Sime Darby IDEA House – First Carbon Neutral Prototype House in SouthEastAsia

The emergence of green building assessment methods across the region is revealing. UK’s BREEAM was arguably the oldest tool, since it was launched in 1990, following up will be LEED which was launched by US Green Building Council in 2000, following up by Australia’s Greenstar and Canada’s Green globe in 2002. The Asia Pacific region’s green assessment tool is not far behind, HongKong’s BEAM started in 1996, Japan’s CASBEE  and Singapore’s BCA GreenMark started off in 2005, and Malaysia’s very own Green Building Index in 2009. And along the past few years, we also see the wave is taken up by Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines. It’s interesting to note that different countries have variations in evaluation scheme and implementation approach due to the difference in socio-economic and governance. Along this, various high performing buildings are built with the intention of showcasing the possibility of energy efficient green buildings and outreach awareness effort.

Figure showing Green Building Councils across the World. Credits to Egypt GBC

Figure showing Green Building Councils across the World. Credits to Egypt GBC

Previously I wrote on Singapore’s Zero Energy Building at it’s BCA campus – the first zero carbon operation retrofitted building, ST Diamond Building – possibly one of the lowest energy consumption office in Asia Pacific region, Bali Green School – a very biophilic design approach school and will be visiting Cooltek house in a few weeks time, a very humble low density energy efficient home in Malacca (which I will cover a post after my visit), and hoping to visit HongKong’s Zero Carbon Building soon enough as well. But recently I recalled back to IDEA House, based in Denai Alam, which I recalled back as one of my precedent study during university. It is just 15 minutes drive away from my home.

Idea House

The Actual Site

Unfortunately, upon reaching, I got to know that the premise is off limit to the public and an only organized study group can visit the prototype. The shot above was taken from outside of the entrance gate, apparently that the site is below a high tension cable. I was hoping to have a my own HD pictures to document down the building as well, though as a residential design the principles are quite relatively simple as it does not involve much mechanical and electrical components. For anyone who is interested in a group tour, you can email zuraidy.amir.halim(at) I have yet to arrange a group to visit that area, do tag me along if you are going there!

Intention of this Post

The IDEA House book was actually the prime objective of the intended visit. While i know that there are some information on the house green features on the net as well as being featured in Futurearc Magazine (see PDF below) and some other write up sources, there are some interesting info graphics from the book that will assist your understanding of the building process and design better. But i would still insist that only by going to the actual site, one might able to spot the flaw amid the message of being a zero carbon residential building prototype (which i elaborate my opinions at the end of this piece). I actually prefer writing up this entry with some personal picture references taken from the site.

Download (PDF, 1.04MB)


So whose IDEA?

IDEA House is the brainchild of Sime Darby Property. The brief of the design was to build a residential prototype that responds to the parameters of the local environment, from the aspect of social, economic, and environment. Conceived to be a test bed for new ideas, the house, that also carries Green Mark Platinum and GBI Gold certification would showcase the best management and design practices for what it seems to be the sustainable architecture for residential dwellings in the tropics. Jason Pomeroy, Singapore based director for Broadway Malyan, was approached to realize the idea house along with a collaboration with the following design teams and some familiar supply chains that have been at the forefront of branding ‘green’.

Idea House (2)

1) Multi disciplinary collaboration and BIM application

It is irrefutably true that information processing matters when it comes to design and build, which is possibly tangible in monetary value as well. From the book, Jason presses on the significance of the team to adopt transparency and frankness to be able to be open-minded and striving to reach consensus to facilitate the interdisciplinary team working and allow the individual’s expertise to be tapped at the most critical junctures of the project.

Interdisciplinarity was not a matter of ensuring that design professionals can work collectively together. Social change, a global market and pressures on the natural environment are some of the forces creating questions of ever greater complexity (that) demand a breed of designer able to bring clarity to such complexity and to find solutions that respect cultural and technical interdependencies. (Kirby, 2011)

But saying such, IDEA House is relatively a simple project to go around with such statement. However, what is proven to be helpful is the application of BIM Building Information Modelling in this project. BIM has been quite a norm in Singapore, unfortunately not fully utilize in Malaysia yet as the industry has not accepted it as a whole. BIM Models manage not just graphics, but also integrated information from design analysis, simulation studies, facilities management and a lot more. In this case, the design team uses REVIT modeling for documentation, submission, ESD Environmental Sensitive Design analysis and rendering. (read more about BIM HERE). By having such coordination, the work program is cut by half in comparison with the typical residential model, as illustrated below.


