Sustainable Living: Easy Home Garden

We’ve moved from the beautiful sprawling houses in the 90s with enough land for a small garden to tiny matchbox apartments (well, maybe not matchbox like). And while we battle with the macro-level question of food security, the prospect of growing your own organic food scares most of us.

The top questions include:

  • Space Restrictions
  • Where to begin?
  • Time and Effort
  • Maintenance

Let’s try and answer each of these, in this simple effort to make growing your own kitchen garden much easier.

Plants that have a high per Square Feet Yield

Experiment with plants like creepers like bottle gourd, green chilies, tomatoes, aubergines and green leafy vegetables. These are not only healthy, but also contribute beautiful flowers and colors to your small garden.

Where to begin

Begin with NOT investing in pots and other equipment. Use jerrycans and 5 liter oil cans, cut off the tops and poke in tiny holes on the bottom side. Invest in good soil and organic fertilizers. Use your kitchen spoons and scissors as tools  till you have more experience and a well-established garden.

Herbs that don’t require seeds 

Try growing Basil, Mint and Thyme. Simply plant the store bought leaves in well drained soil and watch it come to life as it grows its roots, usually within two weeks time. Alternately, you could follow some of the following methods:

Fast growing vegetables and herbs

Some of the easiest and most rewarding herbs are coriander and fenugreek. Most indian homes already have the seeds and all you’ve to do is sprinkle them on the soil, cover them with a thin layer of soil and watch them grow.

Keeping garlic in water yields beautifully crunchy garlic leaves within days. Add them to a salad or chop as garnish.


Water the plants early morning or late afternoon. If you spot pests, give some of the pesticides made from cow-dung or neem. Fertilize the soil fortnightly. Easy huh?


And if freshly and organically grown crunchy vegetables and herbs hand picked daily from your own tiny garden isn’t incentive enough, check out some of these beautiful ideas to add some green to your home:


Share your own home gardening experiences


Understanding LEED NC – Sustainable Site: Prerequisite 1 Construction Activity Pollution Prevention

To reduce pollution from construction activities by controlling soil erosion, waterway sedimentation and airborne dust generation.


Create and implement an erosion and sedimentation control plan for all construction activities associated with the project. The plan must conform to erosion and sedimentation control requirements of Local Standards and Codes (OR) National Building Code of India (NBC), Part 10, Section 1, Chapters 4 & 5, whichever is more stringent.


SS 1 Points to remember


Potential Technologies & Strategies
Create an erosion and sedimentation control plan during the design phase of the project.

Consider employing strategies such as temporary and permanent seeding, mulching, earthen dikes, silt fencing, sediment traps and sediment basins.

National Building Codes of India (NBC) Part 10, section 1, chapter 4 – Protection of Landscape during Construction and chapter 5 – Soil and Water Conservation.

1. Timing of Construction

Construction work and erosion control applications shall be scheduled and sequenced during dry weather periods when the potential for erosion is the lowest.
Slope protection techniques to control erosion shall be used when construction during wet season is unavoidable.

2. Preservation of Existing Vegetation

This practice minimizes the amount of bare soil exposed to erosive forces.

All existing vegetation shall be marked on a site survey plan.  The landscape plan should indicate trees, which have been preserved, and also those, which had to be transplanted or removed clearly differentiating between these three categories.

Damage to roots shall be prevented during trenching, placing backfill, driving or parking heavy equipment, dumping of trash, oil, paint, and other materials detrimental to plant health by restricting these activities to outside the area of the canopy of the tree.

Trees will not be used for support; their trunks shall not be damaged by cutting and carving or by nailing posters, advertisements or other material.

Lighting of fires or carrying out heat or gas emitting construction activity within the ground, covered by canopy of the tree shall
not be permitted.

Young trees or saplings identified for preservation (height less than 2.00 m, 0.10 m trunk girth at 1.00 m height from finish
ground, 2.00 m crown diameter) within the construction site have to be protected using tree guards of approved specification.

Existing drainage patterns through or into any preservation area shall not be modified unless specifically directed by the Landscape Architect/Architect/Engineer-in-charge.
Existing grades shall be maintained around existing vegetation and lowering or raising the levels around the vegetation is not allowed unless specifically directed by the Landscape Architect/Architect/Engineer-in-charge.

