Finding the perfect home is hard work. As it’s the biggest investment we’ll ever make, it’s worth taking our time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of every property. We’d also need to consider how much maintenance our home requires. If our preference is to spend more time enjoying our home, and less time maintaining it, eco-friendly homes are ideal.
The importance of maintaining your home
It’s something that first time home buyers rarely consider—how much will it cost to maintain a dream home? It’s easy to fall in love with a property that we’ve only seen a few times. Only when living in the home will we realise the work it requires to keep it in tip-top shape and in perfect working order. Maintenance is essential to maintain or improve the value of our home for years to come.
A swimming pool or a large garden might be a pre-requisite: They both need a lot of work; to keep the pool clean and sparkling; and a lot of water is required to keep the garden. Maintenance requires time, effort and money. By adopting a greener living philosophy reduces the aforementioned multiple fold. Looking at purpose built eco-friendly homes thus becomes an attractive option.
Do eco-friendly homes require special maintenance?
Does green living features such as photovoltaic solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system require special maintenance with prohibitive costs? Although these are cutting-edge green technologies, they been designed to be simple and easy to maintain. Let’s look at each of the features typically found in eco-friendly homes and how much they cost to maintain:
- Photovoltaic solar panels
Photovoltaic solar panels are made of semiconductors, a material that absorbs energy from the sun and converts it into electric current to power appliances and devices in our homes. They’re a standard feature of eco-friendly homes and are often the first image that comes to mind when we hear the words ‘eco-friendly’. They help homeowners reduce their reliance on the grid for electricity.
While they look impressive, photovoltaic solar panels actually require very little maintenance. They’re built to last and to withstand hail and storms. Photovoltaic solar panels don’t have moving parts that rust or break. The only maintenance needed is cleaning.
Safety first! When working on the roof to clean the photovoltaic solar panels requires safety precautions.
Dirt, grime, bird droppings and debris block the sun from being absorbed efficiently by the panels. So cleaning is a key aspect of photovoltaic solar panel maintenance. Inspecting the photovoltaic solar panels periodically, around once per year. If they do need cleaning it’s as easy as using a garden hose to rinse off the worst of the dust and grime. If they need more attention, using a squeegee and some soapy water gives them a good clean. Then using a hose to rinse off the soapy water and they’ll be as good as new. This is an easy task for DIY enthusiasts. Or is easily done by a professional. Remember safety first!
Aside from a simple wash down, photovoltaic solar panels do not require any expensive, specialist maintenance.
- Rainwater harvesting tanks
Harvesting rainwater for use in the garden and home is an effective way to reduce our reliance on the municipal supply. Harvested rainwater reduces the use of municipal water over the year by around 60% and fits in with living green. Here are some preventative maintenance points to consider:
- Clear your roof and gutters
Remove leaves, debris and overhanging branches from the roof and gutters. That way, bird dropping won’t find their way into the tank and cause water discolouration, odours or bacterial growth.
Periodically check the inlet/s and outlet/s screens and filters for leaves and insects, any blockages and damage, and clean or repair the screens or filters. Some systems come with self-cleaning options.
Depending on the type of system, the pump needs regular checking to make sure it is working properly. Cleaning/replacing the filter is a necessity. This is another DIY job; by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check the first-flush diverters and rain-heads
Regularly clean and empty the first-flush diverters and rain-head. This is necessary to prevent roof debris, insects and plant particles from getting into the system. Certain systems do this automatically.
- Check for cracks, holes and gaps
With some tanks it is necessary to ensure they are structurally sound. Repairing any gaps or holes stops animals and insects from getting into the tank and reduces the risk of algae and bacteria infecting the system.
- Taking care of the water filters
If the tank is used to provide water to toilets and the washing machine, it will have a water filter. These filters generally need to be rinsed and where required replaced. This is another small maintenance job for the DIY enthusiast.
- Inspect the tank for accumulated sludge
Sludge will accumulate in the tank and needs to be checked and cleaned professionally.
For all the added value and savings rainwater harvesting tanks provide, the maintenance they require is minimal. Most eco-friendly houses install water tanks underground to save on space and maintenance costs. Because these tanks aren’t exposed there’s minimal chance for them to crack or leak.
Although heat pumps may not be the most eco-friendly option for some scenarios, they are incredibly efficient. This makes them a popular choice for eco-friendly houses. They require professional servicing twice per year.
A popular choice for eco-friendly houses; bamboo is a material that’s renewable, solid and durable. It looks beautiful and doesn’t need too much maintenance. And it’s not limited to countertops. Bamboo can be used as flooring, furniture and in construction.
A professionally installed bamboo countertop gives many years of pleasure. Here are some pointers to keep bamboo countertops looking as good as the day they were fitted:
- Wipe the surface down on a regular basis with a damp cloth and an all-purpose, non-abrasive cleaning product. Avoid ammonia based cleaners as this may damage the surface.
- Never use harsh chemicals or thinners based products on the countertop.
- Don’t chop anything directly on the surface. Bamboo is tough, but knives and other sharp instruments will damage them.
- If the surface is damaged, a light sanding and re-sealing should restore it to its previous condition.
- If the bamboo countertop is severely damaged, it can be repaired and re-sealed by a professional.
- Avoid putting hot pots and pans directly on the bamboo countertops. The heat will damage the surface.
Bamboo is a beautiful material that is very easy to care for. Looking after the bamboo countertops will avoid any expense repairs. In fact, as part of green living, it’s easy to make a natural cleaning solution to clean the countertops safely.
- Aluminium and stainless steel
You cannot speak of durable building materials without mentioning stainless steel and aluminium. Green living is focused on using quality materials that last well and don’t have to be replaced often. Both of these metals live up to that philosophy.
As both of these materials are so easy to maintain, it’s worth investing in a home that utilises them.
Used to construct the frame of eco-friendly homes, stainless steel is one of the recyclable materials in the world. Every year, millions of tonnes of stainless steel is recycled and used in a variety of construction projects. It’s is durable and strong and doesn’t rust. Stainless steel is a first choice for balustrades.
Aluminium window and door frames requires far less maintenance than wooden or steel frames. They don’t need to be painted or varnished and are easy to clean. When powdercoated almost no maintenance is required.
- Face brick and naturally coloured roof tiles
There are few building materials requiring as low maintenance as face brick. With no plaster and paint, big maintenance projects are not required to keep the outside of the home looking neat. Eco-friendly houses favour face brick because it’s a durable material that doesn’t need any special care.
And when combined with naturally coloured roof tiles, maintenance is reduced even more. Naturally coloured tiles never fade and stand up well to hail, wind and other harsh weather conditions. Making smarter choices is a key element of green living.
A water-wise garden cleverly landscaped and combined with indigenous plants and natural pest care saves time and money on maintenance. And requires very little water.
Greener living focuses on preserving resources and making our lives comfortable and efficient. A water-wise garden is the perfect example of this philosophy. Indigenous plants are well suited to the local environment and will thrive with little attention.
First-time home buyers get caught up in the excitement of house-hunting and don’t stop to consider the amount of effort and expense it takes to maintain a home. Being aware of the maintenance and costs, and of eco-friendly homes, creates more options. Green living and eco-friendly homes bring about benefits now and in the future as a green home increases in value and remains attractive to future buyers who recognise the benefits of living green.
More South Africans are starting to express an interest in living in eco-friendly homes. Once considered to be the preserve of the eco-conscious, more people are realising that green living has serious financial benefits. The same could be said about smart home automation systems. Although they’re not common in this country, as the technology develops, they are becoming more popular and have a number of benefits when used in green homes. In this article we’ll look at some of the ways smart home technology is used in eco-friendly houses.
