Do you have a kitchen or bathroom in need of remodeling? Would you want to save the planet and your budget at the same time? The green living trend has a number of solutions that will do both. You can save water, save energy and add value to your home without spending a fortune.
Bathrooms and kitchens are two areas of the home that are particularly suited for green makeovers. They both rely on water and electricity to provide you with comfort and convenience of modern living. And they both offer you cost-effective ways of conserving these resources without sacrificing your style.
Getting green in the bathroom
Before you pick out the colour of your new tiles you’ll want to consider how you consume and heat the water for your bathroom. Here are some areas you could consider when planning your ideal eco-friendly bathroom:
Toilets: Surprisingly, your toilet uses the most water. If you’re still using an old toilet, it can use as much as 13.6 litres per flush. In the average home that would add up to 71.2 litres per person per day. Your toilet accounts for about 30% of your household water usage.
You could put a brick in the cistern to reduce the flushing capacity—that’s hardly a renovation! Instead, look for a dual-flush toilet. They are more efficient. A dual-flush toilet uses about 8 – 9 litres for a full flush, and only 4 – 5 litres with a reduced flush. They do cost more than regular toilets and offer you the dual benefit of saving water and money—truly green living. If you don’t want to replace your current toilet you can install a dual-flush converter.
Showers: Next to your toilet, the shower uses the most water in your home. If you shower for seven minutes with a conventional showerhead you’ll go through 112 litres of water. That’s 16% – 20% of your total water usage. Even if you think showering is better than bathing when it comes to practicing green living, that’s no longer true. The average bath uses about 80 litres of water. These days we tend to spend more time in the shower. A five-minute shower consumes 16 litres of water a minute—as much as a regular bath.
With a low-flow showerhead, you can halve the amount of water you normally use for a five-minute shower. And you’ll still enjoy the feeling of a powerful blast of hot water every time you step under the shower. If you consider that 70% of the water used to shower is heated, using a low-flow showerhead means you’re also cutting down on your hot water consumption. With the price of electricity constantly going up, using hot water wisely is becoming a necessity for eco-friendly living.
Water heaters: What would a shower or bath be without hot water? That’s what makes your geyser such an energy-guzzler. You could simply buy a geyser blanket and make sure your pipes are fully insulated. Two steps you can take that would reduce your electricity usage by an extra 4 – 9%. While you’re at it, turn down the thermostat by a few degrees. You won’t feel any difference, and reduce your final power bill.
If you’re serious about green living, you’d probably prefer to splash out on a solar water heater. They are expensive and a retrofit may also require some extra spending; the end result is worth it. Install a solar water heater and you’ll see an immediate reduction in your electricity consumption.
Another alternative you may consider is a heat pump. Although you’ll still be using electricity, heat pumps are more energy efficient. A heat pump works by absorbing the heat energy from the surrounding air and using this energy to heat the water in your water tank. You save more of your total electricity bill with a heat pump.
Finishes and lighting: This is the part you’ve waited for! Choosing the finishes for your new bathroom is probably the main reason why you want to renovate your bathroom in the first place. It’s also an area where you can continue to exercise your desire for greener living. When it comes to selecting eco-friendly tiles for your walls and floors you have plenty of options:
- Concrete: This material can be used as both the finish and structural floor. That makes it a cost-effective choice. You can make it green by combining it with recycled aggregates such as glass, porcelain or coal fly ash.
- Linoleum: True linoleum is made from natural materials and should not be confused with sheet vinyl. It is naturally anti-bacterial, scratch-resistant and easy to maintain.
- Recycled glass: Tiles make from recycled glass give your bathroom a clean, bright and contemporary appearance without impacting the environment.
- Cork: Another natural material, cork is sustainable, durable and safe. It doesn’t release toxins, it’s doesn’t attract dust and it’s resistant to mould.
- Ceramic tiles: Arguably the most popular choice for bathrooms, ceramic tiles can be a green choice. Look out for tiles that are made from recycled ceramic waste such as discarded clay and tableware.
Be sure to use low VOC paints and adhesives when fitting your chosen flooring and finishes.
Energy efficient lighting is essential for every area of the home if you want to keep your electricity costs down. Fluorescent lights for your bathroom are now available in wide range of modern, attractive designs.
Creating an eco-friendly kitchen
Remodeling your kitchen is a serious business. It’s the one room in the house that has to be very practical, while at the same time you’ll want to add a touch of your own style to it. Eco-friendly houses have kitchens that are functional, appealing and green. These are the elements you need to consider before you begin demolition:
Countertops: There are many different eco-friendly materials you can use for countertops. Wood is a popular choice that gives you two options: bamboo and reclaimed wood. Bamboo is a fast-growing material that is sustainable making it 100% eco-friendly. It’s durable, hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial and easy to install. Bamboo adds a touch of real elegance when used in the kitchen. Don’t stop at bamboo cutting boards. Make your whole countertop bamboo and enjoy the benefits of this beautiful material.
Of course, if you want to achieve a different style you could use another type of wood. And instead of buying something new, look for ways to recycle scraps of wood. With a little love and care, they can be restored to their former glory and provide you with a true green living alternative. Scrap wood is still solid and durable and it’s unnecessary to let it go to waste when it can be used to make the perfect countertop for eco-friendly homes.
Recycled stone-chip composite countertops are ideal for eco-friendly houses. These countertops are made from a variety of recycled materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or burnt in an incinerator. They offer a mix of strength and stain resistance and there are plenty of different styles and designs for you to choose from. They have the appearance of granite countertops and are just as durable, with the added benefit of being an eco-conscious choice.
Flooring: Many of the materials available for bathroom floors can also be used in the kitchen. Bamboo works well for countertops and floors and can help you pull the look of your new kitchen together while saving you money. The same can be said for linoleum. It’s less expensive than tiles although you should call on a professional to install it correctly. It’s highly water resistant and you’re less likely to break your precious crockery on it if you accidentally drop a plate or cup.
Another material you may consider using for the flooring in your kitchen is cork. Made from the bark of a tree, cork has a low impact on the environment. Trees need to be at least 25 years before its bark can be harvested and then the cork can be stripped every 18 – 25 years without killing the tree. It’s one of the most comfortable flooring types available because it ‘gives’ when compressed. Think about how much time you spend standing in your kitchen and you’ll understand why cork is a popular flooring choice for this area of the home.
Appliances: If you haven’t already considered replacing your old fridge, washing machine and dishwasher for new, energy-efficient appliances—do it now. As you’re busy remodelling, it’s the perfect opportunity to cut down on your energy bill. A top/bottom refrigerator unit is a better choice than the side-by-side model because less cold air escapes when you open the door.
You should also investigate getting a convection oven. It uses a fan to drive heat from the source to your food. As a result, your dinner will be ready almost 25% faster than with a conventional oven. Everything from your kettle and toaster to bigger appliances such as your washing machine and dishwasher can be used more efficiently. Using power wisely is the hallmark of eco-friendly homes.
Lighting: Once again, you can take advantage of the modern fluorescent lighting available today to brighten up your kitchen. They could cut your total energy use significantly and your kitchen won’t will feel overly bright and stark. There is now a wide range of tones available to help you set exactly the mood you want in your kitchen without sacrificing your style.
As you get on with the hard work of removing old fittings and fixtures, think about what you’ll do with all that rubble. Estimates reveal that between 22% – 40% of landfills consist of construction debris. Of course, there will be many bits and pieces that you simply cannot salvage. And where possible, donate your old toilets, sinks, baths, kitchen cupboards and countertops to charities. This way you’re reducing the waste that you send to the landfill.
It is possible to build eco-friendly houses from scratch. Although it is not yet a trend in South Africa, many homeowners are coming round to the idea of finding ways to reduce their consumption of water and electricity. Remodelling your kitchen and bathroom to embrace the principles of green living makes just as much sense for your pocket as it does for the environment.
Green alternatives are available, all it requires is for you to put some thought into the choices you make. Every element of these important rooms in your home can be optimised to run more efficiently. And the good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice style or comfort to accommodate greener living.
Sustainable living is more than just a trend. There are real benefits to adopting eco-friendly practices in our daily routine. The main goals of green living is to ensure our health, peace of mind and to sustain the planet for future generations. It’s surprising to learn how much we stand to gain when we become aware of resource usage and the impact we have on our environment.
