A guide on fitting your current home with green features

A guide on fitting your current home with green features

To date, very few houses in South Africa use green building techniques. However, this does not mean that you can’t fit your current home with green features which will eventually give you a similar return on investment. To follow is a quick guide on how we can help you retro fit your home with green features.

Choose the right suppliers

Green home development is a growing industry in South Africa at the moment. Because it’s still relatively new, there are a number of companies out there that do not know how to fit these systems competently. Be very aware of who you choose as your supplier and installer of choice.

Consider researching the following green home suppliers:

  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Photo-voltaic panels, batteries and installation
  • Insulation factors for the walls, ceiling, doors, windows and floor
  • Hydronics radiant cooling & heating system
  • Low maintenance green components such as aluminium, bamboo, stainless steel, etc.

Consult with experts and do your research

After consulting with a number of experts, researching online and trial & error, the perfect formula can be found to construct the perfect green home. If you are planning on implementing one or two features to your current home, be sure to talk to the right people first. And if you plan to build your own green home, chat to our developers and allow us to give you some guidance.

Calculate your return on investment

It’s not always worth it to implement green features to an existing home. You already know you’ll be saving in the long run, but consider the initial amount that needs to be laid out. Calculate the amount you will initially invest compared to the following factors:

  • How long do you plan on living in that particular home?
  • Will the new green components act as selling points when you eventually sell?
  • Will you get your money back when you sell?
  • How much will you save monthly on utility costs?

You may find that it’s more worth your while buying a green home in South Africa than converting your current home into one.

Make green home features a buying imperative

Once you go green, stay green! If you’ve fitted a solar geyser into your current home, don’t settle for anything less in your next home. There isn’t currently much of a green trend in South Africa, but that will change over the next few years. If you want to protect your investment, insist on homes that are fitted with green features and grow the demand for such houses.

Going green is not as hard as you may think. Do your research, plan ahead and grab your calculator.

What makes a green home green?

What makes a green home green?

Today, many developers use the term ‘green’ to describe their buildings. But what are the elements that really make a house environmentally friendly? Does it only refer to using solar power for heating your water? Or harvesting rainwater in a cleverly hidden tank? Seeing as the term gets thrown around so often, we decided to give you a better understanding of what makes a home green.

If you’re serious about green living, there are six general aspects you should consider when building or buying a home. Each of these aspects possesses other smaller elements that are optional. In the end, you will need to decide which ones you can afford, and which ones you don’t really need. Here are the six we have highlighted—with a brief description of each.

Generating energy

Photo-voltaic solar panels are the obvious answer to reducing your reliance on the grid. But you should consider your needs carefully. How much energy would you need, to generate power for all of your appliances? Be realistic and look at ways to reduce the amount of energy you require. Ask yourself whether it’s worth investing in energy efficient appliances. Finally, work with a developer that understands how to utilise orientation, shading devices and insulation to lower your requirements.

  • How much energy will you need?

Measuring the amount of energy you need is step one. Step two is working out how much renewable energy you need to generate in order to maintain your household. It’s simple math and the answers are out there. Remember to do these sums thoroughly before you add this feature to your home—or purchase a home that has it already implemented.

  • Should you also buy energy efficient appliances?

Appliances that are designed to use less power can be extremely helpful too. However, this is not an option for everybody. If you have to balance your comfort and convenience, then these appliances are not going to make your life better. Living cheaply, doesn’t mean you have to live less comfortably. Rather generate lots of free, renewable power than having to lower your lifestyle.

  • Should you work with a green home developer?

Green home developers have already worked with green vendors. They’ve had their bad experiences with the dubious ones and finally found teams of individuals who deliver what they promise. That’s why it can be beneficial to work with these developers for advice. If you are looking for someone to help you get it right the first time, speak to someone who’s already made all the mistakes and come out on top.

Harvesting rainwater

After energy, a sustainable water supply is essential for any green home. Every effort must be made to make the collection of rainwater as efficient as possible. This requires expertise in the placement of pipes and catchments. Once again, developers need to have local knowledge of the rainfall patterns in your area to ensure maximum collection.

The most efficient rainwater harvesting methods are the cheapest. Finding a way to collect as much water as possible is the trick to maximising your efficiency and your savings. Remember, the more water you collect, the more you will benefit from your return on investment.

Once again, it’s important to use a proper expert to do this implementation in your home. Working with a green home developer who knows a good vendor, or finding a vendor with an excellent reputation is the key to getting the best system.

There are many important aspects to this green feature:

  • Positioning of the catchments
  • Installation of the pipes
  • Choosing the right collection point
  • Having high quality equipment all round

Only true experts will give full attention to detail with ALL of these aspects. So be sure to speak to the right people about installing your rainwater harvesting system.

Choosing materials

A home that is truly green is one that takes every part of the building process into consideration. And that includes the materials that are used in its construction. Bamboo is an example of a sustainable alternative to wood. It has a much lower impact on the environment but is just as durable.  It can be used for flooring, counter tops and in the construction of shaft covers.

Having a truly green home means using materials that have little impact on the environment. We’ll use bamboo as an example here. There are three questions to ask when choosing material:

  • Does harvesting this material take a lot of energy?

In the case of bamboo, harvesting has a significantly lower impact on the environment than other methods. These include cutting down large trees, mining, farming, etc.

  • Will the removal of this resource from nature negatively affect the planet?

Unlike trees, bamboo does not play that much of an important role in dissipating greenhouse gasses. Bamboo isn’t a huge oxygen producer either, so removing it has a very low impact on our planet.

  • Does this resource grow or generate fast enough to sustain its demand?

Bamboo grows incredibly fast! If and when the demand for bamboo increases, growing more will be quick and simple. This makes it incredibly sustainable as a building material.

Insulating the rooms

Being green is not only about harvesting natural resources for living. It’s also about maintaining what you have without needing to continually generate more. This is especially true in the case of heating and cooling your home. That’s where insulation comes in.

There are many ways you can insulate a room. For now, let’s just look at five:

  • Ceiling insulation

By insulating your home’s ceiling, you ensure that warm air cannot escape. Even though your ceiling is solid, air escapes through it much easier than you realise. This is an especially useful feature during winter. Warming up a room takes time, and that heat will not leave the room so easily.

  • Floor insulation

Floor insulation is another way to keep the temperature in your home constant. But more importantly, floor insulation ensures that your under-floor heating or cooling system (hydronics radiant heating and cooling system) retains its effectiveness.

  • Wall insulation

Probably the most effective way to retain a home’s desired temperature is through wall insulation. This is often done by using products such as Lambdaboard within a cavity in each exterior wall.

  • Window & glass door insulation

So much air escapes through closed doors and windows. In the case of windows and glass doors, even sealing the sides will not prevent air from escaping through the glass itself! Double glazing offers the solution here. By trapping the air within a small cavity in the window pane, your rooms will retain the temperature you set for them.

  • Pipe insulation

A homeowner who has truly adopted a green lifestyle will always insist on pipe insulation. This has a number of benefits:

  • Less electricity is needed to reheat water that would otherwise have cooled down faster
  • Water within pipes retains its heat so that water is ultimately saved by not having to run the tap for long
  • Pipe insulation also prevents your cold water pipes from reaching room temperature too quickly. This again saves you on having to run the tap longer when the water is required.

Consider your garden

Gardens take up a lot of time and effort to maintain. Even if you exclude the watering of a garden, there’s still the pruning, treating and mowing that goes into that maintenance. All of these things have an impact on the environment. So what’s the secret to owning a garden that’s as green as your home?

One of the biggest suggestions we put forth to our clients is the importance of planning indigenous trees and plants in a garden. Why do we see this as a green aspect? Because:

  • Indigenous plants need very little maintenance
  • They attract natural wildlife and birds to your garden
  • These plants require very little watering
  • They grow well together
  • They stay green all year round—that means less replacement gardening for you

Learning about invasive plant species in South Africa is also something you can do to be a more responsible homeowner. There is tons of information on the Internet about this subject. Fortunately for the South African environment, this topic is getting a lot of attention at the moment.

As you can see, gardening is a major part of living green. If your garden isn’t green, time to get a revamp. Green, environmentally friendly gardens are an essential part to reducing your carbon footprint.

Thinking about the little things

Another truly green aspect of any home is how easy it is to maintain the little things. We’re talking about cleaning, repairing, treating, painting, polishing… all those things that require time, energy, and chemicals.

Living green means thinking ahead about small aspects of maintenance. Today there are countless options available to homeowners and developers. Let’s take a brief look at some of them:

  • Low maintenance roof tiles

You can now purchase uncoloured roof tiles. This means that you will never have to paint them. It also means that they will never fade from the sun or rainfall. There are no side effects either. These tiles are durable, aesthetically pleasing and cost effective.

  • Stainless steel fittings

Something else to consider is that stainless steel is a great option for certain metal fittings within your home. Stainless steel is easy to clean. It’s also rust resistant and doesn’t require chemical treatment to maintain it.

