4 unconventional ways to save on your water bill (without cutting down on your water usage)

4 unconventional ways to save on your water bill (without cutting down on your water usage)

There is lots of advice out there on how to cut down on your water usage and save money on your water bill. But why deprive yourself of water simply to save a few Rand? We’ve come up with four ways to save money without having to cut down on your water.

Plant indigenous plants in your garden

When a garden is filled with indigenous plants, you will barely need to water or maintain it throughout the year. Indigenous plants can withstand the hot South African summers, while still staying green during winter months. Imagine having to almost never water your garden except in drought months!

Awareness is increasing in South Africa regarding trees and plants that are not native to South Africa. These plants are often referred to as invaders. Invader plants have a way of stifling the growth of native plants by:

  • Stealing moisture during dry seasons
  • Taking up space and crowding other plants
  • Self-seeding prolifically, not giving other plants a chance
  • Growing elaborate root systems that cannot be unearthed
  • Not adding any benefits to animals such as birds and insects

Another aspect to having these plants in your garden is the maintenance. Many of them steal moisture from your soil—meaning you are forced to water your garden more regularly to ensure the survival of indigenous plants. You will be required to trim these plants regularly to ensure they don’t take over. Worst of all, when seeding takes place you are left with hundreds of weeds.

The benefits to having a purely indigenous garden are many. Here are a few reasons we planted them in our homes:

  • Indigenous plants work well together. Because they are native to South Africa, they benefit each other; coexisting in a way that cannot take place with other plants.
  • These plants are more likely to stay green all year round. They don’t mind harsh climates, as they have already adapted themselves to our weather conditions.
  • Maintenance such as watering, trimming and shaping is minimal with indigenous plants. They work well together to create unity within your garden—without much effort from people.
  • Indigenous plants also bring life to your home. Because they house birds, insects and small animals, your garden will soon become its own little ecosystem. Another reason why working WITH nature is so much better!

So it’s not only about saving water—it’s also about all these other benefits. Now let’s look at another way to save water…

Harvest rainwater for everyday cleaning

Installing a  rainwater harvesting system on your property is an excellent investment. Rainwater is not fit for drinking, bathing or showering; but it can be used in almost any other capacity in your home. Use rainwater to flush your toilets, washing machine and your outside taps. In fact, any cleaning can be done with harvested rainwater which has been coarsely filtered.

Many people wonder whether rainwater is clean enough to use in the home. The answer is, YES! Basic rainwater collection tanks are perfect for watering your garden. But if you want to take it one step further, then a rainwater filtering system is excellent.

These systems perform three major functions:

  • First of all they collect rainwater more efficiently than regular surface mounted tanks. That’s because they are installed in strategic positions which maximise collection potential.
  • Second, these systems perform general coarse filtering of your water. This takes place by extracting the water from just above the surface—thereby giving you the cleanest portion.
  • Finally, these systems go one step further by distributing the water to certain areas of the home. This includes the toilets, the washing machine and the irrigation system for your garden.

That’s right. If you can get your rainwater tank connected to your plumbing, you can even use it for toilet flushing! This is a system that is usually pre-installed in a ready-built green home; but if you plan on staying in your home for years to come, there’s no reason why you can’t install such a system in your current home.

As mentioned, unfiltered rainwater is not fit for consumption. But some would argue that tap water isn’t either. So why fill your water filter with tap water when rainwater is free? If it’s available and accessible, you may as well use what nature has already given you free of charge! Since most of us use water filters/coolers in our homes, there’s nothing wrong with filtering your rainwater for the purpose of consumption. Simply access your water at the source, collect it in a jug, and fill your water filter. Within a few hours you will have perfectly clean drinking water that didn’t cost you a cent!

Now you may be wondering about the price. What does rainwater harvesting cost? How hard are these systems to maintain?

Although decent rainwater harvesting systems cost a bundle, they provide a return on investment that far surpasses their initial cost. This is a viable long term option for homeowners who want to save on their utility bill.

Maintenance on rainwater harvesting systems is minimal. These systems are designed in such a way that they run themselves. And because there are no complicated mechanics to how they work, they won’t breakdown or malfunction.

Reduce the need for running your taps unnecessarily

Plumbing has slowly evolved over the decades. Today we have awesome systems which will help you save on your water bill. Although these savings are small at first, accumulatively they make a massive difference.

One such system is a heat pump. Heat pumps work in conjunction with three other systems which keep your hot water warm within the pipes. These include:

  • Hot water pipe insulation
  • Insulation of the tank to negate the need for constant heating
  • A linked loop plumbing system to prevent waste

We’ll look at each of these aspects more closely. But first, let’s explore how having hot water immediately on tap ultimately saves water.

You may be surprised to learn how much water is wasted while you wait for it to warm up. Conventional plumbing systems allow water within the pipes to cool down within minutes of your previous use. So every time you need hot water, you have to run your hot water tap for about 15 seconds or more before it warms up.