Greener living means being aware of how we improve our life by living differently and how that affects our environment. Adopting practices that are healthier for our home is essential for our long-term health, that of the planet—and its people.
Let’s look at five ways of embracing the concept of living green, makes a difference in our life:
A healthier home
Many harmful chemicals are in our homes right now? From the paint that covers the walls to the cleaning materials we use, toxins are found everywhere. Even our carpets release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air we breathe.
They can be avoided or even eliminated by choosing greener living principles. As a result, we’ll find that our indoor air quality improves and with it, our overall health. These chemicals become concentrated in the home and cause unpleasant side-effects. For example, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and damage to the central nervous system.
We improve our health by living differently. Here are some suggestions to detox our homes:
- Ditch the chemicals: Replacing our regular cleaning products with green alternatives. These natural solutions are a good alternative to chemicals: white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and corn starch. They work just as well and don’t cost as much as commercial cleaning solutions.
- Replace old carpets: Newer carpets have been designed to emit lower levels of VOC’s into the atmosphere. Our best option though is to avoid carpeting altogether. Rather opt for natural wooden floors made of sustainable materials such as bamboo. Though wooden floors are an expensive investment to make; they are durable and well worth the money spent.
- Choose eco-friendly paints and adhesives:When re-decorating, look for paints, varnishes and adhesives that are non-toxic and safe for the environment. These days green alternatives are readily available and don’t cost much more than regular products.
The air in eco-friendly homes contains fewer pollutants and toxins. People living in green homes are healthier and happier because of the air quality.
More space and less clutter
When considering for a moment what we own, like clothes, gadgets, furniture, toys. All the belongings that we’ve accumulated over the years. Is it all necessary? Could we live with less? Green living is about keeping things simple.
By adopting green living principles and eliminating the clutter from our life, we’ll have more time and room for the things that are important. Teaching our children to use or play with what they have, and they’ll grow up to value people over material things. Rather than spending money on our family, spend time with them.
Our consumer-driven lifestyles are often the reason for having things we hardly use. We work hard to afford things we don’t need or don’t have the time to enjoy. It also means that we’re stretching the planet’s precious resources and filling landfills with things that are no longer wanted or useful.
Rather embrace the idea of living green.
We also find it easier to navigate our day-to-day life when we’re not wading through the clutter. It will be effortless to clean and maintain our homes. And as mentioned we’ll have more time for other things.
How much paper, plastic, glass and tin land up in the rubbish bin over the course of a year? Is it surprising to learn that the average South African generates 0.7kg of waste per day? In one year, over 42 billion cubic metres of waste is generated across the country. Imagine the effect this has on the environment? And it places additional strain to manage the dumping grounds.
The good news is that there are alternatives. We just need to look differently at our options. Here are some ways to cut down on waste:
- Use cloth bags for grocery shopping.Buying plastic bags doesn’t help the environment, even when recycling them. And it costs us too. Rather make a habit of taking sturdy bags made from material and leaving them in the car. That way they’ll always be there when needed.
- Buy foods and snacks in bulk, and then pack individual portions into reusable containers. Individually wrapped items create more waste. Buying in bulk cuts down on the amount of packaging we throw away.
- Buy dish soap and laundry detergent in concentrated forms. We get the same amount of product once diluted, and we’ll throw away fewer containers. Be on the lookout for eco-friendly products while at it.
- Getting our bills, statements and other mail sent via email. It’s more convenient to file and store important documents on our computers. Apart from the convenience, we’ll cut down on paper wastage at the same time.
- Turn our food scraps and garden waste into compost.If we have a garden, we can set up a composting bin, and other alternatives, with little effort. Fertilise our plants for free and take the green living concept further by growing our own vegetables.
There are many ways to start living green. All it takes is being mindful of how we use things and not take packaging for granted. It needs resources to produce and just ends up in landfills. Be sure to recycle paper, plastic, glass and metal instead of throwing those away. Separating our waste will become a habit. When we see just how little we send to the landfill, we’ll realise the benefits and ease to recycle. Part of the habit is knowing where we take the recycling items conveniently. More and more convenient collection points are popping up.
An eco-friendly home is one that runs efficiently. We’re living green when we take into account all the ways we use resources in our homes. Small actions such as switching off the light when leaving a room, and using both sides of writing paper, all contribute to saving resources and costs.
Learning new skills
An essential part of greener living is learning new skills. For instance, making our own cleaning products? Or started a compost heap outside or with an interior compost container? Small and big projects require a little awareness and imagination.
It may be difficult when we start out, then over time we’ll find plenty of resources on the internet to get us going. We learn as we go along and keep thinking of how to do things in an eco-conscious manner. Even come up with our own unique ideas.
Whether it’s organising a lift club or investigating green flooring options, we’ll discover that there is much to learn. We’ll develop skills that will allow us to become more self-sufficient. For example, we may realise that installing a rainwater tank will give us a supply of free water. We’ll use the harvested rainwater for washing our cars and watering our gardens. Not only will this cut down on our monthly utility bill, we’ll learn how to use water wisely.
Once we know how to use resources such as water and electricity wisely, we’ll realise how much we’ll save. When we start developing green habits, we’ll see how easy it is to set up and run a green home. A little effort goes a long way, and we’ll reap many rewards.
Save money every month
Yes, some green technologies are expensive to implement. Photovoltaic solar panels, solar water heaters and underground rainwater harvesting tanks require extensive alterations to our homes. We’ll recoup our invest with the monthly savings we enjoy from these green features. That’s why purpose built eco-friendly houses are more expensive. Over time, as utility costs rise, we save even more money on our monthly electricity and water when living in an eco-friendly home.
Even if we don’t take the concept of green living that far, we’ll still save money by making small changes. Installing low-flow shower heads and taps in the bathroom and kitchen cuts down on the water we use. Sealing the gaps in our windows and door frames stops warm air escaping in winter. It will make a significant difference to our heating costs.
Buy in bulk to cut down on the packaging that ends up in the rubbish bin over the course of a week. Walk or cycle instead of using the car. These help us save money for other things. Swap our commercial cleaning products for homemade solutions. These small actions all contribute towards reducing our costs, health and impact on the planet. And they’re the perfect example of greener living habits anyone can adopt.
Few people realise just how much creating an eco-friendly home affects our finances. It’s easy to forget that the modern conveniences we enjoy come at a price. Green living is not about depriving ourselves of the things we enjoy. In fact, we’ll end up saving while improving our quality of life and by not paying for things that’ll only end up in the landfill.
And then invest our savings in advanced green features. What about insulating the ceiling? With recycled insulation material, of course. That helps reduce our energy costs even further, saving more money.
Become aware of the monetary benefits of green living. It’s easy to implement a few small changes and see a return almost immediately. And realising why eco-friendly houses are the way of the future.
To experience the benefits of green living, start right away. Think about the way you live now and what ideas you can implement today. There’s no reason to wait before you make the change to a more sustainable mindset. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll understand that green living is a lot of fun. You’ll save money, learn new skills and streamline your life for the better.
Do you know how much money you could save by going green? You may be aware that eco-friendly houses are cheaper to run. Retrofitting your existing home or buying a new eco-friendly home can be pricey. How can you be sure that the money you save will help to pay for such an expensive investment? You’ll only be able to calculate the return on your investment if you know exactly how much you’re spending to run your home now.
An energy audit will help you understand where and how you use energy in your home. Once you know that, you’ll be able to work out how much you can save by switching to green living. Or, at the very least you can identify areas where you can reduce your consumption and costs.
Although a professional energy audit will be more thorough, doing it yourself will give a rough idea of the costs and the opportunity to understand your energy consumption better. Keep this checklist handy and make notes as you go through every room in your house.
Calculating the costs of your appliances and devices
Kitchens are filled with appliances that rely on electricity, so it’s a good idea to start your energy audit here. To begin with, you’ll need to determine the wattage of your machines. You can find this information on the wattage label or check the user manual. Once you have that information, work out how many hours a day you use the appliance. For example, your fridge runs all day while your washing machine may only work for 2 – 3 hours at a time.
These are the other appliances that you should take note of:
- Oven and stove
- Washing machine
- Coffee maker
Now you can start to calculate your energy consumption. For example, let’s take a washing machine with a wattage of 350 that works around 3 hours a day:
Step 1: Multiply the unit’s wattage by the number of hours you use it to find the number of watt-hours consumed per day.