Smart home automation for temperature control
The first thing to know about green homes is that they are properly insulated. Unlike traditional homes, green home developers understand that complete insulation makes it easier to manage the temperature inside the home. As the seasons change, homes that are well-insulated are easily adjusted to the temperature fluctuations. Insulation inside the walls, the floor and the ceiling, combined with double-glazing, in the winter keeps warm air from escaping and cold air from entering, and in summer, prevents cold air from escaping and hot air from entering.
In addition to insulation, many green homes use a Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system. This consists of a network of pipes connected to the hot water tank and the heat pump. Warm or cold water is pumped through the pipes to change the temperature in different rooms. It’s an energy-efficient system that provides consistent results. And has the ability to have different temperatures set for different rooms. That means concentrating on rooms which are occupied without using energy on rooms that aren’t occupied.
The pipes used in the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system are covered by a thick screed which acts as a conductor of the required temperature from the network of water pipes. The entire construction of the system is designed to be energy efficient. And this is only one area where smart home automation increases the energy-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the system.
Smart home automation systems make use of apps that are accessible via a smartphone or computer: To monitor, manage and adjust the temperature settings for each area in the home. This smart home automation system certainly is convenient to adjust the temperature, though it’s not the main thing about the smart technology.
The real advantage of the smart home system lies in the amount of information it gathers regarding the heating and cooling energy consumption. At a glance it’s possible to know how much energy the system is using to maintain the required temperatures, and enables taking immediate steps to reduce the electricity consumption by adjusting the temperature by a degree this way or that way, without sacrificing comfort. Over time, patterns and trends are available to budget accordingly. Or, adding new technologies to further reduce power consumption and measuring their effectiveness.
The system enables supporting a number of handy home automation systems, and is used most effectively to maximise energy-efficiency in the areas that use the most power. Installing smart technology infrastructure enables the monitoring and managing of the home’s power consumption, and even to improve the energy-efficiency.
Smart home automation for smart lighting solutions
A sensor in each room detects movement and automatically switches the lights on and off. While committed to greener living, this type of automation does make life more luxurious. When waking during the night no need to fumble for the light switch while on the way to the kitchen or bathroom. Who wouldn’t want to move about their home with lights turning on and off like magic?
Once again, the benefits of the system go far beyond making life more comfortable and convenient. Though lighting is one area that uses energy, it’s one of the modern conveniences that’s impossible to live without. And it’s one of the easiest places to save energy.
With a smart home automation system, no need to remember switching lights off when leaving the room. The sensor responds to motion, and does it automatically. Even saving a small amount of energy by switching off the lights in unoccupied rooms saves money. And as the cost of electricity increases, so will the savings.
Once again, the power consumption is visible with the smart home app. At any time, over days, weeks and months. This helps to budget for monthly running costs and enables bringing costs down. Green living is a balance between comfort, luxury, saving on running costs, lowering our carbon footprint, saving on resources, the environment and the planet.
Smart home automation to monitor your heat pump
Heating the water for daily needs takes a significant amount of energy. Once again, eco-friendly homes use energy-efficient heat pumps or solar water heaters to reduce the costs of heating water. Also available are linked-loop systems, so hot water is available within seconds of turning on a tap. It’s one of the ways green living is more luxurious than living in a traditional home. No need to wait for the water to heat up before stepping into the shower, or when washing hands in winter.
And that luxury all comes at a reduced cost. Heat pumps take the heat out of the air and use it to heat water using less electricity than a conventional geyser. In a green home the pipes are insulated which helps to maintain the temperature of the hot water [and cold water] and saves more electricity. As with any green home, every element has been designed to maximise energy-efficiency.
The power consumption of the heat pump is included in the data gathered by the smart home automation system. Not only does this make it easier for homeowners to get a clear picture of their energy usage, it is possible to adjust the temperature of the water via the smartphone app or computer.
Turning down the temperature for the hot water tank, even by a few degrees, makes a big difference to the monthly electricity bill. It’s never been convenient to climb into your roof simply for the sake of turning down the thermostat. In a green smart home, everything is straightforward and easy to access, simply make the adjustment on the smartphone or computer.
And because it’s possible to monitor the effects of temperature changes, tweaking the temperature to find balance and efficiency is easy. Living greener does not require giving up a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, it makes running a home easier, more cost-effective and even fun. Hot water is one of moderns life’s necessities, and now it’s possible to contain energy and costs. By combining green technology with smart home automation, it easy to maximise the heat pump’s energy-efficiency.
Smart home automation to monitor rainwater tank levels
Electricity isn’t the only precious resource used in our homes. Water is essential for daily cooking, cleaning and bathing. Given our current drought situation, saving every drop is a habit we’ll all benefit from. That’s why many green homes include rainwater harvesting tanks. Collecting rainwater which is used for garden irrigation, flushing the toilets and for the washing machine is the ideal way to reduce the strain on the municipal water supply, oh, and our pockets.
In urban areas, most of the rainwater is lost. That’s why it makes sense to collect and store rainwater wherever possible. Rainwater tanks can be installed underground. This saves space and extends the lifespan of the tank as it’s not exposed to the elements. It also means that the system requires little maintenance. Yet more proof that green living is convenient.
The rainwater tank is connected to the municipal supply, so should the level in the tank be used to the lower threshold, the system automatically switches over to the municipal water. With new rains it automatically switches back to rainwater usage. One of the benefits of harvesting rainwater is that it reduces the monthly water bill. Monitoring the rainwater tank levels is useful. That’s why a sensor is installed in the rainwater tank, feeding information to the smart technology system. Once again, the level and water usage is accessible via the smartphone app and the computer.
This information is captured continuously to observe the levels over the course of days, weeks, months and years. This is where the real advantage of combining a green feature with smart home technology really shows itself. This data makes it easy to identify patterns and trends. Although it’s difficult to predict rainfall, the data provides a clear picture of how much rainwater is used in and around the home over a period of time.
With this information it’s easy to budget accordingly, or take steps to reduce water usage. The more aware we are of how much water we use, the easier it becomes to find ways to reduce our consumption. And the added benefit of living in eco-friendly homes is that savings are made without giving up the things that make modern living convenient.
Green homes are built to use resources such as power and water efficiently. All the green features that make these eco-friendly homes efficient are monitored and managed by using smart home technology. It’s not only because smart home systems make it easier to adjust settings of the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system, or automating the lights to respond to motion. It’s because of the information you have available about the home without any extra effort, which in turn enables monitoring and managing such a home efficiently.
Information is power and when serious about living green, it makes sense to investigate adding smart home automation to a green home. It allows you to maximise the energy-efficiency of the home and gather valuable information that helps refine every element of their green designs. It’s clear that green smart homes are setting the standard for future home developments.
Environmentally friendly homes are not the norm in South Africa. Homeowners are however slowly realising that green homes are sound investments. They have significant advantages over traditional homes that will become important as the years go by. If you’re unaware or unconvinced that investing in eco-friendly homes is a wise move, here are some reasons why greener living is a smart move.
Eco-friendly homes have a longer lifespan
Would it surprise you to learn that green homes age better than traditional homes? That’s because eco-friendly building materials are tougher. For example, steel beams equip a home with a solid frame that is much stronger than wood. As a result, green homes can withstand high winds without damage. And steel beams aren’t at risk from rot or termites.
Even natural, sustainable construction materials are treated so that they last as long. In order to minimise waste, green living demands that every element of a home is used to maximum effect.
