Building Green is a definite Must
Green buildings benefit not only their owners but the environment as well. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sustainability must start at home. We are all familiar with this truism of environmental protection. Homes and offices are among the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, accounting for around 40% of both energy consumption and carbon emissions; that is why there is an increasing need for sustainable designs that are then constructed sustainably for resource-efficient operations throughout buildings’ entire lifecycles in Malaysian cities.
Ideally, a true eco-building’s energy savings should be net zero. That is to say, a zero net energy (ZET) building should use only as much energy as it can itself save or produce on site by help of renewables. That can still be a tall order for most home owners, largely because of the extra expenses involved, yet encouragingly the idea of energy-efficient buildings is catching on in Malaysia.
The country’s government has been providing tax incentives and other benefits for home owners, companies and developers who incorporate energy-saving and recycling technologies into their buildings. More needs to be done, though. For an example, we could look to neighboring Singapore, where green buildings are becoming all the rage. The island-state’s lack of natural resources necessitates energy-efficiency through the adoption of cutting-edge green technologies in homes, offices, shopping malls and public buildings – and these have duly been cropping up around Singapore.
Another truism of sustainability is “Think locally, act globally.” By saving on resources at home, we can help alleviate the net exploitation of natural resources around the world. “Given the totality of the global situation, there will always be developing (countries) where they’re not able to meet that, but they still need to build those buildings, right?” notes Prof. Lam Khee Poh, dean of the National University of Singapore’s School of Environment and Design. “But if those of us who know and have the experience and capability, do not push the limit to compensate, then as planet Earth, we’re doomed,” he adds.
Doomed indeed. Encouragingly, however, eco-friendly homes are coming into vogue with more and more local homeowners and developers eyeing greener alternatives. Frequently, turning homes green boils down to a simple back-to-basics approach: building for the climate. In Malaysia, that means heat, humidity and lots of rain. “You have to build sustainably from the start. It’s the core of a building that needs to be sustainable. Assets like solar panels are just icing on the cake,” explains one advocate of green buildings.
A building also needs to be made sustainable through its core materials. What matters is not just which materials are used but also how they are obtained or produced. The building construction industry consumes vast quantities of energy and raw materials, which often leads to massive environmental costs as well as to considerable environmental hazards from toxic pollutants and through careless waste disposal. A new home may be environmentally friendly in itself, yet its construction may have come at a significant cost to the environment.
A truly green home’s raw materials should be eco-friendly, durable and recyclable. They should be obtained from responsible manufacturers that ensure both low emission levels and low energy usages in the production and transportation of the materials. Salvaging reusable materials from old buildings, sourcing forage-salvaged wood, using materials with recycled content, and choosing locally made materials over those that need to be transported from farther afield can significantly reduce a new home’s environmental footprint in a cradle-to-cradle technique of sustainability.
When it comes to building designs simple tweaks based on age-old vernacular architectural principles can work wonders. Positioning houses with their longest facades in a north-south orientation helps reduce direct sunlight on them, thereby keeping interiors a few degrees cooler naturally during daytime. Indigenous trees planted beside homes can serve a further heat-shielding function, while pitched roofs are always preferable to flat ones for the same reason. Living spaces need to be designed so as to enhance natural indoor ventilation. Well-placed overhangs above windows, for instance, can let in plenty enough daylight while keeping out direct sunlight.
Modern technology can too come to home owners’ aid. Smart windows — the latest designs of which can operate without external power sources through self-tinting — change their light transmission properties throughout the day, automatically shading interiors by cutting light penetration by day and reverting to full transparency by night. Energy-efficient multi-split type air-conditioners enable individual climate control for each room, zone or flood in buildings and houses while their variable refrigerant volume (VRV) features ensure that optimal amounts of refrigerants are circulated during use. Low-flow sinks and toilet bowls help save plenty of water. Other eco-friendly features include pipes and cisterns for collecting rain water in use for flushing and gardening; solar panels and wind turbines for domestically generated electricity; and automation for ensuring the optimal efficiency of household appliances.
Outdoors, landscaped elements like bioswales — gently sloped drainage systems filled with vegetation — can soak up runoff storm water, while filtering out silt and pollutants, which is an especially useful feature in a topical climate with frequent monsoon downpours. On the downside, sustainable building designs can increase construction costs. They can also take up a lot more in-between zones inside a home at the expense of living spaces — as much as 45% of indoor space might have to be allocated for natural air circulation to obviate the need for air-conditioners. On the other hand, however, such comprehensive designs will contribute to significant energy savings over a well-planned building’s decades-long lifecycle.
In a world increasingly denuded of its natural resources, building green is a must.