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  1. #1
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    Enviromental building

    How to build a house sensibly for the environment….seriously.

    There are a lot of ideas around, some small some big. I have just finished a house in Bkk and incorporated some building aspects, but not as many as I would like to do.


    My next project I want to include as many as possible and cost effective.

    A house I want to build for myself towards the end of next year I want to include even more ideas, but again only what is practical and cost effective.

    So does anyone out there know what is effective and practical ??

    Ideally I would love to build something that is neutral, but that seems a pipe dream if you want a comfortable life in Bangkok. Lets face it in Bangkok you cannot rely on cool breezes and such to keep yourself and home comfortable.

    So faced with some major requirements to keep a comfortable lifestyle in a smelly hot city, how do you realistically build/supply services for the following major components.


    Airconditioning…..there are various new and improved systems around, I think it is Toshiba that has a good model which runs low energy and you can use one compressor outside to run several units inside, whereas now and previously you need one compressor for each unit inside unless you have a central type system of course. But central systems are big and have there disadvantages.

    If ideally you want to have your aircon for the entire house and eat your cake as well, how do you provide a system to cool your house environmentally friendly and provide that neutral effect.

    One way is the thermal cooling system, the cooling coils inside the walls and floor. But how is it cooled….below the surface ??

    I made enquiries about this system here in Bkk and received less than convincing information, seems it is expensive and in the long run may not be so efficient combined with possible installation problems….the expensive bit kills it though as you need whatever system you use to be ‘cost effective’.

    Lets be real, simple cross flow ventilation will not do it here, nor combined with fans, it is hot and 99% of the population wants aircon to varying degrees.



    Water…. Bores, wells etc are pointless in big cities and when cheap water is available, why bother.

    But if you do want to bother, what is available. You can save waste water, treat black water and even sewage if you want to, but how much space is required for this and cost for an average home, I would think that again it is just not cost effective and then you have to revert to what is best possible. Saving rainwater is also kind of useless, the cost to build something to store it in, the size of it to be of significant use and the seasons here all are against it.

    With a wet and dry season, the tank will fill at the start of the rainy season very quickly, you do not then need to use this water very much at all simply because it is the rainy season and you get 6 months or so of free water drenching your garden. Then when you do need it, you use it all up relatively quickly and then there is no more water to top it up for the rest of the dry season.

    So then it comes down to management and that is not what we really want is it, we want to be able to be self sufficient in every aspect and create a neutral home.


    The Pool and ponds…. What is available here and capable of providing enough energy to service your pool daily and ponds ?


    Solar….. seems while it has gotten much better over the years, I still see and hear that it is too expensive, the cells are still expensive and relatively inefficient, the cost and life of storage still seems to be a problem. Is power grid feedback available in Los and all areas ok Los ?

    The site http://www.architectureweek.com/cgi-bin/awimage?dir=2003/0514&article=environment_1-1.html&image=12146_image_1.jpg says that this solar grid cost 1,400,000baht and it is not a big array of cells. I wonder if it covers all the appliances in the home, aircon, pool etc with no hardship clause, in other words you can only have one computer on, or cannot run the kettle along with the washing machine etc. Regardless, at 1.4 mil, and say 5000b per month for you electric bill on average, it will take 23 years to get your money back and that is exclusive of servicing or replacing any parts that may run out of life in that 23 years.

    I am repeatedly told by 2 green supposed experts, forget about solar power until some major break through happens, but we have been waiting for this for a long time now.


    Wind …..also costly and inefficient unless you have a massive windmill type, so not practical for a bkk house. Possibly you can use an application of this for pumping and aerating a fish pond, so this is excluded from the electric grid, but again anyone know if the cost is relative.

    By relative and efficient costs I mean its ok if they are more expensive, but the timeframe to get your money back on saved bills needs to be short, not decades, otherwise nobody will bother. Thais certainly will not in the near future, I would not also if the cost is high and takes too long to return.


    Many people want to help the environment, but how is the best way these days. I don’t want answers like do your little bit and everyone will benefit in the long run…..problem is the long run takes to long to come around and you may be dead by then. Also your little bit is offset by Somcahi next door throwing his rubbish all over his backyard or buying an extra packet of those lovely lollies for his kids that have 300 layers of wrapping in them instead of an apple.

  2. #2
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    Building with better cross-flow ventilation in mind and not whacking down every tree in the neighborhood would be a start.

    More to the point - what does it take, solar panel-wise, to run one aircon totally off the grid for 10-12 hours a day? If the answer is 1-2 million baht in panels, then that's not really feasible from a purely economic standpoint.

  3. #3
    I am in Jail

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    well written thread, n.

  4. #4
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    Very interesting, i watched an episode of Grand Designs the other night where they were following the build of an eco friendly house.