  • Less lawn area

Maintaining a large area of lawn can be very expensive. It also takes up loads of energy and machine power to do so. If you want to truly live as green as possible, why not consider replacing lawn space with garden decor? This can include pretty rocks & pebbles, pavers, stepping stones, ground cover plants, gravel areas.

Retrofitting existing homes with these features can be challenging. But green homes are becoming more popular in South Africa. Purchasing a brand new green home is already an option that is available to those who appreciate the benefits of green living.

When is it the right time to invest in a green home?

When is it the right time to invest in a green home?

Ever heard the term ‘early adopter’? It’s used to describe people who are the first to use a new invention or technology before it becomes popular. A good example of this would be television. While some wrote it off as a passing fad, there were those who rushed out to buy their first set. But more often than not, the real reason more people aren’t early adopters of a new technology comes down to cost.

And that’s how many people feel about green homes. If you’re in the market for a new home, you may be wondering whether you should buy a green home now, or wait until they become more affordable. This article will try to help you make a decision about the biggest investment you’ll ever make.

How do you define a green home?

It’s easy to a label a home as ‘eco-friendly’ but before you part with your money you should spend a little time figuring out what ‘green’ means to you.

For some, it’s the fact that a home is energy-efficient. Whether or not you’re ready to go completely off the grid is matter of choice, but if saving on your monthly electricity bill is your main motivation for buying a green home, you’ll want it to have the following features:

–              Superior insulation

–              Double-glazed windows and doors

–              Photovoltaic solar panels

Another reason people are attracted to a green home has to do with health benefits they provide, especially for allergy suffers. That means they’re especially interested in the use of non-toxic building materials from paints and varnishes to carpeting. A green home provides:

–              Improved air quality

–              Superior ventilation

–              Reduced exposure to allergens

Finally, there are those who see green homes as having little impact on the environment. In this case, building materials that are locally sourced and / or sustainable become the main focus. This may take the form of:

–              Bamboo for flooring and countertops

–              Recycling existing materials such as concrete

–              Reclaimed bricks

The ultimate green home combines all of these features. Once you can define what ‘green’ means to you, you can eliminate potential properties that don’t fit your definition. You’ll also be able to work out how quickly you can expect a return on your investment.

How much more would a green home cost?

At present there are simply not enough green homes available in South Africa to provide the data needed to answer this question. But studies in the US show that green homes on average sell for 9% more than ordinary homes. However, when you’re working with a budget, even a figure below double-digits can be off-putting.

What you should really be looking at is how quickly you can recoup your initial outlay by the savings you’ll enjoy on your monthly running costs. Take for example the savings you’ll get from doing something as simple as installing a solar water heater. If you were to retro-fit an existing home with a 200l solar water heater it would cost you in the region of R20 000.

It is expensive, but bear in mind that electric heaters contribute between 30% and 50% of your monthly electricity bill. On a bill of R800 a month, and averaged out at 45%, that means just R360 a month goes towards heating water for bathing and washing. But using the power of the sun to heat your water is completely free which means that money stays in your pocket. And within just four to five years you’ll completely recoup the costs of installing a solar water heater.

That’s just one element of a green home. Imagine how much more you’ll save with a home that incorporates more energy-saving features. Proper insulation is a case in point. With the mild climate we enjoy in sunny South Africa, many homes have no form of insulation at all. You may think that double-glazed windows and doors and underfloor heating are only for homes in the northern hemisphere. But these features have advantages beyond just making the interior of your home more comfortable in winter.

They also help to keep it cooler in summer which means you save on air conditioning. And although you could go through a winter on the Highveld without ever switching on a heater in a green home, if you did, you wouldn’t need to use it for very long to achieve the temperature you want.

Some homeowners opt for roofing insulation for this very reason. But in a green home, even the exterior walls are insulated. The result is a home that maintains an even, comfortable temperature throughout the year without relying on energy-hungry heating and cooling appliances.

And it’s not just your energy costs that you should take into account. What about your water usage? As access to clean water becomes scarce, the price of supplying homes with this vital resource is bound to go up. In a green home you have several options for decreasing your reliance on the municipal supply.

The first method is to install low-flow showerheads and faucets to reduce the amount of water you use for everyday bathing and cleaning. You might also look at ways to re-use grey water for your garden or washing your car. But you can take it one step further by securing a water source for your own private use.

Rainwater tanks can be installed underground, keeping them out of sight where they won’t detract from the aesthetic of your property. Efficient pumps can be installed, along with filters, to make the rainwater you collect potable and safe for use throughout your home. It reduces your reliance on the municipal supply and ensures you always have access to water.

Green home developers take care to ensure your home and gutters are placed in an optimal position to maximise rainwater collection. Even in an area with little annual rainfall, you can ensure that your home has the ability to collect and store water.

Bear in mind that while many of these features ultimately add to the cost of a green home, the money you save on electricity and water will make it much easier to afford.

What are the other advantages of living in a green home?

If you’ve never experienced a ‘green’ home, it can be difficult to understand that there are benefits beyond saving money. But there are several:

  • Good for the environment

Green homes make a real difference to the environment in many different ways, and everyone benefits. Reduced energy consumption means less harmful greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. And by recycling or using sustainable materials they contribute less waste too. Everything from the design, to the materials used works in harmony with nature and not against it.

  • Good for the people

Non-toxic materials and better ventilation makes a green home a healthy place to live. Your immune system isn’t weakened by toxic chemicals or bombarded with dust or mildew so you simply don’t get sick as often. The temperature in a green home is moderated by features such as insulation and hydronics radiant heating and cooling. An even temperature reduces your reliance on air-conditioners and heaters which can spread bacteria and viruses.

Finally, they are simply quieter and more comfortable than regular homes. Double-glazed windows and doors reduce noise pollution and well-sealed doors stop drafts from getting in.

  • Good for your wallet

You don’t just save on your monthly running costs, you save on maintenance too. Green homes cost less to maintain because they use materials that last. Everything from the roof tiles to the flooring is made to withstand years of use without losing their looks.

And should you ever want to put your green home on the market, you’ll discover that it commands a better price for your property than a traditional house. As time goes by, these green features will become more desirable. If you home already has these, then you will be able to raise your price—and get it.

The cost of not going green

The real question is not whether you can afford a green home; the question is whether you can afford not to invest in one. The truth is the cost and availability of things we take for granted now will get even worse. Investing in a green home now allows you to face the future costs of living with confidence.

As costs continue to rise, you end up saving more every year which means you can recoup your costs at a faster rate. It’s a small but growing trend that will gather strength as more people come to realise how important going green is for the planet—and their pocket. While green technologies may become more affordable as time goes on, waiting for that to happen could cost you so much more in the meantime. Especially if you consider that the cost of electricity will rise even faster.

While retrofitting an existing home with some green features will help you to save money, these renovations can be prohibitively expensive. Which is why is makes more sense to invest in a ready-built green home. There are not many of these available in South Africa; if you’re willing and flexible with your location, you will find something suitable.

A green home is designed to reduce your reliance on municipal suppliers of power and water. And by reducing demand, you free up those resources for others. So in the end, everyone benefits from a green home—even those who don’t live in one. Any home is an investment in your future and you have to consider the long-term when making your decisions.

Green homes make considerable sense in the long-term. They are cheaper to run, cheaper to maintain and will be more valuable should you ever have to sell. Being an early adopter is a risk. There’s always the possibility that a new technology will not work out or that it will become so much cheaper that you’ll regret having paid so much to be among the first to have it. This will never happen with a green home. No matter how much you invest now, you will continue to increase your savings over time.

When an investment like that comes along you simply can’t ignore it. Along with all the other benefits of going green, making a solid investment in your future outweighs everything else. So if you’re ready to make the commitment— you’ll find there’s a green home out there for you.

How to conserve resources for a greener living

How to conserve resources for a greener living

The trend towards green living is growing as people are becoming conscious about the environment. Conserving resources is always a good place to start. The first step is to change your own habits in your home, which will not only help save the environment but also costs. You will probably be surprised at how much unnecessary stuff accumulates in your home and ultimately ends up on a landfill.

So, let’s look at ways you can reduce consumption in your home:

Use less paper

Avoid using paper cups and plates: There is no need for paper cups and paper plates if you have a fully stocked kitchen. If you don’t feel like doing dishes, then rather eat out. It’s more costly producing these items and then having them end up on a landfill. You do have to make small lifestyle changes sometimes in return for a greener home. And really, in this case some soap, water and a few minutes of your time is definitely worth it.

Eliminate paper napkins and paper towels: Paper in the home doesn’t only include magazines, newspapers and postage. Think about how many times you have wiped your hands or mouth with a paper napkin or tended to spillage with a paper towel. What’s worse is that paper towels and napkins are not recyclable, so they are definitely items you should scratch off your green home shopping list.