350 x 3 = 1050 watt-hours per day
Step 2: The electricity on your monthly bill is measured in kilowatts, so you’ll need to convert your watts-per day figure. All you have to do is divide this figure by 1000.
1050/1000 = 1.05kWh per day
Step 3: Now you need to calculate how much power your washing machine uses in a month. Just take the previous figure and multiply it by 30.
1.05 x 30 = 31.5 kWh per month
Step 4: Use your last electricity bill to see how much you were charged per kWh. For the sake of this example, let’s use the figure of R1 per kWh.
31.5 kWh per month x R1 = R31.50 per month.
There you have it; you’ll have to perform this calculation for every appliance in the kitchen, and once you’re done you’ll have a clearer idea of how much each one contributes to your monthly energy bill.
Once you’ve finished in the kitchen, move on to your living room and work out the costs for the following items:
- TV and decoder
- DVD player
- Game consoles
- Ceiling fan
- Music centre
If you have a study or home office, work out the costs of your equipment such as:
- Cell phone
- Fax machine
You’ll be amazed at just how many of the gadgets you own use power once you start adding them up. These will only account for a percentage of your energy bill. You also have to account for seasonal differences. In winter, your power bill surges because you rely on heaters to keep your home warm and cosy. Don’t forget to work out the power consumption for these:
- Electric blankets
Aside from your electronic devices, there are other ways you use power that contribute to your final bill. We’ll look at these next.
Adding up the costs of lighting and heating water
Energy for lighting accounts for around 10% of your energy bill. You can work out exactly how much you spend on keeping the lights on using the same calculation as you did for your appliances. Find out the wattage of your globes and average how many hours they on every day.
When it comes to heating water for bathing and cleaning, you’ll need to work things out a little differently. The most difficult part is calculating how much hot water you use in a day. As an example, let’s assume that you shower every day.
A standard shower uses 16 – 20 litres of water a minute. If you shower for 5 minutes that means you use a total of 80 – 100 litres of water. Now you should know that it takes 1kWh to heat 36 litres of water to a temperature of 40°. So a five minute shower would use about 2.5kWh of power.
To work out the total cost of your shower we’ll assume that 1kWh costs R1—remember to check your account to see how much you pay per kWh in your area. The final calculation will look like this:
2.5KWh x R1 = R2.50 per shower
If you shower every day, multiply R2.50 by 30 to get your total for a month which would come to R75. Now multiply that number by how many people in the house shower every day.
Keep in mind that your geyser doesn’t only use electricity when you turn on the hot water tap. It uses power throughout the day so that warm water is always available. Calculating how much energy it uses when not in use gets tricky. Refer to the rating on your geyser to give you a rough idea.
||Standing losses: kWh per day
Let’s assume you have a 200 litre capacity geyser with an E energy rating. Your geyser will use approximately 3kWh per day to keep warm. Add this to the total kilowatt hours you use for showering in a month and you’ll have a total of 165kWh. At R1 per kWh your total for the month is R165.
Adding up the costs
It may take you a bit of time to work out all the costs; once you have the final figures you’ll be glad you made the effort. You’ll be able to compare the running costs of a traditional home against those offered by eco-friendly homes and see just how quickly you could recoup your investment. You’ll get tp know why greener living saves you money.
Making the change to living green
With a clear picture of your energy consumption start making small changes to your home. Try some of the following tips and then watch what a difference it will make to your next electricity bill.
- Turn down the thermostat on your geyser: You can drop the temperature of your hot water by a few degrees and save a lot of money. You won’t really notice the difference, but you will see the results on your monthly bills.
- Invest in a geyser blanket: They’re not that expensive and they make your geyser more efficient at retaining heat without gobbling up power.
- Install low-flow shower heads: You’ll still get clean and enjoy your showers, and save precious water and electricity.
- Replace your incandescent light bulbs: Switch your old-fashioned light bulbs out for energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). They last longer too.
- Wait for a full load: Before you turn on the dishwasher or washing machine, making sure you have a full load of dishes or laundry. Don’t waste power and water on small loads; rather do them by hand if you can’t wait.
- Skip the pre-rinse cycle: Again, this applies to your dishwasher and your washing machine. Unless your dishes or clothes are heavily soiled, there’s no need to rinse them before you wash them.
- Don’t make your fridge too cold: Though you need to stop your food from spoiling, you don’t have to set your fridge to the coldest temperature available. That will only increase its power consumption.
- Don’t waste cold water: Collect the cold water when you run the hot tap and use it for your kettle or watering your garden.
- Switch off at the plug: Don’t leave your electronic devices plugged in when you aren’t using them or charging them. Even in standby mode they’ll use small amounts of electricity. This contributes to your bill at the end of the month.
- Insulate your home: To reduce your heating costs in the colder months, make sure your house is properly insulated. Seal up the gaps in window and door frames to keep the heat inside.
All it really takes is being mindful about the way you use power in your home. Once you know the true costs, it will be easier to adopt habits that can help you save. Green living isn’t just for the eco-conscious. Saving resources and money benefits everyone, even the planet.
The benefits of eco-friendly houses
If you’re serious about reducing your living expenses you’ll find that it’s worth investing in eco-friendly homes. They are purpose built to make the most of natural resources such as sunlight and rainwater. They take greener living to the next level with features such as photovoltaic solar panels and rainwater harvesting tanks. They make living green just as comfortable because they’re fully insulated and use a Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system to keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer.
Eco-friendly homes require less maintenance and are cheaper to run. Your initial investment is much higher, though with the money you save on monthly costs, paying it off won’t be as long as you may think. If you try out some of the tips above, you’ll see immediately that greener living makes a difference to your pocket. And with eco-friendly homes, you save even more.
Another advantage of green living that you rely less on the grid for power and water. When load shedding or water restrictions happen—your impact will be less. That’s something people don’t always factor in about green living. It is more cost effective, mot comfortable and more convenient than living in a traditional home.
Try the home energy audit for yourself. Though it takes a little effort, you’ll be glad you did it. Even if you’re not ready to make the move to an eco-friendly house just yet, you’ll find ways to save on energy while still living comfortably. Going green isn’t about making sacrifices. It’s about finding ways to use resources wisely. Get the most out of your electricity supply and save!
What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the words ‘solar power’? Do you picture an eco-friendly home with solar panels on the roof? You’re not wrong, though there are some other ways to harness the power of the sun for your home. Using solar power can help you reduce your reliance on the grid and put cash back in your pocket.
Solar power is a versatile and sustainable source of energy. Here are some unusual ways you can use it to power your home:
Solar water heaters
Heating water for your home accounts for a significant portion of your monthly energy bills. A family of four needs a lot of hot water for their daily cleaning, bathing and cooking needs. Installing a solar water heater can reduce the cost of generating hot water by as much as 80%. Solar heaters use either evacuated tubes or solar thermal panels to heat the water directly. The heat is then used to warm up water for your household needs.
Apart from saving on costs, a solar water heater can also save water and time. With green homes, during building by installing a linked-loop throughout the home, enables that as soon as you turn on the tap, hot water is available. You don’t have to let the tap run and wait for the water to reach your desired temperature. Few people realise that greener living can actually be more convenient.
Keeping the lights turned on in a dark area of your home is a sure way to run up your energy bill. Installing a skylight in a poorly lit area is a cheaper and better way to bring light into your home. Sunlight is healthier and completely free. If you install a skylight that opens, you can use it to release warm air and keep your home cooler during the hot summer months.
You don’t always need a large skylight either. Tubular skylights are a good option for smaller areas and allow you to funnel daylight into the areas where you need it. They’re inexpensive and relatively easy to install.
Solar garden lights are the perfect way to light up your outdoor areas without flipping the switch. With a tiny solar panel, battery and LED lamp, you can set your garden lights to turn on automatically when the sun goes down. They come in a variety of forms: string lighting, fairy lighting, tube lighting and even Christmas lights. You can get creative and make your garden look even more beautiful without spending a cent on electricity.
Solar chargers for electronic devices
Although they aren’t common, you can find solar charges available in South Africa. These handy devices can be used to charge small electronic devices such as your cell phone or tablet. Depending on your needs, they are inexpensive and portable. Essentially they consist of a small solar panel and some models may include a battery.
You can use them at home to charge your electronics for free and they’ll help to reduce your carbon footprint. Solar charges are the perfect example of how green living can be affordable and convenient.