This wastes A LOT of water! Collectively, litres and litres of water are lost. That’s literally money down the drain.

So let’s now look at the three factors that help you save money on your water bill:

  • Hot water pipe insulation

When hot water flows through pipes, insulation keeps it warm. Insulation material is wrapped around pipes to ensure heat is not lost while the water sits dormant inside. This ensures that hot water is immediately accessible whenever the hot water tap is turned on.

  • Insulation of your water tank

In addition to the pipes being insulated, the tank needs to retain its temperature too. By keeping the water tank insulated, water does not require constant heating. Electricity is saved and so is water—because again, you don’t need to run your tap to get to the hot water. It’s already there!

  • Linked loop plumbing

A linked loop plumbing system is another practical way to keep hot water accessible throughout your home. This again negates the need for running water to get it to the desired temperature. Linked loop plumbing ensures that water is always warm, always accessible no matter where you are in your house.

Use reputable green vendors to fit your plumbing systems

As with all industries, the green home industry in South Africa is rife with low quality materials and installers. That’s why it’s important to find reputable vendors when looking into these systems. Yes, you will pay a little more. But rather that than having to worry about problems down the line.

Here are some you may hear about:

  • Leaking pipes

Leaking pipes may cause you unimaginable problems later on. Because these pipes are built into walls, floor and ceilings, they need to be of a very high quality. Low quality pipes will leak after a few years and breaking down your home to repair them is simply not worth it. And even if you don’t realise you have a leak, your water bill will be ridiculously high despite your attempts to save on water usage.

  • Cheap insulation material

We’ve already seen how insulation of pipes and hot water tanks can save money on your water [and electricity] bill. But if that insulation material comes loose, it’s function is lost. Additionally, if the wrong type of material is used, your insulation won’t be as effective.

  • Poor installation

When a green plumbing system is not fitted correctly, it will not perform as well. If it’s not performing the way it should, it’s not saving you money—and is therefore a useless addition to your home.

  • Cheap brands

Green home components should come from reputable green suppliers. There are countless cheap brands out there and many South African installers use these brands—choosing price over quality. Do a bit of research before you get an installer out and make sure they know their brands.

Don’t be discouraged by these possible problems. Fortunately there are companies in South Africa that are serious about delivering a high quality service.

 These water saving strategies are probably very different from the ones you’re used to reading about. And while they are unconventional methods, they are super effective in giving you a return on your investment.

If you’ve never considered green features as a way to save on your water bill, then now’s the time to look into it. As green home development increases, more and more of these methods will be implemented. Accumulatively, when water is saved, it has a huge impact on our planet.

It also has a positive effect on the economy since everyone benefits when water is saved! So, for saving on your pocket, your planet and your peace of mind; implement these systems wherever you can and save our most precious resource.

9 Eco-friendly ways to keep warm this winter

9 Eco-friendly ways to keep warm this winter

Unless you’re a swallow, following the sun to avoid a chilly winter just isn’t possible for most of us. But you don’t have to dread the long, cold nights if you follow the simple tips in this article. Not only will your home be cosier, you’ll be saving money and saving the planet.

Most of our methods for combating the icy blasts of winter involve using electricity. And that’s why we expect to see a spike in our yearly electrical bill between June and August. But with the increasing costs of this source of energy, it makes sense to look for more affordable alternatives. You don’t have to deprive yourself of warmth and comfort—just be smarter about the way you use it.

# 1: Draft-proof your house

The key to keeping your home cosy in winter is insulating it. That way the warm air stays inside, and the cold air stays outside. So take the time to check for any air leaks. Doors, windows, plumbing and wiring holes are the most obvious spots for air leaks.

Arm yourself with a tube of exterior silicon caulk or some insulation strips and get to work patching up the gaps. And don’t forget the gap between your doors and the floor. You can use a simple door sweep to solve this problem.

These are in-expensive measures you can take to insulate your home without impacting the environment. You may still need to use a heater to warm up the air inside your home, but it will be more efficient with proper insulation. And you’ll see a real reduction in your energy bill over the winter months.

# 2: Close the door to unused rooms

Remember, it’s much easier and more energy efficient to heat a small space. So cut down on the area you have to heat by closing doors to unused rooms. You could even roll up a towel or mat and use it at the bottom of the door to stop any air leaks.

That way you aren’t spending energy heating up an area that’s not in use. If it’s unlikely that you’ll need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, then close your bathroom door before you go to sleep. This is good advice when it comes to bathrooms and guest toilets.

Bathrooms are usually completely tiled which makes them very cold in winter. Closing your bathroom door will prevent the cold air from seeping out and finding its way into your bedroom while you sleep and lowering the temperature while you sleep. You’ll sleep better in a room that’s comfortably warm and once again, it will reduce the amount of energy you use to keep your bedroom at the right temperature through the night.

# 3: Use a hot water bottle to heat your bed

The hot water bottle versus the electric blanket always stirs up a passionate debate. From an energy perspective you could argue that an electric blanket is more efficient than boiling a kettle. But that’s only if you use it to warm up your bed and switch off the moment you climb in. But how many people can really resist leaving it off the whole night?

By contrast, a hot water bottle does require more energy, but the effects last longer without the need for continually consuming expensive power. The trick is to wrap your hot water bottle up and place it at the bottom of your bed at least half an hour before you go to sleep. This gives it time to warm the bed up before you get in. And you can un-wrap it during the night to release more warmth as you need it.

You could even use a microwaveable hot water bottle to save on heating costs. And you’ll still have a toasty place to lay your head in winter without putting a big dent in your electricity bill.

# 4: Leave your oven door open after cooking or baking

Winter is the perfect time to indulge in some comfort food. So after whipping up a tray of chocolate chip cookies or a tummy-pleasing macaroni and cheese, leave your oven door open. All the power used to make these delicious things results in a lot of heat that goes to waste if you simply close the oven door once you’re done.

Leave the door open though, and you’ll fill your kitchen with some warmth (and a homely smell) while you enjoy the fruits of your domestic labour. And your kitchen will still be cosy as you get working cleaning up afterwards. If you’re serious about reducing electricity costs and saving the planet, small habits like this can make a real difference in the long run. You should always look for ways to get the most out of the electricity you use—especially in winter.

# 5: Invest in a humidifier

The air in winter is not just colder, it’s also drier. So it’s no surprise that many people use a humidifier in the colder months to make their homes more comfortable. Using a humidifier has a number of benefits:

  • It keeps your skin moist so you won’t suffer from scaly skin and chapped lips.
  • Your wooden furniture will last longer and won’t dry out which often results in shrinking and cracking.
  • You won’t suffer with a dry throat and nasal passages from breathing in cold, dry air all the time.

But the great thing about humidifiers is that they actually save you money on your heating bill. Moist air feels warmer, so you’ll be able to turn down your thermostat and still have a cosy, comfortable house. You need to do your homework though and make sure you’re getting the right kind and size of humidifier to suit your needs. Think about the size of the room you’ll be using it in, and how convenient it is for you to refill it.

If you’re not ready to spend money on a humidifier, you can always buy some indoor plants. They’ll help to add more moisture to the air in your home. Or, you could open the bathroom door after a hot shower and let the moisture and warmth spread out into your home.

With the right humidifier in place you can enjoy the health and comfort benefits of warm, moist air throughout the winter and save on heating costs.

# 6: Change the direction of your ceiling fan

We’ll bet you never thought about this nifty trick. Ceiling fans are designed to spin anti-clockwise and force warm up and away during the summer months. But by reversing the way they rotate you can use this to your advantage in winter. That way the warmth is forced down to where you really need it.

Most fans have a switch that you can use to change the direction in which the blades spin. And this little trick is perfect for rooms with high vaulted ceilings which are difficult to heat up in the winter. Just set the fan on its lowest setting to keep the warm air moving downwards, and your space will feel just as cosy as a smaller room.

Once again, this is a more efficient use of energy than just relying on running heaters at high temperatures for a long period of time.

# 7: Use a space heater and only heat the room you’re using

There’s no need to constantly heat your entire house in winter. It’s expensive and it wastes electricity. So get used to using smaller heaters to warm up the room when you’re in it. That way you stay warm and comfortable without running up a huge bill in the process.

The rooms you use most often are usually the kitchen and living room, so don’t worry about the bedrooms until just before you turn in for the night. Get the heater on while you bath or shower; that way the room will be warm and snug when you come out.

# 8: Put rugs down on tiled floors

Not all homes have carpets in every room, so when winter hits invest in some large, thick rugs to make your floors more comfortable. Unless you have underfloor heating (which can be expensive), heating the tiles in your home is almost impossible.

And while walking barefoot across a cool, tiled floor is heavenly in summer, in the winter it’s a nightmare. So indulge in your passion for interior décor and add some rugs to up the cosiness and save your feet from an unpleasant experience.

# 9: Dress warmly and make a hot drink

It goes without saying that when winter strikes you need to dress warmly. Throw in a cup of tea, coffee or even hot chocolate and you’ll be as snug as the proverbial bug in a rug. It’s easier to raise your body temperature than warming a whole house. And it’s cheaper too.

So get out your blankets, wraps and slippers and enjoy everything that winter has to offer.  After all, it only lasts for a few months every year.

Unless you live in a home that has been purpose-built with expert insulation and double-glazed windows, the truth is that you are going to need to use electricity to maintain a certain level of comfort throughout the winter.

But there are ways to stay warm, save money and conserve energy. Just keep the following in mind:

  • Insulating your home is an inexpensive, sure-fire way to reduce your electricity bill. So look for ways to stop warm air getting out, or cold air getting in and seal them up. You’ll benefit from a properly insulated home in the summer months too.
  • Don’t let the heat you do generate go to waste. Think of all the things that create warmth in your home. You heaters, oven and even your shower can make the air around your warmer. Get the maximum benefit from all of these heat sources and find ways to contain it.
  • Heat smaller areas and save. If you’re not using it—don’t heat it. This is another way of ensuring that the heat you create isn’t wasted.

