As a child, Pradeep Krishnamurthy, a native of Bengaluru, always lived in government townships with big verandahs, surrounded by nature and blossoming gardens. His father’s frequent government job transfers exposed him to different rural areas across India that were away from urban landscapes.
This is what inspired him to become a wildlife photographer to stay connected with nature. His experiences made him sensitive towards nature and inspired him to practice a sustainable lifestyle.
But it was his friend, Ravishankar, who suggested that he build an eco-friendly home in 2009. “It was a casual conversation on the sustainable lifestyle that led my friend to tell me about a mud house. The discussion made me curious, and I started exploring ideas and researching on the same,” Pradeep tells The Better India.
The 39-year-old says that after feeling confident about his thorough research on eco-friendly homes, he shared the idea with his wife and parents. “They were taken aback. My wife’s first reaction was that she thought that I wanted to live in a hut,” he laughs.
Au Naturel Air Conditioning
He adds that after explaining the features of how the concept emphasises using locally-sourced materials and natural resources, his family agreed. “It took a few years for the idea to translate into a reality. In 2013, we finally decided to build upon our existing land spread across 2,400 sq feet area,” he shares.
Pradeep says that he employed Tropic Responses, an architect firm who helped him design the structure according to his requirements. The construction of the house named ‘Bhoomi’ began in 2014 and was completed in 2015.
He explains that the building comprises of a ground and first floor. “The ground floor is a conventional structure whilst the first floor of the house is completely eco-friendly. There is no structural change in the ground floor,” he says.
Pradeep says that the first floor comprises three bedrooms, two bathrooms and one kitchen with a unique courtyard accommodated inside the structure.
“We followed a simple thought process to build the house aiming to have maximum light and ventilation by using local materials. We have used Compressed Stabilised Earth Bricks (CSEBs) that were handmade and sun-dried for at least 30 days. Over 15,000 bricks were made on-site in two weeks,” he says.
He adds that the bricks were made from red mud, sand, stone dust, gravel, lime dust and some proportion of cement. “These were hand pressed and sun dried. We used solar energy to cure the bricks and did not require the use of firewood or fossil fuel in the process,” Pradeep explains.
He says the bricks naturally breathe and moderate the temperature and energies inside the house. “This house is cool in the summers and warm in the winters,” he says, adding that the same material was used to make mortars for plastering the wall.
Pradeep says that the flooring for the outdoors was made from Sadarahalli stone, while the interiors consisted of Jaisalmer and Kota limestone. The courtyard has handmade Athangudi tiles.
“The roof is made using the filler slab method that reduced the use of concrete and applied terracotta materials as fillers in the form of tiles, bowls and conical pots,” he says.
Pradeep says that the doors and windows of the house are built from reclaimed wood. “The highlight of the house is the two wooden pillars made from a refurbished 60-year-old jackfruit tree,” he says, adding, “The living room furniture is made from reclaimed and refurbished wood. We have an old-style sofa and table made from Mahogany teak and procured from the previous owner. We bought and restored it to its glory. Our staircase railings are carved out of pinewood used previously and sourced from Kings & Queens shop in Hennur, which collects worn wooden furniture and restores them to extend its lifetime for a few more decades.”
Sharing about the ventilation techniques in the house, Pradeep says, “We made it evident to our architect Sanjay Jain to avoid the use of artificial lighting and ventilation during the brief.”
Sanjay Jain, the founder of Tropic Responses, says, “Pradeep wanted the house to be eco-friendly, and hence such measures were to be conceived, especially to build upon a concrete structure. The house on the first floor has no pillars and is built as a load-bearing structure.”
He adds that the two wooden pillars made from reclaimed jackfruit trees bought from the shop serve an aesthetic and for load-bearing purpose. “We also reduced the thickness of the walls where it extended the ground floor to make it lighter and sustainable,” he says.
Sanjay says that despite challenges, the eco-friendly house demonstrates how sustainability can blend into a conventional structure.
Pradeep says that interventions implemented in the courtyard help the warm air within the house circulate to bring the temperatures down and cool it. “It is also the focal point of the structure where the house receives most of its sunlight during the day. Moreover, the ceiling is 11.5 feet tall against the conventional 10 feet, which allows more space for air to circulate and assist in ventilation,” he adds.
Pradeep says the rooms have large windows that further help in circulating the air. “We do not require any air conditioning and have not installed them either. We use fans only for four months of the year during peak summer days. Thanks to the natural cooling methods, the difference between the ambient temperature and the outside is around 4 degrees Celsius,” he adds.
Recycles 500 Litres of Water
Besides, he says there are multiple steps taken to include other sustainability aspects inside the house. “I admit that we do not live a completely sustainable lifestyle, and it is difficult to achieve the same due to factors beyond our control. However, we do not let our wet waste go out of the house and have installed a biogas unit that provides three hours of burn time daily. The by-product slurry works as a rich nutrient for plants for the terrace garden. It reduces our dependency on LPG cylinders, and we need one in nine months for a family of three,” he says.
He adds that there is a greywater recycling system set up in the house premises. “The only water going out of the house is from the toilet. The used water from the bathroom, kitchen, hand wash, washing machine and utensils is recycled by a natural water filtration system using plants. The recycled water is used in gardening, toilet flushing and outdoor usage,” Pradeep says, adding that the family uses cold process soaps for bathing and washing.
The family recycles about 500 litres of water every day, which they claim have reduced their daily consumption from the civic body by 50 per cent.
In addition, Pradeep says the family grows organic vegetables in the terrace garden. “We grow many types of fruits, vegetables such as ridge gourd, cucumber, tomatoes, potato, beetroot, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, chillies, capsicum, peas, okra and brinjal. The garden also has fruits like guava, papaya, pomegranate, sweet lime, lemons along with banana, pineapple, passion fruit and dragon fruit,” he says.
Pradeep says that the journey of building the house has been a learning experience. “I have realised how the traditional architectural knowledge has been lost over generations with new building methods. The sustainable concepts that I have adopted in our house were deep-rooted in our living till a few decades ago. Today, concrete materials and structures are the conventions and, within 50 to 60 years, we have forgotten how traditional, natural materials and methods came to be used in our construction techniques,” he says.
He adds, “We need a revolution of going back in time and connecting with our past and tradition with an eye for the future.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)