Illustration of design process timeframe, comparison of conventional design and BIM. Credit to Sime Darby

2) Building Form – Learning from the Kampung House

While the prototype looks forward for the 21st century residential identity, the design team looks back to the dwelling that has withstood the test of time, the Malay traditional house. If you ask me, it is definitely the prime example of socio-environmental responsive, proving to be a perfect example of a dwelling that reflects the social and spatial flexibility for the end users. The light thermal capacity structure also exhibits a minimal built up structure, enabling the dwelling to be relocated from time to time, it is probably the ‘greenest’ holistic tropic residential dwelling in my opinion (wrote more HERE)


The design team takes in the principle of tropical sustainable design, albeit the building form of idea house has little similarity to it, the building is lifted on stilts to maximize air flow, and deep overhang is provided, in this case idea house utilize the space to be corridors. Cross ventilation is also expressed generously, having a full floor to floor opening that represents the full door openings a usual Malay traditional house has.

3) Natural Ventilation

The ventilation strategy for a low density land property is quite straight forward. Having the advantage of open space surrounding the house, the open plan nature of the house proves to be useful. Having huge sliding doors for the rooms on the first floor and foldable doors in ground floor, this does not only encourage cross ventilation, but also provides important biophilic benefit such that occupants are able to have a direct view out to nature.

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Orientating the living spaces in a south westerly direction also allows the harnessing of the prevailing southwest wind that takes place 80 percent of the year. This depends on the micro climate condition of the site, which can be obtained from a nearby local weather station or self measurements primary data. The design team also ran a CFD Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis to confirm that the curvilinear profile reduced wind eddy with no obstructions. The internal void space above the dining area and higher ceiling volume also able to create venturi and stack effect enhanced ventilation if the side openings are closed. The wind velocity of 1m/s within the building is more than the 0.6m/s requirement by GreenMark.

CFD simulation result of IDEA House. Credits to Aurecon

CFD simulation result of IDEA House. Credits to Aurecon

4) Natural Daylight

It is no surprise to see such low density dwelling able to have sufficient daylight, with the width of the floor space just less than 10 meters wide and generous opening for daylight on both ends, the average daylight factor of the habitable rooms on the ground floor was 4.16%, with the 1st floor averaging 2.90%.

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Comment- Overlit?

However one question i ponder upon is the simulation result above that shows more than 150lux lit, i am just curious if the space was over lit (and it is not indicated in the simulation), not too sure if one is possible to watch TV screen comfortably with the surrounding brightness possibly over lit. Also, though i acknowledged that the overhang is as deep as 2 meters, i am not certain if there are any measures for glare prevention as the main openings are towards north east and south west, where during the solstice season in June and December. Thus, i suspect that glare can be penetrated through into the living space.

5) Materials and Resources

The focus of the prototype has much attention given to the materials used to ensure a low carbon embodied energy. An aluminium standing seam cladding solution that was fastened onto galvanized steel fixing rails with double layered insulation was selected for its combined benefits of lightweight construction and low thermal mass, plus its good recycling attributes. 70% of the aluminium sheet is sourced from recycled sources. Timber flooring is also sourced from accredited FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) suppliers. FSC disapprove the conversion of natural forests and the usage of highly hazardous pesticides and the cultivation of GMOs (genetically modified trees).


The subsoil structure system displays a good example of reducing unnecessary materials and yet reusing plastic to be the drainage cell. Positioned under the grass surface, the system distributes loads from above to the base course below, minimizing damage to the grass roots. The substitution of grass for the driveway will allow rainwater to penetrate through it and be recollected as usable rainwater. Timber frame was used for windows, however reinforced by aluminium (which can carry as high as 30% of post consumer recycled materials). Drywall internal partitions is used that encourages lightweight, low thermal mass solution that could be erected quickly on site.