Green homes must be so well insulated that you hardly notice the change in seasons.  They should feature insulated ceilings and walls, floors and pipes and make use of double-glazed windows and glass doors to render the fluctuations in temperature throughout the year almost non-existent.

Combine that with a hydronics radiant heating and cooling system and you’ll have a comfortable and cost-effective environment. So if you’re in the market for a new home, it’s worth looking at one that already has the insulation you need  for a cosy winter.

How a green home saves you money

How a green home saves you money

Your home is the biggest investment you’ll ever make. And with the rising cost of electricity and the vulnerability of South Africa’s water supply, green living is becoming a more attractive option for many home owners. But can you afford it now? The last thing you want to do is over-capitalise on your property.

Another option would be selling your current home and buying a ‘green’ home instead. But how would a home that’s designed to be environmentally friendly save you money? While it’s true that sustainably built homes cost more initially, the long term benefits extend beyond saving on your electricity bill. So with that in mind, here are four reasons why investing in a green home makes financial sense.

  1. A green home costs less to maintain

Do you have a list of things to do around the home? Perhaps you need to paint the exterior, tend to your gutters and downpipes or maintain a large garden? There always seems to be something that needs repairing or re-decorating.

And it all costs money, time and effort. A green home simply doesn’t have these issues to begin with. That’s because a good developer makes sure that the materials used to construct a green home are durable. In a green home you should find the following low-maintenance features:

  • Naturally coloured roof tiles

That’s right, you’ll never have to spend money or put your back out painting your roof. The colour of these tiles won’t fade from exposure to the harsh South African sun. And they’re tough as nails too. They can withstand rain, wind and hail and aren’t easily damaged. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have to spend money replacing them due to damage.

  • Self-cleaning rainwater tanks

Most rainwater harvesting tanks require some form of maintenance to remove the plant material, waste and sediment that build up over time. This can be a tedious job if you undertake it yourself, or expensive if you call in a professional cleaning service.

Rather choose tanks that are self-cleaning. So you’ll never have to incur the hassle or expense that normally comes with such a feature.

  • Aluminium and stainless steel

Aluminium is the ideal material for window and door frames. They add to the look and style of any home and the material itself offers homeowners several benefits over wood or uPVC frames, including:

  • Low maintenance: Resistant to all weather conditions and corrosion, aluminium frames won’t warp, crack, split or swell.
  • Environmentally friendly:Aluminium is one of the most highly recycled materials in the world which makes it extremely sustainable.
  • Thermally efficient:Frames made from aluminium outperform other materials when it comes to adapting to heat gain and loss.
  • Inexpensive:Although prices vary between manufacturers, aluminium doesn’t cost as much as you might think. And because the material is so energy efficient, you’ll quickly recoup the initial costs.
  • Design flexibility:You can customise aluminium frames to suit any shape or size making it particularly suitable for unusual openings.

Steel is another material that’s both cost-effective and sustainable. It offers strength and durability to the frame of a home and requires little or no maintenance. Best of all, it can be completely recycled so it never goes to waste.

  • A water-saving garden

Keen gardeners will already appreciate the fact that maintaining a green lawn and lush shrubbery takes a lot of time and effort. Create gardens that still look appealing without the hassle or cost by including these elements:

  • Indigenous trees and shrubs: These require less water as they have adapted to the South African climate. You won’t have to water them as often as foreign plants so you’ll spend less time working on your garden, and more time enjoying it.
  • Smaller lawns: This is the part of any garden that requires the most maintenance and incurs the most costs. Constantly watering your lawn to keep it looking at its best comes at a cost. Instead, make smaller lawns and use pots and decorations to make your garden a beautiful space.
  • Rainwater tanks: Rainwater doesn’t cost you anything and is perfectly safe for using to water your plants and clean your car. Even in times of drought, supplementing with rainwater saves on costs and helps preserve this precious resource.

A green home normally makes use of alternative energy sources to reduce your reliance on the grid. And these features will reduce your monthly costs. But by taking into consideration every aspect of your living space, you can reduce your costs even further by reducing the need for expensive maintenance.

  1. A green home is healthier

An advantage of green homes that is often overlooked is the fact that they are healthier than regular homes. In other words, all the materials and methods used in a green home tend to emit less harmful chemicals and toxins into your living space.

