Improving Residential Building Sustainability in HDB Flats

When many think of the iconic buildings of Singapore, Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade or even the shopping centres along Orchard Road. However, many do feel that the humble HDB flats are in fact the most recognizable buildings of heartland Singapore. To many Singaporeans and visitors, HDBs are the unmistakable and quintessential part of heartland living in Singapore. Built by the government and the HDB in order to provide housing for Singapore’s ever growing population, they are able to house many citizens in a smaller land area. They also incorporate elements of our kampong past into these high rise buildings, such as void decks and separate shelters to serve as common areas, as well as convenience shops or hawker centres at void decks.

In order for the BCA to reach their 80% target, a large effort must be made for residential buildings to become green too. In Singapore, 80% of the population live in HDB flats. As of 2010, a total of 992,089 HDB units have been completed and additional flats have continued to be built, especially in the newer towns such as Punggol and Sengkang (HDB, 2010). Many of these flats are not green buildings, especially those built before 2008, when the BCA Green Mark came into effect. However, this does not mean that these buildings can play a part in improving building sustainability in Singapore.

Improving the environmental friendliness of residential buildings is not exactly a new revolutionary idea. 60 years ago, in California, developer Joseph Eichler incorporated green features into residences in Granada Hills. These included improved insulation technology, day lighting, natural ventilation, solar power to heat the outdoor swimming pool and a large garden with local drought resistant plants (Hahn, 2014).

Making a HDB flat green does not mean that we need to tear it down and build it back up again. The BCA has a separate criteria for existing residential buildings which guides the HDB on how to make their flats more “green”. The criteria is similar to those for new non-residential buildings, the 5 main categories are again energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable operation and management, community and well-being and other green features (BCA, 2011). However, the main problem with these criteria is that they mainly targets general areas. For example, the energy efficiency requirements only target common areas, such as corridors, lift lobbies, car parks and the lifts. However, making a building green means that more than just common areas have to change. The government, BCA and HDB have to promote greener technology to residents, for residents to change their habits and as such really improve building sustainability.

Green retrofitting is an example on how existing residential buildings can be upgraded to be more sustainable. The US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has taken the lead in the US. They have developed a toolkit to show how green retrofitting can be used to make residential buildings more sustainable. This toolkit can be assessed at The HUD argues that every family should want to make their homes more green and efficient, due to the potential costs savings in the long run. They claim that families spend an average of 3.5% of their household incomes on utility costs, while lower-income families actually spend up to 20%. This can easily be reduced, with the advent of green retrofitting.

Green retrofitting involves taking small steps, which will allow your home to be more environmentally friendly. The HUD provides a long list of initiatives homeowners can take. I have chosen to elaborate on three of them which I feel that HDB residents in Singapore can adopt too.

Firstly, replacing major appliances with energy efficient appliances. This can definitely be applicable in Singapore. These appliances include air-conditioners and refrigerators. These are important as these appliances use the most energy, especially for refrigerators as they are required to be on 24/7. Energy efficient appliances are sold in Singapore, however, they tend to be cheaper than the normal varieties. Hence, more can be done to make them more accessible and attractive to consumers.

Secondly, the installation of solar panels can be done on the roofs of HDB flats. Due to the climate in Singapore, much energy can be converted using solar panels. The power generated can then be used to operate the lifts or for common areas, such as the lighting at common areas.

Lastly, the HUD suggests using energy efficient compact fluorescent blubs. These can definitely be installed at common areas so as to prolong the lifespan of these lights as well as to increase the energy efficiency. Further expanding on this, motion sensors can also be installed so as to reduce the amount of electricity wasted by keeping these lights on at full power for long periods of time. For instance, in car parks motion sensors can detect the presence of residents, which would then turn the lights on at full power. When there is nobody in the car park, then the lights can be dimmed to save power.

As such, there are many measures that the HDB as well as every single home owner can adopt in an effort to increase building sustainability throughout Singapore. Every little effort counts towards improving the overall situation in Singapore and even throughout the world.


BCA. (2011, May 19). Green Mark Criteria for Existing Residential Buildings. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from

Hahn, K. (2014, January 1). Reuse Existing Buildings: The Revival of Mid-Century Modernism. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from

HDB. (2010). HDB Key Statistics. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from$file/Key Statistics.pdf

HUD. (2011, March 1). Multi-Family Green Retrofit Toolkit. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *