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Can we build energy-efficient houses?

Before we know it, it is winter again! Almost!
And like all winters this winter will be unforgivingly cold. Of course, some people think winter cold is far less severe than the extreme summer heat the likes of which you experience in Phuentsholing or Gelephu. The reason they give is that while you can dress in cool and warm clothes in winter to beat the cold, the summer heat has almost no solution. Being naked does not help. Fair argument, I must say, but some people who can afford air conditioners in their homes might argue that the answer to the summer heat is in installing the equipment.
But I think the answers to both the extreme summer heat and unbearable winter cold rest with the energy efficiency of the buildings we live in.
Rooms in some of our apartments are unusually tall that in order to change a fused electric bulb requires you to literally climb onto two or three tall tables stacked onto each other. It takes three to four solid men or women to hold these tables in place; otherwise, the one who is changing the bulbs will stumble down. I don’t understand why would anyone build such a high storeyed building. But more than anything, in winters it requires so much more heat to warm up our rooms. Then there are cracks and holes (new buildings included) of various sizes and shapes. Beneath the doors and in between the windows. These gaps allow free flow of air simply defeating the purpose of using heaters.
But come on, winter days are not as cold as we claim as the sun matures and rises higher in the sky. That is, if we go outside there is so much warmth. Yet it is as if our offices and houses are laid with thick sheets of ice; therefore, the need to turn on our heaters full on. That costs us money. The sad story is we fail to tap sun’s free and generous heat. If we take the advantage of the warmth outside do we need to fear the cold?
Why do house owners rush and gather tenants before their buildings are completed? Can they take some time and ensure there are no cracks in their buildings? Is it possible to build energy efficient apartments in Thimphu? This is where residents are able to adjust room temperatures on their own. This would mean bigger investments on the house owners but the tenants would be willing to pay proportionate rent. After all, it means an end to all the hassles like buying heaters, applying for kerosene coupons at the trade offices and collecting oil from the depots.
Only if our apartments are carefully built and built well. Only if these buildings are energy efficient and equipped with the abilities to tap sun’s heat especially in cold winter months!

By Nawang P. Phuntsho
The writer works for READ Bhutan, an NGO and lives in Thimphu with his wife and six-year-old daughter. A blogger and a social worker, Nawang also authored two books.

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  1. We are fortunate that our conditions are not as extreme cold as in most parts of canada and nordic countries wherein the temperature is minus 20 degs for almost half the year, nor as hot as in the equarorial regions with temperatures above 30 degs most of the year round. Our coldest periods coincide with the clearest periods. By 8 am we have beautiful sunshine with temps above 15 degs. If we are able retain the daytime heat inside the house through the night we would not need the smoke belching bukharis or power guzzling heaters.. orient south atleast main rooms, improve all doors and windows-double glaze and good joineries. Insulate external walls, wooden panels should do.. insulate ceilings that are directly exposed to cgi roofs, etc etc.. use termite ventilation system for bringing in temp moderated fresh air, etc etc

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