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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Quartz Slab ('Vellaramkallu') for Flooring

Quartz stones are generally called as 'Vellaramkallu' in Kerala. It has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs Scale; which makes it scratch resistant even against steel knives or forks which are only 5 on the Mohs Scale. Quartz Slabs are made by heavy duty compression of powdered quartz stones mixed with synthetic adhesives- a technology developed and patented by Italian Stone Processing Equipment Manufacturing Giant- 'Breton'.

Breton, a privately held company of Treviso Italy, is the dominant supplier of equipment for making engineered stone. A mixture of 93% quartz and 7% polyester resin is pressed into slabs (or larger blocks) using Breton's "vibrocompression vacuum process". Although Breton was the original manufacturer of slab moulding equipment, there are now several other companies producing similar machinery. The Chinese company Keda Stone Machinery being one of the largest.
Quartz Slabs can be used as a Flooring material that is resistant to mild acids or stains. The price is about Rs.600 per squarefeet.Apart from Italian Quartz slabs, Slightly inexpensive varieties of Chinese Quartz Slabs are also available in the Kerala market. Highly Stain-resistant, Scratch-resistant and Natural Stark white flooring slabs- This is what Quartz Slabs are.

Composition- Quartz is the major filler, although other material like coloured glass, shells, metals, or mirrors might be added. A typical material will consist of 93% quartz by weight and 7% resin. Different types of resins are used by different manufacturers. Epoxy and polyester resin are the most common types. Chemicals such as UV absorbers and stabilizers are added. To aid curing, peroxide is added.

The material is produced in either 12 mm, 20 mm or 30 mm thicknesses. The most common slab format is 3040 mm x 1440 mm, but other sizes like 3040 mm x 1650 mm are produced according to market demand.
In Kerala, Quartz Slabs are imported by - 'Granite International' in Kochi. It has passed the US NSF-51 Standard Certification for Food Protection and Sanitary Requirement which makes it safe for use as Kitchen Counters or in Food Industries.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Showcase Design in Living Rooms

A showcase, by definition, is a glassed-in cabinet or display case for displaying delicate or valuable articles such as objects of art, trophies or memorabilia. In Kerala House Design, built-in showcases are often provided in the living room.

Following are the benefits of having a showcase-
1. An aesthetic showcase design will make an instant impression on guests giving an extra edge over the room decor.
2. Mementoes, awards, family heirlooms, curios and other memorabilia can be displayed on the showcases.
3. They are also ideal as bookshelves.

4. Antique showpieces, dinner sets, crockery etc. can also be kept in the showcase units.
5. They can also serve to protect the showpieces from dust and breakage.
6. An antique wooden showcase design is a catchy showpiece in itself.

7. There are also those that can accommodate television screens or home theatre systems as well.
8. Closed drawers and cabinets can be used to store stuffs away from the sight.


Showcase Design Types
Depending on the aesthetics of your living room, you can opt for the type of showcase display unit to be put up.

Wooden Units
Most classic type of showcase design can be opted for when you want to give the antique rich look to your display unit.
There are many variants available to suit your preference and budget.

Some of the wood types are - teak, mahogany, rosewood etc.
The look of the wood can be modified by using different colors.
The texture and granularity of the wood is also different
They are typically open showcase type, preferred to be made without doors.

Metal Units
Metal showcases typically possess metal shelving framework with glass doors for an enhanced display.
Durability is another important feature.
The glossy steely finish enhances the look of the unit.

Ferrocement Units
Ferrocement units are economical and easy to build during construction. Typically, a steel mesh is kept in place and wrapped with a layer of concrete 3-5 cms thick. Veneer, metallic or paint finishes can be providedto improve the aesthetics of ferrocement showcases.

Open Display Units
They are semi-sized units which are left uncovered with doors.
They are also ideal for showpieces, cases or small potted plants.

With the perfect choice of the showcase design, you can make the best impression on the living room decor adding to the elegance and comfort along with functionality.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Photographs of Kerala Houses and Interiors

There is nothing more inspiring and educating for a new Home Builder than actual photographs of constructed houses and furnished interiors.

Given below are links to actual Photographs of Houses submitted by Home Owners in Kerala-

Links to Interior Photographs of Houses in Kerala-

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pergola in Kerala House Design

In simple terms, a 'Pergola' is a series of cross-beams placed over columns. It is an aesthetic feature, as well as provides a certain amount of shade below it. In Modern Kerala House Design, we see many balconies and porches covered with a pergola over it as an interesting elevational feature.

'Pergola' is an Italian word that means- 'extended roof'. In olden days, they were used as garden shades and covered with climbing plants, espectially over walkways in parks. Here is a picture of a Park walkway covered with Bougainvillea-

Kerala homes use Pergolas mainly in the balconies and also over internal courtyards. Unlike roofs, Pergolas do not offer protection from rain. Hence, when they are used above interiors, a tempered glass or polycarbonate sheet is provided over it to prevent water from entering inside.

