homes are not very expensive. Vishwanath points out that they cost the same as any well-designed conventional home. Eco-friendly homes not only reduce carbon footprint, but also bring down utility bills. “If you design a house that is energy efficient and uses rainwater harvesting, it will provide better returns in the long run,” she asserts.

Vishwanath advises home buyers in urban areas, to ensure that their housing complex provides water and energy security and solid waste disposal systems in the premises. “They should also seek natural light and ventilation within the house. One can also install solar panels for the home’s energy needs, to cut electricity costs. Home owners should get rid of their ‘not in my backyard attitude’ and be responsible citizens. A few builders/developers are trying to implement eco-friendly systems. Awareness in India about minimising harm to the environment is on the rise. Nevertheless, it has to increase a lot more and it should start at the school level,” she concludes.


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