Green yet affordable: Making two ends meet

Tata Housing's Shubh Griha in Ahmedabad

With increasing demand for green yet affordable housing from new-age aware buyers, Brotin Banerjee shares how the myth of ‘green premium’ can be broken by developers by focusing on design and cutting down incremental construction costs.

Brotin Banerjee

Brotin Banerjee

Until lately, green building and affordable housing were not considered compatible. However, for the next-generation homebuyers, affordable and environment-friendly homes are fast becoming a priority — whether it is for the nuclear size of the family or want to reduce energy costs, minimize their carbon footprint or improve indoor air quality, or for all of them. Quite suitably, developers are now sitting up and taking notice of this high demand integration of sustainable housing techniques into affordable housing. Undeniably, sustainable housing presents an opportunity to reduce variable utility costs but the key is to ensure environment friendliness without overriding affordability. Green design can no longer be only about altruism, the construction practices have to strengthen its life, reduce cost and provide a healthier environment.

The point of intersection between these two growing housing concepts comes in form of efficiency. The goals of both, environment-friendly and affordable housing are well suited to Sustainable living. By improving the efficiency of buildings, the operating costs can be reduced and hence made affordable to a large section of aspiring buyers. However, like most emerging concepts, the key here lies in execution.

Bringing uncompromised housing
Designing affordable housing that incorporate the green ways require not just careful consideration of its features but also need to ensure they are expensive to maintain. Although intensified environmental awareness has brought in a surge of demand but affordable green real-estate projects need an increased focus on keeping such homes inexpensive through careful upfront planning. Few simple ways to achieve these include, using local sources for materials, recycling construction materials, low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets, use of environmentally preferable products and homeowner awareness education.

Maintaining a relationship with green-building expert is essential for developers who want to prevent costly mistakes when undertaking a green-affordable built project. Hence, few broad, focused efforts by developers can help in executing such projects, which include:

Site planning and layout: It is imperative to preserve the natural topography of the project. This also helps immensely in building green cover and considerably reducing the project’s heat effect. To improve cross ventilation and bring natural lighting to the project, developers can focus on designs that maximize the exposures for each flat. On a planning level, developers can discourage the use of automobiles for short-trips around the project area by enabling shuttle bus services or ensuring proximity to amenities in the locality.

Water efficiency: Water is an integral amenity and raw material required to be handled and used with most precision. The pressure on the water table can be reduced throughout from the planning stage with the use of indigenous plant and grass species, rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation of public green spaces, waste-water management and grey water recycling. Water-efficient fixtures and metering are also important measures to help constrain and measure water usage in the project.

Energy efficiency: Globally, green-affordable homes are most opted for the minimal energy usage in the projects. Hence developers need to ensure power saving techniques, including captive power generation, solar water heating, energy metering, on-off sensors; external solar lighting and efficient interior lighting should be used. Building projects with zero energy usage can make them truly sustainable. This can only be achieved by encouraging low-energy demand and complete self-generated power supply through renewable sources.

Materials, waste and recycling: Waste-reduction efforts should be chalked out right from the first stage construction process. Materials with recycled content should be promoted while use of virgin material should be discouraged. Sourcing from local region is another plus, while the post-occupancy waste management and treatment methods are critical for generating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating points.

Indoor environmental quality: Criteria for high-quality indoor air includes natural day-light, cross-ventilation, efficient exhausts and interior manufacturing with materials containing few volatile organic compounds.

More hands on deck
With the present challenges of rising utility costs, simply building houses that are affordable to purchase or rent is not sufficient. To be truly affordable over the long term, residents must be able to afford the monthly mortgage or rent payment as well as the utilities and transportation costs associated with the home. Homes must be energy-efficient and located close to public transportation. In addition to lower utility rates, green building practices improve occupant health and comfort through the use of better ventilation systems and better construction materials.

The core challenge to green building cited by most affordable housing developers is the higher initial capital outlay. However, if carefully planned and executed, the total development costs for green projects can be at par / little below that of conventional affordable housing. The myth of ‘green premium’ can be broken by developers with focus on design and reducing construction-based incremental costs.

For a concept such as green-affordable homes to become a norm, it will require immense support from the state and financial institutions, alike. The state needs to step up the ante to arrest both towering costs and widespread afforestation by facilitating and encouraging green-affordable housing through issue of guidelines, online approvals and single-window clearance system. The industry would need close to 40 million skilled workers on an incremental basis in next 10 years or so , hence, there is huge gap to fill in, in terms of skill development among construction workers.

There is also a need to be an increasingly emphatic on educating the developer community on developing green buildings, using non-conventional energy sources and water conservation. Few basics, such as recycling of water for flushing and gardening purposes should automatically be part of all new affordable projects. Additionally, educating the buyers about the long-term savings and providing simple cost-saving greening ideas can build upon this current evolving trend.

In conclusion, home-buyers in India have long proven the likability of certified green-affordable housing developments based on the gold or silver LEED ratings. However, the need of the hour is to ensure that the greening of the projects do not become available to just the high-heeled. The burgeoning Indian middle-class is on the lookout for the next innovative living pad that is not only accessible but nature-friendly and comes without the baggage of increasing their carbon footprint.

(The author is MD & CEO – Tata Housing.)

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