Green homes are healthier
Paints, adhesives, upholstery, carpets and other materials all emit Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) into your home environment. You may not be aware of it, that breathing in these dangerous chemicals can affect your health. They are responsible for a variety of conditions that range from mild to serious. One thing is certain; being exposed to these VOCs for long periods of time result in being more susceptible to illness.
On the other hand, green living focuses on using products that are non-toxic and not harmful to the environment or people. Low VOC paints, varnishes and adhesives are available and used in the construction of eco-friendly houses. Wooden flooring is an alternative to carpets. Even tiles made from recycled materials are available to ensure that green living principles are followed throughout the construction of a home.
The result is that green homes have a better air quality. And good air quality reduces risk of illness and allergies. It’s difficult to imagine that a home could be a source of becoming sick, though those living in eco-friendly homes know that being environmentally conscious makes a difference to their health.
Eco-friendly houses are more valuable
Should the time ever come to sell, green homes command more money. As the trend towards greener living gains popularity, buyers will be on the look-out for eco-friendly homes. Features such as photovoltaic solar panels, comprehensive insulation and a rainwater harvesting system make such homes attractive to eco-conscious buyers.
It’s these features that make green homes comfortable. Green living is about modern conveniences, about luxury living. Photovoltaic solar power and rainwater harvesting means efficient access and use of two important resources. Why be solely dependent on the grid for electricity when it’s easy to generate electricity. And the same with water, why be solely dependent on municipal water, when it’s easy to harvest rainwater.
When compared to traditional homes, taking the benefits of the aforementioned translated into monthly savings, and that green homes are fully temperature controlled throughout the year, and that the temperature of each zone is individually adjustable, it stands to reason that eco-friendly homes are valuable assets.
Green homes are cheaper to run
One of the noteworthy points of eco-friendly houses is their low running costs. Other points are their convenience and benefits to the environment. In fact, living green saves a substantial amount of money. In comprehensive tests, calculated savings of up to 65% can be achieved – that is – including the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling – registering better than optimal temperatures during the tests in summer and winter.
Harvesting rainwater reduces monthly water costs by as much as 60% averaged over the year. Installing a solar water heater reduces water usage slightly and saves electricity based on usage patterns. Using photovoltaic solar electricity to power a home reduces electricity costs by almost by 100%.
Even small actions result in big savings over time. For example, switching to Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) reduces electricity consumption immediately. Green living is about finding efficient ways to achieve things.
And with costs of basic services such as electricity, water and refuse removal continuously increasing, living in a green home makes solid economic sense.
Eco-friendly homes are attractive
Homes fitted with green technology is not unattractive. When building eco-friendly homes from scratch, designers and developers find ways to incorporate green features so they don’t stand out. Photovoltaic solar panels are indeed visible. And large rainwater harvesting tanks are usually installed underground and out of sight. It’s even possible that an eco-friendly home isn’t distinguishable unless told.
Very often, the natural materials used to decorate eco-friendly homes are as beautiful as traditional materials. Bamboo floors and countertops add a touch of luxury to any home. Recycled materials that have been re-purposed have a charm of their own. Finding eco-friendly tiles, paints or finishing’s to decorate interior spaces are easy to find. More suppliers are recognising the demand for green living alternatives.
All that is needed is educating about these choices and asking manufacturers the right questions. Take into account how products are sourced and handled and to decide whether they match green living principles.
Green homes keep working during shortages
There’s nothing worse than arriving home after a long day to discover a power or water outage. With a green home, this won’t be the case often. Even during rolling black-outs, cooking, having a hot shower and lighting the home continues. Investing in back-up batteries to store the power generated by the photovoltaic solar panels, though expensive, provides power when needed.
Likewise, rainwater harvesting tanks supply water as designed even when the municipal supply is turned off. Or, if water restrictions are instituted, rainwater is likely available from the previous rains for flushing the toilets and irrigation.
These are examples of how green living make life easier. Being self-sufficient enables the use of resources as implemented for the home. And reduces the impact of price increases for power and water. In a green smart home, it is easy to monitor and manage usage to retain basic comforts.
Eco-friendly homes are the future
The idea of building sustainable homes has already taken off in many parts of the world. Designers and builders are constantly coming up with innovative ways to build homes that work with the environment and use limited resources efficiently.
At the same time, more homeowners are becoming aware of how green living saves money. Swapping out old lightbulbs for more cost-efficient CFLs or buying a geyser blanket, is beneficial to our pockets and the environment. These are small aspects of being eco-friendly. Image implementing green features comprehensively.
If you’re in a position to buy a purpose-built eco-friendly home, don’t hesitate. It’s worth the investment. Not only will you save on your monthly costs, you’ll be investing in the future. An eco-friendly home is a home for life. You’re investing in a home that will last you well into your retirement, a home that you can leave to your children.
Green homes are better for the environment
It’s worth stating this advantage again. The benefits of eco-friendly homes extend well beyond the construction phase. As time goes on, green homes continue to reduce impact on the planet: Using less resources and releasing fewer toxins into the environment.
Although the full impact of current habits is yet to be felt, by adopting green living habits, we’re contributing to an improved environment. Few people appreciate how uncomfortable life would become if steps aren’t taken to stop pollution or reduce the consumption of precious resources.
Greener living doesn’t require much. It requires changing just a few habits, and we stand to benefit as much as the planet does. Being committed to leaving our children and grand-children with a bright future, we’ll need to take action, rather sooner than later.
As is evident, there are many reasons to invest in a green home. In the future, eco-friendly homes will be in demand. Be an early adopter. Start saving money and reducing your impact on the environment.
What to look for in a green home?
If you’ve already decided that your next home should be a green home, here are some features to look out for when you go house hunting:
One important feature of eco-friendly houses is how well they’re insulated. Retrofitting an existing home with ceiling insulation is not enough. An eco-friendly home will have:
- Ceiling insulation
- Floor insulation
- Exterior wall insulation
- Double-glazed windows
- Water pipe insulation
A home that is properly insulated will significantly reduce your cooling and heating costs. An underfloor Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system will eliminate your need for heaters and air-conditioners. You’ll be able to control the temperature in separate zones for maximum comfort all year round without using much electricity.
Being well insulated contributes to sound proofing the home.
- Rainwater harvesting tanks and a water-wise garden
All eco-friendly homes have some kind of rainwater harvesting system. Whether tanks are installed underground or above ground, a pump and filter enables using harvested rainwater inside and outside.
Combined with a garden that features indigenous plants, water usage is minimal. And the harvested rainwater is available to flush your toilets and supply the washing machine.
- Heat pump or solar geyser
Both options provide you with hot water. Not only does this make eco-friendly homes more comfortable and convenient, it saves on water and electricity. With a linked-loop system, hot water is immediately on tap, reducing the need to run the water until it reaches the right temperature.
- Photovoltaic solar panels and backup batteries
For the full green living experience, include photovoltaic electricity. Reducing dependence on the grid provides massive savings on monthly bills. Backup batteries ensure that electricity is available during the evening when the sun is down.
Bamboo countertops, reclaimed wooden floors and tiles and efficient use of building materials are all features of eco-friendly homes. The environmental impact of every material used in the home needs to be investigated. It’s the only way to ensure that building a green home creates the least possible impact on the environment.
Speak to the builders and designers and ask them about the various features they include in their eco-friendly houses. Work out how much you can save by living in a green home and compare it to the cost of living in a traditional home. You’ll discover how well-designed and efficient they are. Once you understand how greener living can make a difference to your life, you’ll realise that buying an eco-friendly home will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
Temperatures are beginning to rise which means summer is on its way. With the warmer weather, you may be planning to spend more time outdoors, enjoying the heat. Along with the longer days, comes the prospect of thunderstorms. While a sudden shower would delay your outdoor activities, it presents the opportunity to adopt a greener living habit—harvesting rainwater.