There are a few ways in which green building practices contribute to the health of a home:

  • Better air quality: Because green homes use paints and adhesives that emit less volatile organic compounds, the air in the home is safer and cleaner. Without constantly breathing in dangerous chemicals there’s less chance of the inhabitants suffering from eye, nose and throat irritations and headaches.
  • Elimination of mould: A home that is properly sealed and ventilated doesn’t give mould the chance to grow. Mould and damp can cause respiratory problems and infections, allergies or asthma. They can also affect the immune system.
  • Less temperature variations: Proper insulation in green homes reduces the fluctuation in temperature inside the home between seasons. Green homes are a comfortable temperature all year round which means you’re less likely to get sick. You may not get ill from being cold, but it does affect the immune system, making you more susceptible to any kind of infection or illness.
  • Cleaner water: the filtration systems used on green homes are effective at removing up to 99% of dangerous contaminants, including chlorine, metal and pesticides. And cleaner water means there’s less chance of you picking up an opportunistic infection.

But what does all of this mean for your pocket? Quite simply, it means you’ll be spending less time at the doctor’s rooms and less money on treatments and medicines. Healthcare is expensive and as the old saying goes—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Many studies have shown the health benefits that green building provide to the people who live and work in them. A healthier living space also makes people happier and more productive. These benefits make investing in a green home a smart decision for your pocket and your future health.

  1. A green home has a higher resale value

Your initial costs may be high, but if you ever need to sell your green home you’ll be pleased to hear that it can command a higher resale value than ordinary homes. Even retro-fitting an existing home with green features can increase your asking price when you sell it.

Energy efficient homes are becoming more attractive to homeowners because of the continual and long-tern savings they represent. And in current and future economic times, the ability to reduce your monthly running costs will be an important consideration when shopping for a home.

Scarcity of natural resources will also be a concern for future homeowners. So choosing a property that has been designed to make the most of natural energy sources will be more attractive. While green homes are still the exception, rather than the norm, many new developments are starting to incorporate green features. And in the future, tax rebates may be offered for those who make use of green technologies when building new homes.

How quickly you can expect a return on your investment in a green home depends on several factors. Your initial costs versus the savings on monthly utility bills, reduction in maintenance costs and the savings on your healthcare all contribute to the final figure. Within reason, you can expect to have recouped your costs within 10 years or less.

  1. Green homes reduce the strain on local infrastructure

Even those who do not live in an energy efficient home can benefit from living in an area where there are green homes available.

Because green homes don’t rely solely on the electricity grid to run their homes, this makes it much easier for local suppliers of electricity to cope with the demand. As a result, the cost of supplying these services will stabilise and make them more affordable and reliable for everyone.

Unfortunately there are not enough green homes to make this a reality yet. But with the movement becoming more popular it could mean that in the future, electricity will be more affordable for everyone. And that way, even if you do need to use the grid to supplement your photo-voltaic solar electricity supply, it won’t cost you as much as it might have.

  1. Green homes have many other benefits

Besides those already mentioned above, green homes have a number of other benefits that can’t be measured in monetary value.

The benefit to environment is the most obvious. Even though these homes still use a variety of building materials, these are sourced and used in a sustainable way. Harvesting rainwater and using solar panels for generating your own energy reduce the strain on local resources. Green homes generate less pollution and reduce your carbon footprint substantially.

Green homes are stronger, sturdier and built to last. They have been designed to work with nature and not against it. A good developer will take all aspects of the construction into consideration when helping you plan your green home. This includes looking at factors such as the location and your requirements. They will know how to maximise the efficiency of systems and techniques to benefit you and the environment.

Once you’ve experienced a green home you won’t want to live any other way. The air and water quality are often much better than those in other homes. Double glazed windows reduce noise pollution and make green homes a haven of peace and tranquility.

If the cost of buying or building a green home is putting you off the idea, these benefits should convince you otherwise. It’s tempting to try and save money, but when buying a home one needs to consider the long-term costs involved in maintaining and running it. And this is where a green home can really make an impact on your future expenses. Your home should be an investment for the future. So take the time to research and calculate the real cost of a potential property. Once everything is on paper, you’ll clearly see the financial benefits of going green. 

Your questions about photo-voltaic electricity answered

Your questions about photo-voltaic electricity answered

It’s the ultimate dream for every homeowner—being able to produce enough electricity to run your home without ever relying on the grid. The benefits to homeowners are twofold. First, it can significantly reduce your monthly electricity bill. Second, you’ll never be without power. Even if the grid goes down, your appliances and lights will carry on working.

Existing homes can also be retro-fitted with a photo-voltaic system, although this may incur some additional costs. We’ll look at what’s involved, how the system works and what costs and saving you can expect from using such solar power.

What is a photo-voltaic system?

Essentially, photo-voltaic means harnessing the power of the sun and converting it into electricity that can be used to power your home. The system can be independent or work in conjunction with your existing electricity supply. It consists of the following components:

  • Solar panels
  • An inverter (which converts direct current (DC) power from the solar panels into alternating current (AC) for powering appliances
  • Batteries to store electricity which is not used immediately (these are for when the sun isn’t shining)

While there are currently no incentives offered to homeowners who install such a system, this may change in the future. And it may be possible that local councils will purchase electricity back from homeowners as more people install these systems in their homes. In other words, installing a photo-voltaic system in your home will not just save you money, but earn you money too.