    Grand Designs: Cumbria Underground House Self Build Project with Kevin McCloud from Channel4.com/4Homes

    the house is built mostly under ground, they don't have any heating fitted, they use turbines to supplement their electric, as the house was built underground a massive amount of concrete was used, the manufacture of concrete is very bad for the environment but they worked it out that the house would be pretty much carbon neutral in 14 years.

    Grand Designs is a really good show, deals with a lot of new materials and experimental building methods, if you can get it on a torrent i would highly recommend it.
    Last edited by flash; 13-07-2008 at 08:13 PM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnbkk View Post
    Building with better cross-flow ventilation in mind and not whacking down every tree in the neighborhood would be a start.

    More to the point - what does it take, solar panel-wise, to run one aircon totally off the grid for 10-12 hours a day? If the answer is 1-2 million baht in panels, then that's not really feasible from a purely economic standpoint.
    Agreed, we did this here at the house finishing off in bkk now, I will post pics as soon as it is cleaned up and done, but we have nearly 1.5m overhangs, the natural breeze comes in from the south and it flows across and through the main living and dining areas. We also have vents in the roof space which catch the same breeze and blow all the hot air out of the roof cavity and exit the northern side.

    It is built with superblock, no heat retention, gets very little sun on the walls anyway with the overhangs. The roof is steel, cools down quickly at sundown, no heat retention, the underside of the roof is sprayed with foam, no to very little heat gets through this foam and is also waterproof. The only 2 trees that were on the block, are still there.

    We could have done more, but cost was restrictive, I want to do much more next time.

    Below is a light I purchased to try in the automated lighting system.



    While it sounds good, the actual light emitted is crap, has the same warm glow of incandescent lights, but with the halogen bulb, it leaves light streaks and shadows acroos the floor or whatever is below it. looks shite.

    It also runs hot. We wanted fluero compacts, but they cannot be dimmed and they give off a very white light, not the warm eye appealing incandescant or halogan light and both those can be dimmed.

    There is a dimmable compact fluero, but here is the problem, it is very expensive, i was told 5/600 baht per bulb, lasts longer, but so expensive and again the bright white light instead.

    So here we are, trying to use something long lasting, low power usage and good for all, but this option gives off a lousy light, the other is hugely expensive. This osram light was around 52 baht.

    So here we have it, what does one do for lighting when certain requirements are wanted, nice light appearance and not hot and low power usage....I do not know as my experience here left me saying fuck it.

    Any other sparky experts know ??

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by flash
    Grand Designs is a really good show
    Bloody great it is!

    Here is some of the buildings from the programme,

    The Grand Designs House Archive, Architecture & Self Building with Kevin McCloud from channel4.com/4homes
    Last edited by jizzybloke; 13-07-2008 at 08:51 PM. Reason: put in link

  7. #7
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    many years ago i was involved in building an eco friendly guard post in Tanzania- ( eco friendly was a by-product as was in a remote area and it had to cost f*ckall to run !! )

    Basically it was in the side of a kopye ( natural earth and rock hill) and had a "Dubai" type ventilation tower with a small 12 volt wind generator constantly charging a bank of batteries - 240 volts through an inverter.

    Not particularly suitable for urban Bangkok but the wind tower kept the place nice and cool !

  8. #8
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    The best way to cool your home is using a heat transfer system (as they use in Grand Designs more frequently now). I disagree with relying upon ventilation as I find the humidity makes everything mouldy after a while. It's good to have a bit of artificial dryness to stop this.

  9. #9
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    The earthen type buildings are good for coolness, built into a side of a slope or whatever. Problem with this is that you then end up with a dark place, no real windows everywhere except at the front or one side, I like open and spacious.

    Ventilation alone unless you are living in a cooler environment is useless, if a cool breeze is blowing through, it will feel great, but you sit down and when the breeze dies down or even not and you are sitting on the sofa watching tv, then it starts to get bloody hot and sticky.

    Having said that, the house we live in now we do not have aircon, never have had aircon during the day in any tropical area I have lived for 20 odd years. We only sleep in aircon each night, even my office here only has a fan and I am ok during the day.

    The idea is that I would like to provide the green way to supply it, then if someone wants to use it, it is there at little to no cost or effect on the environment.


    Also, it is much easier to build a friendly house in a cooler environment that in a hot very tropical one, keeping warm is easier than keeping cool.
    Last edited by Nawty; 14-07-2008 at 08:15 AM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    The best way to cool your home is using a heat transfer system
    AKA Air conditioning?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whiteshiva
    AKA Air conditioning?
    Nope. That thing where they stick all the pipes underground. I can't remember what it's called.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Whiteshiva
    AKA Air conditioning?
    Nope. That thing where they stick all the pipes underground. I can't remember what it's called.
    Geo thermal cooling

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nawty View Post
    Also, it is much easier to build a friendly house in a cooler environment that in a hot very tropical one, keeping warm is easier than keeping cool.
    I wouldn't agree with this. In a cool climate heating is a real necessity. Over here it is possible to live without air con, especially thru the day.