3.  Staging Areas

Measures shall be followed for collecting runoff from construction areas and material storage sites; diverting water flow away from such polluted areas, so that pollutants do not mix with storm water runoff from undisturbed areas.
Temporary drainage channels, perimeter dike/swale, etc shall be constructed to carry the pollutant-laden water directly to treatment device or facility. The plan shall indicate how the above is accomplished on site, well in advance of the commencing of the construction activity.

4. Preservation of Topsoil

Topsoil removal and preservation shall be mandatory for development projects larger than 1.00 hectare.
Topsoil shall be stripped to a depth of 200 mm from areas proposed to be occupied by buildings, roads, paved areas and external services.

It shall be stockpiled to a height of 400 mm in designated areas and shall be re-applied to site during plantation of the proposed vegetation. Topsoil shall be separated from sub-soil debris and stones larger than 50 mm diameter. The stored topsoil may be used as finished grade for planting areas.

5. Spill Prevention and Control

Spill prevention and control plans shall be made, clearly stating measures to stop the source of the spill, to contain the spill, to dispose the contaminated material and hazardous wastes, and stating designation of personnel trained to prevent and control spills. Hazardous wastes include pesticides, paints, cleaners, petroleum products, fertilizers and solvents.

6. Sedimentation Basin
A temporary dam or basin at the lowest point of the site has to be constructed for collecting, trapping and storing sediment produced by the construction activities, together with a flow detention facility for reducing peak runoff rates. This would allow most of the sediments to settle before the runoff is directed towards the outfall.

7. Contour Trenching
Contour trenching is an earth embankment or ridge-and-channel arrangement constructed parallel to the contours along the face of the slope at regular intervals on long and steep slopes (in sloping areas with slopes greater than 10 percent) . They are used for
reducing runoff velocity, increasing the distance of overland runoff flow, and to hold moisture and minimize sediment loading of surface runoff.
Vegetative cover of tree and native grasses in the channels may be planted to stabilize the slopes and reduce erosion.

Contour Trenching
8. Mulching
Mulching shall be used with seeding and planting in steep slope areas (slopes greater than 33 percent) that are prone to heavy erosion. Netting or anchoring shall be used to hold it in place. Other surface runoff control measures like contour terracing to break up concentrated flows shall be installed prior to seeding and mulching. Materials such as straw, grass, grass hay and compost shall be placed on or  incorporated into the soil surface. In addition to stabilizing soils, mulching will reduce the storm water runoff over an area. Together with seeding or planting, mulching aids plant growth by holding the seed, fertilizers and topsoil in place. It retains moisture and insulates the soil against extreme temperatures.

9. Geo-grids
A deformed or non-deformed net like polymeric material used with foundation, soil, rock, earth or any other gee-technical engineering-related material as an integral part of the human-made project structure or system, called geo-grids may be used as control measure. On filling with lightly compacted soil or fine aggregate, a monolithic structure is created providing an effective means of confinement for unconsolidated materials within the cells and preventing their movement even on steep slopes. If required the area can then be seeded to maintain ‘green’ environment. he junctions have a central opening through which water can permeate ensuring that organic material receives moisture for rapid growth.

OVERVIEW: SS Prerequisite One.

Everyday Heroes



I know most people would expect a post about a life-saving danger-fighting situation, but this isn’t any less for me. It just does’t seem big enough because its a long and painfully slow process. 

And while I should have been posting about the multiple such initiatives being taken all over the country, this one is just too close to my heart.

This one starts at Home!

Understanding Light

Light and Architecture

Light is a tricky phenomenon. While an optimum amount of light for the maximum possible period could have a significant impact on energy savings, it brings with it heat that would require additional energy to be spent on cooling down day-lit spaces.

Designers have long been playing with light and understand the extent of its effect on visual recognition. Yet, we still underestimate the impact that can be achieved through efficient lighting.

