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The dawn of the ‘living building’


Every piece of architecture that looks green may not necessarily be. With pollution reaching an all-time high and natural resources depleting fast, ‘Green architecture’ ensures that we design our living spaces with minimal impact on the world around us. The concept, that is a norm in the west, is fast catching up in India too, says Mahesh Anand, who feels that green living starts with a deeply conscious mind-set.

 Green and sustainable architecture

 Green architecture, or sustainable architecture accords top priority for the safety of environment. By virtue of its design, an eco-friendly and energy-efficient house reduces harmful effects on the environment and human health. A green architect makes buildings energy efficient by combining a deep understanding of architectural design incorporating green technology. This might include the use of energy efficient devices such as solar panels, green materials like wood, stone, or earth and also good use of recycled materials.

It is both the design and construction that a building becomes truly green. For a design to truly qualify as a green building, both the design and its construction must have an in-depth understanding of ecology while also including landscaping and natural vegetation in the form of vertical or terrace gardens. The ultimate objective of a green architect is to therefore safeguard natural resources and choose eco-friendly building materials and construction practices.

Features of a green building

The materials used in green buildings should encourage energy efficiency, resource management and save up on general construction costs. The long term effects on the environment also matter. Some of the common materials used are:

Recycled products: To be resource efficient, recycled products are a common element of environment friendly designs. Buildings can recycle wood, stones, steel and glass.

Durable materials: Materials that last longer are comparatively more eco-friendlier, as they eliminate the need for frequent maintenance and replacements.

Non-toxic materials: Non-toxic materials are vital for green architecture as they contain negligible, or zero amounts of carcinogenic elements and toxicants.

Water and energy conserving materials: Any energy efficient system drastically brings down power costs. Rainwater harvesting and water-conserving materials reduce overall water requirements and wastages.

Use of renewable energy: Energy sources such as solar energy, wind power and biofuels fully utilize natural resources in the best way possible, helping to cut down on electricity costs.

 Green buildings: A multitude of benefits

People are becoming increasingly aware of the critical need to think green. Our living spaces consume about half of all the world’s energy consumption and so are ideal places to start implementing our ideas.  Even small changes bring tremendous benefits. Eco-friendly building materials help construct a green building, such as including a tank-less water heater, recycled material for furniture, digital thermostats, geothermal heat pumps, LED lights and more.

The case of paint in green architecture

 The paint industry has developed chemicals to enhance the product shelf life, colour, texture and other properties. Currently, these paints are made from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and chromium.

VOCs are organic solvents for conventional paints. When we inhale, these compounds create serious damages in the long run, as they lurk all around us in our living spaces. The odour from these paints can also be quite suffocating, causing breathing problems and anxiety. These chemicals have a variety of effects on people who are exposed to it, depending on the duration of exposure. These effects can vary from being mild, minor irritation in the eyes, throat, nose or skin, to severe cases of headaches, nausea and dizziness. Long-term effects include liver and kidney damage, respiratory issues and even cancer. These paints not only harm the human body, but also the environment adversely.

The by-products and waste of the synthetic chemical industries is detrimental to the environment, and it leaves an immense carbon footprint. The potential health effects of these paints have made paint manufacturers reconsider the composition of their products. This has led to the development of a new range of eco-friendly non-toxic paints. These eco-friendly paints aim to reinvent conventional paints to avoid serious health and environmental damages.

The eco-friendly paints currently available in India can be classified into the following three types:

  • Zero-VOC paints:VOCs in these paints are almost non-existent. The EPA (Environment Protection Agency) standards say that total VOC in paint should be less than 5 gram per litre.
  • Low-VOC paints: Paints with VOC concentrations from 5 to 200 gram per litre of paint.
  • Natural paints:Made of natural compounds such as tree resins, water, plant oil, essential oil, and natural dyes. They do not contain any VOCs and are usually water-based and therefore, odourless.

Currently, India does not have guidelines on non-toxic paints. Only careful usage can ensure that we make the right choice.

The way forward

The dawn of the living building is finally here, and is emerging as a new ideal for design. A good start would be to include green thinking in all new real estate projects, and also spread awareness. Though small in number, India’s ‘green building footprint’ is already the second largest in the world and growing. Considering the proactive approach being taken by several states, there is a commendable sense of urgency to opt for environment-friendly construction practices in India. The best is of course, yet to come!

(The author is the President – Decorative at Nippon Paint India Pvt. Ltd.)

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May 2020
11 May 2020