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Someone's got it figured out
by Katy Purviance on 07/08/08 @ 10:56:53 am
Categories: Articles | 2174 words | 1822 views

After you read this article by Purple S. Romero, read the easy-to-read (i.e. lots of pictures) book,
Commonsense Architecture: A Cross-Cultural Survey of Practical Design Principles

Believe it or not, but the humble bahay kubo, an abode whose creation dates back to the pre-war period and which is commonly used today in rural areas, is an archetype of an energy-efficient structure: it is built from natural, renewable materials such as bamboo and nipa, its sloping roofs are good insulators of heat, and its openings are convenient for air circulation.

adobe house

“The bahay kubo is the perfect example of a green structure,” architect Eduardo Reformado, chair of the Green Architecture Movement (GAM) told

Going back to the bahay kubo is timely amid the skyrocketing price of fuel, and threats of climate change, a long-term alteration in global weather patterns that leads to stronger typhoons and severe droughts.

The major culprit behind climate change is massive energy use, as more energy means more carbon emission. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases which under intensified concentration may trigger climate change.

While it is long believed that vehicles are top carbon emitters, buildings actually take the cake. Buildings consume 40 percent of the world’s energy and materials, 25 percent of its wood, and 17 percent of the water.

But it is improbable to reduce these buildings to bahay kubo to cutback on energy consumption. “We couldn’t just return to the bahay kubo,” Philippine Green Building Council (PGBC) chair Christopher De La Cruz said.

But what could be done is to adopt the principles of the design of the bahay kubo to malls, hotels, and, yes, our homes, in order to save energy.

adobe house

Down with concrete walls

Green architecture has simple precepts. According to Clifford Espinosa, who specializes in the use of space to save energy and resources, green architecture entails two things: the use of renewable and natural materials, and a design that exploits the science of air circulation—hot air rises, cold air sinks.

The house of Eddie Concepcion, an acupuncturist with three kids, contains the above features. Concepcion’s house sits on a 150-square meter lot in UP Village, Quezon City. Before Espinosa came in, Concepcion’s house had concrete walls. When the renovation started in April, Espinosa shattered the walls and replaced them with 2.7 meter-tall grills and screen. The result was more inflow of air and light.

“Tumahan ang mga anak ko the first day that we moved in our house. Tumahan means to be at peace, which is the very essence of a home – tahan is the root word of tahanan or home,” Concepcion told

Espinosa used recycled wood for the benches that lined up the walls of the house. One of the benches was made of old wood from a gabaldon schoolhouse, which was constructed in the American period. No sofa was in sight

Cabinets in the kitchen were dismantled to give way to almost four-feet tall frames where pots and pans now hang. The maid’s room, which was the first thing that greeted the eye upon entering the Concepcions’ house, was torn down.

What replaced it is an attic-like bedroom made of wood, about seven to eight-feet high. To go to this room, which Concepcion amusedly calls the “crib,” one has to climb up a good old-fashioned wooden ladder. But Espinosa was able to stretch the crib’s functionality as the family’s flat screen television was attached to the crib’s front wall. This led to added air space.

“I wanted to bring back the silong,” Espinosa said. The silong is the ground space in larger bahay kubo that could serve both as a family room and workroom. “It’s a good storage for cool air,” he said.

Concepcion’s house, with the crib and three rooms in the elevated portion of the house, has, big uncluttered space, mirroring a modern-day silong.

Less electricity expenses

Another crib could be found in one of the first houses that Espinosa designed – that of Jimuel Naval, a four-time Palanca awardee and a professor in UP’s Filipino department, who also turned out to be Espinosa’s roommate when they were still students in the country’s premier state university.

This crib was designed for an artist. It starts from the concave terrace, which is akin to Padre Damaso’s pulpit as described in Jose Rizal’s books. This is where Naval’s students read or recite their poems.

It then extends all the way up, where at the far right end is a wall, generously lined with books. At the other side of the room is a nook where the writer or artist could receive guests. At first glance, a wall seemed to close over the nook, but this wall is actually made of composite doors, which lead to the veranda and the open sky.

But this design is not just meant to inspire an artist or complement the way he works. The room’s wide windows and slits in the floor are good openings for air. After Espinosa remodeled his house, Naval said that their electricity bill went down to P1, 400 at the lowest from a rate of around P3,000 and up.

The reduction in electricity use was a result of having to use less electric fans. Naval said that they still have air-conditioning, but only in their bedrooms.

Concepcion has also done away with electric fans. “Before the house was renovated, we had an electric fan at every corner. Now we only have one,” he said.

High initial fees

Decreased electricity cost is one of the long-term effects of green architecture. It is a key reason architects use to persuade developers and homeowners to go green amid the initial higher fees entailed by this major shift.

“Budget for green architecture is twice that of its traditional counterpart because of the materials,” Espinosa said. Thermoplastic roofing, for example, which Espinosa used for Concepcion’s house, costs around P1,400-P1,700 in the local market, twice that of the price of corrugated iron, which hovers at P500-P600. But thermoplastic roof membranes are known to have higher tolerance to extreme temperatures than corrugated iron sheets.

In Western countries, solar panels are installed in homes to transform energy collected from the sun into electricity. Solar panels, which use photovoltaic cells, cost around $14,000 with solar power priced at $4.82 per watt.