Last summer water restrictions were put in place as South Africa was in the grip of a drought. Many communities were forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and organisations to supply them with clean water for drinking and cooking. Harvesting rainwater reduces the demand on the municipal supply and supplements your need on municipal water.
What are the benefits of harvesting rainwater?
Installing a rainwater harvesting tank on your property makes a significant difference to you, your community and the planet. Greener living really does benefit everyone.
The water collected in a rainwater harvesting tank is available to flush your toilets, water your garden, wash your car and in your washing machine. Although it’s not fit for human consumption unless you filter it first, using rainwater for general purpose cleaning and irrigation reduces your reliance over the year on mains water by up to 60% and thus cut your water bill accordingly.
- Minimises the impact on local storm water infrastructure
During the thunderstorm season, it’s not unusual to see rivers of water flowing down your street and into storm water drains. That’s because our paved and tarred areas don’t allow for the rainwater to be absorbed back into the ground.
The excess water places a strain on the drainage system and increases the chances of flooding. By harvesting rainwater and releasing it back into the natural water course, this helps minimise the strain on your local municipality.
Harvesting rainwater achieves several green living principles. You’re saving potable water which is a valuable resource. That makes water available to other communities who need it. At the same time, you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Water has to be pumped around to the cities and towns where it’s needed which means it uses electricity. By harvesting rainwater, you reduce the amount of power used to supply your home with potable water.
With all of these benefits, it’s no surprise that eco-friendly homes incorporate rainwater harvesting tanks into their designs. Rainwater harvesting makes a definite contribution to the planet, saves homeowners on their monthly utility costs and stretches water supply, though marginally, even during times of drought.
If you’re keen to make rainwater harvesting a part of your lifestyle, you have two choices. You can either buy one of the eco-friendly homes currently on the market or install a rainwater collecting tank on your existing property. Let’s take a closer look at these two options.
Rainwater harvesting and eco-friendly houses
The trend towards green living is growing in South Africa. More and more developers are aware that homeowners are looking for properties that are cheaper to run and kinder to the environment. Eco-friendly houses typically include several green features that achieve this.
Photovoltaic solar panels and insulation keep energy costs down. Underground rainwater harvesting tanks ensure a supplemented supply of water. Eco-friendly building materials reduce environmental impact. Eco-friendly homes require less maintenance, cost less to run and provide families with a healthy and comfortable lifestyle.
Eco-friendly houses are more expensive than traditional homes. And with the money you save on maintenance and running costs, it’s possible to recoup your initial investment within a few years.
Buying a rainwater tank for your home
You don’t have to buy an eco-friendly house if you want to harvest rainwater. It is possible to retrofit your existing property with a tank, and it is affordable. Here are some things to consider if you want to buy a rainwater harvesting tank and start living green.
How to choose a water tank
It’s more efficient to have one large water tank rather than several smaller ones. Determining the size of the rainwater tank that will provide for your needs depends on the rainfall in your area and the size of your collection area (roof size).
- Calculating the collection area
A general rule of thumb is that 1mm of rain falling on 1m2 will deliver 1 litre of water to your tank. Measure the size of your roof and you’ll have an idea of how much rainwater you’ll harvest.
- Working out the size of the tank you need
How much water does your household need? Think about how many people live on the property and what you’ll do with the rainwater you harvest. Rainwater tanks come in many sizes – broadly classified as follows:
- Small tanks hold less than 2000 litres
- Medium tanks hold between 2000 and 10000 litres
- Large tanks hold more than 10 000 litres
Don’t forget to take your local climate conditions into account. In South Africa, different regions get most of their rain either in winter or summer. If the rainwater you collect will be used to flush your toilets or feed your washing machine, then you’ll want a rainwater system that automatically switches over to the municipal supply when the tank drops below its threshold. Research green living ideas to help reduce your household water usage.
- The best place for your tank
When you’ve worked out the size of the tank you need, you’ll need a place to install it. Underground water tanks are common in purpose-built eco-friendly houses. That’s because underground water tanks take up less space, last longer and produce a better quality of water. Subsoil conditions would need to be ideal if you want to install your water tank below ground.
Above ground water tanks are easier to fit, they’re exposed to the elements which affect their lifespan. Place your rainwater tank to best use gravity so water flows into the tank. If this is not possible, then a pump is required to push the water to the tank.
You should try to place your rainwater harvesting tank under some form of shelter such trees or a roof. By limiting its exposure to sunlight, you’ll reduce the temperature fluctuation and extend the life of the tank.
- Choosing the right material for your water tank
Water tanks are made from a wide variety of materials. Light shouldn’t enter the water tank so prevent algae. Choose a water tank made from solid, opaque material.
Polyethylene water tanks
Polyethylene is a tough plastic used to make water tanks of varying sizes and colours. They’re affordable and attractive which makes them ideal for use in existing gardens. If the polyethylene is reinforced, the tank is made for underground installation. Though the material itself doesn’t conform to green living principles, it is used in a way that benefits the environment overall.
Although they are robust and require little maintenance, the material is susceptible to UV damage when exposed to the sun for long periods which means they’ll need replacing at some point. If the tank is painted appropriately or installed under some form of shelter, its life is extend. It’s worth paying a little more for a high-quality polyethylene as these tanks have built-in UV protection.
Fibreglass water tanks
More expensive than plastic tanks, fibreglass water tanks are not easy to find in South Africa. They require precise installation because they cannot tolerate any soil movement.
Galvanised steel water tanks
Steel water tanks are better suited to greener living commercial applications. They hold more water than plastic tanks. They are prone to rust, so if potable water is required, the tanks need to be lined with a membrane.
Concrete water tanks
Concrete water tanks could last u a lifetime. They’re durable but expensive. They provide the best storage conditions for rainwater. Concrete neutralises the slight acidity of rainwater which improves its quality. It’s not biodegradable, so not a good choice for those who want to follow green living principles.
The disadvantage of using concrete water tanks is cracking and leaking. Before installing a concrete water tank underground, best to consult civil and geotechnical engineers. The soil conditions need to be suitable and the installation perfect to decrease the risk of cracking. These tanks need to be waterproofed to reduce the risk of leaking.
Pre-manufactured concrete water tanks are available too. They come in sections for quick and easy installation underground in modules to provide for required volumes.
Protecting your rainwater supply pipes
Pipes installed underground need to be of the appropriate code and specification and require additional protection against heavy vehicles. Pipes above ground require support or they will crack and break when filled with water. Paint appropriately to protect them from sun damage. Or pipes with built-in UV protection are best suited.
Installing an overflow pipe takes excess water to natural light. Water tanks overflow several times a year so the water flow needs to be correctly designed. Uncontrolled overflow could cause unwanted damage.
Adding a pump to your rainwater tank
Your rainwater tank will need a pump to help you achieve the right water pressure. A water tank installed 2m above the tap and filled with 2m of water will only produce a discharge pressure of 40kPa. Normal household water pressure ranges from 250kPa to 400kPa. So your rainwater tank needs a pump to help achieve the required water pressure.
Cleaning and maintenance
Rainwater tanks need a screen to stop debris and organic matter such as leaves and bird droppings from contaminating water supply. A first-flush device is recommended for diverting the first rainfall after a dry season away from the tank. The collection area needs to be clear of leaves and debris.
Tanks require inspecting for an accumulation of sludge at least every 2-3 years. This requires emptying and rinsing completely if necessary. Professionals could be used to clean tanks and make sure that the water supply is correct.