This doesn’t mean you now have to walk around with a dirty mouth or dirty hands after consuming a plate of vegs at dinner. It simply means you should choose an alternative, which in this case could be a cloth napkin, which you can simply wash and reuse.

Magazines and newspapers: It’s not uncommon to find a stack of magazines and/or newspapers in many households, unless it’s a green home of course. But these days, technology allows us to enjoy the same reading experience on a digital device, as electronic versions of most reading material is now available.

Paper receipts: Most businesses, including retailers are making the shift towards a paperless environment. Email receipts are fast replacing their paper counterparts. Help move this paperless process along by simply requesting that an electronic version of your receipt be emailed to you instead, next time you do your grocery shopping.

Audit your mailbox: We all know how annoying ‘junk’ mail can be and as a result, it either ends up being stashed into a drawer or cabinet or thrown in the trash. This means more unnecessary paper either accumulating in your home or unfortunately ending up in the landfills. Avoid this by contacting the advertisers and asking them to remove your name from their mailing list.

Get your bills and statements online: There is obviously mail that you are expecting and wanting to receive, such as your statements and bills. In this case you can contact your service providers and request that they send you digital versions instead. These days most businesses offer paperless alternatives anyway.

Avoid using disposable products: Don’t use plastic shopping bags, but if you already have them in your home then simply reuse them instead of getting more from the retailer when you do your grocery shopping. You can also purchase permanent shopping bags made from cloth or canvas that you can re-use every time you shop.

Also, when doing your shopping check the labels on all the products you wish to purchase and only select products with recyclable packaging.

Reduce your home energy consumption

Choose energy efficient appliances: Select appliances with a good energy rating. This is usually indicated by stars. The more stars, the better the rating.

However don’t be fooled by larger appliances, as their energy efficiency is determined by size versus consumption. Because they are bigger, they will still use more electricity than the smaller ones.

Your fridge and freezer consumes massive amounts of electricity because it operates 24/7, 7 days a week. When looking for a more energy efficient model, consider one that has butane or pentane for insulation.

Some countries are even implementing minimum energy performance standards on all new refrigeration appliances. It’s better to consider these options (if available), rather than those that are “CFC free,” as this is no reflection of their energy consumption.

Be sure to unplug your appliances once you have switched them off. Many appliances have a stand-by mode, which means they still draw electricity even when they are switched off.

Consider insulation for heating and cooling your home: In summer you want to keep your home cool, whereas in winter we want to keep your home warm. Unfortunately this means more electricity consumption, which is not ideal when you are striving to conserve resources in your quest for a greener home. The solution is simple. Insulation. Insulating your roof or ceiling will naturally block out heat in summer and trap warmth in winter.

Prevent Draughts: Draught proofing your home is simple and cost effective. All you need to do is make sure your windows and doors are closed and sealed properly. You can seal doors with draught excluders and get special seals for your windows.

If you have a chimney then get a damper to prevent heat from escaping in winter when your fireplace is dormant and also from entering your home in summer.

Don’t use down lights: Not only do these lights chew up a lot of electricity, but they also cause heat loss by interfering with the ceiling and insulation. A good alternative is Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) or light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs).

Use shading on your windows: A lot of heat enters your home through your windows in summer, especially if they are big and face west, east or north. Blocking the sun’s heat means you don’t have to use extra energy via cooling systems to cool down the interior of your home. In winter, simply close curtains or blinds to help retain the heat inside your home.

Manage your air conditioner effectively: Ideally, if you want an authentic green home, you should avoid using an air conditioner altogether. Consider ceiling fans as an alternative as they are more cost effective and use less energy. However, if you feel you can’t do without an air conditioning system, then use it sparingly.

It helps conserve energy if you keep windows and doors closed while your air conditioning system is active. Remember to switch it on before the heat of the day has already penetrated your home, as this will allow it to cool the interior a lot quicker.

It also helps to invest in a unit that has a thermostat and/or a timer as it will allow you to manage the unit more efficiently by setting the temperature accordingly and enabling it to switch off automatically. Avoid setting the temperature too low, as it will use more energy to maintain it.

Reduce water consumption

Water is a valuable resource and so, saving water is an obvious choice if you want a greener home.

Look out for water-efficiency labels and standards (WELS): This scheme allows various water-dependant appliances, as well as showers, taps and toilets to be rated in terms of water efficiency, which is determined by their number of stars.

Cut down on shower time: If you shorten your shower by just a minute, you could save 150 gallons of water every month. If you prefer to bath, then make an effort to use less water and spend less time in the bath so you aren’t tempted to top up with more hot water when the water cools down.

Harvest rainwater: Save water by watering your garden with collected rain water. This can be done by installing a rainwater tank.

Use recycled greywater: This is used water from your basin, sink, tubs, shower and washing machines. Even though it may contain various household waste material, it can still be used to water your garden. Take note that sewerage water is not greywater.

Invest in a water saving showerhead: Water saving shower heads fully compliment green homes, as they not only help save water but are also great energy and cost savers.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

These activities fully support a greener home environment. Not only do they help you conserve energy, they also reduce the amount of toxic gas emissions which are released into the atmosphere during extraction, manufacturing and disposal of various resources. Take advantage of recycling programs. Simply gather all the recyclable material in your home, such as paper, tins, magazines and other items and drop them off at designated recycling sites.

Go green in your yard

Composting is also a great way to limit the amount of garbage that ultimately ends up on landfills and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. You can use food, as well as garden waste to produce compost which can then be safely fed back into the soil to help nourish your lawn as well as your plants.

Limit your fuel consumption

Transportation is a big contributor to your carbon footprint and so this is a great area where you can make a big difference. Reduce the number of errands so you use your car less. Instead of doing your shopping weekly, draw up a comprehensive shopping list and do your groceries fortnightly or monthly. If you are going on a long journey to an area you are not familiar with, avoid getting lost and clocking up additional miles by using a GPS.

Ultimately you want to try avoid driving where possible. If you are close enough to your destination, then rather walk or ride there on a bicycle. Not only will this help save fuel and the environment, but it will also have a positive impact on your health.

Avoid entertainment that uses energy: Consider spending more time reading and playing games to reduce the demand on electricity and natural resources.

Consider downsizing: Smaller homes are just easier to manage, especially if you want to reduce your consumption of resources. Smaller homes consume less energy for lighting, heating and cooling. So if you are aiming for a greener home then consider downsizing. There will also be less space to accumulate paper and other unnecessary materials and you won’t need as much furniture or furnishings. If you intend to build your green home from scratch, then be sure to consider green building ideas and techniques as well.

Reducing your overall consumption of various resources contributes to a greener home, as well as a more sustainable living. Furthermore, you will also end up cutting costs significantly which is a great reward when choosing to go green. Remember to share these tips with family and friends. The more people that chooses greener living, the better it will be for the environment and for us all. 

Are green homes only for the rich?

Are green homes only for the rich?

Is the only thing holding you back from investing in a green home the fear that you simply can’t afford it? It’s a common misconception that living off the grid is only possible for the rich. While other’s think that converting their existing home will result in over-capitalization. By the end of this article you’ll come to realise that green homes are not just affordable, but actually add more value to your biggest investment.

Starting from scratch

If you’re in the market for a new home, it makes sense to look for one that already has many green features. Although there are not many of these homes available yet, these homes boast several innovative features that are not only eco-friendly, but contribute significant savings to the running of your household.

Knowing what to look for in a green home is the first step to evaluating whether it will be a good investment. Here are some pointers that you can use:

  • It makes the best use of the location: An eco-friendly home should work with the environment to achieve maximum efficiency. If it’s correctly orientated, a green home can use natural sunlight to ensure that it’s easier to heat in winter, and just as easy to cool in summer. Taking advantage of natural sunlight and shadow means you spend less money keeping your living space at a comfortable temperature throughout the year.
  • It is properly insulated:Most regular homes aren’t well insulated at all. This means that any money you spend trying to make your home comfortable just goes to waste. A green home is not just well-insulated; it also makes use of eco-friendly materials to ensure comfort and sustainability. The floors, walls and roof of your green home should all be insulated.
  • It uses efficient heating and cooling systems:Underfloor heating and cooling may sound like an expensive luxury, but in a green home it provides a more efficient method of keeping your home at the right temperature. Use the innovative hydronics heating and cooling system to achieve this. Pipes laid throughout the house enables hot and cold water to be pumped under the flooring. This is far more efficient and affordable than using heaters in winter or air conditioners in summer to adjust the temperature of your interior spaces.
  • It relies on solar energy:This may seem to be the most obvious feature of green homes. At the very least, a solar water heater provides free energy for heating the water that you use on a daily basis. If you instead add different panels and batteries, you can generate enough power to run your entire home without relying only on the grid.
  • It’s water-wise:Clean water is rapidly becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet. And as time goes on, accessing water will become even more expensive. That’s why most green homes make use of water tanks to collect rainwater which can be used for everything from washing your car to flushing your toilet, and importantly to irrigate your garden. And the good news is that this doesn’t have to take the form of an unsightly tank in your garden. Instead, they are buried underground and fitted with energy efficient pumps to make the water available where you need it.

