It’s all eco friendly or sustainable products these days it seems. But far from being some passing marketing trend, the idea of eco-friendly design or sustainable architecture is about truly building for the future.
There’s growing recognition of our collective and individual responsibility to the environment around us. While the global threat of climate change might seem far away, the reality is impacting people across Southeast Asia today.
According to global climate watchdog Germanwatch Institute, two of the five countries most heavily impacted by climate change are in the Southeast Asian region – Philippines and Myanmar.
With its high average temperatures and low-lying coastlines, the impact on the Southeast Asian region is likely to be more extreme than other areas of the world in coming years.
This is all sounding very serious, right? Well that’s kind of the thing with climate change. While governments struggle to come to a consensus on driving forward the best collective action, it’s up to every one of us to do our part.
The green building concept is about choosing a home with low environmental impact, meaning reduced resources and emissions, and a better on-going environmental footprint.
So, if you can afford to buy or build green housing, why wouldn’t you? Let's take a closer look at how you can go about creating a sustainable haven to call your home.
Building A Green Home Of Your Own
Green building in Malaysia is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a practical consideration for some people. But the truth is, we can all stand to benefit from a little bit more sustainable building in our lives.
It’s not just that the threat of climate change is something we share, it’s also the amazing benefits you can unlock from owning a low impact property.
Sustainable architecture can sometimes cost more to build, but it also brings the potential of real cost savings in the longer term, through reduced utility bills and lower wear-and-tear.
One thing to note: we talk about ‘carbon footprint’ a lot when it comes to sustainable homes. Basically, that’s a way of referring to the resources, or emissions, required to create or run a particular object, appliance, or material used in your home.
So, where do you start with your sustainable building journey? Here are 10 top tips to build your eco-friendly foundations.
1) It’s All About Full Product Lifecycle
Invest in high-quality materials and appliances with longer lifecycles
Use paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOC)
Use green or eco-labelled building materials
There’s a real risk when it comes to eco-friendly homes, of only considering the environmental impact of your property from the point you enter the residence.
But if you’re building green housing, you need to consider the full lifecycle of your materials, structure, and appliances.
Having a zero-carbon footprint home isn’t just solar panels on the roof that make you ‘energy neutral’ once you’re living in it. You also have to think through HOW your eco home was built.
Europe is generally seen as a pioneer in eco-design, but importing ‘sustainably grown wood’ from Norway means a fairly substantial carbon cost to transport the materials to you.
The same is true when thinking about the use-waste cycle of your home. The more resources you have to ‘replace’ as your house ages, the higher the carbon footprint will be.
Invest in good quality materials and appliances that last a longgg time, even if the costs may be slightly higher. A huge portion of the resource burden in an appliance lifecycle comes simply from creating the product.
Quality aside, the type of materials you choose matters too. If you have the means to do so, opt for low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint and building materials with their relevant eco-labels.
When considering the other factors discussed in this article, keep this thought in mind: "Everything counts"!
2) Consider The Controlled Environment
Choose buildings with careful positioning of windows and doors for unobstructed wind flow
Well-fitted doors and windows with air-tight seals prevent cool air leaking out
Regularly clean your air conditioner filters
White or light-coloured walls better reflect heat
If not using air conditioning, open windows to encourage airflow
Doors and windows are incredibly important for a quality eco-friendly home, but in different ways depending on the country you build in.
In Europe, for example, there’s a lot of focus on insulation to keep the heat contained within. In Malaysia, we’re all about that cool breeze that keeps the heat away as much as possible!
Doors and windows can serve two purposes in this environment. First of all, if you’re committed to a truly zero-carbon home in Malaysia, then you’re going to either need solar panels for your electricity, or start living with an air-cond-free future.
If you choose to go natural, then careful positioning of windows and doors can allow for an unobstructed wind flow that keeps the home liveable, even in the fiercest heat.
That’s how things were done traditionally (read: back in the good ol' days), and there’s no reason it can’t work today too.
If you’re going for an air conditioner powered by renewable energy, then having high-quality and well-fitted doors and windows with air-tight seals ensure that you maintain the cool air without leaks.
When not using the air conditioner, opting to keep your doors and windows open will also help to encourage ventilation.
The color of your paint will make a difference too. White paint can reflect up to 90% of sunlight, effectively cooling down your house for zero electricity cost.
This means less energy burden in keeping the building/rooms cool, and is particularly important if you’re not going to be able to cover your full energy costs with renewable energy.
3) Ponder The Passive House
Consider the orientation of your house
Choose a home design which promotes air flow and cooling
A neighborhood with lots of greenery and water bodies will be more cooling
Tall trees and buildings offer natural shade
The talk of air thorough-flow reflects elements of what is known as the ‘passive house’ concept. What this means is using the design of the house itself as a solution to some of the challenges of the local environment.
That can be things like careful orientation of the house to reduce exposure to direct sunlight, or creating an internal environment uniquely designed for promoting air flow and cooling.