Depending on the rainfall in your area, it is possible to harvest rainwater for various needs. When harvesting rainwater, you realise how green living supplements your water needs. Using water wisely is one feature of eco-friendly living. Whether living in an eco-friendly home or implementing this feature at a conventional house, goes to show, anyone can enjoy the benefits of harvesting rainwater, financial and otherwise.
Your garden is the ideal place to start practicing greener living. Working in your garden is satisfying. Whether you grow prize roses, or vegetables to feed your family, sustainable gardening makes your efforts more rewarding. With a focus on preserving the soil and using resources wisely, eco-friendly gardening is cost-effective and easy to do. Here are some sustainable gardening principles you can start using in your garden right now.
Eco-friendly homes take advantage of available resources and make the most of them. Recycle your food scraps, used coffee grounds, vegetable peeling and plant cuttings. By making your own compost you’re able to fertilise your garden for free. And you’ll provide your plants with a rich source of nutrients. Composting is a perfect example of green living.
To make your own composter, start by picking out a shady spot in your garden. Your compost heap should be larger than a cubic metre, but smaller than 5 cubic metres. The compost heap should be large enough to generate sufficient heat to break down the material.
Start with a layer of course material such as thin sticks or twigs. Then add a mixture of grass clipping and green and dried leaves. Then add some soil. You can also add manure to your compost heap, make sure it’s well-rotted. You don’t want to be inundated with flies or a subject your neighbours to the potent smell. Keep adding more layers to your heap in this order until it’s a about a metre high. Over time, the material will turn to compost.
These are typical items you’re able to add to your compost heap:
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
- Egg shells
- Lawn cuttings
- Nut shells
- Cardboard and eggs cartons
Composting ticks two greener living habits off your checklist in one go. You end up sending less waste to the landfill, and you recycle organic materials at the same time. A third is, you feed your garden without it costing anything.
Any gardener knows that a beautiful garden needs water. This is one of our most precious resources. When experiencing a drought, harvesting rainwater is the ideal way to start living green. A sound investment in the future.
Rainwater is used for watering your garden, washing your car and even flushing your toilets. It’s not suitable for human consumption unless you filter it, using rainwater for general purpose jobs reduces the strain on the municipal supply. And, you’ll save money on your water bill at the same time.
While purpose-built eco-friendly homes have water tanks installed below ground, with existing homes if not possible to install underground, they are easily installed above ground. You’ll need to take into account how much water you need, the collection area of your roof and the rainfall pattern in your area to determine what size water tank you need. Water tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you’re bound to find one that works best for your garden.
If you haven’t got the room for a water tank, there are other ways to keep your plants hydrated the green living way:
- Use mulch and ground cover to prevent water from evaporating.
- Create raised beds to collect water and let it soak into the ground.
- Use a watering can to water your garden instead of a hose pipe. That way you’ll use less water.
- Swap your direct irrigation system for a drip irrigation system. This is an efficient way of watering your plants.
Using water wisely is the cornerstone of greener living. Water tanks are a great addition to eco-friendly homes. And in times of drought and water restrictions, you’ll prolong your supply of water to keep your garden blooming.
Choose native plants that are hardy and drought resistant. Not only do they contribute to greener living, they require less maintenance. You’ll spend less time working on your garden, and more time enjoying it.
Native plants are well-adapted to local conditions so they don’t need as much water as foreign species. Indigenous trees, shrubs and flowers are more resistant to local pests and diseases. When planting trees consider their position and type to reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs.
Evergreen trees are green all year round so use them to form a windbreak and protect your home from chilly winds in winter. In summer, they’ll keep your home cool and comfortable. While deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter making them ideal for protecting the areas of your home that get the full sun in summer. Come winter, when the leaves fall off to let the sun in to warm the room.
Using plants to control the temperature of your home means you won’t have to rely as much on air-conditioners and heaters. If you adopt this green living trick you can make your home more comfortable and save on electricity. These natural methods are something that eco-friendly houses incorporate into their design from the start. And there’s no reason why you can’t do the same in your garden.
- Controlling pests organically
Gardens attract insects and while eco-friendly gardeners recognise that some are beneficial, others are just pests. There’s no need to abandon your green living principles with them. From home-made insecticides to encouraging natural predators, there are organic ways to stop pests from ruining your garden:
- Natural solutions: Save your eggshells from breakfast, crush them up and spread them around the base of your plants. That will keep slugs and cut worms away. Sprinkle salt around on the soil to stop snails from taking over. Don’t go overboard though, too much salt in the soil isn’t good for your plants.
- Clean and tidy: Pests prefer untidy gardens. It gives them the chance to settle in and start breeding. So keep your lawn manicured and your beds tidy. Remove fruits and vegetables before they start rotting and become a food source for pests; and good for the compost heap.
- Install barriers. Physical barriers such as mesh and nets protect plants from pests. Loosely woven material protects plants while they get enough water and sunlight to grow.
- Insect-repelling plants. Citronella, marigolds, thyme, lemongrass and spearmint are all plants with insect-repelling properties. When planted in-between your shrubs they naturally repel pests – no need for chemicals.
- Encourage birds. Hanging a feeder gets birds to visit your garden. Birds are fond of snacking on bugs and will help control the pest population in your garden. Lizards and frogs are another natural form of pest control.
Save on expensive and damaging chemicals and use natural, greener living methods to manage pests in your garden. You’ll discover that once you start working with nature, you’ll achieve the results you want with less effort, and costs.
- Old-fashioned garden maintenance
To maintain a garden you rely on a number of tools to keep it looking tidy. Lawn mowers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers are an essential part of any gardener’s kit. Where possible, choose electric-powered equipment. You could invest in cordless tools to make your job easier.
Electric-powered lawn equipment creates less noise and air pollution than the gas-powered models. Electricity is also cheaper than fuel and another way of saving on costs of keeping your garden in tip-top shape. Alternatively, using a traditional push mower and get a workout while attending to your garden.
An alternative to leaf-blowers, is sweeping the driveways and sidewalks the old-fashioned way – and getting in a workout. Though it may take longer, it saves on fuel and noise pollution. Green living, though by working differently, saves costs in various ways.
And did you know that using a hoe to cultivate between your plants suppresses weeds and aerates the soil? Spending a few minutes in your garden every day and pulling weeds, by hand contains weeds and they won’t spread get out of control. Ten minutes daily beats hours of weeding once a month.
Working in your garden is as good for the garden as for your soul. By returning to greener living practices you re-discover the joy of spending time in nature.
- Designing eco-friendly gardens
Eco-friendly homes with eco-friendly gardens is a balanced eco-system. Compliment the indoors and outdoors, by following greener living through to your outdoor spaces too. Whether working with an existing garden, or starting one from scratch using these tips create a garden that’s eco-friendly:
- Recycle materials. If you want to build a deck or a patio, use recycled materials or a material that can be recycled such as wood or aluminium. Some manufacturers offer you a composite material made from a combination of plastic and wood particles. This type of decking is fade-resistant and easy to clean. It requires little maintenance and looks attractive.
- Plan your planting. Learn about native plants to make your garden attractive. The local nursery is able to help pick out indigenous plants that are ideal for our gardens. Native plants will help you to cut down on water usage, repel local pests. Have a beautiful garden. Use a combination of sun-loving and shade-loving plants appropriately. The more you know about the plants you want to use, the better your landscaping.
- Limit your lawn area. Lawns require frequently watering and care to keep them looking at their best. Consider whether you need a large lawn and if you don’t, experiment with other kinds or ground covers that don’t need as much water or maintenance. Natural grasses are just as attractive and are suited to droughts and our particular weather conditions.