While these are just some of the basic features that any good green home should have, look out for those that offer little extras. Double-glazed windows, a garden with indigenous plants and bamboo flooring or counter tops all go a long way to making your home efficient and sustainable.

Counting the cost

Understanding the true cost of a green home requires you to do some serious calculations. While it’s true that you initial investment is higher than normal, you should factor in your future costs to see how much you’ll save in the long term.

To do this, you’ll need to calculate how much energy and water you currently consume and what it costs you every month. You can do this by monitoring your consumption and bills for a month or two. Then, you’ll need to estimate how much your expenses will increase as the cost of these resources continues to rise. Finally, you can offset this against the initial costs of buying a green home.

You’ll realise, as others have, that investing in a green home offers you substantial future savings. On average, you’ll find that it takes between 8 – 10 years to recoup your green investment. And, you’ll have many years of future savings to look forward to. As the costs of electricity rises, you’ll actually end up saving even more with each passing year.

Buying a green home is a serious commitment though. To really appreciate the savings you can enjoy, you’ll remain in your home longer—and when moving, you’ll move to another eco-friendly home of course.

The good news doesn’t end there. Should you ever sell your green home, you’ll find that you can command a higher price for your property. And because green homes require less maintenance, you won’t have to spend a lot of money preparing your home for resale.

Retrofitting your existing home

Even if you’re not in a position to buy a ready-fitted green home, there are several things you can do to make your existing home more energy-efficient. Retro-fitting an existing home with green features is often considered expensive. But once again, you need to take into account your future savings to determine how cost-effective these measures are.

Aside from cost, most people are unsure of where to start greening an existing home. However, it’s always a good idea to start small and build-up to bigger projects. Very often, some serious research is required to determine just what the final cost and savings may be. If you need help, consult with experts who will be able to give you the right advice. Some of these projects require specific knowledge and tools, so don’t be tempted to take the DIY route if you don’t have the necessary skills.

Start small

There’s more to owning a green home than just enjoying the cost savings. It requires a mind-shift to start living in a different way. So if you think that you’re ready to embrace a new way of living, try out some small projects before committing to the bigger ones.

  • Be aware of how much energy you use: Simply turning off the lights as you leave a room is a good habit to develop. If you do eventually install photo-voltaic solar panels to power your home, you’ll need to be conscious of your energy consumption. That way, if you do make the switch to solar power, you’ll use it wisely and not waste it.
  • Use energy efficient products: Light bulbs, dishwashers and fridges all consume electricity. If you ever get to the point where you generate your own electricity, you’ll want to make sure your household appliances are energy efficient.
  • Monitor your water usage: Cutting down on your time in the shower can be difficult. But ultimately, it will help you save money on both your water and energy consumption. If you’re going to install a solar water heater, you’ll appreciate just what it takes to have a hot shower in the morning.
  • Get water-wise: It’s so easy to just turn on a tap and have access to fresh water that we tend to take it for granted. So start thinking about all the water you use during the day and what steps you can take to cut down. Plant indigenous in your garden, pop a brick in your toilet and re-use your grey water for washing your car.

Once you’re aware of your consumption habits, it will become easier for you to see the value in investing in the bigger projects. When you’re ready to make the change, here are some of the ways you can retro-fit your home:

  • Solar water heaters: Installing a solar water heater can knock a good 30% off your monthly electricity bill. When measured against the installation costs, it means you can re-coup your investment within 4 – 5 years. Most solar water heaters come with a five year guarantee and last between 15 – 20 years. As they don’t require much maintenance, this makes them one of the easiest green features you can use in an existing home.
  • Insulation:An energy-efficient home is one that is well insulated. With existing homes it may be difficult or costly to add more insulation, but the investment is well worth it. Often your roof is the best place to start as it’s quite easy to add a layer of insulation here. But be sure to use environmentally-friendly material for this project. You can also check your windows and doors for air leaks and use insulating strips or caulk to seal them from draughts.
  • Rainwater harvesting tanks:This very much depends on the space you have available on your property. However, there are plenty of options available on the market; your bound to find one that suits your requirements. These tanks can also be buried underground so they won’t detract from the appearance of your property. And they can be fitted to work with the existing municipal supply so you’ll never have to worry that you won’t have access to water when you need it.
  • Photo-voltaic solar panels:Living off the grid is possible, but for existing homes it requires a significant investment. However, you can easily start with some panels and add to them as you save on your monthly bills. As with the rainwater tanks, you can supplement your solar panel with the municipal electricity supply.

Once you start investigating the options available for retro-fitting an existing home, you’ll see just how easy and affordable it can be. Not only will you enjoy considerable savings on your monthly running costs, you’ll also be adding significant value to your home. And should you ever want to sell your home, you’ll be able to command a higher price.

What’s more affordable?

The answer to this question will depend on your current situation. If you’re considering buying a new home, it would make sense to find one that has all the green features you want. And while this may mean that you spend more money initially, you will end up saving immediately and continuously.

If moving is not an option, then this article should prove to you that it’s still possible to go green without spending a fortune. Researching various green features will help you make a decision on where to start. And you’ll find that once you have implemented some of these suggestions, you’ll save money which you can put towards your next project.

It’s safe to say that being environmentally conscious isn’t just for the rich. With proper planning and dedication, anyone can change their home into green home. Are you ready to make the change?

Tips on how to detox your home

Tips on how to detox your home

Your home is your sanctuary, it’s a place where you want to experience peace and good health. These days we are becoming more aware of what constitutes a healthy environment, both outdoors and indoors and so the trend towards greener homes is growing. This means there is an emergent need to eradicate poisonous chemicals and toxins that are both harmful to a home’s occupants, as well as the environment.  

Removing toxins from your home environment is a similar process to detoxifying your body. It’s about removing obstacles that lead to ill health. The process is really simple. Identify the products in your home that are hazardous and replace them with eco-friendly alternatives for a much healthier, greener home.

Here is a list of the most common toxic products, their effects and some non-toxic alternatives:

Pesticides are a common household product. They are designed to kill living organisms such as weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungus (fungicides), rodents (rodenticides), and others. Unfortunately because they are designed to kill, they do harm other organisms, including humans. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. It’s is often difficult to contain the area during the application of pesticides, so there is a great risk of exposure to other organisms in the same vicinity.

Harmful effects of pesticides: It has been noted that even low levels of exposure to pesticides have adverse health effects. Children and developing organisms are unfortunately the most vulnerable. The effects of exposure range from memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced response to stimuli, reduced visual ability, altered or uncontrollable mood and general behaviour, and reduced motor skills. Other health effects include asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity as well as cancer, hormone disruption, reproduction and foetal development issues.

Alternatives: For a greener home consider using non-toxic products made from d-limonene.

Ammonia is a very common substance in the home, as it is found in most household cleaners. Ammonia releases fumes that are harmful to the eyes, lungs and skin. Products made with ammonia become even more harmful when mixed with chlorine bleach or other products that contain it. The byproduct of this combination is chloramines gas, which is extremely poisonous and can cause severe damage to the lungs. Ammonia is therefore particularly harmful to asthmatics.

Harmful effects of ammonia: Ammonia is known to burn and irritate the skin and attack mucous membranes. It is highly toxic to the body if accidentally ingested. Ammonium nitrate particles are formed when ammonia fumes come into contact with nitrates in the environment. These toxic particles attach themselves to dust and other household fabrics such as carpets and upholstery.

Alternatives: Replace ammonia with vinegar-based cleaners instead and you can also use regular soap to maintain a clean, but greener home.

Chlorine can be found in many household cleaners. It is also used as a fumigant and often added to water systems because it prevents the growth of certain bacteria. Unfortunately this means chlorine exists in treated tap water as well.

Bleach releases a chlorine gas, which adversely affects the respiratory system. This is why chlorine is often referred to as a choking agent and has also been classified as a chemical weapon. Therefore, eliminating this product shouldn’t only be a consideration for people wanting greener homes, but rather for everyone on this planet.

Harmful effects of chlorine: Chlorine attacks organic matter, skin and is a mucous membrane irritant. Inhalation of chlorine gas can cause coughing and breathing issues, including hyperventilation as well as chest pains, eye irritation, rapid heartbeat and even death. It has also been linked to dementia in elderly patients.

Alternatives: If you have a pool, avoid using chlorine as a disinfectant. Instead, consider silver-copper ion generators and salt water. They are great, safe alternatives.

There are also safer, natural alternatives to chlorine based home cleaning products available such as hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches.

Fabric Softener’s have lovely fragrances, but they are merely covering up the odours released by the toxic ingredients. Your clothes may feel nice and soft as well as be static-free, but this is because these chemicals actually form a layer of lubrication over the fabric.