You’ll find over 60 different types of solar cookers and are categorised as follows:
- Box solar cookers
- Panel solar cookers
- Solar kettles
- Parabolic solar cookers
- Hybrid cookers
What they all have in common is that they use energy from the sun for a chore that you have to do every day—cook food. Not only do they provide you with massive energy savings, they’re much safer to use. They don’t require any kind of fuel and they don’t produce any flames or fumes. Solar cookers provide a clean and efficient form of energy which is completely free.
Going solar doesn’t mean having to sacrifice your creature comforts. If anything, using sunlight to heat your water and charge your electronics makes your life easier. If you’re reluctant to incorporate solar power into your home, perhaps these examples will change your mind. Aside from the cost savings you’ll enjoy, there are some other very good reasons to use solar power in your home.
Reasons to go photovoltaic solar
Photovoltaic cells are incredible. They generate an electric charge when photons in the sunlight hit them. These solar cells are usually made from silicon and mounted in panels on the roof of the home where they are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight.
By absorbing photons from the sun they generate enough electricity to run your home without relying on the grid. This makes them perfect for eco-friendly houses which are designed to reduce your carbon footprint. The cost saving alone are a good reason to consider installing photovoltaic solar panels.
But there are some other reasons why solar photovoltaic panels are a good investment, particularly if you’re interested in green living.
Photovoltaic solar energy is affordable
While you may think that installing photovoltaic solar panels is expensive, they are actually quite affordable. The cost has come down considerably as the demand for alternative energy sources has increased. Today, they cost half as much as they did in 2008 and the solar market has increased substantially.
Photovoltaic solar panels are easy to install
If you’re retrofitting an existing home, you’ll be pleased to hear that installing photovoltaic solar panels is not that difficult. If you have the knowledge you may be able to do the installation yourself. Though it’s always wise to work with an expert. They’ll be able to provide you with the right advice when it comes to choosing and fitting the panels for your home. Your energy requirements should be assessed and the size and position of your roof taken into account before installation begins.
Photovoltaic solar panels require little maintenance
Green technologies are surprisingly robust and photovoltaic solar panels are an excellent example of this. They are strong enough to survive some tough weather conditions such as rain, wind and hail. A high quality installation can last as long as 30 years and requires hardly any maintenance. Monitoring and operating your photovoltaic solar panels and battery back-up will be no hassle at all.
Photovoltaic solar energy is reliable
This is of particular importance in South Africa where the power supply can be erratic. Load shedding can be frustrating and inconvenient. But with photovoltaic solar panels you never have to worry about coming home to a house without power. Given our sunny weather, you can look forward to a constant and free supply of energy throughout the year.
Photovoltaic solar energy is safe and clean
Solar cells are environmentally friendly. They do not burn fuel, produce noise or pollute the atmosphere. You get all the benefits of a constant supply of power without damaging the environment or contributing to the load on limited resources. Your carbon footprint is reduced without having to sacrifice any modern conveniences.
Photovoltaic solar panels conserve water
And while you’re reducing the strain on the national grid, you’re also saving water. Electricity generated from a photovoltaic system use 100% less water per kWh of electricity than coal power plants. That’s a double saving for greener living enthusiasts.
The big benefit of photovoltaic solar power for home owners still lies in the impressive long term saving you achieve. If you take into account the fact that electricity costs will only continue to rise, investing in photovoltaic solar power now makes it the best investment you can make for your home. While the initial installation costs are high, your savings will enable you to offset that in just a few years. And you can always start small and add on more panels as you can afford them.
The more you understand photovoltaic solar power, the more you’ll be convinced that it’s worth investing in. Here is some information you may find useful.
Photovoltaic solar power components
A photovoltaic system comprises of the following components:
- Photovoltaic solar panels: Made from silicon, these panels are mounted on your roof where they catch the sun and convert that energy into power for your home.
- DC-AC inverter: This unit is responsible for converting the current generated by the panels into a form that can be used for running your appliances and devices.
- Storage batteries: South Africa averages upwards of 2500 hours of sunshine a year. It’s entirely possible that your system could generate more energy than you need. Storage batteries are used to store the power providing you with a constant and uninterrupted supply every day.
- Charge controller or regulator: This prevents damage to your batteries as a result of excessive discharging or overcharging.
All these elements are required, and you can alter the size and number of photovoltaic solar panels depending on your budget and needs. The beauty of a photovoltaic system is that you can add to it at a later stage. This allows you to start small and increase capacity when you can afford it.
Photovoltaic solar power installations
You can choose from three types of installations depending on the size of your property:
- Ground mounted: This type of installation is ideal if you have a large, clear area of land to work with. You can install as many photovoltaic solar panels as you need.
- Roof mounted: Mounting your photovoltaic solar panels on the roof ensures that they receive maximum exposure to the sun.
- Thin film photovoltaic solar panels: These panels are glued onto your roof which eliminates the risk of damage to your tiles. They are perfect for sunny climates as they collect more energy than conventional panels.
Take some time to work out how photovoltaic solar panels could make a difference to your monthly expenses and weigh that against the costs of your preferred installation type. You’ll see why going photovoltaic makes sense.
Though retrofitting photovoltaic solar panels is a big investment to make, it’s the perfect way to start living green. Alternatively, if you’re in the market for a new home, look for one that already has this feature.
Photovoltaic solar energy can be used in different ways to help you cut costs and start living green. Whether you’re ready to say goodbye to the grid for good, or just make small changes to reduce your consumption, the technology does exist. And with each passing year, new developments make eco-friendly homes that utilise photovoltaic solar power easier to afford. Don’t wait too long, the sooner you start living green, the more you’ll save.
Do you know which of your appliances use the most electricity? With the rising cost of electricity, understanding how much energy your home consumes is a powerful tool. Using electricity wisely is the cornerstone of green living. It makes as much sense for your wallet as it does for the environment.
You wouldn’t be able to live a comfortable, modern life without your appliances. They account for a significant part of your electricity bill. Find out which of the devices in your home use the most electricity and how you can reduce the amount of power they use every month without losing out on the convenience they offer.
It shouldn’t surprise you to find this popular appliance at the top of the list. Big TVs are a symbol of wealth and it’s rare to find any home that doesn’t have a TV in the living room. But large sets and plasma screens in particular, are one of the most energy-hungry appliances you can own.
The larger the TV, the more energy it uses. So you can always cut down on your bills by investing in a smaller screen. That’s easier said than done. If you’re really not willing to sacrifice size for savings, consider opting for an LCD over a plasma screen. LCD screens are much cheaper to run. Keep this in mind if you’re considering buying a new set in the near future.
Another way to reduce the costs of running your TV is to switch it off at the wall when you’re not watching. Even in standby mode, electronics use small amounts of electricity. It may seem negligible but over time it adds a substantial amount to your electricity bill.
Fridges and Freezers
These appliances work all day, every day to keep your food fresh. They are hardly ever turned off and consequently they use a lot of energy. But there are a few simple tricks you can employ to help keep running costs to a minimum:
- Keep fridges and freezers away from heat sources such as your oven. They will have to work harder to maintain the right temperature for keeping food cold, and that uses energy.
- Make sure the seals are intact and avoid overloading them.
- Buy the right size for your needs. If you’re a small family, or just two people, it’s not necessary to have a large fridge.
- Don’t hold the door open for long periods. Letting cold air escape while you decide what to make for lunch will just waste energy.
- Increase the temperature in your fridge by 2°. It won’t make much difference to your food, but it will make a difference to your electricity bill.
Washing machines and dishwashers
Your life wouldn’t be the same without these handy appliances. Eliminating them from your life isn’t really an option but you can still reduce the amount of energy they consume if you use them differently. Here are some tips for living green while still enjoying the benefits of these machines:
- Skip the pre-rinse cycle for your clothes and your cutlery. Unless your items are really dirty there’s no need for a pre-rinse cycle.
- Wait until you have a full load. Once again, this applies to both. Don’t wash a few bits of dirty laundry or switch on the dishwasher when you only have a couple of dirty cups and saucers.
- Lower the temperature. Washing your clothes in cold water will still get them clean and it could save you a whopping 90% of the electricity your machine normally uses to get the job done. The same applies to your dishwasher. The water shouldn’t be cold, but you can use a cycle with a lower temperature to get the same results while cutting down on the power required.