- Make maintenance easy: Designing your garden in way that makes it easy to look after. Remember that green living is convenience. If you want to harvest rainwater for use in your garden, or start a composting heap, set aside space for these projects. Incorporate them from the start and make them part of your garden. Reduce the need for gas-guzzling or power-sapping garden tools. Working on your garden is a pleasure when approaching it differently.
When adopting green living gardening principles, changes the way you see your garden. Eco-friendly homes are about convenience, saving costs and being environmentally friendly. Everyone benefits when becoming mindful of how resources are used. Explore ways that you’ll enjoy and start a small project putting your ideas into practice.
Are you getting bored with your winter wardrobe? Tired of having hearty winter stews and soups for dinner every night? Well, it won’t be long before you’re complaining about the heat and searching for ways to cool down. This summer, instead of turning on the air-conditioner for instant relief from the heat, try some of these green living tricks instead.
- Keep your curtains and blinds closed.
Did you know that up to 30% of unwanted heat comes from your windows? If you keep your blinds and curtains closed, you can stop the heat coming in and turning your home into a mini-greenhouse. It’s a simple tip that can lower the indoor temperature by a few degrees.
- Make an eco-friendly air-conditioner.
Just because you decided to try living green doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Fans don’t use as much electricity as air-conditioners, so try this handy tip. Fill a mixing bowl with ice (you could also us an ice-pack) and position it at an angle in front of your fan. When you switch the fan on, you’ll be hit with a blast of super-cooled air. It works like a charm!
This is essential for hot summer nights when you’re battling to fall asleep. Open windows on opposite sides of your room, or house to let the cool air flow through. As the earth cools down during the night, the air gets cooler too. With a gentle breeze wafting over you as you drift off, you’ll drop off in no time.
- Sleep on a buckwheat pillow.
Another tip to help you get a good night’s sleep in the hot summer months is to invest in a buckwheat pillow. Unlike synthetic fibres, buckwheat hulls allow the air to flow through the pillow. They don’t trap your body heat and you won’t wake up with a sweaty head in the morning.
- Set your ceiling fan to rotate counter-clockwise.
You don’t have to abandon all your creature comforts for the sake of greener living. Make the most of your ceiling fan by adjusting it every season to achieve the effect you want. By setting the blades to rotate counter-clockwise in summer, warm air that accumulates near the ceiling will be blown away. You’ll have the benefit of cooling breeze to help you beat the heat.
It’s easier to lower your body temperature than trying to cool your whole house. So keep a supply of ice-cold drinks, ice lollies and cold cloths on hand. Add ice to your drinks and dress in loose-fitting, cotton clothes. Water helps you regulate your body temperature, so keep hydrated.
- Turn on your bathroom fan.
By pulling the hot air out of your bathroom after a steamy bath or shower, you can stop that heat from seeping out into the rest of your home. The exhaust fan in your kitchen is used the same way.
- Change your incandescent bulbs for CFLs.
Incandescent bulbs are energy hungry and spill almost 90% of their energy in the form of heat. On the other hand, CFLs use less power to generate light and they don’t spill as much energy. You’ll be saving money and living greener if you make the switch.
South Africans need little encouragement to heed this suggestion. When using your oven it sends the temperature in your kitchen soaring. Make a fire outside and enjoy some al fresco dining in your garden. A different way to enjoy a beautiful summer’s evening?
- Experiment with no-cook recipes.
If you really want to save electricity, money and keep your home cool, try out some no-cook recipes. There are plenty of tasty dishes to concoct without ever turning your oven on. If you’re rather cook, how about using a slow cooker. Prepare your meal in the morning and return to a delicious meal at night without the heat.
These little tips helps beat the heat. And if you’re prepared to spend a bit of time and money, there are some bigger projects to cool your house down for the many summers to come.
How to heat-proof your entire home for summer
Eco-friendly houses use green technology to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. Before the foundation is laid, carefully planning ensures that the house is orientated correctly. In the Southern Hemisphere, homes that face north are naturally cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The orientation of the house makes the most of the natural sunlight that falls as the earth rotates.
And eco-friendly homes are insulated. Insulation prevents warm air escaping in winter and hot air from entering the home in summer. To help maintain an even temperature indoors, a Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system is ideal. It uses little energy and allows for the management of individual temperature zones. Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling systems comprise of a network of pipes to pump warm and cool water under the floor. That means walking bare feet on a tiled floor in the middle of winter without discomfort.
With this technology, eco-friendly houses are expensive. Though you recoup your costs with excellent savings on electricity, water and maintenance. If you’re not ready to invest in an eco-friendly home, there are some things you can do to embrace greener living and keep your home cool.
It’s one of the best investments you can make. Use an environmentally-friendly material. Reap the benefits of ceiling insulation. It makes your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter. You’ll save electricity and have a comfortable indoor environment to enjoy for years.
- Insulate the rest of your home.
Take a weekend, grab some caulk and weather stripping and set to work patching up gaps in your window and door frames. You’d be surprised what a difference it will make to the temperature in your home throughout the year.
- Get a blanket for your geyser.
By insulating your geyser you’ll stop the heat it radiates from escaping into your home. And, your geyser will be more energy efficient so you’ll save on electricity every month. Another financial benefits of living green.
- Add awnings to your windows.
Not only do awnings make your home attractive to potential buyers, they’ll also stop the sun from shining right into the room in summer. Cooling and attractive, awnings are a great additional to your arsenal to contain high temperatures.
What could be a better example of green living than planting some carbon-dioxide loving shrubbery? And if you plant them in the right place, you’ll keep your home cooler too. Planting just three trees in strategic positions helps reduce your heating and cooling costs. Place them in front of windows that get the sun in summer, or use them as wind breaks to protect your home from icy wind in winter.
- Paint your roof a light colour.
A light coloured roof reflects the heat of the sun and reduces the temperature inside your home. You could also paint your terrace in a lighter colour to increase the effect.
- Go for double-glazed windows.
Double-glazing refers to a window made of two panes of glass with a space in-between. This space could be filled with gas, or left empty. Double-glazed windows help to insulate your home. As with other forms of insulation, these types of windows help keep eco-friendly homes cool in summer and warm in winter.
- Install a solar attic fan.
As the name implies, these fans run on solar energy which makes them perfect for living green. They run quietly, require virtually no maintenance and help to cool your home down. Plus, they’re not that difficult to install.
Add a roof vent to help with the airflow and reduce the amount of heat that accumulates in your ceiling space. You could have a go at installing it yourself to save money.
Implementing one or more of these tips will go a long way to make your home cooler in summer without adding to your carbon footprint. Living green does not mean you have to sacrifice modern conveniences. It’s about thinking differently to benefit your quality of life while saving.
Turning traditional homes into eco-friendly homes does require spending quite a bit of money. However, the expenses are recouped via savings on future running costs and maintenance. You’ll discover there are other benefits when adopting eco-friendly habits.
News of another hike in the electricity price may cause you concern. The increasing cost of living has prompted South Africans all over the country to look for alternative ways to meet their demands for energy. Heating water for your daily needs accounts for nearly 40% of your total electricity bill. A solar water heater or heat pump could slash costs and bring your monthly expenses down. Well how do you choose between a solar geyser and a heat pump? Which of these two options would save you the most on your electricity bill?
Understanding your options
Before you delve into the pros and cons of each one, here’s how they work. Of course either would be suitable for greener living.
A solar geyser consists of two elements: the solar collector and the tank. Solar panels are arranged on the roof of an eco-friendly home in a position where they are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight. The collector itself comes in two different variations. Flat plate collectors are made up of hot water pipes that run through shallow metal boxes coated with thick black glass. The glass collects and traps the heat, transferring the water in the pipes which feed into your tank.
