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Green principles for residential buildings

Saturday, January 12, 2019

By Mili Majumdar, Managing Director, Green Business Certification Inc. Pvt. Ltd. & Senior Vice President, USGBC

Electricity bills account for a significant portion of monthly household expenses; and wise homeowners are always looking for ways to cut their expenses. But how?

This article offers several energy savings solutions for a multistoried residential building. Generally speaking, residents in these buildings pay an electricity bill that includes their own personal consumption with added charges for common facilities. Thus, all tenants should focus on both of these areas when they are looking to cut costs.

To begin, it is very important for a homeowner to determine the efficiency level of their unit’s construction. Usually, a green certified residence will include a basic or better yet, an advanced level of energy efficiency measures. According to data from the Green Business Certification Institute, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified homes reduce energy consumption by as much as 40-50% over conventional homes. Insulation in walls and roofs, use of shaded windows with high performance glass, ample daylighting and ventilation, provision for solar water heating systems, and the use of LED lighting in common areas are some of the most effective energy saving features. The impact of including these measures can be dramatic. Note, it is very important to ensure that the building is fully certified and not merely pre-certified. Precertification simply demonstrates the developer’s commitment to build green. Certification ensures compliance with that commitment.

Appliances and fixtures offer another significant opportunity to save. Apartments either come pre-fitted with lights, air-conditioners, and kitchen appliances; or the owner must select and install this equipment.  If the equipment comes pre-installed, you should verify that it is BEE Star labelled. The greater the number of stars, the higher the appliance’s efficiency. If you must buy new equipment, use energy efficient appliances only.

In addition, daylit homes reduce lighting costs and well ventilated homes have lower heating and cooling costs.  Windows and fenestrations are another source of heat transfer. The use of external solar shading and insulated glazing are two highly effective ways to reduce heat gain. It is also good to select an air- conditioning system based on room size, room orientation, and building material.

Existing residential high-rise buildings, particularly those that are older than 10 years, have substantial scope for energy use reduction in common facilities. A considerable amount of electricity is used to light common staircases, basements, corridors, paths and roads. Again, LED lighting will lower those costs.

Also, pumping water to overhead tanks and operating lifts in high rise buildings consumes considerable energy and can greatly inflate bills. As per a recent guide book released by Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA), energy used to pump water, power lighting, and operate elevators comprises 16% of total electrical consumption of a housing complex.

Common inefficiencies with conventional pumping systems involve oversized motors or pumps, inefficient motors and pump throttling controls, tank overflow, and the mismatch between pumping and pump ratings. Many such inefficiencies are found in low cost, affordable housing, where developers feel more pressure to avoid any incremental cost. With some advanced planning, considerable savings can be achieved – without incurring added costs. Simple solutions include changing or trimming the size of pump impellers, installing lower speed pumps and motors, using variable-speed drives, or installing water-level based pump systems.  

With a bit of research and planning, many energy saving options are available. The results can be remarkable. Achieved savings of up to 30% have been reported by residential societies that implemented pumping efficiency measures. Typical payback is a short 2-3 years. In common areas, LED lighting and the use of occupancy sensors is enormously beneficial.  Time based controls are also very effective for areas with specific hours of usage, such as in building facades.

Though envelope retrofits are difficult to implement, there are some cost-cutting solutions that can be explored.

These include roof insulation, a cool roof, or a shaded roof.  Since a horizontal roof receives maximum solar radiation, protecting a roof from heat ingress can help save significant amounts of energy, while also providing thermal comfort in lowrise homes and to the top floor of high rise apartments.

While all of the above measures will help cut energy use and generate savings, it is equally important to make lifestyle changes. Setting thermostats higher, switching off appliances when unused, and performing regular maintenance are all very simple, very helpful, and very healthy.

If we work together, the people of India can make a tremendous difference – not only to our own homes and residences, but for the good of the nation as well. In closing, I would add that today it is imperative that we all begin taking steps such as these. The futures of our children and their children depends on it.

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