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Building Fair Showcased Eco-friendly Building Concepts

April 05, 2005 . By Marc Gibson, The Barbados Advocate Newspaper
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The design concepts behind the Barbadian chattel houses were ahead of their times. Many of the concepts behind chattel houses and updates on others are the foundation for the eco-house concept showcased by Studio Blue Architects at the Barbados Building and Greening Fair 2005.

The booth displayed during the building Fair, at the Sherbourne Conference Centre from the 26 – 28 March, 2005 gave prospective home owners many ideas on how to make their new home as eco-friendly as possible. It also provided existing homeowners ideas with eco-friendly methods that could be integrated into their homes.

Most people might not consider the environmental impact constructing buildings have. Many of the materials used in construction have what Neil Hutchinson of Studio Blue Architects termed as embodied energy. Embodied energy is the energy used to create the materials used in construction, and the energy to transport the materials to a location. Hutchinson referred to Duraplast roofing tiles as environmentally friendly materials with less embodied energy. Hutchinson believes that builders should also consider the impact providing materials for construction has on the environment and whether the provision of said materials is sustainable.
Although Barbadians are using florescence lighting in public and private buildings there are other energy saving and producing methods. One method suggested by Hutchinson is photovoltaics. Photovoltaics that directly convert sunlight into electricity are made of semiconducting materials. The simplest photovoltaics cells power watches and calculators. More complex systems can light houses and provide power to the electrical grid. Hutchinson believes Government should consider implementing more incentives for the use of such measures.
Natural ventilation is an eco-friendly alternative to air conditioning. Natural ventilation is not a consideration in most buildings designed today. "Therefore you get buildings which are hot, which are not properly ventilated and then people look to put in air conditioning or even more ceiling fans - which goes back to the energy issue and also the health issues. Recently you would have heard a lot of problems with some larger commercial buildings where people have been complaining about the environment in terms of the air conditioner not working properly or you are not getting fresh air coming in," Neil Hutchinson stated.

The model displayed at the recent Barbados Building and Greening Fair held at the Sherbourne Conference Centre as part of the Studio Blue booth was an example of how different environmentally friendly concepts can be incorporated into building design. Hutchinson commented that all of the environmental friendly aspects shown in the model might not be suited to every building. Some of the examples from the model that are most easily incorporated into building designs are the water saving features. Low flush toilets and self-closing taps are some of the methods that can be seen in use in some of the public buildings in Barbados.
Reflective insulation in roofs is also becoming common place. According to Hutchinson, although the initial cost of some of these environmental friendly methods can be high, they are very cost-effective in the long term. He added that the reason why environmentally friendly methods in buildings are becoming increasingly commonplace is because people are realising that they are the intelligent choice. There are several ways to incorporate environmentally friendly aspects in building design. Placing windows on the windward and leeward sides of the building where possible to utilise cross ventilation; creating large door openings to increase airflow; using verandas to shade the main walls of the building so that the sun is not hitting the main walls of the building thereby radiating heat into the building; and reducing the number of hard paved surfaces around the building. Usually these hard paved surfaces store heat that is then radiated later in the day and grass paving is one suggested alternative. Rainwater tanks, which are becoming increasingly common in Barbados, are another eco-friendly option. The water collected in these tanks can be used for a variety of purposes including irrigation, flushing of toilets, and washing the car.

The use of insulation is another eco-friendly option. Used in temperate climates to keep out the cold, insulation can be used in Barbados to reflect heat and thereby reduce the cost of using energy for air conditioning. Grass roofs, which are quite common in Europe, can also be used as roof insulation and also replace the habitat for animals that would be lost in the construction of a building. According to Hutchinson, grass roofs would be viable in the Caribbean. They can be installed over a concrete substructure, which would actually be considerably stronger that a typical galvanize or clay tiled roof.

Composting and kitchen gardens were other eco-friendly methods illustrated in the Studio Blue model at the building Fair. The biggest potential water saving device shown in the model was the compost toilet. It uses no water! According to Hutchinson when people hear of the compost toilet they immediately thing of the pit toilet. "It is much more designed and engineered that a pit toilet. There is a chamber [below the level of the house], the waste goes into that, and it is vented above roof level. It normally comes with a little solar-powered extractor fan, so basically it is sucking all of the smells out and away. And the only place for the air to get in is down through the toilet seat - so then you get circulation so you don't get the smells coming back into the building. The waste breaks down naturally so you can use it as fertilizer," Hutchinson added. The standard toilet uses 45% of the water used in a household. Barbados is one of the 10 most water scarce countries in the world. The challenge as Hutchinson sees it is to overcome the social perceptions attached to non-water using waste options like the compost toilet. "People may still associate it [compost toilets] with a pit toilet or a lower class if you were, of sanitary facility, but if you seriously want to address the water problems then this is one solution," He believes it would not only solve the water problem but can also reduces the amount of sewage we put into the earth which will eventually makes its way into the sea.

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