Tips on Building Your Green Home
Handy Tips For Planning Your Home
- If you can design yourself, or know someone who can, avoid hiring an architect
- Leave some space for your garden and the green things you want such as rainwater harvesting
- Think of eco-friendly tiles for the driveway, etc. which let the rain into the earth
- Always have some extra cash put away in case you overshoot your building budget
- Plan the rooms according to Vaastu principles to stimulate the generation of health, wealth and wellness in your home
There is a saying in the Tamil language I’m told which asserts that getting a new home built and marriage are the two most trying experiences in life. I agree. Since I had to fire my architect almost right away, I've had to supervise the construction myself. Not an easy task. You learn by trial and error.The site is a 55x40 plot on the outskirts of Bangalore. Although it's a south facing site - not very good vaastu, it's a beautiful space with fresh air and views of gorgeous sunsets.
The Architect Nightmare - Do you really need one?
Friends insisted I get myself a lady architect who they said built wonderful looking houses. I should have baulked at that. Architects are vain creatures. They'll only worry about how good the house looks, not really how practical it is for its residents. I was told that an architect is like a doctor. You can take them to task if they're not building to your budget. I had a rather tight budget of about 4o lakhs.
Dreaming of My Green Home
I wanted a two-storey home with a little garden. I wanted rainwater harvesting, solar panels, a little sun courtyard inside where I could exercise in the morning sunlight without being seen. A little space where I could watch the moon.
Vaastu for Homes
The lady architect took her time. More than six months to produce her first set of drawings after many meetings. And I was petrified that the costs of sand, cement, etc. were increasing day by day. But there were changes ahead. I had to make sure that the house would be designed according to vaastu principles. There's a saying that no one can build a home that's 100 percent vaastu perfect, but I was content to get the basics sorted out.
The bedroom of my to-be tenants could not be directly on top of mine. The master bedroom should face southwest. If a guest bedroom is directly over this room, the master is going to be mastered by his guest.
A second set of drawings took another four months. The architect - who had a rather formidable air about her made it difficult for me to ask the hundreds of questions I had. I told myself I just had to have faith in her, because she told me to trust her.
The main gate had to face south, but the main door had to face east. That meant the side of the house would face the road. I had to leave a space of about 7 feet width in front of the facade so that light from the east would not be blocked when a building popped up on the neighouring site.
And of course, I needed space for the car. If I had to have my little garden, I couldn't afford a car park for the tenant. A bike yes, not a car.
Overshooting my Budget for Building my Home
Having finally found a builder, the architect got a contract arranged and it was signed in July 2012. Foundations were laid in the end of July. Termite treated too. It was an "item rate" contract since as the architect said, we could drop an item if we ran out of funds. But I was aghast to see that the house had overshot my budget by at least 8 lakhs. Besides, the architect did not visit the site regularly as promised. She was costing me 11 percent of the building budget. Too expensive, everyone said. She warned me that with my budget, we probably wouldn't be able to complete the first floor.
I had to do something about it. I wasn't going to take a loan. Luckily, the builder agreed to a square foot rate and we agreed to redo the contract. But the lady was livid. She said I couldn't make such drastic changes at this point and said she was opting out. I was glad to see her go. She had already cost me one lakh, thirty thousand.
People laughed at me for paying so much for the design of a simple house without pillars or columns. They said anyone could have designed it.
Tips on Borewells, Rainwater and Greywater Harvesting
- You need a borewell unless your area is provided with a water connection
- Get a good dowser to determine the spot for the borewell
- Do some research on rainwater harvesting and seek out a good rainwater harvesting filter
- Grey water harvesting (harvesting the water from the showers) will help raise the water table
- Make sure that the Grey water pit (about 10 feet deep and 8 feet in diameter) is at least 10 feet away from the borewell
Borewells, Greywater and Rainwater Harvesting
The first thing I did after the “bhoomi puja’ (blessing of the land) was performed by Guruji, was look for a good borewell company. The area where my plot is located is notorious for water problems. Too many borewells and no one putting back what they take from the earth has resulted in a majority of borewells drying up and with the continuing contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for water resources, who knows what the future holds.