What do you need and how does it work?

These are the main components of any photo-voltaic system:

  • Solar panels

The solar panels are made up of a series of cells that convert the power of the sun into electricity you can use in your home. They are often installed on the roof where they can capture the most sunlight during daylight hours. They are made from semi-conductor materials such as silicon. When light strikes the surface of the panel, the energy penetrates the cells and dislodges electrons from the material’s surface. Chemicals added to the surface of the panel help to create a path for the electrons to travel down. And this is what creates an electrical current.

  • DC-AC inverter: This device converts the electrical current into one that can be used to power the appliances in your home.
  • Solar storage batteries: Considering our sunny climate it is possible to generate more electricity than you need during the day. In this case, batteries can be used to store the excess electricity generated, ensuring that you have an uninterrupted and constant supply of power whenever you need it.
  • Charge controller/regulator: These prevent excessive discharge or overcharging which may damage the storage battery.

The system is a simple but effective way on powering your home for free.  But there are two different systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Solar Power Systems

Either of these systems is suitable for the home or office. Which one you chose will depend on your needs. They are:

The stand-alone solar power system

This system only consists of two components: the solar panels and the DC/AC converter. It’s a popular choice for powering ventilation fans, water pumps and with small circulation pumps with solar water heating systems.

Because it doesn’t include batteries, there is no way to store the power generated for use when there is no direct sunlight. So it’s worth considering adding batteries to your solar panel that will allow you to store energy for use during periods of insufficient sunlight.

The grid-connected hybrid power system

This kind of system works hand-in-hand with your regular supply of grid power. Because the inverter changes the current of the photo-voltaic solar panels from DC to AC, the electricity is consistent with the voltage and power quality requirements of the grid. Therefore the self-generated electricity is automatically either supplied to the home, the batteries or the grid.

When it generates more electricity than the home needs, and the batteries are fully loaded, the system feeds power back into the grid. It also means that you will still have a supply of power, from the batteries to your home when your panels aren’t producing power due to lack of sunlight, or if it has been disabled to carry out repairs or is being serviced, in which case it either draws power from the batteries or the grid; based on the lower threshold of the batteries, or which part of the system is being repaired or serviced.

The automation ensures optimal use of the self-generated and grid electricity of the hybrid system.

Determining the size of the system you require

A photo-voltaic system can be pricey, but it doesn’t have to break your budget. The first step in determining whether the long term savings it offers are worth it, is to figure out how much energy you need to run your home comfortably. This is how you should go about it:

  • Make a list of all the electrical appliances you use, how many watts they need to work and how many hours you use them every day.
  • Now multiply the number of watts by hours of use to get the total needed for each appliance.
  • Add these figures together and you’ll have the total number of watts your system needs to generate on a daily basis.
  • Work out how many hours of daylight you get every day.
  • Finally, divide the total watts you require by the number of daylight hours and you’ll have a figure that indicates how many watts your system needs to produce on a daily basis.

Let’s use your TV as an example. Say you watch about 2 hours of TV every evening, and it uses about 14 Watts, multiply that by 2 and you end up with 28 Watts to run your TV. You’ll need to do this calculation for every appliance in your home.

And let’s say that you work out your home needs an average of 3000 Watts a day to keep all these appliances working. If you get an average of 4.3 hours of daylight, then divide the 3000 Watts by 4.3 and you’ll need a solar panel system that can deliver at least 698 Watts to power your home without relying on the national grid.

Remember, if you use your solar panels in conjunction with the main grid, you can start small and add more panels as you can afford them. This way you can start reaping the benefits of solar power without spending a large amount of money.

And if you consider how much a photo-voltaic system will save on your monthly electricity bill, it won’t be long before you can afford to increase your system to cope with your demands.

Photo-voltaic Solar Panel Installation

If you don’t have the required technical skills, it is best to leave the installation of your solar panel system to the experts. A company that is properly accredited will be able to install the system correctly and safely.

You have three different options when it comes to installing the solar panels:

  • Ground mounted solar panels
  • Roof mounted solar panels
  • Thin film solar panels

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Whether you are buying a green home with this feature or retro-fitting an existing home, you’ll need to consider the cost and practicality of each system before you make a decision. Here is some more information about each kind of installation to help you:

  • Ground mounted solar panels

In this case the solar panels are fastened to the ground, and you have a few more options to choose from:

  • Static Mounted System:This is the most cost-effective type of installation, provided you have the space for it. The panels are mounted in a position to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.
  • Active Solar Tracker:These panels actively track the sun during the day to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight.
  • Passive Solar Tracker:This system uses heat from the sun to move a liquid inside the tracker from side to side. So gravity does the work of moving the panels and it eliminates the need for motors, gears and controls. This makes it slightly cheaper than an active solar tracker.

Ground mounted solar panels are ideal if you have a large area of unused land. You can install more panels and enjoy higher savings. And you don’t have to make any changes to rooftop to accommodate the panels.

