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Sustainability on a smaller scale- achievable for houses

Sustainability is a double-edged sword.... how can you balance sustainable practices while maintaining costs in a regular household? There are, as always, many reasons a house may be viable to be called ‘sustainable’. So what are the features that are readily accessible in the Indian scenario while still having an impact on the environment and your expenditure? After all, sustainable housing can be defined as meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs as a whole, for the future generations. Sustainable housing has the potential to be an affordable solution in the long run, given that there is a fair amount invested at the beginning of the project. There are changes small and large that need to be taken to insure a standard of sustainable living.

Sustainability on a smaller scale- achievable for houses


The land that is selected to build your home, needs to be situated in an area that is close to good facilities. Infrastructure will vary vastly based on the materials that are close and readily available near your site. Since sustainable design is all about conserving as much time and energy as possible while lessening your carbon footprint, large loads of transportation of material from various places isn't the right choice.

When constructing a house, keeping land viability is an important aspect. Make sure the site is not at flood risk, recent events have made us realize that this may happen in most places. Make sure the land is not located in high-risk areas or hazard zones. The house you want to build must last, and rebuilding even in parts isn't very good for you or the environment.

Size matters:

Sustainable design is all about doing what is right for you but working within reason to build houses which are far more energy efficient and conservant. One thing that is the most obvious of all the guidelines we are reading today is size. Smaller houses are more energy efficient due to the simple fact that larger houses will use more materials and require larger amounts of energy to heat or cool the spaces within. Build a house which has a small area footprint, this is not to say that you need to adjust in any way, but to be aware of the size of each of your rooms and to cut down where there may not be a real necessity.


If there is anything that we have already inculcated into most of the houses in India; its vastu. The similarity is uncanny when it comes to the recommendation of orientation for sustainable housing. Such as the SW of the house being the master bedroom, due to the cool interior when the sun faces away for most of the day. If you live in colder climates, choose designs that will orient the house towards using the sunlight to heat the house during the day.

If you live in hot climates, then choose windows that have glares or films on the surface of the glass to avoid direct heat from the sunlight. Plant trees along the side where the sun is the brightest to avoid the sun's rays. Windows always have overhangs in India but now with new housing the design is being used less often, but this element plays A BIG role in cooling a house and was adopted since ages past. Passive design features can make a big difference in attaining sustainability at low costs.

Floor layout:

Did you know that the layout of the house plays a big part in sustainability? Houses that have a larger spread are going to have a huge amount of energy loss, leading to less energy efficiency. So building taller is better than building wider.

So when the floor layout is going to be designed and it has been decided that the user requires a total area of 2000sft. then it is probably a better idea to have two floors of 1000sq feet each rather than one spread out floor plan. This also works to conserve the amount of land required to build your home. A compact two-storied house will tend to be more efficient than a one-storied spread out house.

Material selection:

Probably the most important aspect of building a sustainable home. When talking about materials, one of the previous points mentions distance to acquiring materials must be in close proximity to the house. Hence the next step to take is to use locally sourced materials or locally available materials. In India we are blessed to have a large variation or local stone to choose from based on the area that you want to build your house. Choosing Kota stone for example if building in Andhra Pradesh, makes the most sense due to the stone being available locally and in abundance there. Other materials that make a huge difference are

- Natural reusable material, like stone, bamboo and FSC certified wood.

- Eco friendly love VOC paints

- Engineered wood is better since that protects actual wood from forests.

Choose to purchase materials that are recycled like doorframes or window frames, but if that isn't to your preference, choose door and window frames made by local artisans. This will make a good impact for the workers as well as the quality of your home. Not to mention the huge decrease in your and your homes carbon footprint. Go local can save costs on transport and ensure good quality. Because standing the test of time is one of the best features of any sustainable house. Innovative and creative choices of materials are encouraged to reduce construction waste and to also impart a distinctive style of architecture unlike any others.

Waste Management:

Waste management is a big part of controlling the overall environmental impact of any home. For large projects, companies are integrating responsible waste management solutions such as material recovery facilities or MRF, where waste is segregated.

For smaller projects such as a house, a similar concept can be applied. Waste should be segregated in bins to be collected by local or community waste management facilities.

Energy systems:

The lifecycle of the house depends on its energy, so at every point in building your house, energy consumption must be taken into consideration.
Everything from

- LED lights for the entire house saving upto 75% of power cost

- Passive cooling and heating techniques

- High performance doors and windows

- Energy star rated appliances

- Solar panels for water heaters

Changes on the personal front:

- Plant pollinator friendly plants in your garden, to help pollinators find food.

- Grow more food at home, in the kitchen, patio or even the backyard.

- Start composting to reduce food wastes and it also makes for great fertilizer for your garden.

- Remember to bring ‘reusables’ when heading out: grocery bag, water bottles or even a coffee mug.

- Reduce waste in your home, bamboo alternatives, soap bars instead of plastic bottles for body wash or find containers which can be reusable.

- Be a conscious consumer, and realize all your purchases have impacts. Support brands which are ethical and have initiatives to help empower disadvantageous groups.

There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Start small or big, but start bit by bit and eventually there will be more and more ways to inculcate changes which in the long run save energy, money and most importantly will be good for the earth.

Sustainability is not a trend, it is a need for all buildings alike. As sustainable housing has increased over the years, so have the efficient design solutions to making it possible to build such housing. These sustainable efforts will surely continue to make way to building smarter, energy efficient houses for years to come.

Image Source

Image source:

Ar. Mrudula Reddy

Master of Landscape Architecture