I chose the well known Kannan Borewells with their hi tech gear. And I prayed. The sites nearby had given up on getting water supplied from the owner of the layout and were thinking about digging borwells too. A neighbour suggested I go down to at least 600 feet. He had good water himself at 650 ft.
Noise Pollution from Borewell Digging
It was going to cost me about Rs. 70,000 to go down to 630 ft. I hung around the site the entire day and towards nightfall, we struck water at 540 ft. I was elated. I had waited ages for the grey rock dust blowing all over the place to settle down. My nearest neighbour complained about the dust, but at least I wasn’t disturbing everyone with the roar and whoosh of the machinery when they were in bed. A lot of people just don’t care about the noise they cause. The other day I was kept awake all night by a borewell in action. Something told me that the person wouldn’t get water. And he didn’t. He even dug another borewell inches away and still didn’t get it. This time he woke me up with the drilling at 4 a.m but didn’t go on all night because I protested.
Kannan Borewells Not Recommended
I was told that we were 21 pipes down and I had one and a half inches of water. It wasn’t much but it was enough for four to five people. It was amazing to watch the pipes being rolled out to the other end of the layout bordering the little forest and then being shoved into the ground. I had a feeling though that all wasn’t right and I was right. It turned out that the borwell company had charged me extra for the PVC casing pipe. When I told them I was there all along and saw the pipe being cut in half, they said they couldn’t use the discarded half anyway.
People tell me that it’s customary and easy for borewell digging companies to cheat their customers. After all, you can’t measure each length of pipe they put in.
Greywater and Rainwater Harvesting
I was fortunate that the borewell yielded enough water for all my curing. Today in February 2013, the yield is much less but there’s still enough for drinking purposes for the labour on the site. You may not get water for a couple of days until it fills up again underground, but it never dries up.
The plot just next to mine where construction is also happening has a borewell down to over 1000 ft. and they don’t have a single drop of water although they had much more than mine 3-4 months ago. I believe it has a lot to do with a nearby site which has recently begun to sell tankloads of water every day. I thought it was illegal, but I’m told he has a “commercial connection.”
I am investing in rainwater and greywater harvesting to make sure the borewell doesn’t dry up. The greywater pit has already been dug to a depth of 10 ft. as advised by the famous “Water Warrior of Bangalore – Masagi. It’s costing me about Rs. 15,000. The rainwater filter is also going to come from Masagi. Pipes from the terrace will pump the water directly into the borewell. That will cost me about Rs. 10,000.
You might say that rain is scarce in Bangalore these days, but baths aren’t. The greywater pit is many feet away from the borewell. The detergent in the water will get filtered through the soil layers and reach the water table. I know there’s a water source just next to the pit. I dowsed it. I dowsed the spot for the borewell myself with a couple of straightened out aluminium hangers.
Choose the Right Flooring
- Choose an eco-friendly, low maintenance flooring for your green home such as Athangudi Tiles
- You can have different colours and patterns for different rooms
- Athangudi tiles are cheap and promote health. They're cool in summer and the more you walk on them, the more they shine
- Athangudi tiles don't need polish
- Clean these tiles with water to which you add a few drops of coconut oil
- These tiles stain easily, so clean coffee or dog urine stains immediately
- Don't use these tiles in places exposed to the sun and rain
Flooring with Athangudi Tiles – the ‘Only Décor You’ll Need in Your Home
Having come across the famous colourful hand-made Athangudi tiles in a friend’s home, I set my heart on them. I dreamed about a home with a different floor in every room. I did my research on the Internet and came across an NGO in Chennai, but they said they would only cater to bigger orders, and this in a most roundabout way.
Athangudi tiles are about Rs. 45 per square feet. They are composed of cement, baby jelly and the special sand of Chettinad from where the tiles originate ( the Athangudi Village). Those who manufacture it have a special love for Athangudi tiles. They’re aware that the making of these tiles is a dying art and passionately endorse the tiles.
Low Maintenance Floor Tiles
The tiles are said to be low maintenance but must be handled with care before and during laying. Some say they can be easily scratched and stain fast which hasn’t deterred me despite my five doggies who have the run of the house. I have made dog houses for them so they don’t spend too much time inside. I hope they take to them.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a supplier who manufactures these tiles on Mysore Road – Manjunatha Tiles and Floorings. Quite out of the way and difficult to find, but visiting the place was worth it. I was simply floored by Athangudi. I believe they’re healthy too and cool. The more you walk on them, the more they shine. You’re supposed to mop them with water that has a few drops of coconut oil added to it.