The idea of passive housing design is to reduce your need to introduce intervention measures to adjust the living environment.
Smart design is implemented in the property, to limit or respond to the impact of climate factors such as sun, heat, rain, and wind.
Traditional internal courtyards in some older Asian homes offer a historical insight into this kind of thought process.
These provide a wonderful internal living space that is uniquely designed to respond to all those elements of the local environment.
Speaking of the local environment, your neighborhood plays a role in reducing your carbon footprint too. Abundance of tall trees and buildings nearby can help shade your home to keep it cool, while bodies of water (ponds, lakes) can lower the ambient temperature.
4) Sustainable Wood Is A Solid Choice
Source for locally-produced accredited sustainable wood
Choose sustainable wood for internal furniture and furnishings
Wood is a truly wonderful sustainable resource when used correctly. Cement for building is the second-most consumed resource on the planet after water, and one of the biggest sources of global carbon output.
By some estimates, cement might be responsible for as much as 8% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions!
While activities of clearing huge plots of jungle and illegal logging are rightly condemned, wood provides a building resource that can actually provide an overall carbon benefit.
Look for locally produced, sustainable wood that is grown in environmentally-friendly conditions and accredited by a global standard.
This can be a great opportunity to build a landed property with your own unique style, and a wonderfully low carbon footprint.
Of course, sustainable wood isn’t a material limited just to landed property. Using sustainable wood for internal furniture and fittings means even condo residents have a chance to champion a more sustainable green building!
5) Recycled Materials Rock
Use recycled building materials such as ecobricks
Upcycle old items into new furniture or decor
Adopt waste separation and composting practices
Implement eco-friendly best practices into your daily life (DIY home cleaning products, cut down on purchases with disposable packaging)
Another great material choice is to look for recycled or repurposed materials for your home. This can include everything from recycled plastic used for work surfaces or cupboard doors, right through to the bricks in your property!
The usage of recycled plastic to create building blocks is <a href="https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2019/04/06/making-ecobricks-from-rubbish" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">known as 'ecobricks'</a>. This involves the usage of clean and dry non-biodegradable waste, to come up with a long-lasting material.
Not everybody has the opportunity to embrace every single aspect of sustainable architecture. Recycled materials can be a great way to bring a little more sustainable choice into your home.
Remember what we said about the full lifecycle too? Upcycling – taking old items and upgrading them to something exciting and new – is a fun way to reduce your waste, while keeping your furnishings fresh.
There are some fantastic makers in Malaysia upcycling and recycling products to offer unique home decor choices. You can make it even more unique by having the vision and commitment to design your own pieces.
The 3Rs go beyond just the home itself too. It’s also important to incorporate eco-friendly best practices like buying products with less packaging and using reusable containers for takeaways.
To get the entire household involved, you could also adopt waste separation and composting practices in your home - a little trouble goes a long way!
6) Recognise Renewable Energy
Install solar panels to power your home
Explore initiatives like net metering and P2P lending
Upgrade to TNB’s MyGreen+ renewable electricity tariff
Use 5-star energy appliances as rated by Suruhanjaya Tenaga
Renewable energy is fundamental to a truly zero-carbon home. Green design isn’t about sacrificing modern life for the sake of some crazy tree-hugging lifestyle.
It’s about finding ways to live a more sustainable and thoughtful way of life, via modern methods and without having to compromise on comforts.
Renewable energy can power everything from your air conditioning to your laptop in a more sustainable way.
Since it doesn’t require any fuel other than sunlight, that significantly reduces the carbon footprint of your home.
There are a couple of ways you can consider powering an eco-home in Malaysia. If you’re building your own home (lucky people!), the first option is to install solar panels.
Looking for land to build your very own eco-home? Explore thousands of residential land plots listed on PropertyGuru today.
Battery storage technology can be combined with solar panels to provide a reserve of electricity, meaning solar energy can even power you through the night.
Malaysia’s net metering initiative offers you an option to generate electricity on your own home via solar panels, and export back any excess to the grid on a “one-on-one” offset basis. Watch the video provided below for more information.
There are even some ongoing trials of peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, looking at potential options to sell excess generated electricity to your neighbours, for a profit!
Thanks to recent sector reform, there’s also an additional route to accessing green energy – through MyGreen+ renewable energy electricity tariffs.
This means residents of Peninsular Malaysia can upgrade to a premium renewable energy tariff through the country's provider, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).
The MyGreen+ tariff costs currently run higher than a regular tariff, meaning home solar panels are still a better long-term option.
In reality, with the price of renewable energy falling significantly across the globe, it should hopefully only be a matter of time until a centralised green tariff is as cheap or cheaper than traditional fossil-fuel-heavy tariffs.
Plans to open up Malaysia’s retail electricity market to competition could well see more green energy tariffs emerging in future.
We get it - those are all huge and costly changes. On a smaller scale, you could also use 5-star energy refrigerators, televisions, air-conditioners and fans as rated by Suruhanjaya Tenaga. They’re still a little pricier, but provide more efficient energy usage in the long run.
