Cement is a the favorite building material of many, thanks to its water holding capacity, reliability and affordability. But it is also responsible for almost 8% of the carbon emissions on the planet.
However, since 2005, Mysuru-based architect Rajesh Kumar Jain has been taking concrete steps to reduce this carbon footprint. Through his venture, called the Regional Low Energy Environment-Friendly (RLEEF), the 45-year-old reuses cement from construction debris to build sustainable and zero waste infrastructure. So far, he has built around 175 houses using this debris, which includes his office. It is made entirely of waste material that has been carelessly dumped in isolated parts of the city, or on riverbeds.
A cause for sustainability
“I was always inclined towards working in sustainable architecture, and academics allowed me to gain better insight into the matter. I learned about the health hazards of cement on human lives and nature, which is why I took up the challenge to reuse cement in my final-year academic project” he told.
“Construction debris from old buildings is often dumped along the riverside and chokes the water bodies. Local governing bodies have a tough time managing such waste, as there is no robust system in place to tackle the issue. Also, manufacturing cement involves the emission of harmful gases, excess use of water, and extracting natural resources from the quarry,” he added, stating that careless management of construction debris at times is as hazardous as plastic.
Rajesh collects debris and processes it manually into fine granules with the help of labourers. The method involves identifying the strength and quality of the material. Depending on extent of usage, the waste is used to make tiles, walls or the foundation. All these buildings have rainwater harvesting structures, solar power plants, and kitchen wastewater treatment.
A host of eco-friendly features
The building is designed in a manner that requires no air conditioning or ceiling fans during summers.
Explaining the approach, Rajesh says, “The buildings I recommen1d usually have a cylindrical water tank, light roof with micro-concrete slabs, jaali clay blocks used as parapets, tile cladding blocks and cudappah stone. The walls are built by interlocking stabilised earth blocks in an arched form. The windows and doors are reused from previous construction debris as well.”
The architect says that soil excavated from the construction site is used for making bricks.
“I prefer rectangular rooms against the square-shaped rooms, because they use less steel and concrete. To further reduce construction cost, I recommend introducing skylights to allow more ventilation and natural light inside the building,” he said.
He evades plastering costs by using alternative material like stones instead of steel and concrete.
‘Kind to the environment’
The rubble from construction waste that is used to make walls is water-resistant, economical, sustainable and reduces heat transfer.
“This eliminates the need to use natural resources like soil, stone from quarries, and so on. Additionally, it reduces the cost of transport and logistics for material. This further reduces carbon footprint,” he added.Advertisement
Rajesh says the most challenging part of his work is to convince the clients.
“Many are aware of the issue, but need a deeper explanation of how their decisions in building a house affect the environment. Clients are told how the use of high-energy consuming materials and technologies, high cost of construction, and running cost of building, directly cause environmental degradation, as well as an adverse impact on health. People carry the notion that only cement is synonymous with durability. I want to highlight examples of structures that are as economically viable as cement ones, and cause minimum damage to nature,” he added.
Michael Moraes, a retired navy official whose farmhouse Rajesh is constructing, said,
“After my retirement, my family and I wanted to live in harmony with nature. We wanted to grow our own food, and thus, opting for earth architecture over conventional construction made sense.”
Michael says he visited some of RLEEF’s earlier projects, and was impressed with the fact that the bricks used were from the same site of the project, and not baked in a kiln.
“The bricks were made using the compression technique, and did not chip. Also, some houses did not require fans during summers. Convinced with the quality and the eco-friendly features, we opted for this architecture, which is kind to the environment,” he said.
Making sustainability affordable
Many customers now come to Rajesh to build environment-friendly houses.
“Awareness has increased, and more people are now curious about such architecture. I am also glad I could train a few students who trust this method and follow the techniques in their professional lives,” he said.
Rajesh has prepared a booklet called ‘Green Home Guide’ with support from Mysore city corporation to create awareness. It contains information about eco-friendly alternative material and technologies possible to be used as various components of buildings.
However, despite using construction debris, building the house still costs the same as constructed from conventional methods. To make the concept economically viable, Rajesh has already initiated steps in the required direction.
“The current challenge we face is to reduce the cost of construction of such buildings. We are in the process of working with the local body to set up a unit to process construction debris and convert it into an asset. Recycling debris on a mass scale will significantly bring down the construction cost, and hopefully push people to opt for eco-friendly alternative housing,” he adds.