There are huge amounts of harmful chemicals in fabric softeners which include, but are not limited to: enzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, a-terpineol, chloroform, pentane etc. You will find a comprehensive list on the internet.

Harmful effects of fabric softeners: It can cause central nervous disorders, respiratory issues, liver and kidney damage as well as loss of muscle coordination.

Alternatives: Invest in garments that are made from organic cotton, as they are much softer. Purchase a natural non-toxic fabric softener which can be found in most health stores that you will be visiting often anyway while planning your greener home. If you don’t want to spend money, then you can also make your own! Baking soda is a great, safe alternative. Washing your clothes in cooler water also helps.

Formaldehyde is commonly found in glues that are used with various woods, boards and carpeting during home renovations, construction and when making low cost furniture. It is also found in paint, varnish, adhesives, floor finishes, wall paper, cardboard and paper, as well as in some hair care products and nail polish.

Harmful effects of formaldehyde: It has been identified as a human carcinogen. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, nasal irritations, watery eyes, and burning in the nasal passages. It can also cause coughing, asthma, nausea rashes, allergic reactions and in some cases has been linked to birth defects.

Alternatives: Buy solid wood furniture instead as it doesn’t contain formaldehyde or if you prefer pressed wood products, then ensure that they are adequately sealed with a plastic laminate coating. Replace regular paints with Low-VOC and Zero-VOC paints which are commonly found in most paint stores. Ensure proper ventilation where exposure cannot be avoided.

Nonstick cookware and bakeware: Teflon is a product used for nonstick surfaces. It contains perfluoroalkyl acid, a synthetic material that is harmful to humans and animals. Exposure can occur when the cookware or bakeware is scratched or overheated.

Harmful effects of perfluoroalkyl acid: it has been linked to ADHD, high cholesterol, thyroid disease as well as infertility.

Alternatives: Opt for alternative nonstick cookware, such cast iron, glass or stainless steel. And replace your non stick cookware and bake ware immediately if you notice chips or scratches.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) is found in many household items, ranging from food packaging, toys to shower curtains and building materials. It is known to be the most toxic plastic to both the environment and our health. PVC is made from a chemical called vinyl chloride, which is a known human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  One shower curtain made from PVC can release more than 100 chemicals into the air. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is often added to PVC to make it more flexible.

Harmful effects of PVC: Some of the chemicals released by PVC products can cause developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems.

Alternatives: Simply avoid packaging with the #3 or the letters “PVC” on it, which can usually be found next to the recycling symbol. Substitute PVC containers with glass containers and use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones. Some manufacturers are starting to become more aware of the dangers associated with PVC and are supporting the green home trend by excluding it when producing textiles, wall covering and various furniture items.

Anti-bacterial soaps: Many antibacterial products found in the home include triclosan which is meant to prevent bacterial infection. Triclosan can be found in antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, detergents, surgical cleaning agents, toys and some toothpastes. In 2013, the FDA issued a consumer update citing the need for additional studies of its potential hazards and developmental effects, which is definitely a red flag. Furthermore anti-bacterial soaps can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Harmful effects of anti-bacterial soaps: There are many health risks associated with triclosan, some of which include dermatitis, allergies, immune, thyroid reproduction and brain development issues. By using anti-bacterial products we become more resistant to the bacteria, which only forces it to become stronger by mutating into more harmful strains.

Alternatives: The best method to remove bacteria from our bodies is to use plain soap or pick a liquid soap that includes alcohol instead of triclosan. Work up a lather and wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to clean under your nails, the cuticles and palms. Use a clean towel to dry your hands.

Radiation is found everywhere in the home. So when striving for a greener home, you need to think beyond chemicals. Radiation is produced by electronic devices and appliances. Sources of electronic radiation include: Cordless phones, cellular phones, cordless baby alarms, microwave ovens, wireless routers, radios and Bluetooth devices.

Harmful effects of radiation: Although radiation produced by electronic devices and some appliances is of a very low frequency, the cumulative effect can be harmful to our bodies. While there is not much scientific research, certain proposed health problems have been linked with radiation. These include: Irregular behavioural patterns in children, disrupted sleep patterns, frequent headaches, stomach issues, skin cancer, hypersensitivity and increased blood pressure, feeling of melancholy or depression and exhaustion and fatigue.

Alternatives: It’s not easy to rid your home of all these electronics. Some people may do so to achieve the ultimate green home, but it depends what extreme you want to go to. Instead, you can invest in an electric filter as well as special paints (Y-paint and air pure paint) to block out the radiation, as well as window shielding film. Bed canopies and shielding floor mats are also a good investment for the bedroom, as they will protect you from harmful radiation which disrupts your sleep by interfering with your brain wave patterns.

Detoxifying your home doesn’t have to be a daunting project. There is no need to get stressed out about it, as this will also have a negative impact on your health and your home environment. Take it one step, one room, one cupboard and one product at a time.

You may be satisfied with the alternative, greener products and therefore happy to eliminate them, but in some instances this may not be the case. If so, then simply take the necessary precautions to limit or prevent exposure completely. For example wear protective clothing and masks when cleaning and ensure sufficient ventilation. But remember, the more toxins you can eliminate the better as it will be one step closer to a happier, greener home.

How to save electricity in your home

How to save electricity in your home

If you are considering a greener home then a good place to start is by cutting down on your electricity consumption. Using less gas and electricity benefits the environment by helping to reduce harmful levels of CO2 produced and it also helps you cut down the costs of your utility bills.

The first step is to investigate and document your current electricity consumption levels. This will help you set goals and make comparisons once you have implemented certain measures to cut down on your consumption. Once done, there are various steps you can take towards achieving an energy saving, greener home.

Here are some ideas to consider:

Turn down the temperature of your geyser 

Turning down the temperature of your geyser to 60oC will force it to use much less electricity. Take note however that dropping the temperature below 60oC is a health risk as it encourages the growth of harmful bacteria.

The first step of this exercise is to turn off the electricity circuit at the mains. As a safety measure, let all occupants in your home know that you are doing this. The next step is to locate the thermostat. You will most likely find it in a cover that is situated over the geyser’s electrical element. Once located, open the cover then use a screw driver to turn down the temperature of the thermostat. If you are still unsure, then it’s probably best to get your local plumber to do the job for you.Noise Insulation,

Avoid using additional heating or cooling systems in your home

Avoid using central heating systems in winter and air-conditioning systems in summer, as they chew up a lot of electricity and avoid under-floor heating as well. Consider installing carpets or wooden/laminate flooring instead of tiles to help with insulation.

Only heat up or cool down the rooms that are occupied with localised equipment. Oil and fan heaters are ideal if they have thermostats and it’s also better to use a fan in summer than an air-conditioning system. Always ensure that the variation in rooms versus outside temperature is no more than 10oCs (Celsius).

Control the temperature of your home without electricity

Ideally you should avoid using any heating or cooling appliances altogether if you want a greener home. It’s not as difficult as you think. In winter you can simply wear a few more layers of clothing, use more blankets and ensure windows and doors are properly insulated to prevent draughts. In summer, open windows and doors and create shaded areas outside with awnings and umbrellas, so you can spend more time outdoors. Tests have proven that it can be as much as 20oC cooler under an awning.

Retractable awnings will allow you to control the temperature of your home by managing the amount of sun entering through windows and glass doors.

Switch off!

Switch off lights in unoccupied rooms and if you are not using appliances, then switch them off at the wall plug. Did you know that by leaving them on standby can result in 20% more electricity usage? This includes TVs, computers, chargers, music systems, etc. Consider using power strips as well. It is much easier to remember to turn off your appliances if they are all plugged into the same area.

You can also save electricity by turning off your geyser if you are away from home for a long period of time.

Manage your fridge and freezer more efficiently

By defrosting your fridge and freezer on a regular basis they will be able to run more efficiently. If this sounds like too much work, then consider investing in appliances that self-defrost. The more items in your fridge and freezer, the better the insulation will be. So try keep them fully stocked, as this will lessen the amount of time needed for cooling.

Make sure the door seals on these appliances are in good condition and make sure they aren’t placed near the oven. Also avoid placing hot food in the fridge or freezer; rather allow it to cool down first.

Cook more efficiently

When cooking in an oven, try to keep its door closed. Opening the oven door unnecessarily will cause heat loss, which subsequently results in the oven having to use more electricity to maintain the predetermined cooking temperature. Also try not to use the oven on a regular basis. Use the microwave instead as it cooks quicker. It is a much better energy saving option, which makes it an ideal choice for a greener home.

When cooking on the hob, don’t use pots that are too large. Use a lid to help retain the heat, which in turn will reduce the cooking time. Investing in a stacked steamer is a great way to save on electricity as it allows you to cook a full meal, while only using the power of one hob. Also consider cutting food into smaller pieces as this will limit the cooking time.

Cut down on hot water

Consider showering instead of bathing, as it uses less water. Limit the time you spend in the shower as well, otherwise you are defeating the object of this exercise.