And while I list down the importance of light, I cannot ignore its health benefits. Recently, there have been a sudden interest in the health problems due to lack of lighting. Long hours in artificially lit spaces result in our body clock being thrown out of balance. Solar cycles link daily (circadian) and annual (circannual) rhythms in almost all animals, including humans (worldheathdesign). Many biological processes have diurnal patterns, such as cardiac, immune, endocrine, cellular regeneration and brain processes including learning. It isn’t just daylight that can affect our performance and mood, Artificial light has a significant impact. Warmer colors have been scientifically proved to assist sleep.

As natural light pours through a space,  highlighting the different materials and proportions, our understanding of the space is transformed. It is through reflectance and transmittance that we finally perceive an object. The most beautiful spaces are those that are animated through the changes in sun’s position. These transform the space into a story of marvel where light and material come together to have a remarkable impact in the general mood and understanding as you step into the room.


Tada Andao’s Chapel of Light


Tadao Ando – Koshino



Corbusier – Chapel at Longchamps, Notre Dame du Haut


Here are some Basic Concepts that will help you design better daylit spaces:

IESNA defines light as visually evaluated radiant energy. Color is determined by wave length. Starting with longest wave length (red) we proceed with the spectrum of orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, to arrive at the shortest visible wave length (highest frequency).


Lux: This is the metric unit of measure for illuminance of a surface.  Average maintained illuminance is the average of lux levels measured at various points in a defined area. One lux is equal to one lumen per square meter.

Lumen: Unit of luminous flux; the flux emitted within a unit solid angle by a point source with
a uniform luminous intensity of one candela. One lux is one lumen per square meter.

Lux Lumen Candela


Luminaire: A luminaire is a complete lighting unit, consisting of a lamp or lamps together
with the parts designed to distribute the light, position and protect the lamps, and connect the
lamps to the power supply.

Mounting height: The height of the fixture or lamp above the working plane.

Circuit watts: Total power consumption of lamps plus ballasts in the lighting feeder/circuit
under consideration.

Color Rendering Index (CRI): is a measure of the effect of light on the perceived color of
objects. A low CRI indicates that some colors may appear unnatural when illuminated by the

Installed Load Efficacy: This is the average maintained illuminance provided on a horizontal working plane per circuit watt with general lighting of an interior expressed in lux/W/m²

Installed Load efficacy ratio: This is the ratio of Target Load efficacy and Installed load

Rated luminous efficacy: The ratio of rated lumen output of the lamp and the rated power
consumption expressed in lumens per watt.
Room Index: This is a ratio, which relates the plan dimensions of the whole room to the
height between the working plane and the plane of the fittings.
Target Load Efficacy: The value of Installed load efficacy considered being achievable
under best efficiency, expressed in lux/W/m²
Utilisation factor (UF): This is the proportion of the luminous flux emitted by the lamps,
which reaches the working plane. It is a measure of the effectiveness of the lighting scheme.

 Basic Units


Understanding Principles

  1. The efficiency of a light source is indicated by luminous efficacy, lm/Watt. Manufacturers
    usually give this value after testing the lamps at laboratories. It is difficult to establish the
    luminous efficacy value of lamps at site conditions.
  2. All the light emitted by the lamp does not reach the work area. Some light is absorbed by
    the luminaire, walls, floors & roof etc. The illuminance measured, in lumens/m2 i.e. lux,
    indicates how much light i.e. lumens is available per sq. metre of the measurement plane.
  3. Target luminous efficacy (lm/Watts) of the light source is the ratio of lumens that can be
    made available at the work plane under best luminous efficacy of source, room reflectance,
    mounting height and the power consumption of the lamp circuit. Ideally, we would expect
    the target luminous efficacy to be available on the work plane.
  4. However, over a period of time the light output from the lamp gets reduced, room surfaces
    becomes dull, luminaires becomes dirty and hence the light available on the work plane
    deviates from the target value. The ratio of the actual luminous efficacy on the work plane
    and the target luminous efficacy at the work plane is the Installed Load Efficacy Ratio
  5. A second aspect of efficiency of utilisation is to take into account, the light available at task
    and non-task areas. Usually for commercial areas, the recommended illuminance at the
    non-task areas is at least one-third of the average task illuminance, while keeping a
    minimum illuminance required at the horizontal plane to be 20 lux. From illuminance
    measurements the ratio of illuminance at non task areas and task areas can be estimated
    to understand whether the non-task illuminance level is more than required or not.






