‘Eco-friendly construction doesn’t lead to cost escalation’

R Vasudevan disagrees with the wide spread misconception among people that eco friendly buildings are expensive and hence unaffordable for the common man.

 

As the effects of climate change are felt across the world people are becoming more conscious in their attempt to safeguard the environment. There is increased attention to the reality of the shortage of non-renewable energy sources and an urgency to reduce our dependence on it. This awareness has sparked an interest in eco friendly buildings in an attempt to preserve our planet.

India is witnessing tremendous growth in infrastructure, construction and real estate development. The construction industry reflects one of the largest economic activities of the country and as the sector grows, preserving the environment poses many challenges.

Indian companies have recently started following the footsteps of their international counterparts and are increasingly creating sustainable and eco friendly buildings. According to the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), there are 427 green buildings that are certified and fully functional in the country at present.

Eco-friendly homes, as a concept and product, are still at a nascent stage in India. With the increasing awareness on the merits of green housing and the rising levels of social and environmental responsibility, Indian home buyers are now more inclined towards owning an eco friendly house. However, there is a misconception among people that eco friendly buildings are expensive and hence unaffordable for the common man.

While it is true that the costs of construction of green buildings are marginally higher initially by 3-5 percent than the conventional buildings, the returns are realised soon thus making it a good business proposition.

A 2009 report by the U.S. General Services Administration found 12 sustainably designed buildings cost less to operate and have excellent energy performance. In addition, occupants were more satisfied with the overall building than those in typical commercial buildings

There are many builders in the country who are currently developing new ways to encourage recycling and reusing of waste material thereby reducing the damage to the environment and at the same time controlling the cost inflation. The efficient re-use of water at a construction site is one such way to keep a check on expenditure.

Well designed projects which maximize utilization of natural sunlight and ventilation lower the dependency on electricity for light and air conditioning which in turn help recover the initial investment put into the building.

Some developers are going completely green by using eco friendly materials in their constructions such as the use of low volatile organic compound paints, adhesives and insulations inside the apartments that help with the temperature regulation inside the buildings.

AAC blocks made from recycled industrial waste, contain tiny air pores and provide excellent thermal insulation. When used for external walls they reduce the need for an air conditioner considerably. Solar Heat Reflective Tiles are another favorite eco-friendly construction material which are used in roofing and can reduce the roof temperature up to 17 degrees Celsius in peak summers.

Solar water heater, solar panels, recycling facilities, rainwater harvesting and other water conservation facilities like low flow fixtures for toilets are also being provided in a bid to make the building more environmental friendly.

The incremental costs of using green technologies such as insulation and hypo-thermal glass are maximum 5-8%. As savings are also high, the additional cost can be recovered in 3-5 years.

A perfect example of a green building with almost negligible cost escalation would be our project – Sulzon One Earth, the corporate headquarters of Suzlon located in Pune. Sulzon One Earth recycles hundred percent of the water it uses, employs roof gardens and insulation for passive cooling. It is a one of its kind structure which is 100% powered by a combination of onsite & offsite renewable energy sources. 154 KW of energy is produced on site through a combination of windmills along with solar panels & photovoltaic panels. All water heating is accomplished through solar heating. Aluminum louvers shade the glass walled interiors from direct sun light while providing natural illumination within, saving on lighting energy.

The facility sets new benchmarks for energy efficiency in all aspects of engineering and construction. This whole-building approach has made it possible to construct the facility at a lower cost compared to other facilities of comparable size, ultimately leading to a lower lifecycle cost and smaller environmental footprint in the long term.

In addition to the cost control measures taken by various builders in their green constructions, the encouragement given by the central and state government have also helped cap cost escalation. In the last decade, the central and state governments have introduced various schemes to promote green projects across the country. The Kerala State Housing Board recently announced the launch of limited scale commercial ventures to build 60 environment-friendly apartments in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Early last year the Maharashtra government began providing incentives in the form of rationalization in property tax /electricity tariff and reduction in state taxes including VAT and Octroi on buildings adhering to green technology norms. Some other states where the government is making efforts to popularize green buildings include Delhi, West Bengal, Karnataka and Rajasthan.

With focus on environment protection, green buildings will make inroads at a much faster pace than in the past. According to IGBC nearly 2 billion square feet of sustained building footprint are expected by 2015, up from 1,745 eco-friendly building projects with over 1.65 billion sq ft of green footprint registered so far with IGBC.

(The author is Managing Director, Vascon Engineers Ltd.)

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