  • Roof mounted solar panels

You can mount photo-voltaic solar panels on just about any kind of roof, although tiled roofs can present a bit of a challenge. The panels are mounted directly on the roof and will not interfere with the aesthetics of your home.

They don’t take up any space on land that you may want to use for other projects and they offer additional protection from the weather and general wear and tear. This increases the value of your property. They’re also faster and easier to install than ground mounted systems.

  • Thin film solar panels

Although these aren’t more efficient at collecting sunlight than other solar panels, they have some attractive advantages. They are literally glued onto the roof which eliminates the risk of damage to your roof. They’re lighter than other panels too and in very hot climates they tend to work better than conventional panels.

The size of your property, the position of your roof, how much energy you need to generate and the installation costs all need to be taken into consideration. You should also work out how much you’ll save to determine your return on investment. You might be surprised to find that solar panels are not that expensive to install.

The benefits of a photovoltaic system

The energy generated from solar panels is a renewable resource. Unlike coal and gas it will never run out and you’ll enjoy free electricity for at least 25 – 30 years (this is the average lifespan of a solar panel).

Solar panels provide a safe, non-toxic and environmentally friendly form of power for your home. It doesn’t produce any harmful emissions and you’ll never have to suffer the inconvenience of a power blackout again. With the savings it generates, you’ll have more money to spend down the line as the cost of electricity continues to rise.

Light, heat and power have become a part of our modern lives. Without a steady supply of electricity we cannot work, cook, communicate or play. Unfortunately, increasing demand from businesses and individuals is placing a strain on our national grid. Not only can the national supplier not cope with this demand, but it is also forcing the price of electricity up all the time.

There has never been a better time to invest in this green technology. You will quickly recover your initial costs in the form of regular savings on your monthly running costs. And you can always start small and increase the number of panels as you can afford them. 

Insulation: The key to a warmer, greener home

Insulation: The key to a warmer, greener home

At the first sign of winter do you dust off your heaters and throw your electric blanket on the bed? Or maybe you stock up on gas and firewood to keep you warm through those dark, chilly nights? With a green home, you wouldn’t have to do any of these things.

And the reason for that lies in proper insulation. You may be surprised to hear that a well-insulated home not only reduces your electricity bill, but it takes all the hassle out of dealing with the change in seasons.

Yes, insulation does mean a significant reduction in your heating costs. But the real benefit is that it keeps your home at an even temperature throughout the year; cool in summer and warm in winter. Green homes combine a variety of insulation materials and techniques to keep your home at the perfect temperature all year round.

Not only are the materials and techniques they use environmentally friendly, but they’re also remarkably efficient and effective. Here’s a breakdown of how a home should be insulated against the elements.

Lambdaboard: Built in-between external and separating walls

Lambdaboard is a high-quality, environmentally friendly alternative which provides superior insulation for homes. Lamdaboard is a polyisocyanurate, which is another name for a thermoset plastic. Essentially, it is closed-cell, rigid foam board set between two facers. The facers are made of a various organic materials such as fibreglass or paper.

Lambdaboard is the ideal insulating material and provides several benefits to homeowners:

  • The foam core resists moisture which reduces the risk of rising damp on walls.
  • It is made from recycled materials and can also be recycled itself which makes it really environmentally friendly.
  • It performs better than most other materials in fire tests. It will not melt, drip or spread the flame.
  • It has a wide service temperature range from -30° to 140°.
  • It has the highest thermal resistance (R-value) per 25mm of thickness which makes it the most thermally efficient insulation material available on the market.

By inserting this remarkable material in-between exterior and separating walls, the temperature of each individual room is contained and maintained. The result is that heating your home in winter is cheaper and easier.

The Lambdaboard helps to keep any heat generated within the room, which in turn makes you less dependent on other energy-hungry heat sources to keep warm in the colder months. And in summer, the board keeps the heat of the sun out, which makes interiors cool and comfortable.

Here again, you won’t have to rely on expensive and environmentally damaging air conditioners to keep the temperature down. It’s not hard to see how using this amazing material to insulate every room in a home would make it more comfortable to live in.

Hydronics radiant heating and cooling

Homes built using this method to help homeowners control and customise the temperature of their home to suit their individual preferences,  makes it a versatile and economical way to heat or cool your home.

How does it work?

Hydronics radiant systems circulate water through tubing laid in the floor between the foundation slab and the surface of the floor. They are connected to a hot water tank and gets cold water directly from the heat pump system. The feeder pipes are well-insulated which helps to maintain a consistent temperature throughout a specific area.

The system is laid out over multiple zones in the home and you can adjust the temperature of each zone individually. That means each member of the family can adjust the temperature in their area to suit their preferences.

What are the benefits?