Thankfully, in our warm climate you don’t have to rely on heaters to make your home comfortable all year round. But when winter rolls in, electricity bills tend to sky-rocket. What often makes this worse is the fact that our houses aren’t designed for the cold. And many heaters are not particularly energy-efficient.
Luckily there are simple things you can do to keep the chill at bay. They are often just as effective as and much cheaper than running a heater for several hours a day. So instead of flipping a switch, do this instead:
- Put on a jersey. It’s easier (and more cost effective) to warm yourself up, than trying to warm a whole room.
- Use hot water bottles. Fill the kettle and boil it once. You can make yourself a warm drink and fill up your hot water bottle with the rest. There couldn’t be a better way to keep cosy.
- Insulate your home. Arm yourself with some caulk and sealing strips and seek out the areas in your home where cold air creeps in. Window frames and door frames are a good place to start.
You may not realise it, but a tumble dryer can use more electricity than your fridge. Thankfully, our sunny climate means you only need to use your tumble dryer for emergencies. Hang your clothes up to dry outside in the fresh air and sunshine. It may take a little longer in the winter, but it’s completely free.
As much of 10 to 20% of your energy bill is spent on lighting up your home when the sun goes down. But energy saving light bulbs and LEDs can reduce that as they use up to 80% less electricity. They also last much longer than traditional bulbs. They may cost more than regular bulbs but the long term savings are worth it. And while it should be a habit by now, people still forget to turn off their lights when they leave the room. If you knew how much it would save you, you wouldn’t forget to turn off the lights.
This refers to all the little electronic goods in your home that feed on small amounts of electricity. The average home has about 30 – 40 such devices and includes items such as your computer, cell phones, tablets, cordless phones, printers, DVD players and decoders. Individually they draw very little power, especially in standby mode. But when you consider that at any time you have several plugged in, the costs can multiply.
If you want to reduce the steady drip of power from these devices, try this:
- Switch off and unplug. Stop letting the power drain by disconnecting the plug and see what a difference it will make to your bills.
- Use a switchable power strip. That way you can switch off only the devices you aren’t using without everything else losing power.
- Buy low standby products. They do exist, but you’ll need to ask about them or you won’t get them.
Overall, the big appliances count for around 13% of your total power bill. The ‘vampire devices’ make up about 10%. If you ever need to buy a new appliance, look out for one that has an excellent EnergyStar rating. That means it has been designed to use less energy while still delivering the results you want.
By implementing some of these tips you can reduce your electricity bills substantially over the course of a year. That money can be put to better use without you having to sacrifice any convenience. You may need to change some of your habits and consider a different approach, and if you do, the savings you’ll enjoy will make it all worthwhile.
If you want to take your energy savings to the next level, you may want to consider some more serious energy alternatives. These are the kinds of technologies you’ll find in eco-friendly homes. Green living is becoming more of a priority for South African home owners. Retrofitting an existing home is a possibility, and you’ll find more and more eco-friendly houses entering the mainstream.
Greener living and energy savings
Eco-friendly homes use new technology to reduce your reliance on the grid. As most of your energy bill comes from heating your home, this is a good place to start. Photovoltaic systems rely on solar panels and batteries to generate and store electricity for your home. If you understand your energy requirements you can start off with a smaller system to meet your needs and add on more panels as you require.
The idea of living off the grid is achievable. Most systems come with an automatic switch over that allows you to draw electricity from the grid if you need it. With the rising cost of electricity you’ll save even more money in the long term.
If you’re not ready to rely on solar for all your power needs you can still invest in a solar water heater. Hot water is essential for bathing, cooking and washing which is why it contributes so much to your power bill. A solar heater takes advantage of our sunny weather to ensure you always have hot water on tap. The energy used to heat the water is provided by the sun so you don’t have to pay for it. It’s a small step anyone can take on the journey to greener living.
Eco-friendly homes are better insulated. Double-glazed windows and insulated exterior walls help to keep the temperature inside your home even all year round. This means you’ll need to rely less on power guzzling heaters to make your home comfortable in winter, and energy-sapping air conditioners to keep cool in summer. Green living takes into account your comfort, as well as your impact on the environment.
And there’s much more to living green than just saving on your electricity bills. An eco-friendly home is one that saves on water too. With low flow shower heads, rainwater harvesting tanks and an eco-wise garden, there are plenty of ways for you to save this precious resource. Greener living benefits everyone, and the planet. As water and electricity become more and more expensive, living green will be a necessity and not just a fad.
Though you may not be ready to invest in an eco-friendly house, there are things you can do to start living green right now. Being aware of how your appliances consume energy is good start. There are lots of little things you can do to use energy more efficiently and save money. You could put that money towards getting a solar water heater which will help you save even more in the long run. It’s all a matter starting small and over time you can turn your traditional home into an eco-friendly home.
It’s one of the benefits of eco-friendly houses that few people are aware of. And while getting a good night’s sleep may not be the most obvious reason you should invest in a green home, it does have its advantages. When you’re well rested you perform better and that leads to an overall improvement in your quality of life.
But how do eco-friendly homes promote better sleep? The two important factors that influence sleep are noise pollution and air pollution. Green living promotes cleaner air and a quieter environment. Let’s look at how this can be achieved.
Insulation plays an important role in maintaining a comfortable temperature without consuming electricity. Such as:
Double-glazed windows are made up of two pieces of glass with a gap between them. The windows are tightly fitted to the frame to eliminate the possibility of air leaks. Not only does this prevent cold outside air from sneaking in through gaps, it also stops warm inside air from leaking out. It makes it much easier to control the temperature of the room which in turn keeps your room at a comfortable temperature for sleeping.
But the double-glazed windows also dampen the sound and keep the room quiet and peaceful. You’ll be able to drift off to sleep without flinching at every sound you hear.
This is another green living feature that has a dual purpose. First and foremost, it is best to use an eco-friendly insulating material called Lambdaboard. This material is completely recyclable which makes it ideal for use in eco-friendly houses. Lambdaboard is also highly resistant to chemicals used in adhesives during the building process. This makes it sturdy and durable and unlikely to sustain any damage.
Wall insulation not only helps eco-friendly houses to retain warmth in winter, it also provides sound insulation. Blocking out the noise of traffic and making your home a haven of peace and quiet.
It’s not uncommon for traditional houses to have some form of insulation in the roof. But this is often composed of harmful asbestos fibres which can be a health hazard. Once again, it is always best to employ an eco-friendly alternative.
Isotherm is a material made from recycled bottles, which means it’s sustainable and reduces your home’s carbon footprint. But it’s the addition of another insulating material that serves to protect your home from all forms of noise.
If you’ve never experienced a home that’s so well insulated it can be difficult to imagine how this could make a difference to your sleep. But light sleepers will appreciate the reduction in noise levels as a result of the thorough insulation offered by a greener living.
At the same time, all this insulation allows the kind of temperature control that ordinary home owners can only dream of. Eco-friendly homes remain warm in winter and cool in summer without needing to depend on heaters and air conditioners. If you do need to warm up or cool down a room this is achieved with the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system. A system of pipes laid under the floor that enables pumping hot or cold water to areas in the home where needed. The system is operated with little electricity and the temperature of each room can be adjusted independently.
It’s worth noting that the floors should also be insulated. The main reason for this is to make the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system as effective as possible. Once again it adds to the low levels of noise pollution experienced in a green home.
It’s this even temperature that also contributes to getting a good night’s sleep. You won’t have to worry about electric blankets and heaters in the winter or running a noisy air conditioner all night in the summer. You can walk barefoot on your tiled floors all year round without any discomfort. And when you wake up refreshed in the morning you’ll have the energy you need to get through the day with ease.
Pure, clean air
Greener living implies that every element of a home, from the foundation to the roof tiles, is chosen with care. Eco-friendly houses aren’t just good for the environment, they’re better for the people who live in them. Green living extends to the way you decorate and clean your home.
You may not be aware of this, but furnishings such as carpets and wooden furniture are manufactured and preserved using harmful chemicals. That new-carpet smell is merely a sign that your carpets are leaking dangerous VOCs into the air you breathe. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) include highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene. Breathing in these chemicals can result in headaches, nausea and nerve problems.
