Green technology has been put in place in D.Kirubakaran’s residence much before it became compulsory or fashionable to do so

Talk to D.Kirubakaran about his eco-friendly house, and he’ll tell you a tale of his inspirations – ideas that he picked up from newspapers, travel and just plain old folk wisdom – that have gone into creating his three-bedroom residence in Thillai Nagar.

“I come from an agricultural background, and I always wanted to live close to Nature,” says Kirubarkaran, a veteran businessman, and elder brother of actor/politician Napoleon.

“We built this house in 2006, on a plot that will never pass any vaastu test!” he laughs. Indeed, the 4200 square feet ‘diamond-shaped’ plot stands out from the rest in the area, since it has three entry roads to it. The house is on the 1600 square feet that could be carved out as a square in this odd shape.

Many aspects about this house, designed by a Chennai-based architecture company, are striking to the visitor, simply because the green technology has been put in place much before it became compulsory or fashionable to do so.

“People talk a lot about ‘eco-friendly’ concepts in housing, but few actually follow it through,” says Kirubakaran.

Let there be air

The hollow walls used for acoustics in a now-demolished cinema theatre in Salem inspired Kirubakaran to try the same idea, but for cooling rather than sound-proofing.

The compound is ringed by two walls, the outer 4 inches in width and inner one, 9 inches. A brick support is given at every metre, allowing air to freely circulate inside and towards the house.

“In peak summer there’s a difference of 7 degrees between the outside and inside temperature,” says Kirubakaran, pointing out to a sensor-connected electronic thermometer. The water tank on the terrace also uses the hollow wall technology.

Double-glazed glass windows ensure longer-lasting coolness.

The high ceilinged walls of the house come with a small space where a PVC pipe leads water out of the window sills in the structure. “This also means we don’t have any cracks on the walls as there’s no water seepage,” he says.

Sunny side up

The house relies on a solar energy unit from Karur that uses 16 photovoltaic cells (of 36 watts capacity) with an inverter attached to it, for its power consumption.

“My son’s school in Kodaikanal was using this clean energy successfully, so I installed it as soon as we built the house. A 1 KV plant yields around 800 watts of electricity, which is enough for a household during power cuts,” says Kirubakaran. A solar water heater (100 litres capacity) is another useful add-on.

Power bills are almost 75% lesser than those compared to conventional electricity usage, he says, adding that the cost and size of domestic solar power units have reduced in recent years.

What comes in …

Perhaps the latest technology in the Kirubakaran household is the biogas plant that recycles kitchen waste.

Installed four months ago, the unit, made in Puducherry, is of 1 cubic metre capacity. A mixture of kitchen waste, 1-2 kilos of cow dung, and rice husk ash is fed into the plant once a day to supply cooking gas.

To this, Kirubakaran has added his own ingenious idea: an inflatable balloon set within an iron frame to hold as much as three extra cubic metres of biogas.

“I used an ordinary tarpaulin with fibre coating for the balloon,” says Kirubakaran, “and even though the manufacturers felt it wouldn’t work, it has been very successful. We haven’t used the regular LPG cylinder since this plant was set up.”

‘Why-didn’t-I-think-of-it?’

Some concepts that Kirubakaran incorporated into the house on what can only be described as a well-considered brainwave.

The kitchen exhaust fan has its own mudguard-type of shield that stops oil fumes from blackening the walls. Made from an ordinary iron sheet, the shield is cleaned once a month with regular detergent.

The skirting tiles around the lower edges of the walls have been merged with the main wall’s width, to prevent dust from settling on the projected strips.

Using a 15-year-old article from The Hindu as inspiration, Kirubakaran has plastered the walls with a mixture of regular lime with chappati kalli (cactus) extract as whitewash. The cactus extract repels lizards, mosquitoes and other creepy-crawlies for three years. What’s more, the plaster doesn’t rub off on your clothes.

All the bathrooms are located in the west-facing side of the house, which ensures that sunlight will quickly dry the wet floors.

A common duct is used to place electrical wires, rainwater pipes, sewage water and domestic water, giving the exterior a clean look.

Empty space around the house is used for both ornamental and kitchen gardening. An interior garden near the dining hall is nurtured with an overhead sprinkler system that is linked to the rainwater harvesting tank.

“It may be a little difficult to build such a house today because of the higher labour costs,” admits Kirubakaran. “But home owners should research all options for creating eco-friendly structures.”