Simple Yet Effective Ways To Building Green

Financial Daily, 12 November 2010
Written By Sam Tan

The words ‘sustainable’ and ‘property’ have not historically been a comfortable pairing. Least of all during a period when supranormal profits are there to be had, given Malaysia’s predilection for all things real estate.

Homebuyers are maturing. It is no longer enough even if a home is well thought-out and well-designed, they want more. People want homes that are ecologically friendly, offer a sustainable and fulfilling way of life, yet not break their bank accounts.

People are increasingly aware of the environment and that our current lifestyle are simply not sustainable. But this shift, especially in Malaysia, is also due to the need to address inexorably rising energy costs.

Our government, labouring as it is from an unsustainable fiscal deficit, will sooner rather than later cut the subsidies which make our current lives so affordable: water, electricity, petrol and sugar. The list goes on, but it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to do the maths: global warming plus warmer climes equals higher fuel bills. And so it is that the process of dismantling our subsidies has already begun, and we, as all Malaysians must, need to examine the way we live and impact our earth.

As home builders, we are in a position to help people the environment.

To take just one micro-example: light. Adequate illumination is necessary in every single home throughout the day and part-ways through the night, but rising energy bills will exacerbate concerns over the affordability of our existence.

In the course of our work as a property developer, we discovered that light and the affordable illumination of our homes is an eminently achievable issue, capable of being addressed by implementing a few changes. For example, by building homes with a North-South orientation. Since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, natural light can be enjoyed the entire day if house are built with a North-South orientation with maybe some help from a skylight. Cooling is also natural and can be enjoyed all-day as air travels in a natural North-South flow.

Simple design can devastatingly effective; for example locate porch roofs high and angled upwards, allowing more light to filter into the house. Again, this equals a brighter home and reduce s the need for electricity-powered lights in the house during the day, cutting energy bills. Installing extra window panels to allow light in can also be easily incorporated into a building design.

In other words, the cost of adding sustainable elements, whether an additional tier of windows, or a carefully designed porch roof, whether in a terraced house, or a shoplot, is small compared with the benefits which can be tremendous.

The same goes for spatial utilisation. Lavatories at terraced houses in Malaysia are traditionally set in front or at the back. But move the toilets to the centre of the house and the entire front and back of the house will be left for windows. No more lavatories front and back means no more competition for valuable light!

I will continue to demonstrate in this column that a sustainable existence need not be expensive not cutting-edge. Mostly, in fact, it is about common sense and an awareness of surroundings. Ultimately, sustainable living is not a fad. It cannot be, because neither we nor our government are able to continue living the way we always have. It is simply too expensive.

It is a sad fact that people know more about their cars than they do about their homes – despite the fact that they cost immeasurably more to buy and maintain. So we see it as our duty as developers to help alter that reality, to re-align our priorities. We are at the beginning – on ground-floor, as it were, – of a Green Movement, which will one day see us living in homes drastically different to the current shape and form.

Sam Tan is executive director of Ken Holdings, the developer of an award-winning green certified project Ken Bangsar.