When making tea or coffee, don’t overfill the kettle. The more water there is in the kettle, the longer it will take to boil, so only fill it with the amount of water you need.

When washing dishes, rather fill the sink with water and wash all the dishes in one go. You will waste hot water if you only wash a few dishes at a time. If you have a dishwasher, then ensure that it is full before you switch it on. Select the economy wash setting if it is available. Otherwise see which option washes in the shortest time.

Washing machines use a lot of electricity to heat the water, so it’s advisable that you choose a washing machine that gives you a cold water wash option as well.

Manage your pool pump’s operating hours

If you have a pool then it’s a good idea to reduce your pool pump’s operating hours to its minimum. It doesn’t have to run all day and you can even turn it off completely at certain times in winter. Having a greener home, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a pool layered with leaves! You will find that using a pool cover is a great way to keep your pool clean. Cleaning the filters on a regular basis will also reduce the need to have the pool pump running consistently.

The energy savings options mentioned above can be performed at no cost. There are however some low cost options to consider as well:

Use a more efficient shower head

Ideally your shower flow rate shouldn’t be more than 10 litres per minute. You can test this by holding a bucket under the showerhead for about 12 seconds. Once done, use a measuring jug to determine the amount of water that has accumulated in the bucket. If this amount adds up to two litres or more, then you need to replace your showerhead. Modern showerheads are designed to support the greener home concept by helping to save water and electricity. Best of all, they don’t compromise your shower experience. If you aren’t sure which showerhead to purchase, simply chat to a bathroom specialist at your local home improvement store.

Insulate your geyser

Heat retention can be maximised when installing a geyser ‘blanket’. Before doing so, check to see how much heat loss there is by simply placing your hand on the geyser. If it is warm, then it is definitely losing heat so insulation is an option. This is especially common in older geysers. More modern geysers are generally designed to support today’s greener homes.

You can insulate the geyser yourself. Simply check the internet for guidelines. Otherwise if DIY is not your thing, then you can find a professional to do it. This process isn’t entirely foolproof however, so it may be a good idea to check the insulation a few days or weeks after installation to ensure that it is still in place. For extra insulation, considering insulating the first three metres of the water pipes that lead from the geyser as well.

Insulate other areas of your home

Good ceiling insulation is known to keep homes 10oC cooler in summer and 5 degrees warmer in winter, while enabling electricity savings of about 25%. This negates the need for electrical heating and cooling systems that chew up electricity.

Consider insulating other parts of your house as well to prevent heat from escaping in winter and entering your home in summer. Examples are lofts; cavity and solid wall insulation; doors and windows as well as under-floor insulation.

Replace old light bulbs with more energy efficient options

You are less likely to find old incandescent bulbs in a green home. Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) are more energy efficient as they not only use 75% less power, but also last much longer. Be cautious when handling these bulbs though, as they do contain harmful substances. There are certain measures you need to take if they are accidently dropped. Avoid throwing them in your household trash as well for the same reason. Some retailers have special bins you can use to dispose of them safely. You can find more information on the internet in this regard.

If you want to take your energy efficient lighting a step further, then consider Light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). They use even less power than CFLs and last 130 times longer as well. They are not very popular yet though and are still quite costly because they are new technology. But they will definitely become available and affordable in the near future.

Consider installing a solar water heater

A solar water heater is probably one of the biggest energy savers and therefore one of the first investments you should make when aiming for a greener home. Once installed, you can generally save about two thirds of your water heating cost if done correctly. To achieve the best possible saving, ensure your solar water heater has a timer.

You can also save considerably by installing a heat pump as an alternative option to a solar water heater. This is a new technology for homes. Green homes in the near future will probably have them installed.

Remember it’s not only about investing in more energy saving equipment. You will also have to change some of your habits in return for a much more energy efficient, greener home. Be sure to measure and monitor your home electricity consumption and costs on a regular basis to see if and where you can cut down even more. If you have other people living or working in your home, then educate them accordingly as well to ensure they also contribute to your energy saving, green home environment.

Your questions about rainwater harvesting answered

Your questions about rainwater harvesting answered

When was the last time you thought about your water consumption? During times of drought we are all reminded of how necessary a steady supply of water is to our lifestyle. If all you have to do is turn on a tap, it’s easy to take this limited resource for granted.

But as the cost of potable water increases, the idea of collecting and utilising rainwater becomes even more attractive. Not only will it reduce your monthly expenses, it also means you’ll never be without water. And if you consider how much water you use every day for cooking, cleaning and consuming, it makes sense to reduce costs. In this article we’ll aim to answer some of the more common questions about rainwater harvesting.

What is rainwater harvesting?

Simply put, rainwater harvesting means having some kind of tank which you can use to store collect rainwater. It could be as simple as a large tank connected to your downpipes, or in the case of a purpose-built green home, a tank that is possible buried underground.

Without filters in place, rainwater is not potable and cannot be used for human consumption. But you can use it in other ways:

  • Washing your car and watering your garden
  • Flushing your toilets
  • Topping up your swimming pool
  • In your washing machine

However, if you install an underground tank, you can add a fine filter and a pump to channel clean, potable water right into your home. That way you can use the water you’ve collected for showering or bathing and cooking.

What size of tank do I need?

This depends on several factors. First of all you need to know the average rainfall for your area. Then you also need to think about how you will use the water you collect. If you’re only going to use it for irrigating your garden, topping up your pool and washing your car, then you may not need such a big tank. But if you want to also use the water you collect in your home, you’ll need a larger tank to ensure you collect as much water as possible.

The size of your roof and the material it’s made from will also influence the amount of rainwater you’ll be able to collect. You should also factor in the number of people in the home and how much water you use on a daily basis.

Discuss your situation with an expert and they will help you determine what you need. They’ll also be able to advise you on the best placement for your tank, and how to maximise the amount of water you collect. The placement of the collecting pipes is important in allowing you to collect as much water as possible.

Can underground rainwater tanks be retrofitted to an existing home?

Provided you have the space to do it, you can install an underground rainwater harvesting tank on an existing property. While it is much easier and cheaper to incorporate a tank into a new development, it can still be done for an established home. You may only be limited to the size of the tank you can install.

Underground rainwater tanks have some advantages over external tanks. They are hidden away so they don’t detract from your home’s appearance. And they may last longer because they’re not exposed to the damaging effects of the elements. Even the pipes can be buried to make sure the whole installation is neat and attractive.

How does the municipality charge me for sewerage effluent?

It might not cost you anything to collect and use rainwater, but you will still be charged for anything that flows through your pipes as effluent. In general, they tend to charge on volume, so the more water you use, the more you pay.

But this cost is based on the volume of water you draw. In other words, you will only be charged on the amount of water that has run through your water metre. So you won’t be charged on the rainwater that you collect and use. And if you re-use your grey water (from your bath or laundry) you can reduce the amount of water you send to the sewer for treatment down to as little as 5%. That is a tremendous saving for you and for our water resources.

But remember that there are rules governing the use of grey water. Because it has qualities that allow anaerobic bacteria to breed, it cannot be stored and must be disposed of safely. It must be sent through your sewerage system and not re-directed to a river or other water sources.

If you’re using the grey water from your laundry to irrigate your garden, don’t use detergents that contain phosphates. These will poison the soil in the long term, so look for a phosphate-free washing powder.

Can I use rainwater in conjunction with municipal water?

If you’re concerned that your water tank may not always be able to provide for your needs, you can rest assured that most rainwater harvesting tanks provide for an emergency supply. A sophisticated rainwater harvesting system uses a low water threshold sensor to automatically switch over to use municipal water directly, before your own rainwater supply runs dry. With such a system, nothing further is required for a continuous supply to where rainwater is designated.

What about electricity outages?

In the case of a power cut, these tanks have an override that allows you to switch over to the municipal supply. Thus provided there isn’t a water outage happening at the same time, you’ll still have access to water.

Do I have to clean the tank out?

Most tanks are self-cleaning so you’ll never have to worry about getting your hands dirty. A cleaning mechanism ensures that any sediment is flushed to keep your tank clean. It also helps to oxygenate the water and prevent anaerobic bacteria from building up. Most tanks also include some kind of screen or net to stop insects and debris from entering the tank.

You’ll also find that rainwater harvesting tanks require very little maintenance. When you consider how easy they are to operate, and how much money you can save, installing a rainwater harvesting tank is one of the best things you can do for your home.

What are rainwater harvesting tanks made from?

The tanks can be made from a variety of materials such as steel, plastic and even concrete. But the most common kind of water tank is usually made from high-density polyurethane. This is one of the safest food-grade plastics available. So you needn’t be concerned that any toxic chemicals will leech into your water. And it shouldn’t affect the taste of your water either.

How long will a rainwater harvesting tank last?

While this depends on the material used to construct the tank and where it’s positioned, most tanks will last you for a few years before they need replacing. If your tank is exposed to the elements, you can expect it to degrade at a faster rate. When a tank is buried underground, it will last much longer because it is protected from the sun, rain and wind.

