How a Kerala couple built a sustainable mud house and forest of their dreams
As urbanisation increases, more people are coming into cities for living. Most of them either stay at a rented apartment or built their own houses. Majority of these people spend most of their income on the construction of their house. The main ingredient in our urban structures is concrete. We use it everywhere, from our Dams to sidewalls, from the mighty Burj Khalifa to our staircases. It is the most widely used man-made material in existence. It is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet. Concrete is harmful to the environment. It is the source of about 8% of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
But there are some people, who have averted from this global polluter to natural materials for building their houses.
Down To Earth meet up with a couple who lives in their mud house called Nanavu, which is made of earth and other natural materials. This tiny house is in the middle of a small 34-acre forest-grown by them. Energy-efficient and self-sustaining, ‘Nanavu’ was built on 960 square feet, with mud walls encompassing a spacious bedroom, living room, kitchen, hall and an office room. Hari And Asha got married in 2007. Hari is an employee of the local water authority in Kannur and Asha is part of a community that helps farmers practising natural farming. Both of them follow an eco-friendly lifestyle that reflects in every breath of their lives.
Building a house using mud and other natural materials is a revival concept in Kerala, even though the region had a rich history, where tribal houses are completely made out of mud and bamboo. So Hari and Asha started to search for Architects who have experience in designing mud houses. They found Architect Vinod who had experience in working with Laurie Baker, A pioneer in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and designs. With the help of Vinod, They bought in skilled labourers from Trivandrum and started the construction of Nanavu.
The total building cost of Nanavu is just Rs 4 lacs and 60 percent of it is the labour charges. To reduce the material cost, the couple has used local materials. which includes mud that was dug out for the well, old and dysfunctional coconut trees are used for making doors and window frames, locally made terracotta tiles are used for flooring and roofing. Different coloured ochres are used instead of harmful paints. Mud walls in a house have amazing qualities. It has very good thermal properties. During hot days mud walls will keep the heat out and during winters the walls will keep the interiors of the house warm. Mud houses also breathe. This means they will absorb excess moisture during humid days. 9 years ago the couple spent Rs 4 lakh to construct the house. Most of this was labour cost. The couple did not just stop at building a house from natural materials. They have a 5Kwp solar plant along with Biogas to serve their energy requirements. Because the house is naturally ventilated they do not require air conditioning and ceiling fans for their cooling needs. Electricity from the grid is only required once in a while when using the water pump. This means the couple does not use more than 4 units of electricity a month. That is less than what a middle-class household in a city will use in a day. Their energy frugality can be gauged by the fact that the house does not have a refrigerator. Instead, food is preserved using an earthen container built into the floor of the kitchen. The house also has a toilet linked biogas plant. All organic waste including faecal waste in Nanavu is converted into biogas, which is used for cooking. The couple follows the Gandhian principles of being self-sufficient. They emulate his principal by growing their own food. They have created a natural food forest. The couple follows a farming method which is very similar to zero budget natural farming. The couple now helps farmers grow and sell organic food through an initiative called Jaiva Samskriti. Every Friday they organise a farmers market where customers come and buy directly from the producers. This helps the farmers in the area get better returns for their produce.