Building a Green House and Rain Water Harvesting

We all have read about green houses. We have read about exorbitantly priced environment-friendly houses made of wood. But how many of us may have thought about building a home that is made of recycled and reused stuff. Well, here is such an hero Reniassance Ronin. For ease, I will call him Ronin.

Ronin lives in costal Mississippi that was worse hit when hurricane Katrina struck. Like several others, he lost his house and property too. He laments about government apathy in his posts, says New Orleans got more attention from both media and State than his home ground. He says after storm struck, finding a decent and affordable house has been difficult.He is currently living in a very small apartment with his wife and baby. Here is what he has got to say about his apartment:

I’ve lived in third world countries, in better accommodations than where my family lives, at present.

The landlord couldn’t care less about maintenance or repair. This includes things like A/C units (it‘s in the 90’s everyday, and no A/C), Heaters (it stayed below 40 for weeks on end, and my baby nearly froze), Refrigerators that fail – spoiling our food, Stoves that don’t cook, broken windows with missing glass, ill-fitting doors that allow rodents and insects in, and sewage that backs up into the apartment every three weeks or so, to rot thru the wall, and fill up the bathtub.

Ronin realises that he needs a safe place for his wife and 9-month-old son. He has resolved to make house out of recycled stuff, garbage as he puts it. He has applied for grants such as to remove old hangars from an airport, to be recycled into housing. He chronicles all his difficulties in building his green house on his blog. You can read the details here and here.

After reading Ronin’s blog, I searched for green houses. I found some resources and realised it is not easy to build that green house. I wish Ronin luck and if there is something we bloggers can do, will be happy to do it.

After I wrote about Ronin, I decided to write about my long pending post about rainwater harvesting. Did you know that we have law for rainwater harvesting in India? It is mandatory for every household to have a rooftop rainwater harvesting system wherever the groundwater level is below 8 metres. This law came about in 2001 and was to be implemented by 2002. Needless to say, in our country where groundwater level is below 8 almost everywhere, it has been hardly implemented. Mostly, because it is little-known and it seems difficult.

Well, rain water harvesting is not a new thing. India has practiced it even before Harappan civilization came in. In Rajasthan and other places, it has been a common practice. Now when we see so much of water flushing down the drains in metros, it should be a priority to conserve it by rain water harvesting. According to Central Groundwater Department report in 2005, there are already three lakh tubewells in Delhi that draw out nearly 180 million gallons per day (mgd). This was only 12% of the total supply, amount of water required is increasing with influx in city population. Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and Center of Science and Environment (CSE) (aka Sunita Narain) have been working to make rain water harvesting easy. They provide guidance and DJB bears 50% of the cost or 50k, whichever is less. In 2006, DJB had also announced Best rain water harvester award.

Though Chennai has more tubewells than Delhi, it has been more successful in rain water harvesting. All hostels in IIT Chennai use rain water harvesting. Mumbaikars just can’t bothered according to this report, not even builders are interested in implementing the law in Pune. Despite that rain water harvesting is picking up slowly. Here are some helpful resources (contacts and cost details) to set it up at your home:

Call Delhi Jal Board’s Rain Water Harvesting Assistance cell at 23675434 or 23678380 (extn 246 and 240). You can get detailed information from CSE’s Rain Water Harvesting Cell at 29955124 and 29955125. See more details here.
Rain Water Harvesting at Chennai

Image courtsey DJB site.

P.S: Ashish, were you happy now? Thanks for the tip off.

36 Responses to “Building a Green House and Rain Water Harvesting”

  1. 1 July 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Its been enlightening to read your post about building greenhouse and rain water harvesting. can you brief how can common man use it on small scale

  2. 2 Poonam Sharma July 10, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    @Route Guru: Green house building is not yet easy and practical in India yet. But rain water harvesting is. All you need is bit of area, the cost depends on your personal projects. Please see these links in the post to have government and experts help you. But these are for contacts and help in metros, I will have to research more for other towns. But rain water harvesting is pretty much viable.

  3. 3 praneshachar July 10, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    interesting details on rain water harvesting nicely linked to Ronin’s green house and what a difference it makes no. of laws are made but never implemented in our country because they are not practical. rain water harvesting is the need of the hour and certainly it is to be taken on priority if not at individaul house level atleast on locality level this should be insisted.
    Poonam we have a rain harvesting in our co., and a big tank is built to collect the water.
    our factory and colony is full of green and green we have also scheme for use of recycled water for non potable purposes

  4. 4 renaissanceronin July 10, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks so much for the kind words about my blog “The Life and Times of a Renaissance Ronin.”