Is it worth collecting rainwater in a low rainfall area?

The answer to this question depends very much on how you value the water you currently use. If you look at it merely in financial terms, it could be that the cost of installing a rainwater harvesting system is too great compared to the potential savings on your utility bills.

However, the value of water cannot be reduced to a sum of money. Water is necessary for a number of essential human activities such as bathing and cooking. These activities add significant comfort to our modern lives and if you have to consider the alternative, you’ll appreciate just how important it is. And if you use rainwater to irrigate you vegetable garden, it also contributes towards feeding your family. This means you save even more money than just that on your water bill.

Even during times of sufficient rainfall, it is essential that we use water sparingly and make every drop count.

Tips for using water efficiently

Should you already have a rainwater harvesting tank, it’s still important to make the most of your water. So here are some tips to make your store go even further:

  • Switch your irrigation system to manual and only use it when necessary.
  • Water your garden either early in the morning, or later in the evening when it’s cooler. That way the water will feed your plants instead of just evaporating away.
  • Reuse grey water from your bath or washing machine to water your garden. But be sure to follow the rules regarding the use of grey water.
  • While waiting for water to heat up, don’t let the cold water go to waste. Collect it and use in your kettle or for cooking, or to water pot plants.
  • Load up your washing machine or dishwasher before you switch it on. Don’t waste water on small loads.
  • Install a low-flow shower head and limit your time in the shower to five minutes.

There are many little ways to save water and they should not be overlooked, even if you are collecting rainwater. Adopting a green lifestyle should be about more than saving money. It’s about changing your attitude towards natural resources and reducing your impact on the planet.

The benefits of harvesting rainwater

The main benefit of investing in a rainwater harvesting tank is a financial one. You can save up to as much as 80% of your water bill. Of course the final figure will depend on the size of the tank you install and what your general water consumption is like. Remember, you can stretch any saving you would enjoy even further by incorporating some of the water saving tips suggested above.

You’ll also have the benefit of a consistent supply of water during times of drought or when the municipal system is switched off to carry out repairs and maintenance. It may surprise you that adopting a green living practice could actually make your life more convenient.

For new and existing homeowners, a rainwater harvesting tank represents an opportunity to save money and make a positive impact on the environment. And the ongoing issue of water security is prompting buyers to seek out homes that already have this feature. All green homes should include rain harvesting tanks and several other green features that make them ideal for the eco-conscious home buyer. These homes are particularly water and energy efficient, even going so far as to include a water-wise, low maintenance garden. In the future, we will all be forced to think about the way we use water and make drastic changes.

How to green the inside of your home—room by room

How to green the inside of your home—room by room

What springs to mind when you hear the words ‘green homes’? Does it conjure up images of solar panels on the roof, a large rainwater harvesting tank in the garden and double-glazed windows? You’re not wrong, but that’s only half the picture.

Sustainable living is so much more than just reducing your reliance on the grid for your energy needs. It’s really a lifestyle that embraces the philosophy of living in a way that reduces your impact on the environment. And this extends to the inside of your home too. Even if you aren’t in a position to install alternative technologies for running your home, there are other ways to go green.

The Kitchen

Often considered the heart of the home, your kitchen is the perfect place to start adopting green habits:

  • Cooking with gas: If you’re in the market for a new stove, you might want to think about investing in a gas cooker. LPG or Liquid Petroleum gas is an affordable, energy-efficient method of cooking that has become more popular. You’ll save time and money with a gas cooker because it heats up instantly.
  • Bamboo counters: Remodelling your kitchen? Look at sustainable materials for your countertops. Bamboo is a good example because it grows so quickly and doesn’t need much water.
  • Energy-efficient appliances: Check the energy star rating when you need to buy a new fridge, microwave oven, washing machine or dishwasher. Because these are the tools you use every day, it makes sense to make sure they’re energy efficiently.
  • Make a full load: This advice applies to your dishwasher and your washing machine. Don’t waste time and energy washing a few items at a time. Rather wait until you have a full load of dishes or clothing and then hit the switch.
  • Go with the flow: A low-flow aerator that is. Attached to your kitchen tap, this inexpensive little gadget can save you gallons of water.
  • Waste not, want not: You’d be surprised just how much waste a kitchen generates. From plastic and cardboard packaging to food scraps, almost everything can be recycled. It just takes a little organisation. So set up different bins for each type of waste and get into the habit of separating your trash.

You don’t have to implement all of these tips in one go. Just start slowly and you’ll find that even the little changes will make a big impact.

The Bathroom

Aside from installing a solar water heater for your ablutions, you’d be amazed at the clever (and inexpensive) things you can do to make your bathroom an eco-friendly place.

  • The number one tip is to install a low-flow shower head. It can reduce your water consumption by up to 30%. And you’ll still get clean.
  • It also pays to watch the clock while you’re in the shower. Perhaps this isn’t the easiest advice to follow, but for large families, a little discipline can go a long way to saving on your water bill. Besides, five minutes is really all the time you need to get squeaky clean.
  • Solar water heaters can be pricey so opt for the next best thing—insulating your geyser with a blanket. Proper insulation enables your geyser to retain heat better and this means big savings on your power consumption.
  • And speaking of geysers, why don’t you try turning the temperature on the thermostat down while you’re installing the geyser blanket? You won’t notice the difference, and it’ll prolong the life of your geyser.
  • Putting a brick in your toilet tank sounds like an odd thing to do, but it’s one of the most popular ways to save water in your bathroom. But be careful as bricks may disintegrate over time and damage the toilets flushing mechanism. Try filling up a plastic bottle with sand and water instead.
  • Reusing the water from your bath to water your plants is a great way to ensure that not a drop is wasted. Just be sure to use eco-friendly soap, shampoo or bubble bath to limit the amount of toxins you put into the soil.
  • It goes without saying that you should check for any leaking taps and fix them.

For such a small space, bathrooms can use a surprising amount of electricity and water. And these are the two resources where going green really counts. You don’t have to completely remodel your bathroom to go green. Just use your common sense and put the environment first.

The Living Room

You might not think that there are many things you can do to make your living room a haven of eco-friendliness. But here are some ideas that you’ll find cheap and simple to implement:

  • Reclaim the sofa: This doesn’t mean you get to kick your spouse out of the most comfortable seat in the house. It means browsing the second-hand furniture shops for a bargain and using a bit of elbow grease to turn it into a one-of-a-kind original. You’d be surprised what you might find and it’ll give the chance to put your own stamp on it.
  • Play a game of drafts: Check the spaces around your doors and windows for any air leaks. Then patch them up with silicone caulk or insulation strips. A well-insulated home is warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
  • Unplug and unwind: How many electronics do you have in your living room? A TV, PVR and DVD player? What about your music system or laptop? Well if you’re not using them, get into the habit of switching them off at the plug. Even on standby mode, these gadgets can drain power.
  • Go natural: When it comes to flooring, most carpets (with the exception of wool) are made from petroleum and treated with chemicals. So opt for natural flooring such as timber or even bamboo. You can always add a stylish pure wool rug to add a cosy feel in the colder months.

If you use your imagination you’ll find plenty of ways to add a green touch to your living areas. And when you decide to do some redecorating, keep your eye out for natural, eco-friendly paints and fabrics. Green can be trendy too.

The Bedrooms

You can use many of the green tips suggested for your living room in your bedroom too. Reclaiming small tables and transforming them into nightstands, switching off an electronic devices at the plug (except for your alarm clock, of course) and ensuring that the space is properly insulated all apply. But here are some extra ideas for you to try out:

  • Cotton bedding: Organic cotton, bamboo, wool and other natural textiles are comfortable and eco-friendly. Skip the polyester pillows and treat yourself to buckwheat pillow instead. You’ll sleep like baby!
  • Ditch the air-conditioner: Opt for a ceiling fan instead and open your windows slightly in the hot summer months. Air-conditioners consume a lot of electricity and there are better ways to cool your bedroom down.
  • Choose non-VOC paint: Traditional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are harmful chemicals that leak into the air and may irritate the skin and mucus membranes. Thankfully there are eco-friendly alternatives available. This is a perfect example of how going green is good for people and the environment.
  • Keep warm the old-fashioned way in winter by using a hot water bottle rather than an electric blanket. Although an electric blanket can be energy efficient, this only works if you can resist the temptation not to switch it off after you get into a bed. A hot water bottle on the other hand, will keep you warm into the night without drawing power.

Make your bedroom an eco-friendly space and you’ll sleep even better in the knowledge that you’re doing your bit to save the planet.