    Cold climates also require more walls and insulation, bigger houses etc. In a hot climate you can spend a lot of the time under a shaded area, so the areas of your house that requite 4 walls are less.

    The problem is most of the green housing info comes from cool countries. There are already too many buildings over here that are not suited to the tropics. Best bet is to look at what the Thais were doing fifty years ago.

    Airconditioning Only in the bedroom(s) and only use it during the hottest months of the year. Easy to do anywhere except Bkk.


    Water…. Use town water if possible and have a filter for drinking, because transporting clean water is not eco friendly.

    A house we lived in Bangkok had 3 large water jars. This would fill in a couple of days and when used sparingly would last thru most of the dry season for watering the garden.


    The Pool and ponds Forget the pool but go for a pond, which is hooked to an aquaponics systems providing fish and vegetables.

    Solar…..Simple hot water units are easy to build, apparently solar stoves are even easier.

    For gray water run your sink, shower and handbasin into the garden.

  14. #14
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    Tough one, given that this is Bangkok and that there is a lot you don't control, as opposed to building something way out where you control just about everything.

    Perhaps the answer is not to completely ban airconditioning, but to find ways to use as little as possible of it. So I think it all still kicks off with 'placement' of the house. Has the land been decided upon? If so then you will have to work with the situation around you, if not then I think a prime consideration would be if you can keep the afternoon sun off your building. Never mind if that's trees or because of a taller adjacent building.

    Free airflow is still nice; aircon can get stuffy and 'dead'.. Possibly you could aircon the ground floors which stay the coolest anyway so you don't need as much aircon, and try to rely on breezes upstairs with full acknowledgement that upstairs will never be really cool. Trying to aircon upstairs which is already warmer would result in the biggest electricity bills.

    So, I would design the main bedroom(s) downstairs. And upstairs try to find & catch a breeze. Possibly use plants on terraces or even a roof garden, that'll absorb mid day sun as well. With some fans and stuff it might actually be livable upstairs in the morning hours, and during late afternoon thunderstorms.

    If I'm just rambling then please don't tell me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WhiteLotusLane View Post
    Tough one, given that this is Bangkok and that there is a lot you don't control, as opposed to building something way out where you control just about everything.

    Perhaps the answer is not to completely ban airconditioning, but to find ways to use as little as possible of it. So I think it all still kicks off with 'placement' of the house. Has the land been decided upon? If so then you will have to work with the situation around you, if not then I think a prime consideration would be if you can keep the afternoon sun off your building. Never mind if that's trees or because of a taller adjacent building.

    Free airflow is still nice; aircon can get stuffy and 'dead'.. Possibly you could aircon the ground floors which stay the coolest anyway so you don't need as much aircon, and try to rely on breezes upstairs with full acknowledgement that upstairs will never be really cool. Trying to aircon upstairs which is already warmer would result in the biggest electricity bills.

    So, I would design the main bedroom(s) downstairs. And upstairs try to find & catch a breeze. Possibly use plants on terraces or even a roof garden, that'll absorb mid day sun as well. With some fans and stuff it might actually be livable upstairs in the morning hours, and during late afternoon thunderstorms.

    If I'm just rambling then please don't tell me.
    I agree with reducing the use of air con, but would do the opposite. Upstairs will be hot in the day, but if ventilated well will cool quicker at night. So put the bedrooms up there.

    Have you living area downstairs without air con. Ideally have the house raised a little and have a nice undercover area with plants etc. and spend most of the day there. I'd also put the kitchen a little bit away from the main house so as not to heat the place up when cooking.
    Last edited by Smithson; 14-07-2008 at 01:28 PM.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nawty View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Whiteshiva
    AKA Air conditioning?
    Nope. That thing where they stick all the pipes underground. I can't remember what it's called.
    Geo thermal cooling

    try this

    What Is A Geothermal Heat Pump System?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrAndy View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Nawty View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Marmite the Dog View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Whiteshiva
    AKA Air conditioning?
    Nope. That thing where they stick all the pipes underground. I can't remember what it's called.
    Geo thermal cooling

    try this

    What Is A Geothermal Heat Pump System?
    I would be interested to see how well that works in LOS, we have a well about 4 meters deep and the water isn't very cool.

  18. #18
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    Thats the problem they claim it works, but then when comes time to show it, I bet they run the tubes secretly through a fridge first .

    Then you also have the moisture problem, you need a dehumidifier I think it is called because the cold/cool/luke warm walls and the high humidity you get condensation all over the joint, mini waterfalls in your home.

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    This is the aircon system I was looking for, seems to be one of the better ones around at the moment for what I require.

    MiNi SMMS

    up to 9 indoor units may be connected with a single outdoor unit, from a choice of 13 designs and over 80 sizes.

  20. #20
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    There was a UK tv reality series about a self suficient family.

    Can't remember what it was called now but it as a good watch.

    Solar water heaters - long black tubes on the roof seemed pretty efficient. As did making their own biodiesel.

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