India: How a Kerala couple built a sustainable mud house and a forest of their dreams

Down To EarthFebruary 20, 2020

With concrete, a major source of pollution used to build most homes, becoming the second most-consumed resource on the planet after water, the need and awareness for energy-efficient homes is on the rise.

Down To Earth met a couple residing in Kerala, who realised the need to live an eco-friendly life. They built a mud house named ‘Nanavu’ — made of earth and other natural materials — that cost them just Rs 4 lakhs, 60 per cent of which was spent in labour charges.

The tiny home, lies in the heart of a small 34-acre forest-grown by them. ‘Nanavu’ was built on 960 square feet, with mud walls encompassing a spacious bedroom, living room, kitchen, hall and an office room to boot.

The couple, Hari And Asha, were married in 2007. Hari is an employee of the local water authority in Kerala’s Kannur while Asha is part of a community that helps farmers practising natural farming.

Both realised the need to have an eco-friendly lifestyle quite early on and drew inspiration from Kerala’s rich tribal history, replete with instances of houses built from mud and bamboo.

Hari and Asha soon started their search for architects with experience in designing mud houses. Soon enough, they found Vinod, who had experience in working with Laurie Baker, a pioneer in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and designs. With Vinod’s help, they bought in skilled labourers from Trivandrum and started constructing ‘Nanavu’.

To reduce material cost, they used old and dysfunctional coconut trees for making doors and window frames and locally-made terracotta tiles for flooring and roofing.

The couple also used different coloured ochres (pigments containing ferric oxide and clay), instead of paint.

During summers, Nanavu’s mud walls keep the heat out and during winters they keep interiors warm.

The couple also have a  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, less than what a middle-class household in a city uses in a day.

The couple don’t own a fridge. 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 is converted into biogas and is used for cooking.


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