Then there are the little things that you can do for every room in the home to reduce you’re your impact on the planet such as:

  • Switching from regular, incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and Light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). They use much less energy (up to 75% less) and they last longer too.
  • Let ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ become your new mantra. Look for ways to cut down on the waste, find a new purpose for an old item and recycle paper, plastic, glass and tin whenever you can.
  • When it comes to redecorating or remodeling areas of your home, look for organic products that are free of toxins. They’re not just better for the environment, they’re better for the health of your family too.
  • Switch to organic cleaning products to keep your home looking at its best. They are slightly more expensive but often they work better so you don’t need to use as much. Or better still, try making your own. You’d be surprised how far you can get with simple things like baking soda and lemon juice.
  • The same goes for your personal products. Soaps, creams and make-ups are available in eco-friendly alternatives. And they can be gentler on sensitive skins.
  • Start a composting pile and grow your own vegetables. Remember those table scraps? Well this is the perfect way to put them to good use. And you can cut down on your grocery bill at the same time.
  • Support local businesses, especially those that offer eco-friendly alternatives. Buying local is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Of course the ultimate green home incorporates features that enable you to live almost entirely off the grid. Retrofitting an existing home with these features is possible, can be difficult and more expensive. It is possible to buy a new home that has all the eco bells and whistles you could possibly want—even in South Africa.

Green home builders should specialize in photo-voltaic solar panels, underground rainwater harvesting tanks and a hydronics radiant heating and cooling system. Also insulation and use of natural materials to create a truly green home is of utmost importance.

Going green is really about changing the way you think. Once you become aware of how much waste a home can generate, it gets easier to find ways to avoid contributing to the problem. For example, taking your own bags to the grocery and car-pooling to work. And you’ll find that adopting green habits helps you cut down on your monthly expenses.

So if you haven’t already started, use this guide to help you turn your home into a green haven. You’ll feel better and you’ll have more money at the end of every month. That means you’ll be able to start saving towards something bigger such as a solar water heater or photo-voltaic solar panels that will help you save even more. Any home can be a green home, you just have use your imagination.

Your green home checklist

Your green home checklist

Being involved in the construction of your own home is exciting. You’re calling the shots and it’s only natural that when you’re making that kind of investment that you want everything to be perfect. And it stands to reason that what you chose now will influence your lifestyle and that of your family for years to come.

It’s no different when building a green home. In fact, it requires even more thought and planning to build a home that’s not just beautiful, practical and cost-effective, but in harmony with the environment too. So where do you start? This green home checklist should give you something to think about.

Location, location, location

When shopping for a new home, most people consider location to be the most important factor. You want to be close to your place of work, in an area with convenient shopping, entertainment and schooling. It also needs to be safe and have the right infrastructure in place for comfortable living.

But when you’re buying or building a green home you have to take it one step further. Look at the site conditions of your future home and whether it has the necessary qualities such as enough space for rainwater harvesting tanks and access to clean air and water.

Building position and orientation

You’ll want to orientate your home in the best position to take advantage of what the site you’ve chosen has to offer. In the southern hemisphere, a north-facing position is best as it allows you to make use of sunlight to warm your home in the winter and keep it cool in the summer.

Knowing where to place your windows, what size they should be and what the best spot for solar panels would be are all crucial elements when it comes to building a home that is energy efficient. After all, the purpose of a green home is to work with nature and not against it. Getting the basics right from the start will have a significant impact on the practical operating of your home and determine just how efficient it can be.

Get savvy with your layout

This is an important part of turning your green home dream into a reality. When planning the layout of your home take the orientation of the building into consideration. Think about which rooms need natural light and heat to reduce your electricity costs. Look at the flow of air around the building and how you can use natural ventilation to your advantage.

The way you layout your home can go a long way to reducing your construction costs too. So don’t focus only on the aesthetic. Be practical about how your home will function now and in the future.

Choose the right building materials

You might think that green construction is all about using materials that are sustainable and don’t poison or damage the environment. And while that is certainly true to some extent, it’s essential to be practical about this element.

All materials have strengths and weakness when it comes to being eco-friendly. While the production of a certain material may be more sustainable, it might not be very durable. In which case, you’d have to replace it or maintain more often. And that may have a negative impact on the environment. For example, bamboo is an excellent substitute for traditional wooden structures in a home such as counter tops and even flooring. It’s a fast growing plant which means it’s more sustainable than other woods. But the finishes used on bamboo may contain toxic chemicals to ensure its durability. Find out as much as you can about the sourcing and manufacturing of various construction materials before you commit to using them in your design.

Try to achieve a balance between using materials that are sturdy, don’t require much maintenance, are sustainable or recyclable and aren’t produced using methods and techniques that are harmful to the environment. Building a green home requires you to think farther into the future than you would with any other type of home. The initial layout will cost more so you should think of it as a long-term investment. Choose wisely now and you’ll reap the benefits well into the future.

Add green features for future cost savings

A home may be considered green when it incorporates technologies that reduce or eliminate your reliance on the normal infrastructure associated with housing. So make sure these elements are part of your initial plans:

  • Insulation:A home that is properly insulated is easy to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. This means you’ll draw less power from the grid to live, work and play in comfort. Insulation should be built into the structure, between exterior walls and in the ceiling and flooring.

You won’t need to use an air-conditioner or heaters to maintain the temperature of your home throughout the year. Not only will you save on electricity, but you’ll reduce the demand on the grid and reduce the risk of outages which affect everyone.

  • Rainwater harvesting:With green homes these large tanks can be hidden underground reducing the amount of space they need and ensuring that your property looks as attractive as a regular home. It also means you’ll have a supplementary supply of water available for flushing toilets or watering your garden.

By making use of rainwater, you’re not only saving a precious resource you’re also saving costs.

  • Solar panels:Can a home really be green if it doesn’t have solar panels? These are essential for anyone who wants to reduce their reliance on the grid and power their own home. The size, type and number of panels depend on several factors. Careful planning will ensure that you have enough power available for necessities or to run your full household, including for your lights, TV and appliances.

And given the constant sunshine available in South Africa, relying on solar panels to power your home isn’t just wishful thinking. You may need back-up batteries, but if you’re building a new home from scratch these can easily be incorporated into your design. And you’ll never have to worry about being unable to power the things you need if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Solar panels are also perfect for heating your water which has a double cost-saving effect. Not only do you save on electricity, but you could have hot water on tap, meaning you don’t waste it just waiting for the hot water to reach the right temperature – thus saving on water too.

  • Hydronics radiant heating and cooling: This is a clever system that uses a network of pipes to run hot or cold water through the floor of your home. It’s a cost-effective way to maintain the temperature without resorting to power hungry heaters or air conditioners.

And if the pipes are properly insulated, the system is not only more effective, but a cheaper method of keeping your home at a comfortable temperature through all seasons.

You may not be able to afford all of these things right away. In which case, you’ll need to decide which are the most important to you. Retrofitting an existing home with green features can be more difficult and costly. Do your research and work with a company that has expert knowledge to help you make the right decision for your family.

Think outside the box

Your home isn’t just about the building you live in. It’s also about your surroundings such as your garden and garage.

Wherever possible, you should look to reduce the maintenance costs of these often neglected areas. A water-wise garden doesn’t just make financial sense; it also makes a difference to the environment. Use indigenous plants to cut back on the water required to keep your garden looking good all year round. And you’ll appreciate how much less maintenance it requires too. Instead of spending hours tending to your garden, you’ll be able to just relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Even your garage should be planned using the principles you apply to your home. Consider its position and location and use green building materials for the construction. A garage can be a dark place, so look for ways to include natural lighting and use energy-efficient LED bulbs to light it up at night.

If your garage is attached to your home, it makes sense to factor it in to your plans. A cold concrete floor could result in an icy draft making its way into your home through a connecting door. So use insulation cleverly to complement the rest of your home.

All garages have a roof, which means they can be used to collect run-off water. This water can be stored in a tank and used for general cleaning purposes. At minimum it is efficient and eco-friendly to use run-off water from your garage to wash your car.

The benefits of green construction

Many people feel that investing in a green home is an unnecessary expense. Yes, they do cost more to build but in the long term the savings are substantial. Apart from that, there are many other benefits to green living:

  • Your impact on the environment is minimal: Green buildings reduce energy usage, CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage.
  • It’s healthier: Improved indoor air quality means you’re less likely to suffer from common respiratory ailments.
  • It increases the value of your home: If you should ever need to sell your property you’ll be pleased to discover that a green home commands a higher price.

And once you get down to planning your green home, you may be surprised to find that it doesn’t cost that much more than a traditional one. The key is to work with experts who are knowledgeable in the area of green construction. They’ll be able to give you good advice and know where to get the features and eco-friendly materials you need.

It’s not just how you build; it’s how you live

Building a green home doesn’t stop at using eco-friendly construction materials or adding green features to save you money, it’s about the way you live your life. You’re conscious of the impact you have on natural resources and extend this way of thinking into every area of your life, from how you use your car to recycling your waste whenever you can.

The many benefits of living in such a home should not be taken for granted. It can be at least as comfortable as living in a traditional home, even luxurious, and with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re treading as lightly as possible on our planet.

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