Over time, these chemicals accumulate in your home, and older carpets are likely to leach even more of these toxic products into your air. On the other hand, eco-friendly houses and buildings use organic materials that aren’t treated with these poisonous products. Bamboo is an ideal material as it’s sustainable, non-toxic and durable. It adds to the clean and contemporary style of the home. Living green doesn’t have to mean unattractive! Bamboo is an excellent alternative to traditional carpeting. And if you would like to add carpets to your home, look for natural materials such as wool.
Paint and wood varnish are also prime sources of VOCs. There are eco-friendly alternatives available. If you’re re-decorating, do some research before you buy a product and make sure it doesn’t contain toxic chemicals that could damage the health of your family. Or consider natural alternatives that don’t require chemicals in the manufacturing process. Sometimes these aren’t readily available or practical, but minimising your exposure to toxic chemicals will help you save in the long run. A healthy home means fewer visits to the doctor.
Chemicals in the home
If living green is important to you, you’ll want to take a closer look at the products you use to keep your home clean. There are many non-toxic cleaners you can use to keep your home fresh and clean. And the good news is that they’re often much cheaper. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice can clean just as well as your regular brands, just without the dangerous side-effects. Get creative and make up your own cleaning solutions. Greener living can be a lot of fun and easier on your pocket!
Here are some other things you can do to make sure the air in your home is free of toxins:
- Vacuum your floors regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. These filters trap even the smallest particles and keep them from circulating in the air you breathe.
- Add a few plants to your home. Plants are good at filtering the air keeping it clean and pure. Do some research to find out which plants are particularly suited to this task.
- Open your windows. For just a few minutes every day, you should open the windows in your home to allow the air to circulate. Stale air will be forced out and replaced with fresh, clean air.
- Take your shoes off at the door. Avoid dragging in dirt and toxic particles by removing your shoes as soon as you enter your home.
- Avoid storing paint and adhesives in your home or garage. Rather, keep these in an area with good ventilation to avoid the build-up of toxic airborne particles.
When you think of a green home you may only focus on the features that help you to save resources and money. Additionally, true green living requires you to go beyond that and examine every element in your home. Your furnishings can contribute to a negative impact on the environment in ways you may not be aware of. By understanding how items are produced you’ll realise just how many dangerous chemicals are involved.
Reducing these toxins in your home is not just kinder to the environment; it also makes your home a safer and healthier space. Whether you have a young family or about to retire, ensuring the air quality of your home is essential for a healthy and happy life.
The importance of good ventilation
There’s another reason why eco-friendly houses result in a better air quality—they’re properly ventilated. Ironically, it’s the insulation that has a big role to play in a properly ventilated home. By preventing air from flowing in and out of your home through gaps in windows and under doors, the air inside is less likely to become polluted from outside sources.
But, when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens, good ventilation can prevent mould and mildew from accumulating. Mould spores are always circulating in the air, but when they find an area with the right combination of damp and warmth, they multiply. That’s why bathrooms and kitchens are most at risk. You may not be aware of a mould problem until it gets too big to ignore. By then, the damage is already done and removing it can be costly.
In eco-friendly homes, good ventilation stops this from becoming a problem. And allergies are less likely to occur when green living principles are applied. Ensuring the purity of the air inside your home is an advantage of green living that few people appreciate. And it makes a real difference to your quality of life.
Studies have concluded that ‘sick-building syndrome’ does exist. It’s the reason behind poor productivity and an increase in opportunistic infections in the people who live and work in them every day. Eco-friendly houses and buildings promote better health, and it’s been proven. If that’s not enough to convince you to start living green, consider the effects a toxic home has on your quality of sleep.
Clean air and little noise are the best ways to get the rest your body needs. Eco-friendly homes provide these features for homeowners and the benefits are immediate. Families who live in a green home are healthier, happier and more productive. That all starts with a good night’s sleep and the best way to get that is to make sure your environment is clean and quiet.
Another benefit of greener living is the peace of mind it provides for eco-conscious homeowners. When you know that your home and way of life are not impacting the environment to its detriment, you can sleep easy at night.
What image do the words ‘green home’ conjure up for you? Do you see a home with solar panels on the roof and large rainwater harvesting tank in the garden? Or perhaps you think of a home filled with natural materials and energy-saving technology? Both of these answers would be correct—but there’s something you’re missing.
It’s not known benefits that gets top billing when you hear about green homes. The focus is usually put on how much money you can save on heating and running your home. After that it’s the fact the homes built using eco-friendly materials are kinder to the environment. Yes, not only do green homes save you money and use natural resources more efficiently, they’re also much healthier for the people who live in them. Let’s examine how that works.
It’s all about the indoor air quality
Just think about how much time you spend indoors. Whether it’s at home, at school, in the office or in your car, you probably spend about 90% of your day inside. You may not live in an area with a significant pollution problem, there’s no guarantee that the air you breathe is clean.
Some of the more common indoor air pollutants include:
- Pet dander (the minute scales from hair, feathers and skin)
- Dust mites and insects
- Bacteria and viruses
All of these contribute to poor indoor air quality and may affect the health of the people living in the home. The result of breathing this polluted air is an increase in infectious illnesses and allergies. It may also be the cause of respiratory illnesses or exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma.
Unfortunately, these biological organisms are impossible to avoid. They are constantly circulating through the air and practically invisible to the naked eye. So what are the features of a green home that result in a better indoor air quality?
Green homes are correctly insulated
While you may imagine that installing air filters is the only way to clean the air inside your home, this isn’t really a good idea. Filters will trap some of the pollutants, but they need to be cleaned regularly. If they aren’t, the problem can get worse.
A better idea is to make sure your home is properly insulated. Traditional homes, particularly in our moderate climate, don’t bother with insulation. After all it’s normal to have windows open to allow the fresh, cool air in during the summer months. But when the winter comes, dust and other pollutants sneak in through the gaps in windows and under doors. It also makes our homes chilly and this can weaken the immune system which increases your chances of catching the latest cold or flu virus doing the rounds.
Green homes, on the other hand, are very well insulated. Including ceiling, floor and wall insulation. Not only does this help keep the temperature even all year round, it also improves the indoor air quality.
Green homes use radiant heating and cooling
Aside from causing your electricity bill to increase during winter, using a blow heater can also decrease the quality of your air. Heaters tend to gather dust during the summer when they’re not in use. So when you first switch them on they release more pollutants into the air. And they continue to blow the pollutants around as you use them during the winter.
Green homes are heated differently. They make use of radiant heat to provide a comfortable indoor temperature during the winter months. For example Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling systems. It’s simply a network of pipes laid over the insulated floor of the home. Warm or cold water is pumped through the pipes to maintain the temperature according to your preference.
Not only does this system use very little electricity and water, it’s also extremely effective at keeping your home at a comfortable temperature all year round. And because it doesn’t produce the same kind of humidity as conventional heating systems do, it minimises the growth of mould and fungi. These organisms require damp and humid conditions to thrive, which radiant heating simply doesn’t create.
Green homes are virtually free of toxins
Although you may not even notice the toxins in traditional homes—they are there. These are referred to as VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. Essentially they are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. Most of them have no odour, so you’re not aware that you’re breathing them in. However, inhaling even low levels of these chemicals can increase your risk of developing some serious health problems. They include substances such as: acetone, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene.
The source of these chemicals are found in the building materials used to construct traditional homes, for example:
- Carpets and adhesives
- Vinyl floors
- Air fresheners
- Cleaning materials
They are virtually everywhere and very difficult to avoid. Unless your home is well ventilated you’re likely to have a higher concentration of these toxins indoors. And considering that’s where you spend most of your time, it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.
It’s also why green buildings use more natural building materials and finishes. These toxins are just as harmful to the environment and a home cannot be considered green if it doesn’t cause minimal impact to the environment. Think of the smell you notice when a new carpet has been laid—that’s actually formaldehyde you smell, and it’s not a good thing.
What would be better and safer for your home is bamboo flooring. Not only is it durable and sustainable, it’s virtually VOC free. It creates a contemporary look in the home and can also be used for countertops and furniture. Paints and varnishes low in VOCs are also used to ensure the air quality within a green home remains as pure as possible.
Something that you can start doing now to reduce the VOCs in your home is to take a closer look at the materials you use to keep your home clean. Many disinfectants also contain these chemicals but there are natural alternatives available. Simple, natural substances such as baking soda, white vinegar and even corn starch can be just as effective at keeping your home clean as your regular products. And you’ll end up saving some money on your monthly cleaning bill too.