Evacuated tubes are a bit more complicated. They have the appearance of fluorescent lights, and are empty (hence ‘evacuated’). The heat they collect is redirected to a manifold at one end that contains water or another fluid which carries the heat to the hot water tank. They are more efficient than flat plate collectors because they don’t allow the heat to escape. That improved efficiency comes at a higher cost.
The hot water tank or ‘geyser’ is where warm water is stored. It may be fitted alongside the collector on top of your roof. For aesthetic reasons, you may not want this so the tank can be placed inside your roof instead. You don’t have to sacrifice style for the sake of living green.
A heat exchanger is a separate circuit that transfers the heat collected from the solar panels to the water that you use in your kitchen or bathroom. It takes the form of a giant copper coil in the tank. The water in the tank is heated up and the cooled water (or fluid) is returned to the collector to start the process all over again.
A pump helps to circulate the water between the collector and the water tank. And finally, there’s the control switch. Although our South Africa climate is sunny, there are odd days when it’s overcast and the last thing you want is to let cold water into your tank. In which case, you can turn the system off completely or switch over to your municipal power supply. It’s a simple system that works well in South Africa due to the fact that we average about 3000 hours of sunshine per year.
Heat pumps work off ambient air temperature and not direct sunlight. They use a small amount of electricity to transfer heat from one place to another. You have probably heard of heat pumps being described as an air-conditioner in reverse. And that’s exactly how they work.
A heat pump is about the same size as an air-conditioning unit and is mounted outside the house where it can come into contact with freely circulating air. A fan draws hot air into the heat pump and passes it over a refrigerant. The refrigerant boils and evaporates at low temperatures allowing it to heat up a condenser coil which in turn, heats the water in the tank. Warm water flows out to your taps and cold water fills up the tank again as the process continues.
Unlike a solar geyser, a heat pump does need electricity to work. The difference is that it requires substantially less electricity than your regular geyser. Remember, all it does is move heat from one area to another, it doesn’t generate heat. Think of this way, if a geyser uses three units of electrical energy to produce three units of heat energy, a heat pump converts one unit of electricity into four units of heat energy. Heat pumps are proof that greener living is possible without sacrificing convenience.
Now that you have some idea of how both solar geysers and heat pumps work, let’s move on to the specific advantages and disadvantages of each system.
The pros and cons of solar geysers
On paper, a solar geyser sounds like the ultimate solution to our need for affordable power for everyone. As a green living feature it would enable us to simultaneously provide more people with access to a reliable supply and reduce our consumption of polluting fossil fuels. Now, when it comes to your personal situation there are some things you should take into account.
- Free hot water: With a solar geyser it costs you absolutely nothing to heat water for your daily use. The massive savings you’ll enjoy every month are reason enough to consider installing a solar water heater. And you’ll save more as the price of electricity rises. Residents of eco-friendly houses enjoy even greater cost savings with solar power.
- Constant and reliable supply:You’ll never have to worry about load shedding or power cuts affecting your supply of hot water. When the grid goes down, you won’t be affected.
- Renewable source of energy: The energy from the sun is an endless source of power that you can harness. Unlike coal and gas, there is no danger that the sun will stop producing energy we can use.
- Non- polluting:Solar energy doesn’t produce any pollution. It’s the cleanest form of energy available. If you’re serious about green living, think how much a solar geyser would reduce your carbon footprint.
- Low maintenance:Solar panels don’t have any moving parts so they’re unlikely to break or wear down even after years of use. They will easily last you 15 – 20 years. With continuous use, only the pump and inverter may need some attention after 10 – 15 years.
- Cost: Solar geysers are expensive. Aside from the cost of the technology you’ll have to factor in the cost of possibly altering your roof to accommodate the unit. It may not even be possible to retrofit an existing home with a solar geyser in which case you’ll have to consider buying a one of the purpose built eco-friendly houses if you want to pursue greener living.
- Backup: Your solar water geyser may not be able to provide you with sufficient hot water during winter. In this case, you’ll have to ensure that you can still run your geyser on electricity when you need to.
- Time:The less sunlight your area receives, the longer it will take for you to recoup the costs of installing a solar geyser.
- Space: Your roof should be large enough to accommodate both the solar collector and the tank. If your roof is too small, you may not be able to fit a solar collector large enough to provide for your needs.
What to consider before opting for a solar geyser:
- Do you have the space?Solar collectors should be placed facing north at an angle of 35° to collect enough sunlight to heat your water sufficiently.
- When do you need hot water the most? A solar geyser will produce most of its hot water during the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- How much water do you need? A family of four will need more hot water per day than a retired couple. Work out your water consumption and figure out what size tank you’ll need to meet your requirements.
- How much sunlight does your roof get?If you live in an area that experiences more overcast and rainy days than sunny ones, a solar geyser may not be a practical choice.
- Will it detract from the appearance of your property? Solar geysers are sometimes considered unsightly. If you think that installing one would affect the look and style of your property you should consider alternative solutions.
The pros and cons of heat pumps
Heat pumps may not be as eco-friendly as solar geysers though they are energy efficient. They don’t need sunlight to work which means you’ll never go a day without hot water on tap. If you want to start living green and save money, a heat pump is ideal.
- Tank size: You can choose a tank that holds the volume of water required by your household with no restrictions.
- Wide temperature range:Heat pumps can work just as well on rainy and cloudy days, even at night. The operate efficiently in a temperature range from -10°c – 43°C regardless of the amount of sunshine available.
- Easy installation: You can install a heat pump indoors or outdoors. Unlike solar water geysers with solar collectors, that are fixed to your roof. And modern units can be controlled remotely.
- Long lifespan: A heat pump can work for 15 years or more provided you take proper care of it.
- Low maintenance: Your heat pump won’t require much attention and there are many small things you can do yourself to ensure the unit runs smoothly and efficiently.
- Cost: Heat pumps are not as expensive as solar geysers, though they aren’t cheap. You’ll need to work out how much hot water your household uses to determine the size of the tank you need. With the savings on your monthly electricity costs, you should be able to recoup your investment within a few years. It may take some time before you experience all the benefits of living green, it’s worth it though.
- Professional installation: You need technical expertise and specialised tools to install a heat pump. Unless you have the skills, you’ll need to get a professional electrician, thus adding to the costs.
What to consider before opting for a heat pump:
- What is your average air temperature?Heat pumps should not be installed where the average ambient air temperature is 5 degrees or below. Fortunately, this is rarely a problem in our mild climate. You may experience problems in winter when the temperature drops and the air cools down.
- Do you have space?Heat pumps cannot be installed in confined spaces such as garages. You’ll have to install your heat pump outside or in an open area where it can get the air flow it needs to work.
- Do you want to go off the grid?Heat pumps need electricity to work. Combining your heat pump with a photovoltaic system is ideal and are the first steps to go off the grid.
- Can you put it close to your hot water tank?By installing your heat pump near your hot water tank, you can reduce the heat loss that occurs as water travels through the pipes to the tank. If you aren’t able to do this, merely insulate the pipes.
It is possible to embrace green living and save on your electricity costs. Heat pumps and solar geysers are a good alternative for eco-friendly homes. You get to live a convenient lifestyle while reducing your costs and carbon footprint. Consider your needs before deciding on a solar geyser or a heat pump for your home.
Is there really a need for double-glazed windows and doors in South African homes? Our weather can hardly be compared to that of colder climates where this is an essential feature. And yet, there are more benefits to installing this type of window and door in our homes than we might realise.