6) Modularisation and Prefabrication

The whole design idea of the IDEA house has the lego concept in mind as well. The IDEA house employs modern methods of prefabrication and modularisation in order to reduce the reliance on specialist labour and wet trades, and provides opportunities to employ individuals with a lower skills base. Standardized units on modules of 300mm,  600mm, 900mm, and 1200mm were employed throughout, thus minimising waste and error.

Idea House (3)

The whole idea of IBS Industrialized Building Systems enables a speedier construction process, thus saving time which translates into financial savings, it’s pretty much like a plug and play lego game.

Off site prefabrication of the building components meant that a construction programme of only 12 weeks was realised – an improvement of 150% over a conventional Malaysian’ house’s programme of 30 weeeks.

A modular light weight floor cassette system was developed from the combination of fibre-cement boards with a light gauge steel framing. Small bolted fixings were incorporated into the floor cassettes for fastening on to the main steel frame to finally make up the final building structural body.Another notable benefit of modular structures, is that the IDEA house is allowed to be demounted in the future in order to preserve the terrain for future development.

7) Landscape – Green Plot Ratio

Landscape is an essence of a biophilic home in many ways. It draws occupants closer to nature and provides many intangible and unsaid benefits. However, what is quantifiable is the relation of green spaces and urban heat island effect. The illustration below shows the relation of GNPR Green Plot Ratio and the effect of open space temperature.


Having more green area or green density means lesser hardscape, which absorbs heat and increases the surrounding temperature by conduction means. GNPR Green Plot Ratio is the method to quantify planning metrics in biological terms.A green plot ratio assessment was undertaken to ensure that the ecological measure of greenery on the site was not only maintained but enhance by a factor of 2 by new planting to counteract the adverse climatic effects, reduce ambient temperatures and offer a greater level of biodiversity and visual amenity. Access to the herbs and plants was made internally from the wet kitchen.


Above is a tabulation of the GNPR for a typical dwelling, in comparison with IDEA House. The GNPR adapts the Leaf Area Index, a biological parameter which is used to monitor the ecological health of natural ecosystems and to mathematically model and predict metabolic processes.  You can search details of the Leaf Area Index at NParks flora fauna directory (under the foliar details). Turf has the lowest GNPR, as the leaf area of a blade of grass is less than that of the other categories. Shrubs and turfs score more.

Comment- But GNPR does not reflect on the holistic approach of what landscape really needs to offer.

However, my opinion on a perfect landscape is one that enables occupants to interact with it. Often, what is being practiced in the industry is the visual architecture appealing of the landscape massing and maintenance factor, rather than going into details on how landscape planning can stimulate occupants experience.

I mean by the possibility of fragrance of certain flowers, the seasonal effects such as change in leaf color, falling leaves, and also inducing wildlife habitat, such as certain trees can only attract certain biodiversity or birds to set up their nest etc.

Still the best landscape is natural landscape that was preserved since from the beginning, in which many developments have failed the moment they will need to excavate deep foundations, unlike the kampung houses, built with minimal excavation and labor works

8) Water Efficiency

Rainwater is targeted as the primary source to serve all domestic purposes except for the kitchen. With an average annual rainfall of 190mm and an annual precipitation of 2500mm, it was estimated that the idea house could harvest an average of 2565 litres of rainwater per day which, when combined with grey water harvesting, was enough water to cater for 98% of the occupants household needs.


The rainwater was captured and channeled via down pipes into a microbiological filtration system that removed pathogens, harmful impurities, reduced chlorine, and turbidity. It was then stored and used for shower, basin, water closet, landscape irrigation, and the swimming pool. Grey water harvesting is the secondary source and involved the collection of waste water from the bathroom showers and hand basins. With an average of 5 persons staying in the house, the quantum of water harvested could reach up to 1250 liters of gray water per day. The harvest from basins and showers means 50% of the water can be passed through a filtration system and stored for usage.


All water fittings were WELS (Water Efficient Labelling and Standards) certified, to ensure a level of water efficiency, thus helping households to save water. The fittings installed included aerated showerheads which push air through the water supply in order to create mist as opposed to larger water droplets; low flow basin taps and double flush water closets are also used. Based on an average water consumption of approximately 250 litres of water consumed per person per day, it was estimated that such a methodology could reduce water consumption by up to 54% compared to conventional fittings.