Finally, after a wait of 3 months, my home is ready for them. The manufacturer kindly stored them for me until I was ready. They say not a drop of water should touch these til before they are laid or they crack. And the colours fade under the sun. The laying process is special and only the Chettinad mason can do it. You’re not to walk on them for two days.
I’m thrilled with my bedroom floor. I have inculcated a border of patterned tiles around my new bed. The colour scheme of the floor – green, yellow and an orangey red. My little room with the sunroof will have blue tiles, the adjoining study black and white, my living room reds and patterned tiles and the dining area another patterned tile. You shouldn’t lay these in the kitchen. They are said to be quite porous. Athangudi tiles don’t need polishing. They come pre polished with rice husk.
Together with laying, they’re costing me about Rs. 55 per square feet. So much better than vitrified tiles that cost about the same. Or granite. Or anything else.
Eco-Friendly Tiled Roofs
I chose to use the traditional terracotta Mangalore tiles for the roofs of my car shed, front door and window overhangs .Introduced by a German missionary in Mangalore in 1860, these tiles have been used and loved all over India and even exported. I was told that a Mangalore tile roof over the main door would keep the rain from reaching my teak door and spoiling it. It sure does. It also looks good.
It is well-known that these tiles which are made from natural resources (sand and clay) and baked at high temperatures.provide a cooling effect. They're very easy to install and being inter-locking, don't need cement reinforcement.
These days you can find a variety of designs and colours - green, for instance. You can use these eco-friendly tiles to pave floors and ceilings from the inside. Terracotta wall partitions are available which look great. .
Mangalore tiles are cheap. Each costs about Rs. 24, but some contractors can get these for you for Rs. 22 each.
Are you Building a Green Home?
Solar Inverter Powers Lights, Fans, Computers
I recently converted my inverter to a solar inverter, which made the whole thing less expensive. It cost me about Rs. 15000. Urja Solutions in Bangalore fixed a couple of solar panels on the roof and connected these to the inverter. It's fantastic to have free power for my lights, fans, television and computers during the day. I'm told I'll cut my power bills by half. Time will tell.
Once in a while when there is no power for a long time - like half the day, I have problems with the solar inverter. Whatever's being powered by the sun simply switches off. I have to check on this. The inverter battery is more than 5 years old by now. Someone from Urja Solutions is coming in tomorrow to check and explain everything to me.
But putting in a solar inverter is truly worth it. If you have to buy an inverter, it will cost you more.
Cutting Electricity Bills By More than Half
UPDATE: I had lots of problems with the APC inverter which I've had for about 5 years. Turns out that it wasn't really compatible with the solar panels. That's what a reliable source told me. He suggested I get a 'hybrid' inverter which could take both the mains and the solar panels. So after sunset, it would automatically switch to the mains.
Finally I got a hybrid installed and my power bills are almost cut by half. This was not even the entire month, so I expect the amount will be even less next month. I am told that Sine Wave is better than Square Wave.
So now I know what my bill for an entire month on the solar panels is - it's amazing. From Rs. 1000 it's become less than Rs.300! It's smart to do all your computer work during the day.
Update on the Solar Energy
Eventually the solar power output declined (I'm not sure why) and I had to approach another solar panel supplier in Bangalore called Efficient Electronics & Power Systems. They were fantastic. I added two large solar panels and another battery to take the extra load and these days (I am adding this update in December, 2016) I switch to the mains usually only by 7:30 pm. My power bills are cut more than 50%. I highly recommend these guys. They are knowledgeable and honest, won't over-charge and their follow-up is great too.
My Wonderful Skylight Lets in the Greenery
I just have to add a couple of pictures of my skylight. It's thick acrylic sheet - transparent of course, except for the two sides I painted over to cut some of the sunlight and offer privacy from the balcony upstairs. My passionfruit has grown right through the edges and n moonlit nights, you can see the moon through it. The skylight is right over my shrine and my study next to it is always full of light. It also brings light into my already well-lit living room. I adore the greenery within.
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© 2013 Anita Saran