    Hard times demand hard decisions, and sometimes you have to think out of the box.

    Evidently, in my case, it meant thinking myself (and my family) into one! LOL!

    Our greenhouse ends up on top of one of the roof structures. It places it high in the sun path, away from any obstacles. (Remember, although our house ends up being about 3,200 square feet in total living space, our house only displaces 1,600 square feet, at the foundation. The house grows “straight up” for 4 stories.)

    Our entire roof structure is “rainwater collector.” The rooftop is covered with decking that allows any rain to be caught in a retention membrane, and then channeled into a cistern, with the help of a few crazy looking gutter/downspout collectors. This water is re-used for the garden modules placed on the largest roof surface, and scattered through many of the other “connecting” decks..

    We are implementing a garden system we helped develop in Central America, that uses peat moss, compost, and vermiculite (think of little tiny pieces of spongy Styrofoam) as growing media. This high-performance mix is placed in 4’x4′ “boxes” a little over 2′ deep, made out of masonry. This brings the garden area “up” to waist height, so we don’t have to “bend” to cultivate or harvest. I’ll be discussing it on my blog.

    I’m so sorry about the length of this comment. I’m just so passionate about this.

    The things I am doing could be done ANYWHERE. Think of all the people who could be housed, healthy, and happy.

    I’m hoping that by the time I’m “finished,” my family won’t be the only one I save.

    Again, thanks for your support, and your very kind words.


  5. 5 Ashish July 10, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Poonam: Ever considered starting your own magazine? If you ever do decide to make a one of web mag [using pdf], consider me in. :mrgreen:

  6. 6 Shefaly July 10, 2008 at 5:21 pm


    It is amazing how quickly some wisdom is lost in the sands of time.

    When I was a child, my father routinely harvested rainwater because it was distilled water and ideal for putting in the car.

    In the years of living in many places in India and outside India, I noticed only the hassles with water – 2 hour water supply every am in Indiranagar in Bangalore, bore-wells in individual houses hurting further the local water table inconveniencing everyone, and in developed nations, where they do a better job of the logistics of water purification and distribution, it is taken for granted that water is available ‘on tap’ as it were.

    In England, where most people are keen gardeners, water harvesting is common. One can buy water butts from garden centres and collect rain water to use on their plants and lawns later. A great idea.

    I have to go out now but I will send you some data on per-capita water availability which may surprise you as to where problems re water really lie.

    Good post!

  7. 7 Nita July 10, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    good post Poonam, you’ve done a lot of research. in mumbai and pune these concepts are rare. we always had lots of water actually. in fact just till about 10 years ago there was 24 hours water on tap in pune. people just don’t realise the importance of it because they always had it in plenty. i either lived in army cantonements or in pune or mumbai and that is why i got a shock when we went to bangalore and had a water problem. we had a water problem in fact in all the cities we lived in.
    now there is a water problem in some areas in pune too. in mumbai. our population is growing like mad. mumbai and pune need to learn from those cities which have been practicing it for decades.

  8. 8 Nita July 10, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I read that article and what that article said explains it exactly! we in mumbai are pampered! we have water and there is a shortage in some areas only. yes we have this concept of fresh water and stale water and waste water a lot.

  9. 9 Reema July 10, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Tubewells in Tamil Nadu is causing excessive salination of the ground water and thats one more reason why they are going for rain water harvesting.
    Very good post!!

  10. 10 vimal July 10, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    I had a check this evening after reading this post and the building (in chennai) where I stay does this rain harvest thingy. Well, this post made me do that, I have hardly gone to the terrace, you should be proud now 😀

    Btw, great post and I have always wondered how you get people like Ronin to actually comment here.

  11. 11 renaissanceronin July 10, 2008 at 11:19 pm


    “Why do I comment here, thinks Ronin…”

    The reason I commented here, was the threats of having my house blown up if I didn’t post a comment here… that Poonam made… LOL!

    (Not really…)

    I think it’s vitally important for people to realize that they can make a difference. It’s too easy to just wait to see if others step up, you have to take a little responsibility. I call it “exercising Personal Courage.”

    At the end of the day, you know, deep inside, that you did the right thing. And that, my friends, is far more valuable that a pat on the back every once in a while…

    (Hmmm… Now that I reread vimal’s comment, I just hope that “vimal” thought my commenting here was a “good” thing!) LOL!


  12. 12 Poonam Sharma July 11, 2008 at 11:44 am

    @Praneshachar: More I hear about your company, more I admire it for its policies. 🙂

    @Renaissanceronin: Welcome to Visceral Observations!