Although they do not offer rain-protection, Pergolas can be used to provide varying degrees of shade below it. 90% of the sun's rays pass through at noon-time, but when the sun is at an angle, the series of beams create shade patterns that block the sun. Pergolas are an excellent feature for roof gardens. Potted plants and lamps can be hooked over it; and garden vines can be grown over it. It offers the much needed sunlight for the garden.

In Nadumuttoms, the Pergolas provided above the courtyard create dramatic shade patterns. Free-standing pergolas can also be provided in the frontyard as a garden feature or a gazebo. It can also be used above Padippura gateways.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to Stylishly divide a Common Hall into Living & Dining Areas

This is a common design issue in Kerala Homes; especially where space is limited. From the veranda, you enter into a Common Hall that is divided into the Living and Dining Areas. The usual approach has been to provide a shelf that partitions the hall. This could act as a bookshelf on the living room side; or a crockery shelf on the dining room side.

Here are some stylish ways to divide the hall into living and dining areas.

1. The open shelf- It does not completely obstruct the view to the dining area from the living room, but still provides adequate demarcation of the space.

2. The screen- A decorative fixed screen with a perforated design that matches the design scheme of the interiors.

3. Open shelf with Jalis sofa- The sofa and cushions along with the open shelf adjacent to it creates a separate living space within the common hall.

4. Post and Lintel- This is a very commonly used design solution in Kerala homes, to separate the Living Room from the Dining Area. It consists of a lintel supported by columns; as an interior design feature.

5. Arch and Column- Another commonly seen design solution that separates the Living Room and the Dining Area- with an entrance arch supported by round columns.

6. Pivoted screens- This is a dynamic solution to a Hall separator. The screens are pivoted at the top and bottom which lets you control the privacy required between the living and dining areas. They can be left open or completely shut, as desired.

7. Bookshelf wall with door shutters- If the Hall is large enough, a large partition walled bookshelf can be provided with a shuttered door; that can create two separate living and dining spaces.

8. Ceiling-hung curtain- Sometimes a simple ceiling-hung curtain will do the trick as can be seen from the image below. The key is to match the curtain design with the ambiance of the interiors.

Some suggestions on Hall dividers-

1. First, do some space planning. Measure the room and decide how large each section will be, considering any relevant factors. A big family will need a larger dining space than a small family. Next, decide what furniture pieces are necessary. A dining room will need a table and chairs, A living room might need a sofa and TV.

2. Separate the living space from the dining area. You can divide the space physically by using an actual space separator such as a folding screen, bookshelf, or other such room divider. If room dividers are too obstructive for your tastes, or if you feel the room is too small for them, try a less defined option, such as a row of potted plants or a hanging curtain of sheer fabric or beads to let light through. Or, you can divide the space visually instead of physically. Paint the walls in each area a different color, then use furniture placement and area rugs to define each space.

3. Bring in the furniture. But first, carefully consider what size furniture you will need; nothing cramps a room like furniture that is too big for it. Round dining tables take up less space than rectangular ones. In very small dining rooms, consider folding chairs that can be easily stored away or leaned against the wall when not in use. In very small living rooms, skip the coffee table and use only end tables. A flat-screen mounted on the wall is much less obtrusive than a traditional television, which would also require a space-hogging entertainment center or TV stand.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Latest Trends in Solar Energy- 30% subsidy; Integrated Solar Tiles

30% Subsidy & Loans for Residential Solar Power Installations

With over 300 clear sunny days available annually in Kerala, there is a huge potential to tap, store and retrieve solar power, much more than the current power requirements. However, the actual exploitation of solar power to meet the energy requirements of the country is insignificant when compared to other energy resources. Also, the use of solar-powered systems and devises have remained under-utilised mainly due to high unit costs.

The government is, therefore, taking several initiatives to address this challenge, and provide a framework for expanding solar energy markets by bringing down the costs.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been providing subsidy to grid-interactive power generation based on various renewable energy sources. The gist of the scheme is as follows:

Solar PV power packs – 30% capital subsidy and loan @5% on 50% of capital cost.
o MNRE considered the bench mark price of Rs.300 per Watt (with battery) for extending 30% capital subsidy i.e., Rs.90/- per watt. The subsidy is Rs.70/- per watt (without battery)
o PV crystalline silicon solar cells shall be used.

Solar Thermal (Solar water heaters) – Rs.3,000/- per sq.meter for ETC collectors and Rs.3,300/- per sq.meter for flat plate collectors.

In respect of home lighting systems, up to 200 Watt lighting system with 2X100AH battery set at an estimated cost of Rs.60,000/- was prescribed by MNRE. The subsidy amount is Rs.18,000/- and loan amount is Rs. 30,000/-. Inverter based systems are also eligible for financing scheme.

Individuals are eligible up to 1KW (5KW for water pumping scheme) and commercial/non- commercial entities are eligible up to 100 KWp. Micro-grids can be up to 250kW.

Capital subsidy would be released to the banks upfront, on receipt of sanction of loan by the bank to the borrower. The loan amount is repayable in monthly installments within 5 years. The banks will get refinancing of loan amount from NABARD(through IREDA) at 2%.