Such windows and doors are a popular feature on green homes. That’s because they contribute to the overall energy efficiency of a home. And with the rising cost of electricity, more home buyers are looking for features that reduce heating and cooling bills. Whether looking to buy a new home or thinking about retrofitting an existing home, here’s what we need to know about double-glazing.
What are double-glazed windows and doors?
It is simply a window or door made up of two layers of glass with a gap between them. This gap is usually filled with air, although in some cases it may be filled with Argon or Xenon gas. The two panes of glass are separated with an aluminium spacer and the unit is sealed with silicon. A secondary coating of silicon or bitumen is applied to ensure the glass is completely waterproof.
The air trapped between the two panes of glass acts as a layer of insulation. This makes it more difficult for the cold air outside to pass through the glass and into the home, and vice versa with warm air. This is what makes double-glazed windows and doors more energy efficient.
How energy efficient is double-glazed windows and doors?
Single-pane glass accounts for as much as 40% of the energy lost in a home. Double-glazed windows and doors reduce this figure by as much as 50%. In the winter, double-glazed windows and doors reduce and regulate thermal loss from the inside. While in the summer they prevent solar heat from entering our home from the outside. That means our home will be warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
The use of dehydrated air to fill the cavity between the two panes of glass is what makes these windows and doors so effective at retaining warmth. Heat is normally lost as warm air molecules move from the inside of a window pane to the outside, where it’s colder. Because the molecules of dehydrated air are less mobile than normal air molecules, the heat loss is a much slower process, the same, though in reverse, with cool air in the summer.
What are the other benefits of double-glazed windows and doors?
Not only do double-glazed windows and doors help save energy and cut down on heating and cooling bills—they have many other benefits worth mentioning such as:
- Reducing noise pollution: Double-glazing helps reduce the amount of noise that may enter our home from outside. This makes them ideal for homes located next to busy roads or even in windy areas. They also help soundproof our home from the inside out.
- Draught proofing: Double-glazed windows and doors are well-sealed and fitted which means that little air gets through. Even in areas with high wind, the all-round rubber seal stops any icy draughts from finding their way into the home.
- Reduced condensation: Because heat is reflected back into the room, and the inside pane is warmer, there’s less chance of condensation forming on double-glazed windows and doors. This means there’s less chance of mold and mildew developing in the bathroom or kitchen.
- Added security: Two panes of glass are much harder to break so double-glazed windows and doors act as deterrent to intruders. It’s not only the thickness of the window; it’s also the composition that makes it difficult to smash this type of window and door.
Double-glazed windows and doors let in just as much light as regular glass, with added benefits. Why would we want regular glass when we could have something that functions just the same, though makes our home safe, quieter and retains the interior temperature; warmth in winter and cooler in summer?
What to be aware of when installing double-glazing
There are a few things to bear in mind when considering double-glazing. While many green homes include them as a standard feature, retrofitting them requires some consideration. This is what to look out for:
- The right kind of window and door frame: Bear in mind that frames affect the insulation properties of double-glazing by up to 30%. It’s worth spending the money for high quality frames. Timber frames are a popular choice for their aesthetics. Timber requires some maintenance, and especially when double-glazing is fitted.However, aluminium frames require little maintenance. With these frames we need to consider the thermal break. This is a plastic or resin section in the centre of the aluminium joinery made from an insulating material such as uPVC or wood. This type of frame is less likely to attract condensation and will lose less heat than a standard aluminium frame.
- Low-emissivity (low-E) glass: It’s worth ensuring that the double-glazed windows and doors use this kind of glass because it cuts heat or cooling loss by about 10% more than those with regular glass.
- Multiple layers that are well sealed: It is essential that the double-glazing is perfectly sealed. This way they will keep out draughts, moisture and noise effectively. Also ensure that the joint between the frame and the window is well sealed.
- Spacers made from plastic or stainless steel: This refers to the spacers used to separate the two panes of glass in the window or door. When made from plastic or stainless steel (as opposed to aluminium) they aid in reducing heat or cooling loss and condensation at the glass edge.
- Inert gas for the filling: Gases such as Argon or Xenon make better insulators. When used for the gap between two glass panes in a double-glazed window and door they reduce heat and cooling loss by an extra 3%. It may not seem like much but when it adds to saving energy—every little bit counts.
How much does double-glazing cost?
Double-glazed windows and doors are considerably more expensive than regular, single-paned glass. The final cost depends entirely on the requirements. How many windows and doors are required? What are the sizes? These are factors influencing the price when looking at the cost of double-glazing.
Why double-glazing works best in conjunction with other insulation methods
On their own double-glazed windows and doors go a long way to reducing the overall energy consumption. The expense of fitting double-glazing to an existing home would not be as effective if done in isolation. It needs to be considered in conjunction with the other insulation, like insulating exterior walls, floors and ceilings. Comprehensive insulation might not be practical or cost-effective. These points need to be considered as a whole.
In green homes they form part of the methods used to keep energy costs low. This is one part of comprehensive insulation to reduce electricity usage, whether drawn from the grid or from photo-voltaic solar panels. In green homes, they complement the floor, ceiling, water pipe and wall insulation. And when combined with the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system, the result is a home with a perfectly maintained indoor temperature throughout the year. The savings on [the water and] energy bills in a green smart home are momentous thanks to this holistic approach.
But when retrofitting an existing home there are some possibilities to improve insulation along with fitting double-glazing. For example:
- Check for draughts and seal them up: It’s a simple matter of looking around the home and making a note of the areas where air leaks in or out. Around windows and under doors is a good place to start. Use sealing strips and caulk to seal any gaps.The idea is to stop warm air from escaping and cold air from entering, and vice versa, so best is to scrutinise every frame, window and door. Even sealing up these little gaps helps to make a home comfortable in summer and winter.
- Insulating the ceiling: lots of heat escapes through the roof so it’s worth adding insulation to this vulnerable area. There are many different kinds of insulating materials to choose from. However, opt for a green alternative rather than the traditional fibre-glass or paper options. Not only is it kinder to the environment, it’s also healthier for the whole family.One such material, Isotherm ticks all the boxes. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles and can be recycled again itself. It is dust and water resistant, non-flammable, non-toxic and lasts longer than many other insulators.
- Use thicker curtaining: We usually switch out the light summer duvet for something thicker and warmer in winter, and the same applies to glass windows and doors. Thick curtains will add an extra layer of protection from the cold and stop draughts from getting into the homeUsing this option for windows and doors contains the costs of adding double-glazing everywhere. That way a home is better insulated and the double-glazing installed is effective.
- Close internal doors: When not using a room, rather keep the door closed. Limiting the airflow within a home goes a long way in keeping the heat and/or cold in and cuts down on electricity usage. Keep in mind that when a room is not in use, it is advisable to balance the electricity spending with maintaining the temperature.Bathrooms are particularly chilly in the winter because they’re filled with tiles that don’t retain heat very well. Keeping the bathroom door closed in winter stops the cold air from seeping out and affecting all heating efforts, and vice versa in summer.
Keeping in mind, when deciding whether it’s worth investing in double-glazing, due to the cost, considering the saving such an investment brings about to heat or cool down our home, and that over the course of their lifespan they pay for themselves many times over. And when implementing comprehensive insulation, further savings are achieved, which recoups the initial investment faster.
A further point is the different experience in summer when the home becomes a cool and quiet haven, or when in winter it is a warm and quiet haven. Not many renovations reduce electricity costs while providing the benefits that double-glazing does. They’ll also add to the value of our property when selling it on. Well worth the extra expense, double-glazing is an excellent investment.