But does this mean that green architecture is only for the moneyed? We got mixed answers.

Reformado and Espinosa said that green architecture on a low budget could be possible. “We can apply green architecture with a measly P100,000 by changing the orientation,” he said. In architecture, orientation is defined as the “position of a building in relation to an east-west axis.”

“Instead of placing the windows in the east or west, let’s put them at north and south so that we could have cross ventilation,” Reformado explained. “We can put aluminum foil at the ceiling and paint the interior white so that heat is reflected, not absorbed,” he said. Aluminum foil could upgrade the ceiling’s capacity for heat isolation.

Espinosa seconded the option to use light-colored materials. “It’s basic science. Heat bounces off from light colors, while dark colors absorb it,” he said.

Low-cost housing

However, architect Rowena Ramos, conference chair of Building Green 2008, the green building awareness event spearheaded by PGBC, posed doubts. “At present day, what could we do with P100,000? Orientation is only just one aspect of green architecture,” she said.

On the other hand, Pablo Suarez, a principal architect in Green Architecture and Eco-Sustainable Design Consultancy, said that families at the base of the pyramid could best adopt basic environment-friendly practices such as proper solid waste management.

But Reformado stressed that the ultimate direction for green architecture is to marry its principles to low-cost housing. “That’s what we at GAM want to do. I think low-cost housing projects such as Gawad Kalinga should totally use green architecture,” he said.

Gawad Kalinga (GK), a housing development program for the poor that has tapped 900 communities worldwide, has already started its foray to green architecture last year.

Josephine Cayabyab, coordinator of Green Kalinga, the environmental program of GK, said that houses in Sitio Paho in Quezon City have been retrofitted to reduce energy use.

The design for green GK houses includes features such as a slot at the top and bottom of the house to boost air circulation. Plans to use bamboo for the walls of an extension were crafted to widen ducts for natural light. Cayabyab said that the working budget for each house is P85,000.

The whole cycle

Green building involves the whole building cycle – from the design, operation, to the maintenance and removal.

Green building, according to De la Cruz, consists of a gamut of technologies and practices that lessen a structure’s blow to the environment and human health.

Let’s start with the design. Orienting windows and walls, placing porches, and insulating ceilings and floors open to better air circulation. In operations and maintenance, solid waste management and wastewater treatment prevent garbage buildup and pollution.

Green GK, for its part, aims to conserve water by using green building technologies such as rainwater harvesting, which could be done through the use of a rain catcher with a filter. Rainwater would be collected and cleansed in the rain catcher so that it could still be used for flushing the toilet and cleaning houses.

Green GK also promotes wastewater treatment in their communities, where water from domestic, agricultural and industrial use would be treated first before it is funneled to rivers, lakes and other bodies of water with the use of constructed wetland, septic tanks, drain fields and other mechanisms.

No rating system yet

But while the concept behind it is simple, the growth of green architecture and the proliferation of green buildings require a deeper look into the nitty-gritty of corporate practices, standardized measurement and evaluation mechanism, and stronger policy muscle.

It begins with the selection of materials. Yes, there are cut-and-dried green materials such as bamboo, straw and the recyclables. However, these are not the only materials used in construction – there is cement, for example.

Portland cement, which is commonly used worldwide, emits dust and carbon dioxide from its raw materials during production.

“We should ask first for a laboratory testing of the materials before we use them,” Reformado said. “We need to make sure that they were not made of toxic substances,” he added.

But Reformado bewails the lack of a mandated certification system for producers and suppliers of construction materials. He said that a certification of green materials would force business players to go green.

Green Choice eco-seal

In the Philippines, a labeling program called Green Choice Philippines was launched in 2001 to identify green products. An imperative requirement in getting the Green Choice eco-seal is having manufacturing processes that pass the ISO or the International Organization for Standardization program for environmental systems.

Cemex cement is one of the materials recently awarded with the Green Choice eco-seal. It is the third product to gain this label, and the first one in construction resources to do so. However, obtaining this seal is voluntary.

The procurement of sustainable, green products is actually mandated in government agencies. In 2004, President Arroyo issued EO 301 to require government offices to come up with their respective green procurement programs and submit them to the National Ecolabelling Program Board (ELPB). The ELPB, with the Department of Trade and Industry as chief agency, would verify the environmental soundness of the products and services in the said procurement program.

However, there is a gap in the evaluation not only of the green procurement program but also of green building sustainability, as there is no single system which measures the implementation and effectiveness of green practices in building construction.

In Western countries and some parts of Asia, what fills this gap is a national rating system that serves as yardstick for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

In the works

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method is the earliest rating system in the world, established in Britain in the 1990s. It gives credit to site aspects, materials aspects, energy use, water use, indoor environment quality and innovation and performance enhancement.

Other rating systems such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in the United States works with the same point system. What made LEED highly successful, however, is policy backing. LEED-supportive legislation has been issued in 90 cities, 29 counties, 20 towns, 30 states, 12 federal agencies, 15 public school jurisdictions and 37 institutions of higher education in the US.

The PGBC is devising the Philippines’ rating system for green buildings. Once drafted, it would be submitted to the Department of Energy for approval. At this point, Reformado said that “we are way too late.”

But Suarez, the head of the technical working group which would craft the rating standards, remains hopeful. “The government will approve this system. The global initiative to go green is already there. We cannot deny that.”


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