7) Water Is Waste Too
Use rainwater harvesting and recycling systems
Install a wastewater purification system
Use low-flow shower heads
Dual-flush toilets help save water when flushing
Use a front-load washing machine on the cold water cycle
Install a simple drip irrigation system in your garden
That’s right folks, water is waste too! While it might not have the same emissions footprint of energy, water is another utility you can consider saving on, as part of your green housing.
Rainwater harvesting and recycling is a simple way to make the most of Malaysia’s sometimes heavy torrential downpours.
You can store the water when it rains, and use it for certain household tasks such as watering gardens during a shortage, or for plumbing systems such as toilets and kitchens.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can even install a purification system which transforms that wastewater into your very own self-sustained water system.
There are even simpler ways to reduce your water use. Add low-flow shower heads that offer a satisfying clean, but at much lower flow rates, basically meaning you use less water during your time in the shower.
Toilets are another area of potential saving, by using dual-flush toilets that have low or high water output, or even using reduced storage capacity in the tank.
Your laundry is another area with plenty of opportunities to be more eco-friendly. Front-load washing machines use less water, and are more energy-efficient if you use the cold-water cycle and wash a full load of laundry at once.
For the lucky few with lots of land, a drip irrigation system not only saves water and energy - but cuts down on your time and labour too (not to mention great for the plants).
8) Go Natural On Top
Start a rooftop or balcony garden
Save space with vertical gardens
Grow high-yield plants native to Southeast Asia
Roof gardens aren’t an option for everyone, but they provide an intriguing benefit to a green eco-home for some lucky people.
Not only can roof gardens provide amazing insulation that keeps your house cool from the heat of the sun, they add a sustainable element to your lifestyle with the option of vegetable patches or just stunning green social spaces.
Rooftop gardens can provide a great source of home-grown food while also providing a welcome protection against the beatings from storms and rain too.
And what's the time-honoured way of cutting the overgrown grass? Put a goat on the roof and let it do its thing!
But all jokes aside, if the roof isn't a viable place for you to cultivate your green thumb, then why not try utilising your balcony space or better yet, letting the plants grow vertically to further make use of empty spaces.
For landed homes, make the most out of your space by creating your own herb and vegetable garden. Choose local crops native to Southeast Asia - kangkung, sawi and bok choy are very forgiving and high-yield.
9) Light Up Internal Efficiency
Smart use of design and home orientation can maximise natural light
Use energy-efficient LED bulbs
Use perimeter lighting with motion-sensors or timers
Renewable energy sources and sustainable building structure design are only part of it. You also need to think about how you’re burning all that energy inside your home.
Smart use of design to allow natural light into the home is one way to cut your energy needs, as it can reduce the use of artificial lights during the day.
For example, you can find out the orientation of the sun's rising and setting course, and select a south-east orientation. This provides your home a welcoming morning blast of sunlight, before it fades away to leave the unit cooler during the day.
When you do need to use artificial lighting, make sure it’s the most efficient LED bulbs on the market. These significantly reduce the energy consumption (and cost) of lighting up your home.
Make sure you use the most efficient appliances too. Keep an eye out for the energy efficiency label on products to understand how they perform.
When it comes to outdoor lighting, perimeter lighting with motion-sensors or timers will help utilise as little electricity as needed.
Motion-sensor lights can be used in the home as well, but may not be the safest option if you have elderly family members.
The lower the energy consumption, the less your carbon footprint, and the more likely you are to power your home with your accessible renewable energy.
10) Make it smarter
Digital technology is providing new opportunities to ‘smarten’ up your sustainable architecture. That’s everything from automatic sensors powering the air-cond and lighting, through to simple insight into your energy consumption.
Devices like TNB’s Maevi smart home device provide home energy monitoring and automation that can significantly reduce your energy consumption.
If you know where and when you’re using electricity, you’re far better equipped to reduce it. If you’ve got sensors that recognise and regulate temperature based on occupancy in your home, then your home can even adjust automatically to help you. Thanks smart home!
Pros And Cons Of An Eco-Friendly Green Home
Reduce your household carbon footprint
Typically more costly up front
Cut down on utility bills in the long run
Factors such as lifestyle and weather come into play
Increases the value of the property
May require some lifestyle changes
Better indoor air quality
Variables like construction materials are already fixed
Encourages water conservation
Lack of availability and consumer demand
How Can You Get Your Eco-Friendly Home?
Not everyone has it within their means to build a fully zero-carbon eco-friendly home in Malaysia. But everyone has it in their power to do a little more towards sustainable lifestyles.
If you can’t build a home, why not replace your lighting with energy efficient options? If you can’t afford a landed property, how about insisting your condo is built with the latest sustainable credentials?
You could look into solar panels for your building too. Or if that’s not possible, how about taking the plunge into the MyGreen+ energy tariff instead.