    This blog is use to passionate lengthy posts and lengthy comments. 🙂 How did you design this structure? It looks very professional. India used to utilise compost well too. But seems like we are losing very things our ancestors did well.

    @Ashish: I would need lot of help starting my Web magazine. Do you know how people make table of contents in pdf?

    @Shefaly: Yes, Bangalore tops in water scarcity. I like the idea f water harvesting in garden. But brings another lament from me, we are losing our gardens in India! 😦

    @Nita: Whenever you a praise a post, I blush like a school kid. Yes, It is the convenience we have now that deters us to preserve for our descendants. When we realise, some of us out of lack of awareness will dig tubewells. 😦

    @Reema: Salination of ground water. Remind me to always drink bottled water when I am in TN.

    @Vimal: I am proud of you. Not many take action after reading. 🙂 Ronin found it himself. 🙂

    @Ronin: I can vouch for Vimal that he was happy to see your comments here.

    :saying in whispers: Don’t let others know I threatened you, it will spoil my reputation. 😛

    I really think you are a courageous guy to make such a decision to protect your family. I hope that you succeed in your endeavors. 🙂

  13. 13 dinu July 11, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    A law to enforce it ? vow, that’s a new info .. hmmm I don’t think its 8 meter on my village, since its less than 3km away from the see .. when were children, we used to dig may be 2 meters and find water, enough support for our play house … but water is not good.. 😦

    people are more interested in making their rooftops look better, or make it in to a party hall … what’s the easy way to make something like this work ? is it costly ? are there ay NGOs who work on this area, providing assistance, guidance ? are there any govt grants ? who is supposed to enforce this law ? state gvt or local bodies ?

    lot of questions uh ?

  14. 14 Shefaly July 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    @ Poonam: That is sad. Gardens are usually the casualty of vertical living in modern urbana. They provide small ‘lungs’ for the locality. The two green parks – Central and Hyde – are the respective lungs of NY and London.

    There is a new line of thought which will need urgent engagement and cooperation from architects and planners to become real. It is called vertical farming. See more here:

  15. 15 vimal July 11, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    @ Ronin : Of course, I was happy to see your comments here 🙂 That statement infact had the hangovers of ‘I am-proud-of-u-Poonam’ statement of mine in the previous para. She writes some of the best topics ever, referring great ones like you and then to my surprise, I also find their comments here. So was wondering, how she does that!!!

    @ Poonam : Thanks for the v-ouch(im obsessed with the letter ‘v’) 😀

  16. 16 nancyarora2020 July 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Recently I came across an article which mentioned that eco-friendly buildings are becoming the new fashion of the Indian real estate sector. This silent revolution in India is being led by the IT industry. Due to the exponential growth of the IT sector and IT enabled services; there is huge demand for ultra modern, sophisticated and eco-friendly office spaces through out the country.Being finally bored of the sick building syndrome “a combination of ailments associated with place of work or residence”, many Indian developers have started looking ways to go green with buildings designs- be in commercial or residential sector. Given the astronomical rise in fuel prices in the past few years, it’s no surprise that energy efficiency is the top reason consumers choose green building these days.A green building can be termed so only if it meets certain strict parameters set by international leaders in the field like Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED). According to their criteria – a green building must perform well in the field of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environment quality.For more view-

  17. 17 Joel July 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Interesting and a very good post poonam. Well I like the idea of rain-water harvesting. We are constructing a new house and I guess this idea will be included in it. We were thought about this on how to harvest rain water in coll and I am a lil expert in it.. 😀

    And BTW there is a house near to my place and the owner of the house has done a fantastic job with the construction of his house. His plans are just fabulous. Believe me, he does not get electricity and water bill to his house (he does have a connection). He uses solar for power and rain water for drinking and other purposes. And I was asking my dad also to implement such ideas. Man that house just rocks!!!

  18. 18 ish July 11, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I think Ronin is great. I have been reading his blog and it’s mighty impressive. Hey Ronin, if you’re reading this, salute to you!

    And for once, I’m really happy to praise our education system. We were taught rainwater harvesting to quite a deep extentin Geography in tenth, and I have read almost all the stuff you have mentioned here in that book. Of course it did also have other unrequired things but the main deal is that it was very informative as in it had stuff about how the earth was built and stuff like that. And then there was Disaster Management in tenth too, that was a good book and could’ve taught a lot if schools had taken it more seriously. I believe the government is trying to make a difference, now it’s for the schools and basically for us to go ahead and make a change.