Scope of the scheme
The currency of the scheme will be co-terminus with phase-I (initially up to March
2013) of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, and will cover projects specifically approved by the project approval committee (PAC) of MNRE. MNRE, in consultations with IREDA and NABARD, has finalised 11 model projects eligible for financing by the banks.

Capital subsidy
The quantum of capital subsidy and refinance would be made available as per the specifications of MNRE/ IREDA from time to time. Currently, the capital subsidy would be to the extent of 30 per cent of the benchmark cost. For 2010-11, the benchmark price for PV with battery backup is considered as 300 per watt peak (Wp). For systems which do not use storage battery such as water pumping systems, the installed PV system cost would be considered subject to a cap of 210 per Wp.

Loan period & rate of interest 
Borrowers are required to bring in 20 per cent of the cost of the project as the margin money for accessing credit facilities from banks to acquire the assets. Loans would cover the balance after reducing the eligible capital subsidy, and would be extended with a repayment period not exceeding five years. It would carry an interest rate of 5 per cent per annum. No interest will, however, be charged by the financing banks on the capital subsidy component.

Integrated solar power tile

Named ‘Amrita Smart,’ the integrated solar tile can both harvest and store power on sunny days. The power can be used to recharge laptops, cell phones or to light up the house during nighttime. The product weighs in at 200 grams and it will be made available on the market in two years, says Vinod Gopal of Amrita Center for Nanosciences, Kochi.

We have seen a variety of solar products that can only harvest power from sun. But, most often, for storing the power, extra battery will be required. It is here the Amrita Smart becomes unique. The invention is certainly noteworthy, because it will be inexpensive and efficient as well. In addition, it will be easy to set up given the fact that it is an integrated product.

The Amrita researchers showcased their invention at the International Conference, NANOSOLAR 2012. The solar conference was conduced by the Amrita Center for Nanosciences at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Erankulam, the industrial city of Kerala.

The integrated solar power tile is a notable invention. It can be used for home-based production of sustainable power. People can now embellish their rooftops with solar power generating-and-storing tiles. To an extent, it will bring the electricity bills down as well contribute much into the reduction of carbon footprint.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Design Concepts for Gate and Compound Wall

The main concern in the design of an Entrance Gate and Compound Wall is its uniformity with the design of the residence itself. Simplified versions of the main design elements of the house is often repeated in the Gate and the surrounding common wall. Thus, we see miniature sloping roofs repeated on the posts of the compound wall of a house with predominant sloping roofs and similar wall treatment as that of the house provided on the compound wall.

Landscaping can also be part of the compound wall design by providing planters at regular intervals or by covering the walls with ornamental ivy or other creeping plants. Other design features provided are garden lamps, claddings or wall textures.

Depending on the amount of privacy required, a compound wall can be solid or perforated. The height of the wall can also be determined accordingly.

The main functions of the gate and compound wall are the following-
1. To provide enclosure to the land surrounding the residence.
2. To establish ownership of the property.
3. To impart security to the house and the surrounding property.
4. To ensure the privacy of the inhabitants.
5. To enhance the aesthetic appeal and prestige of the property.
6. To regulate or separate vehicular and pedestrian entry to the property.

For those concerned about higher security, advanced audio and video security devices can be provided that lets you monitor visitors from within the house, before letting them into the compound.


The compound wall can also act as an income-generator by providing hoardings of advertisers, especially if it abuts a major road with prime traffic. For the artisitically inclined, mural paintings can also be adornments of a Compound Wall.

In Kerala, the Padippura is the Traditional equivalent of a Gate-house. In olden days, it served many purposes- as a waiting area for people before they were invited into the compound, as a ceremonial area during occassions, as a security point and even as a storage place for farm products like coconut or betel-nut or black-pepper.

Attached to the Padippura and surrounding the land is the compound wall. After the advent of motor-vehicles, the Padippura has given way to wider gates of various types and leaner compound walls that complement the design of the residence. Padippura-inspired gates are also in trend in modern times, especially when a separate pedestrian gate is provided beside the main vehicular gate.

Vaastu considerations in the Design of the Compound Wall

According to Vastu Shastra the first structure that must come up during the construction of a house is the compound wall. This is the structure that will guard the house. If it has an extended south-east or south-west corner the plot should be made square or rectangular by deleting the extended portion. These two types of plots are considered most suitable for buildings in Vastu Shastra.

The compound wall can only prove beneficial if its height is more than 3 or 4 feet. The digging for compound wall should be done till the surface is quite hard. The construction of the compound wall should start from the south-west direction to the south-east direction. The walls on the southern side and the western side should be thick and taller than those on the northern side or the eastern side.

It is not proper to have cracks on its southern and western sides. It is good if windows are kept to the walls on the north-east and the north sides for the free passage of air and light. However, there should not be any windows to the compound wall on the south and the west sides. It is useful to have the wall in the south-west corner taller then the rest.