What is a sustainable home?
Buildings account for over 20% of Singapore’s carbon emissions. How? By cramming a whopping 7,900 persons per square kilometre, onto a really small island. And in every home, energy consuming appliances. Fans. Lights. Ventilators. Air purifiers. Air-conditioners. Fridges. Cook tops. Dishwashers. Water heaters. Washing machines. TVs. Computers. Mobile phones. The country burns through a titanic amount of energy daily.
Thankfully, since 2005, the Building a Construction Authority (BCA) has been doing something about it – rewarding developers for constructing sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings through their Green Mark scheme. To date, the efforts of the BCA, it’s scheme, and the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) has successfully greened 40% of the nation's buildings. But what does it mean to be green?
Loosely defined, it’s basically making the smallest impact on the environment. The smaller, the better. In every single way. From building orientation to paints to lighting. Ideally, it’s a place that gives back more than it takes in land, water, energy, and resources. Below is a list of things that make a building green, in order of things that consumers have the least control of to the most.
Sustainable Materials and Construction
Natural resources are finite. Sure, trees keep growing but if there aren’t any left, they just can’t. When developers and builders reuse and recycle materials such as wood, it’s just being efficient with what we’ve already got. Just look at any construction waste disposal bin you come across; tons and tons of perfectly good material thrown out. Repurposing them increases the lifecycle of existing materials and, by extension, reduces demand for more material resources.
Going further would be to pay attention to occupant health, comfort, and productivity. These homes might include excellent natural ventilation and moisture control, and use of materials with low-VOC emissions. Over the long term, such features help homeowners spend less on climate control and trips to the doctors.
Passive solar design and insulation
Sustainable homes make the most of natural daylight. The more that comes in, the less reason to switch the lights on. Got a dark corner? Go with light coloured paints. They reflect and carry light way better than their darker cousins; dark colours just suck up light and give nothing back but heat.
It’s safe to say that more of us love sunlight. The heat that comes with it? Less so. Especially in small spaces. Proper insulation and materials with high solar reflectivity come to mind. Whether it’s highly reflective roofs, double- or triple-paned, or foam filled walls, insulation go a long way to keeping the equatorial heat out and the cool air in without resorting to energy-consuming measures like air-conditioning.
Freshwater is scarce. Especially more so in Singapore. Yet, a massive 430 million gallons gets used up every day, 45% of which is used by households. That’s 140 litres per person each day! Let that sink in. Hopefully, you’re now thinking of ways to save water. It can be as simple as installing low-flow showerheads, toilets and taps, or even recycling your bath water for, let’s say, flushing the toilets.
Lighting makes up nearly half of all energy usage. In addition to passive solar design, every energy-efficient LED reduces wastage, your monthly electric bill, and the toll it inflicts on the national grid. And just because LED’s use a tenth of the energy that incandescent bulbs, don’t get complacent. Think of having “kill” switches to turn off all the non-essential power points and lighting in the house when you’re not home.
On a consumer level, homeowners are empowered to create better sustainability through their appliances they choose to use. PUB and the National Environment Agency both employ mandatory labelling schemes that ensure that consumers are better informed and are able to choose appliances that are water and energy efficient. Really, these labels are so obvious, you can’t use the “I didn’t know it was an energy hog” excuse anymore.