  19. 19 renaissanceronin July 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Hello All,

    @ Poonam: Sorry about divulging that you made me post, under the threat of “explosion!” I just wanted it out there for the record, so that when “my house made of garbage” goes up in smoke, the neighbors know who to thank! LOL!

    The design of the structure just “happened.” I think it was too many “Burritos and Ice Cream,” too close to bedtime. I just started stacking the containers (in my head, as it’s hollow, so there was a lot of room there! LOL!) and looking at the space they created. I had an idea how much space I needed, and I knew I needed a big roof (for the garden, and the water retention system) and everything just fell into place.

    The garden is a necessity, because produce is so expensive here that some people can’t actually afford it. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Plus, I don’t like the idea of eating vegetables that were grown with pesticides and poisons. My child doesn’t need to start out his life with poison on his dinner plate, every night. So, I needed a high-performance garden, that would provide for us. I’ve been working and refining that garden system for years. I’ve built them in several countries, and no matter where we tried it (even the African desert) they produced. I can get 900 pounds of tomatoes out of a 16 square foot space. I do it every year. It gives me plenty of “ammo” to throw at unruly children, and my wife! LOL!

    Picture a 4′ by 4′ cinder block box, 2′ high, filled with our “soil” and some plastic irrigation lines, fed by a water retention system. I don’t even have to bend over, to harvest. (And that’s important, because having to build the first level out of cinder blocks means that my back is gonna hurt for years, afterward. I’m old.) LOL!

    And since there is no “dirt” there are no weeds. Careful planting helps deter bugs and pests too! Planting some crops “together” actually helps keep insects under control.

    The hardest part is just getting all the plumbing and electrical to actually line up (in the same places), so I can afford to put the systems in the house. That’s why I used a “wings” theory. If I make it as simple as possible, there is less to go wrong. And it makes it easier for someone else to do what I’m doing (probably way better).

    @ vimal: Thanks for the kind words. I consider “kind words” a blessing, so my ears are ringing… But, I want you guys and gals to know that I’m really I’m just doing what needs to be done. Nothing more. (Besides, if I don’t do something soon, my wife will kill me!) LOL!

    @ ish: Man, you guys are gonna give me a swelled head, with all this praise! It’s undeserved. Honest. And, I’m not “great.” I’m “large.” It’s because of having to consume all those french fries, to build bandwidth with… Gotta get the vegetable oil for the bio-fuel somewhere! LOL!

    Thanks so much for all the support you’re giving me. It’s the highlight of my day…

    Sorry about the length of the comment…


  20. 20 anurag July 12, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Very informative blog…liked the content a lot!!

  21. 21 Amit July 12, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    It needs a lot of courage and intelligence to do something like what RR is doing. I am actually amazed that someone can think like that. I can’t. 😦
    And we have a water harvesting law?? That’s news.
    And I too agree with Nita. There was a time when we were getting ample water at my home but the number of hours for which water was available kept on reducing. Its scary.

  22. 22 vishesh July 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    in Chennai RWH is mandatory…they will cut your connections if you don’t do it…and it has helped the city a lot…

  23. 23 Poonam Sharma July 14, 2008 at 10:58 am

    @Dinu: Yes, Sunita Narain’s CSE is NGO that works for it. The cost depends on area and region you are in. I could find details about Chennai and Delhi. For other places, will have to search information.

    @Shefaly: Thanks for the link, I did read it,. It is fascinating information. If we could implement it here, it could be very good. I hope it catches eye of more people soon.

    @Vimal: You are welcome! 🙂

    @nancyarora2020: Your name suggests you are already thinking of future. 🙂 THanks for your comment, I agree with whatever you have said a green building must do. But I am wary when you say many Indian developers have started looking ways to go green with buildings designs- be in commercial or residential sector? Are they, really? is my question.

    @Joel: That’s a great news! 🙂 Why don’t you blog in detail about the plan your neighbour had for house. It would be so beneficial for prospective rain harvesters and green house builders. What do you say?

    @Ish: Govt. did include disaster management in course! I am surprised and happy. I hope rainwater harvesting is taken seriously, it is possible. Even useful thing would be a solar heater in homes, would cut down electricity crisis too.

    yes, Ronin is great. I like the way he handles the whole thing with logic and lack of self pity. It is inspiring!

    @RR: I forgive you. 🙂 Yes, simpler the better. I have never owned a garden, but my grand parents had long while ago. I was filled with envy you spoke about creating an efficient garden. I am not sure, going by the state of receding gardens in my city, will my children ever get a hand at it?

