Tonight people world over would celebrate Earth Hour 2011. In the past two years, I have been able to participate in this huge event by shedding our current load for the stipulated one hour. This is a topic very close to my heart as readers of my earlier blog also may remember (Read Towards A Green Tomorrow). If I manage to turn off the lights and observe the Earth Hour tonight, I will be doing so for the third consecutive time. What has changed in the last two years, except an ever increasing number of people turning off their lights? For one thing, I have noticed that this year the Earth Hour campaign implores us to “go beyond the hour”. Obviously, this is where the movement needs to go now. But, how?
To me, going beyond the hour does not mean switching off the lights for another hour. It doesn’t mean switching off anything for that matter. The need today is not to switch off all that light you actually need. We do not need Earth Hours when we eventually learn to use only those lights or appliances which we actually need. Modern Green Building designs are not actually done so that you have to switch off your lights and then strain your eyes to read that book you love. So, let’s face it: we need to be comfortable!
Green building design, hence, is the practice you follow to save energy without compromising your comfort levels. For comfort conditions, even using an air-conditioner is not wrong. Having said that, tell me how many of you have been to your ancestral homes, probably 50 or 100 years old? Does anyone use air-conditioner over there? Well, the new house next door does; but, not your ancestral home. You probably have lots of explanation on that one, and probably, are one of those who think it is just not possible to build houses like that anymore. I have one simple explanation for this phenomenon: design.
Architects and engineers today more than ever are aware that a phenomenal change in comfort levels from one house to another has a lot to do with its design. An eco-tourism resort in Thekkady produces enough power from solar photovoltaic cells to provide for the energy needs of the entire facility. All floors including the basement of my company’s headquarters in Noida never has to switch on a light till 6 in the evening. Every nook and corner gets a judicious amount of daylight. No, it’s not a glass facade building; not in the actual sense. Only 22.5% of its envelope is glass; the rest is just wall.
If I write more than this, it would have to be very technical. Essentially, green buildings are well-designed buildings. The length of your sunshade and the span of your windows can determine the amount of light that comes into your house/building. At the same time, it can also determine the amount of heat that comes in, too. There is, however, an optimal point in between. Your average architect knows this; but you have asked him/her for a building with the kind of aesthetics unlike any other in your neighbourhood. For the sake of aesthetics, you may have compromised on your own comfort levels.
Back home in Kerala, even today, I get questions on how one can reduce the heat in one’s existing house. To some extent, painting your roof with highly-reflective (best example – white colour) paint would help. But, when you have already built a house that sucks in heat and too much of daylight (read: glare, which is not good for you), I am afraid there is hardly anything that a highly reflective roof can do for you.
So, a “green home” could be an answer to “going beyond the Earth hour”. It is true that it can only be one of the many possible ways to “go beyond the hour”. But, the impact is far more than just switching off your lights for one more hour. If you are building a new house, a green design is not difficult to attain. The design process is much more streamlined and you get to know what you are going to get, even before you build the house. A good design team with both architects and engineers will help. One may have got a good team before as well, to get that aesthetically outstanding house built. This time, however, you need to get one for all the right reasons.
If you haven’t already built your house, make sure you are going to build it green when you eventually do. This Earth Hour, let’s remember to go beyond the Hour!
Do write to me with your views! Good Day, Good Night!!!