9) Energy Efficiency

As a low density residential dwelling, the approach of energy efficiency is relatively simple compared to office building which needs mechanical and electrical engineering attention. Low energy lighting system is used where LED (Light Emitting Diode) and CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) were used which could be controlled either by manual switch activation. This reduced energy usage for lighting by 63% compared to conventional incandescent lights. However, the major energy consuming domestic electrical appliances of a household are refrigerant and kitchen appliances, and this is addressed by selecting kitchen appliances that comply with european legislation with minimum white goods rating of grade A.


While besides harvesting natural ventilation and daylight and energy efficient lighting systems, the ultimate aim for energy efficiency is to improve the thermal performance of the building envelope. This will decrease the need for dependency on mechanical cooling if the building external heat gain is lesser. The roof is a part of the building that receives the greatest amount of sun exposure. Despite the metal roof cladding having a higher conductance and lower insulation value, the use of high density double layer insulation with an air cavity and reflective foil backing reduced downward heat flow into the dwelling.


Comparison of 2 different glazing thermal performance

Large areas of glazing will also contribute to high external heat gain. 8mm double glazing with a low-E coating was specified instead of 8mm single glazing. This specification provided a noticeable improvement over its single glazed counterpart, with a U-value of 1.9W/m2k versus 5.6W/m2k respectively. It was stated that this improved internal thermal comfort by 20%. Overall, the building OTTV Overall Thermal Transfer Value 31.12W/m2 as opposed to conventional bungalows with more than 41.70W/m2.

10) Renewable Energy

A 15.3kWp of polycrystalline silicon material was used to harness the solar energy. With an estimated annual energy consumption of 16,271kWh/year, the 90 panel photovoltaic array was estimated to provide enough energy to sustain all of the household needs. This meant that the annual energy consumption of the idea house was only being off-set by the energy generation, but also projected to produce an excess of 4.33% which could be fed back into the national grid.


The Flaws of the Great Idea

I do love, and appreciate prototypes as such around. But one question is if Sime Darby is really going to learn from this design and put it as an example for their town ship development? Or will it be just another CSR showcase of how Malaysia’s leading developer is doing the great almighty green thing. I personally break down on my reasoning here:

  • Idea house is just an Idea house

What i mean is, overall, it ends up to be an exhibition house, it is not openly available to the public but just corporate to visit. It is not a prototype that is being tested, this doubts whether the prototype really works for a malaysian end users in the end. As much as there are simulation studies and good publication written up, there are no post occupancy evaluation able to be done simply to the reason no one is staying there! The true test bed  is one that should be critically analyzed of it’s effectiveness by housing real occupants if we want to declare the ultimate 21st century green home.

  • Sustainable is High Density

I am a person into high density, and mixed land use planning. The idea of a sustainable home is more than the dwelling itself, but what connects around it, the largest energy consumption of a household is not the electricity footprint, but fossil fuel for their automobiles that accounts almost TWO THIRDS of their total carbon footprint. As we see more and more developers are going to the direction of mixed development in the land scarce KL, it will be interesting to see one that is well thought in all aspects, from centralized district cooling, integrated security system, water management, shared energy interface, and so many other exciting critical points.

It is not sustainable to see such hundreds of such dwelling spread across a township, despite how carbon neutral it is, but the cost of carbon footprint via vehicle travelling distance will be a counter effect. What matters in a sustainable home planning is to consider the walk score of the home as well.

  • Carbon Neutral is ultimately depending on the “Green” Occupant

A good idea will turn to be an annoying one, despite how good your building design is and how much attention is given to the green tech,  if you do not design a building that advocates its occupants to live up the green way, or you do not understand the end user living habits, it may ultimately fail your goods intention. What i realize in many project is that despite how much ‘hardware’ you design for a high performance building, it all depends on the end user as a ‘software’ to decide whether the building is green. Like i always agree, the greenest light bulb is the one that you switch off when unnecessary. We all need to design green buildings that speaks a language, which advocates to the users to live up the green living.

Smart Buildings + Stupid Occupants = Silly Buildings

Stupid Buildings + Smart Occupants = Smart Buildings

So how do we move on from here? There are a lot of truly sustainable house since decades ago, just look around your neighborhood and you may find one 😉

p/s Picture and statistics credits to Sime Darby and Jason Pomeroy’s book on the IDEA HOUSE: Future Tropical Living Today