    @Anurag: Welcome to Visceral Observations! Keep visiting here often. 🙂

    @Amit: True, I could not have thought of coming up with efficient design like him. It requires a different kind of creativity and confidence. yes, we have a law, but the fact that no one knows speaks a great deal about its futility.

    @Vishesh: Do they really disconnect water connections? Then I think Chennai must be big on rain water harvesting. Good for Chennai! I hope other follow suit too.

  24. 24 anurag July 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Yup I m an architecture student!! That’s why u’ll find the essence of that in my blog posts.

    Poonam: Anurag, I figured that. It is a new thing to me, so I liked it. Keep blogging and keep visiting here. 🙂

  25. 25 Vaibhav July 14, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    The government here in Gurgaon is starting a survey to assess properties who are supposed to have rain water harvesting units installed by law. Here the law says that it is mandatory to have a unit if the area of your property is more than 250 sq yards. There is also a separate law for industrial and commercial properties.

    I am all for rain water harvesting, though sadly enough I haven’t been able to do a lot around it so far (too busy to become an activist, I guess). I purchased a domain ( an year ago to create a resource for Rain Water Harvesting related information, but never was able to put it up (and now the domain is expired). If anyone is interested in maintaining such a resource, I am willing to provide technical help.

    Poonam: Oh, I am so pleased to know that in Gurgaon, they are keen to implement the law! How come I missed knowing that! As for your offer to maintain such resource, I would publicise it. Thanks! But CSE has a great site available on rain harvesting information. Do you anything plus in mind for it? I guess there is room for publishing contacts and details for each city that could help people set this up.

  26. 26 Vaibhav July 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    As for Gurgaon, the idea was to highlight the water plight in Gurgaon and the lack of action. Water Harvesting is one of the main solutions, but the idea behind the website I wanted to put up (ThirstyGurgaon) was to also talk about other modes of water conservation.

    And yes local contacts and helplines was going to be part of it. I don’t know your email else I would have forwarded you the news article which discusses the Gurgaon government (HUDA) initiative.

  27. 27 xylene July 15, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Back home in Kerala, years back, we did had problems with drinking water during summer.. A huge pit was dugged up behind our house and all the rain water during monsoon was directed to it… The neighbours called us crazy. The relatives were no better.
    They argued that the water wont last as the pit was not cemented. But our idea was not to store water but to retain water in one place so that our well, which was near to the pit will get supply.
    Anyways in the next summer we did have enough water in our well, as well as our neighbours well !!!

    One of my cousins dug up a pit the very next month. ! 🙂

  28. 28 Joel July 16, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Yeah… that is a nice idea! Will do that once… 😉

  29. 29 India Travel August 4, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Water haevesting is the need of the hour

  30. 30 Poonam Sharma August 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    @Vaibhav: Shame on me, I did not reply earlier. I would reply your comment to send me that email.

    @Xylene: I guess water situation in Kerala has improved since then. What do you say? Are more people taking to water harvesting?

    @Joel: Do let me know when you do that. 🙂

    @Indiatravel: Glad you agree.

  31. 31 bhavneet November 5, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    india travel package, travel packages for india, india holiday packages, package tours india

  32. 32 Stefan February 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

    “… we have law for rainwater harvesting in India … It is mandatory for every household to have a rooftop rainwater harvesting system wherever the groundwater level is below 8 metres.” This is exactly what should be required in the USA, or any other industrialized economy, as well. I believe that raising awareness on a “local” level on the topic of rainwater harvesting is what is needed more in the US. I am trying to summarize useful information and helpful products / links on the topics of rainwater harvesting, affordable plastic water storage tanks and portable water storage tanks on my webpage, During my research on this topic, I found that the relevant equipment is often relatively easy to install and also affordable – products are available to support rainwater harvesting in families / households or even larger communities. Low cost water tanks, rain barrel diverters, portable water storage tanks, rain water
    barrels, rainwater cisterns, water tanks, plastic water storage tanks, and water barrels are only some of them. A small local step can have a major global impact…

  33. 34 Jonathan Miranda January 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Very interesting article thanks for the good information. For more information on greenhouses please visit Build a Greenhouse

  34. 36 Borewells in Hyderabad October 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Your site is giving very good information about water, It is very useful in our dailylife, Now a days due to lack of

    sufficient water so many persons are facing many problems. In this circumstances Borewells in Hyderabad is doing

    some help to dig and get water. Some of the Borewells in Hyderabad.


    Borewells in Hyderabad

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