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.