Green homes are well ventilated
You may think that maintaining a good indoor air quality means keeping your windows and door shut, but the opposite is true. While green homes are well insulated, and this helps to keep out dust and other pollutants, it’s just as important to make sure that fresh air circulates through your home.
A green home is one that recognises that and includes features that allow for the proper movement of air through its spaces. This actually helps to remove stale, polluted air out of the home and replaces it with cleaner, fresher air from outside. Pollutants will only build up if they have nowhere to go. This is particularly true in bathrooms where the added moisture and warmth provide the ideal breeding ground for organisms such as mould and mildew.
But just opening your windows may not be enough. That’s why green home include some form of mechanical ventilation. A balanced ventilation system that uses an exhaust fan to pull stale air from the house while a supply fan furnishes the fresh air required is the best way to ventilate a well-insulated home.
The benefits of good indoor air quality
So aside from eliminating potentially harmful pollutants from the air inside your home, what other benefits can you expect from a green home?
This may surprise you but because your breathing becomes deeper and steadier as you sleep, good air quality becomes essential for a proper nights rest. Respiratory irritations can make breathing as you sleep difficult and may contribute to conditions such as sleep apnea.
Clean indoor air means you’ll sleep soundly at night and wake up refreshed.
A Fresher smelling home
A well-ventilated home just smells better. Odours are quickly removed and don’t settle into soft furnishings and fabrics. Mould and mildew don’t get a chance to multiply and spread so there’s no damp, musty smell to worry about. And when your home smells clean and fresh you immediately feel better.
With a home that’s correctly ventilated and heated you’ll achieve balanced humidity. That means it’s not so humid that biological organisms have a chance to grow, but not so cold and dry that your sinuses suffer. Breathing becomes easier and your home feels comfortable.
Reduced energy costs
Insulation and Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling helps your home maintain an even temperature throughout the year. Without having to rely on energy hungry heaters and air-conditioners, you’ll save money on your monthly running costs.
Ultimately, green homes provide a superior indoor air quality that contributes to the health of the people who live in the home. When you stop breathing in dangerous pathogens and chemicals, the stress on your immune system is reduced. There’s less risk of you or your family developing serious respiratory problems such as asthma. And as a result you’ll spend less money on doctor’s bills too.
While it may not be the number one reason for choosing a green home, it could be one of the most important. Unfortunately green homes are often thought to be expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary people. But good health is priceless, and you should also take into consideration how much a green home saves you in running costs and maintenance.
You may have heard of ‘sick building syndrome’. The term was coined in the 1970s and referred to the symptoms people exhibited after spending time in a particular building. These could range from specific symptoms such as rashes and nasal allergies to vague symptoms such as fatigue and aches and pains.
What was most revealing was the fact that these symptoms would disappear when people spend time away from the building or with the seasons. It was initially thought that electronic equipment was responsible for this problem. Today we know that a range of pollutants and toxins are the cause of these symptoms.
However, it has taken us some time to realise that sick building syndrome is not limited to the workplace. Your home is just as likely to make you ill if it’s not correctly insulated, ventilated or furnished. If your health and the health of your family is important to you, you’ll want to seriously consider buying a green home.
Finding ways to save water around the home has never been more important as South Africa is currently facing its worst drought in 23 years. It’s a heart-breaking situation as the demand for access to clean water continues to increase. Our existing infrastructure is simply not up to the job and as a result we are over-exploiting our existing water sources.
Pressure is being placed on government to improve the management of our rivers and dams. But ordinary citizens will have to make real lifestyle changes too, if we are going to reverse this situation. Rainwater harvesting tanks can be used to take advantage of harvesting all the rainfall,
And you can apply some of these to your existing home if you want to contribute towards the solution. So let’s look at all the areas in your home where you can start saving water.
In the kitchen
Do you know how many times a day you turn your kitchen tap on? Try to keep track of it for one day and you may be surprised. Kitchen appliances require water to run, and to be kept clean. So it’s the perfect place to start looking for ways to cut down on your water usage. This is how you can do it:
- Purchase water-efficient devices: Dishwashers and washing machines make our lives so much easier. Some can use more water than they need to. If you’re looking to replace your existing machines, research before you buy. Look for machines that are not just energy-efficient, but water-efficient too.
- Make a full load before you switch on: Don’t be tempted to run your dishwasher if you only have a few dishes to wash. Although using a machine can save more water than washing by hand, it only works if you fill the machine up before you switch it on. The same goes for your washing machine. Wait until you have a few more clothes to wash and then make a full load to get the most out of the water you’re using.
- Plug your sink: Whether you’re washing dishes, rinsing your hands of washing your vegetables, don’t let water just drain away. Plug your sink and collect that water. It can still be used to water your plants or flush your toilet. Re-using water like this is the best way to get the maximum value from it.
- Don’t let the tap run: While you’re waiting for your hot water to come through, don’t let the cold water in the pipe go to waste. Collect it in a jug and use it to fill up kettle for your next cup of coffee.
- Install and aerator: A simple fitting with a mesh screen when attached to the end of your kitchen tap, provides a steady stream of air and water. You’ll still get a steady stream but use less water to achieve the same effect. They’re inexpensive, easy to install and effective.
A little thought goes a long way. Just being mindful of how you use water in the kitchen can help you see ways to save it. So think before you turn on that tap and make the most of every drop of water.
In the bathroom
Another good place to look at saving water is in the bathroom. There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of water you use and still stay clean. Try these simple tips:
- Don’t bath, shower instead: A bath uses far more water than a shower. Although, when you do shower, try to keep it under five minutes. It really shouldn’t take you much longer to get clean. If you want to bath, don’t overfill the bath. You can also re-use your bath water for flushing the toilet or watering your garden.
- Install a low-flow shower head: You can find them at your local hardware store and it doesn’t take much to install one. Your shower won’t feel any different and it will save you a lot of water.
- Put a brick in your cistern: It sounds crazy, but it really does work. By displacing some of the water in your cistern you won’t use as much when you flush. It’s a cheap but effective way to stop good water going down the drain.
- Don’t leave the tap running: When you’re shaving or brushing your teeth, turn off the tap. You’re letting good water go to waste; so leave it off until you need to rinse your razor or your mouth.
In the garden
Maintaining a beautiful garden takes lots of effort and lots of water. While these tips won’t make gardening any easier, they will help you to save water. Adopt these habits and your garden will still be beautiful:
- Water your plants in the evening: If you water your plants in the heat of the day most of the water will simply evaporate. But watering later in the evening, when the ground is cooler allows it to absorb and maintain the water. Your plants will benefit and you may find you don’t have to water them as often.
- Watch where you put your sprinkler: Don’t water your pavement. Make sure your sprinkler is placed where water is really needed—next to your plants. Letting water go to waste like this does nothing for your garden and is a complete waste of water.
- Use natural and organic garden products: The water you use in your garden may eventually make its way back into the system. If it’s loaded with dangerous chemicals recycling is hampered. Use natural and organic products which break down quickly.
- Plant indigenous: They don’t need as much water as aliens. They’re much easier to care for and much appreciated by the local insects and bird life. Group plants with similar water requirements together. You’ll be able to water those that need more water without drowning species that don’t need as much.
Cars and swimming pools
Taking care of your home extends to your car and swimming pool and offer you the opportunity to use water as wisely as possible. This is how to keep them in top condition without wasting water:
- Wash your car using a bucket: preferably a bucket of grey water that you’ve collected from around your home. There’s no need to spray every speck of dust off your car with a hose. It’s better to use a bit of elbow grease than send a river running down your driveway.
- Don’t overfill your swimming pool either: If you’re not using it all the time, it’s not necessary to fill it to the top. You can also use a gutter pipe to fill your pool up, rather than water from a tap. Just slide an old pair of pantyhose over the end to catch any debris from going into the pool.
Check for leaks
An important part of saving water involves checking your home for any leaks. It may seem like a small thing but over time a steady drip can lead to a lot of wasted water. This can also cost you money so it’s worth finding and fixing a leak quickly. Here’s how to do it:
- Watch your water meter: It’s the easiest way to check for a leak. Read your meter and take note of the figure. Then don’t use any water for at least two hours and check the meter again. If there’s a change in the meter reading it’s certain that you have a leak.