Unending discussion with professionals, industrialists, businessmen has finally forced me to conclude that Green Rating is still only limited to a select few.

While most customers are open to a ‘greener’ building (as long as they don’t have to spend extra on it, which again is a skill that is left to the architect/ consultant to prove and convince), the affinity to spending on a rating system and its benefits are still not clear. I have also been through debates between professors who belong to a school of thought where a ‘tag’ isn’t important to save the Earth! Where sustainability or resource and energy saving (for them) has been a part of their lives even before this began as a sudden worldwide wave.

And while I still can’t decide, discuss or comment on whether a rating system has any long term benefits, or whether its assessment techniques are reliable, whether it is even really required, I would share what little I know of this extensive rating system, developed in the United Kingdom, BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology!



Primary School at Jammu

As a part of our course (I’m a student of Architecture pursuing Masters in Sustainable Architecture at Bharti Vidyapeeth College of Architecture, Pune), for our design assignment, we worked on a climate responsive primary school.

The main focus was to use passive strategies. This was done by my classmate, Sohail Shaikh, at Jammu.He has used strategies for heating such as rock bed and solarium while also providing for stack ventilation for summer months. With his flair for representing his ideas through sketches, the sheets are almost self explanatory!

Introduction to JammuSite AnalysisSite PlanGround Floor PlanSectionssection02Sections

Radiant Cooling and Heating Systems

Radiant heating or cooling is a concept that has been in practice for longer than we realise.

Archeological digs in Asia and the Aleutian islands of Alaska reveal how the inhabitants drafted smoke from fires through stone covered trenches which were excavated in the floors of their subterranean dwellings. The hot smoke heated the floor stones which then radiated into the living spaces.

An ondol, also called gudeul, in Korean traditional architecture, is underfloor heating which uses direct heat transfer from wood smoke to the underside of a thick masonry floor. The main components of the traditional ondol are a firebox or stove accessible from an adjoining (typically kitchen or master bedroom) room, a raised masonry floor underlain by horizontal smoke passages, and a vertical, freestanding chimney on the opposite exterior providing a draft. The heated floor is supported by stone piers or baffles to distribute the smoke, covered by stone slabs, clay and an impervious layer such as oiled paper.

hypocaust was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air. Hypocausts were used for heating hot baths (thermae), houses and other buildings, whether public or private. The floor was raised above the ground by pillars, called pilae stacks, with a layer of tiles, then a layer of concrete then another of tiles on top; and spaces were left inside the walls so that hot air and smoke from the furnace would pass through these enclosed areas and out of flues in the roof, thereby heating but not polluting the interior of the room.

It doesn’t surprise me that these methods were in use probably since 5000BC (if wikipedia is to be believed). Most concepts that we now follow are actually age old methods that are so logical and obvious that it is a surprise that we ignored them for so long.

A radiant cooling (or heating) system refers to a temperature-controlled surface that cools indoor temperatures by removing sensible heat and where more than half of heat transfer occurs through thermal radiation.

-ASHRAE Handbook. HVAC Systems and Equipment. Chapter 6. Panel Heating and Cooling Design. ASHRAE. 2008.

The process of radiant exchange has a negligible effect on air temperature, but through the process of convection, the air temperature will be lowered when air comes in contact with the cooled surface.

The temperature people feel is an average of the air temperature in a room and the radiant temperature from the surrounding surfaces.With radiant cooling the room temperature can be reduced which reduces the convective cooling load.

This is a surface cooling system where the water tubes are placed in the roof slab that absorbs the heat from heat sources in the room.The Slab absorbs the heat and exchanges it with the circulating water. Typically the circulating water only needs to be 2-4°C  below the desired indoor air temperature.Once having been absorbed by the actively cooled surface, heat is removed by water flowing through a hydronic circuit, replacing the warmed water with cooler water.

The heat energy is emitted from a warm element, such as a floor, wall or overhead panel, and warms people and other objects in rooms rather than directly heating the air. For radiant heating systems, you can use any one of  the three commonly applied floor heating methods: radiant air floors (air is the heat-carrying medium), electric radiant floors, and hot water (hydronic) radiant floors or use radiant panels in walls and ceilings.

For further Information:

Radiant Cooling