Green Architecture for Filipinos

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GREEN buildings do not necessarily cost more to build, and any higher first costs are usually removed through lower operating cost. While a piecemeal approach to sustainable design may increase total project costs, integrated design leads to decrease net cost, according to Harvard Business School in reference to the US Green Building Council.

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Culturally, the “tingi-tingi” approach is well ingrained in Filipinos. Rarely around the world can one see anywhere else candy, cigarettes, and even cooking oil sold per piece or per part. The late national artists, Nick Joaquin, called it as the “heritage of smallness.” While this habit has its advantages in the short term, this piecemeal approach costs much more in the long run. Unfortunately, this habit is carried over even in the construction of our homes and buildings.

In a typical Filipino home, it is usual to see house extensions: A part of the garage is later turned into a room, the kitchen is widened to accommodate an island counter and meal table, and a walk-in closet is added beside the master’s bathroom, among others. Most of the problems encountered in these extension projects are in plumbing, water pressure, sewage, air circulation, and lack of natural light.

The big questions then are: How can the green building approach be accommodated by Filipino culture? How can following green principles decrease construction cost and increase savings through energy efficiency in the Philippine setting?

First it is important to note that having a green building rating and certification is recommended to assure the public that an external party is involved in assessing the sustainability of the structure. The use of technology should be well integrated to the building’s design in order to increase efficiency.

Passive and active design
The most practical approach for Filipinos is to make use of the passive design, because it does not need extra cost by buying technology and it saves money for future home and building extension projects. The first passive design starts with the blueprint of the structure. One must already designate areas for future expansions and the orientation of windows and vents for wind circulation should be studied in detail.

One of the biggest costs for extension projects comes from the need to re-route or add additional plumbing, sewage, and water pressure. Often times, if not done properly, the sewage clogs or there is a leak. That is why it important from the start to know how many bathrooms a home or building would need, and that the utilities are ready to accommodate extensions. The water line should be accessible, and the “poso,” for a home, should not be enclosed inside a structure.

Next are the orientation and the size of the windows. In the morning, the sun rises in the east that is why most rooms are oriented in this area so that the rays will flood the room once you wake up. Then, the next most used room during the afternoon is oriented to the movement of the sun so that it will maximize natural light. On the other hand if the windows are too wide the tendency is the increase of heat. The objective is to give an ample amount of natural light but not at the expense of uncomfortable room temperature.

The size of the room should also be proportionate to the number of light bulbs that would be dedicated. Too much bulbs are unnecessary cost for energy. Too little light would be uncomfortable for reading and for work. According to a study by the US Green Building Council, research suggests that increased natural light exposure and air utility improves performance by 6 to 26 percent. Green buildings can boost employee activity.

Proper lighting and management of heat actually decreases the amount of energy that air-conditioning units need to regulate the temperature of the room. The active approach of buying inverter type air-conditioning can further decrease energy cost. The usual energy cost of air-conditioning per hour is about 15-30 pesos. An inverter decreases energy cost by 40 percent.

For adding solar panels, most cost is incurred in energy storage through the use of batteries. A 50 watts solar energy usually costs about P20,000 in upfront investment, but according to cost estimates, it is recovered after two to three years in energy savings for lighting. Solar power lighting is integrated with natural lighting.

Another important aspect of green building design is also the type of material and the location of where it will come from during construction. It is crucial to know what materials are available at the shortest distance because this can actually reduce labor costs and waiting time. Delayed arrival of materials is a natural occurrence when materials are sourced far away. The delivery of materials to the construction site also adds to the carbon footprint.

There is a misconception that green building is expensive. In reality, however, green building is both affordable and sustainable. All things considered, the first three years of a building’s 100-year life span could be expensive, but the next 97 years are savings.

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