- Use food colouring to check your toilet tank: Add a few drops of food safe dye to your toilet tank and if the colour appears in the bowl within 30 minutes, you know there’s a leak.
- Check the toilet handle: Another sign that you’re toilet is leaking is when the handle doesn’t return to its original position. That means the water keeps running and you should attend to it immediately.
Did you know that if a tap is dripping at a rate of 1 drop a second it adds up to 10,220 litres in a year! Usually all that’s required is installing a new washer to solve the problem. So never underestimate a leaking tap—and don’t wait to get it fixed.
The ultimate water saving tip—a rainwater harvesting tank
If you have the space for one, it’s well worth investing in a rainwater harvesting tank. They can easily be installed in your garden and allow you to collect and store rainwater for free. In green homes they can be installed underground. Connected directly to the gutters, they collect rainwater which can be filtered and pumped into the home for use in the washing machine and toilets.
Not only do they supply free water, they help to reduce the burden on the municipal system. And when there’s a water shortage, you’ll always have access to your own supply. Even ordinary rainwater harvesting tanks can make a big difference. Simply being able to water your plants, wash your car or fill your pool without turning on a tap helps to save water resources.
These are all simple tips, and if everyone used them in their homes, the water crisis facing the country could be reduced. Using water carefully also makes financial sense. As our demand for electricity increases, so does the price and the same is true for water. Finding ways to save on your water costs means you’ll have money to invest in bigger projects such as rainwater harvesting tank.
While the problem with outdated and inefficient infrastructure still remains to be resolved, reducing the demand for water will make things a bit easier for everyone. All that we really need to overcome is the way we take water for granted. Being water-wise isn’t just for the eco-conscious; it’s an attitude everyone should adopt if we want to avoid an even bigger water crisis in the future.
Despite the lack of rolling blackout in recent months, South Africa is still facing a power crisis. Investing in eco-friendly homes with photovoltaic solar panels is one solution to the problem. Though these homes are more expensive than traditional ones. If you’re a first time home buyer, does it make sense to splurge now and to save in the future? Here’s everything you need to know about owning a photovoltaic solar powered home.
The advantages of photovoltaic solar power
Beyond the obvious savings on the monthly electricity bill, photovoltaic solar power makes sense for a number of good reasons. Eco-friendly homes that run on photovoltaic power systems include the following benefits for homeowners:
Never run out of electricity
As long as the sun is shining, we’ll be able to run the home. The sun is a renewable source of energy unlike coal and gas. It’s not subject to price increases, and isn’t likely to run out any time in the next 5 billion years!
Get paid for excess electricity
In the future, we may get paid by the national supplier when generating more electricity than required, by feeding that excess back into the grid. Adopting green living habits could prove to be profitable.
Many Electicity Suppliers are already paying for excess electircity to be fed back into the grid.
Always have electricity when needed
By adding backup batteries to the photovoltaic solar system, excess energy is stored for use during the evenings. And when batteries aren’t installed, by using a hybrid grid-tied system, switching between photovoltaic solar power and the grid is enabled. That way electricity is always available.
Low maintenance costs
While photovoltaic solar panels seem futuristic, they are easy to care for. With few moving parts, there’s little chance that of spending a fortune on repairing or replacing parts. The only thing needed is to keep the panels free of dust and debris. If the panels are dirty they won’t absorb as much energy from the sun. All it takes to keep the panels clean is a hose and a little soapy water. Eco-friendly houses are generally cheaper and easier to maintain.
New developments are finding ways to integrate photovoltaic solar power and other green living features into the design of a home. Rainwater harvesting tanks, for instance, are installed underground to ensure they don’t detract from the appearance of eco-friendly houses. The benefits of photovoltaic solar power has resulted in more homeowners retrofitting this green technology to their existing homes.
ROI of a photovoltaic solar power system
After a few years, monthly savings on electricity pays for the photovoltaic solar power system – thus it pays for itself. Depending on the size of the system ROI is within five to eight years. Calculating current electricity costs over say 10 years, adding a modest price increase; keeping in mind the home is fully temperature controlled too, is an easy indication of the ROI period.
After that, savings continue progressively as the price of electricity increases. Keeping in mind when the green smart home is sold on, the cost of the green features is fully recouped. Living green adds value in surprising ways.
The photovoltaic solar power system will last for many years
Photovoltaic solar panels are built to last for many, many years. Improvements in the technology will bring the cost of components down over time. Nevertheless, we’re able to start saving by installing a photovoltaic solar power system.
How does solar power work?
Greener living is the way to go. Photovoltaic solar power is a main green feature. Broadly speaking, here is how it works.
The sun operates like a nuclear reactor, sending out packets of energy known as photons which reach the surface of Earth in eight-and-a-half minutes. Every hour, enough photons bombard our planet to satisfy global energy needs for a whole year!
Such a system is made up of photovoltaic solar panels and an inverter. The panels capture the energy from the sun and transform it into Direct Current. The inverter takes this and converts it into Alternating Current. It is this Alternating Current that is used to power the appliances in the home.
How much do solar panels cost?
There is no standard answer to this question. It all depends on how much power is needed to provide for a family’s needs. When designing eco-friendly houses, developers take the following into consideration:
- How much sun does the rooftop receive?
- What is the size of the roof?
- How much power is required?
- What is the budget?
- Whether it’s a hybrid grid-tied system?
- Whether backup batteries are required?
- Whether smart technology is required?
These are the questions to consider when investigating the idea of installing a photovoltaic solar power system; to an existing property or when it’s being designed for a ready-built eco-friendly home.
Which solar power system is the best?
There is a choice of three systems. Let’s take a closer look at them:
Stand-alone photovoltaic solar system
This type of photovoltaic system is also known as an ‘off-grid’ system. It operates independently of the national grid and makes use of backup batteries to store the power generated by the photovoltaic solar panels during the day. This means solar energy is used to run the home late into the night and during periods of bad weather.
Hybrid grid-tied system
The system works with the national grid. It reduces the electricity bill and is able to switch over to the national supply when needed.
The system also acts as a backup during load shedding and power disruptions.
Ideal green smart system: hybrid grid-tied, photovoltaic with battery backup
When implementing a photovoltaic solar system, adding backup batteries and tying these to the grid, is the ideal green smart home system.
Such a system works like this:
During the day, the photovoltaic system runs the green home directly from the sun. Excess power is stored in the backup batteries. When the backup batteries are replenished, further self-generated excess power is fed into the grid, accumulating a credit with the grid service provider. On most days, by 11h00 the backup batteries are loaded and excess is going to the grid. From around 18h30 the home is run from the backup batteries. Once the batteries reach their evening threshold, the grid is used; first depleting the previously earned credit. Thereafter the grid usage is paid for. The backup batteries evening threshold allows for battery power to run the home during the morning peak period, after which the sun kicks in again. This cycle is repeated each day.
By designing the system to use the home’s own electricity during the morning and evening peak periods, should tiered electricity tariffs be implemented, the highest tariffs is never paid!
The number of photovoltaic solar panels and backup batteries installed is calculated based on evening usage and how much excess is fed into the grid. This is the ideal green smart electricity system. Becoming independent of the grid on own terms.
How much will I save?
The main reason for investing in any kind of green technology comes down the savings. When determining whether spending a substantial amount of money on a photovoltaic system is worth it, understanding the potential savings is necessary. With photovoltaic solar power there are three areas where savings are achieved:
As mentioned earlier, monthly savings will be determined by how much energy is needed to run the home. The up-front cost of installing a photovoltaic solar system will be offset by the savings. The more that is spent on electricity now, the more the savings are in the future.
Photovoltaic solar systems require little maintenance so apart from the initial installation costs, there is the maintenance costs.
Although it’s not a direct saving, the cost of the photovoltaic system is incorporated in the property value when selling it on. Eco-friendly homes will become more valuable as the trend grows in South Africa, resulting in higher resale values.
- Avoid future price increases
The cost of electricity will continue increasing. Though South Africans have enjoyed cheaper electricity for years, that’s changing. Opting for photovoltaic solar power arrests any future price increases.
Green living is here to stay. It’s a real solution to the challenges we face of limited resources that will become more expensive in the future. To maintain our standard of living, it’s worth embracing green living philosophies to reduce our dependence on these resources without sacrificing comfort.
Photovoltaic solar energy makes a lot of sense for home buyers and existing home owners. Be prepared for the future!
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.