Twelve years ago, Chockalingam Muthiah, a Bengaluru-based businessman, and his family, decided to make a significant shift in their lifestyle.
They wanted to ensure that their carbon footprint and impact on ecology was as low as possible.
Before we tell you how, let us tell you a little about Mr Muthiah and his family.
Annam, his wife, is a special educator who has worked with kids with dyslexia and autism for more than 25 years. His older son is a product designer, and his younger son is pursuing an MBA in Sports Management from Madrid University.
With their labour of love and attention to detail and a year-long discussion on design with an architect, Sherin Balachandran, the family of four built a sustainable home using mud blocks.
The entire property spreads over 7,200 sq ft, of which the home occupies 3,500 sq ft including an open sky central courtyard, and the rest of the space is taken up by their kitchen garden and a farm.
It’s been more than a decade now, and yet their home stands tall and strong. It is powered by the sun and uses water from the rain for six months a year.
What is more, the family also grows their food, which is entirely organic.
The Better India got in touch with Mr Muthiah to know more about his eco-friendly home, and here are some of its amazing features:
1) Use of mud blocks
Sherin Balachandran, the architect, made an effort to visit old structures to understand the process of constructing how a sturdy home, without relying too much on power intensive or polluting industrial elements like cement and steel.
And so, the Muthiah home has a pitched tile roofline, vaults, and domes. Most structures are built using compressed earth blocks, or CEBs made on site without firing in the kilns.
CEB is a building material made primarily from damp soil compressed at high pressure to form blocks.
The mud plastered walls that remind of you old and intricately built homes in villages keep the house cool during the summer months.
It is adequately ventilated with large dorms and low windows. Apart from air flow, this ensures abundant natural light too. Their staircase also has a chimney which leads the hot air out.
2) Twelve years of being off the grid
From the time the home was built, it has been off the grid. The family never took an electricity connection.
All of their electronic gadgets—from their television set to washing machines, fans, refrigerator, and water pump—run on solar power.
The panel which has a capacity of 2 kW, cost the family Rs 4 lakh when it was installed 12 years ago. While Mr Muthiah had a budget in place, installing the panel back in the day was cumbersome.
“More than expense, the issue that we faced was there was no expert to help us set up the system. The bigger players in the market were interested in catering to larger projects, not an individual home. So we ran around a lot to get work done. We had to source panels from someone, the batteries from someone else etc. Besides, I was not an engineer, but I had to learn everything from scratch about the set up to the daily run. It seemed difficult at the start, but today, we are thrilled with the results.”
3) Rainwater harvesting and reuse of grey water
The Muthiah family consumes approximately 20,000-25,000 litres of water per month and has made it a point to ensure no drop of water within the household goes waste.
Every drop of rainwater is harvested and stored in storage tanks that have a capacity of 20,000 litres. While 4,000 litres are collected at the first-floor roof and balcony, the remaining 16,000 litres are saved at an elevation on the ground floor roof.
All the excess water from the tanks is then diverted to an open well in the courtyard. The family uses water sparingly. While the water suffices for six months a year, they rely on the municipal connection for the rest of the year.
“Greywater is diverted into the garden through a flexible hose. We use homemade bio-enzyme and milder soaps and shampoos, so plants are not affected by the water. We also process 100 litres of black water in a biodigester, which is a technology from DRDO developed for army outposts. Installed with a license from them, it has been working well for the last three years. This ensures that not a single drop of water goes into the sewage.”
4) Kitchen Garden
Mr Muthiah mentions that Gandhi’s vision of becoming self-sufficient has been a major influence on his life.
And so most vegetables and greens are green organically in their garden all year round. Wet waste from the kitchen is used to make compost.
This garden also has a few fruit trees like chiku, guava, amla, avocado, mango, coconut, and bananas.
While 75 per cent of their veggies and greens come from the garden, they also have their millet farm that helps cover 25 per cent of the needs for grains.
The garden is watered with reused water coming out from the kitchen sink and washing machine after it passes through a sandbed filter.
5) A Conscious Community
It is not only the Muthiahs but also their community that is environmentally conscious. This reflects in a few measures that they have taken collectively.
The community owns a sewage treatment plant, which treats all the wastewater so that it can be reused for gardening and other secondary purposes.
The streets lights use LED street lamps and the area spread across 70 acres is lush with over 4,000 trees.
We want to end with a message that Mr Muthiah has for everyone.
“Today, switching to a sustainable lifestyle has become a necessity. At a time where our forests are burning, lakes are frothing, and trees are cut down, we cannot sit back and watch. If building a green home is a distant dream, start small. Even smaller lifestyle changes can go a long way in contributing to mother earth,” he signs off.
If this story inspired you, get in touch with him at email@example.com
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)