When compared to regular methods, using water to heat or cool your home has several benefits:

  • The floor surface of the area is heated or cooled, rather than the air within it. This eliminates hot or cold spots and makes it more comfortable for the people living in the house.
  • There is no need for messy ductwork or noisy fans which means a cleaner and quieter home.
  • Dust particles aren’t circulated through the air so there’s less risk for those who suffer from allergies.
  • It’s easier to control the temperature of the building and set the temperature to suit your comfort level.

The system is compatible with any type of flooring so you don’t need to avoid using tiles throughout your home for fear that it will be cold in winter. With a hydronics radiant heating and cooling system, you’ll be able to walk barefoot across your floors no matter what time of the year it is.

Combined with the use of Lambaboard in the walls, it’s easy to see why these homes are both more energy efficient and comfortable to live in. Being able to control the temperature within your home, and maintain it without relying on expensive electricity makes a green home particularly attractive to anyone looking to buy a new home.

Any costs involved in such a system will be quickly offset by the reduction in running costs, especially as the price of electricity continues to rise. But beyond this, the knowledge that these methods are also kinder to the environment provides a benefit that cannot be measured in economic terms.

Going green doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your comfort. In fact, a green home is easier to live in and maintain, despite the perception that reducing your reliance on electricity means missing out on the convenience of modern living.

Insulated floors

Adding a layer of insulation to floors of every home, ensures that the hydronics radiant heating and cooling system is even more effective.

On its own, an extra thick screed will provide your home with insulation. It is also a good idea to insulate the pipes carrying water.

And not only in the bedrooms and living areas – the kitchen, bathrooms and domestic quarters should be fitted with these pipes and an extra thick screed. So no matter where you spend your time, the temperature of the area will always be just what you want it to be.

Innovative ceiling insulation

One popular method of insulation consists of laying a thick roll of fibre-glass or asbestos material in the roof of your home to trap the heat inside. Although it may be effective, it certainly isn’t environmentally friendly. And it makes it awkward to access your roof space should you need to install new lighting or lay any kind of wiring. But there is a far more efficient and sustainable way to insulate your ceiling.

So what should you use in place of this? If you’re concerned about safety, you’ll be delighted to know that there is an entirely green technology to insulate the roof of your home. Called Isotherm, this insulating material is completely made up of recycled plastic bottles. Not only is this material environmentally friendly, it can also be recycled. You can’t get greener than that.

And it still has some other benefits that all homeowners will appreciate:

  • Dust and water resistant
  • Non-toxic with no associated health risks
  • Non-flammable
  • Lasts longer than most other insulating materials

Choose a ceiling insulation product that is effective and gentle on the environment. Once again, you don’t have to sacrifice modern comforts for the sake of greener living. And you’ll be reaping the benefits of reduced electricity consumption and the costs associated with it for years to come.

The double benefit of insulated plumbing

Don’t let any opportunity go to waste when it comes to insulating your home. Even the water pipes should be insulated. First, cover with an insulation material which is wrapped with insulating tape. And then, benefit from the insulation in walls, floor and ceiling.

You might think this is too much, but this only adds to the savings you’ll enjoy. Obviously all this insulation means that your hot water won’t cool down in winter or your cold water heat up in summer. Via a linked-loop system hot water is available a few moments after you turn on the tap.

So you won’t need to run your taps until the water reaches the desired temperature. This means you’re saving water too. And considering what a precious resource this is, it makes perfect sense to insulate your plumbing as much as possible.

Double glazing on windows and glass doors

You may think that this would be unnecessary considering how many other insulating methods are used to make green homes comfortable and energy efficient. But every technique available must be used to maximise the efficiency of green homes.

Double glazing refers to a window that consists of two panes of glass, an outer pane and an inner pane. Because the window is completely sealed, the air between them acts as a layer of insulation. This stops the warm air inside the home from escaping during chilly winters. And in summer it has the reverse effect; preventing unwanted heat from entering your space.

Once again, this reduces your need to keep heaters or air conditioners running constantly to maintain the temperature of your home. And there are some other benefits to double glazed windows that you may not be aware of:

  • It reduces condensation which is the primary cause of mould in the home.
  • It cuts down on medium to high-frequency noise, which makes for a quieter space.
  • It’s harder to break through two panes of glass so double glazed windows and doors also act as a security measure.

Once again, a feature like this does tend to add to the cost of a home. But it’s easy to see how the benefits outweigh the initial costs.

It’s easy to see how much your energy costs will be slashed by taking advantage of these materials and techniques. Great care should be taken to ensure that every green home build conforms to the strictest safety standards. The materials and techniques used should not only be environmentally friendly, but also durable, effective and cost efficient.

A well-insulated home makes financial sense. Although it may affect the cost of your initial layout, your living costs will be significantly lower. And in less than 10 years the savings you’ll enjoy will more than make up for extra expense of buying a green home. With low maintenance costs, you’ll continue to enjoy modern comforts while also making a positive impact on the environment. 

How to reduce your home’s carbon footprint—and save money

How to reduce your home’s carbon footprint—and save money

There’s more to green living than simply reducing your impact on the planet. You can actually save money by doing simple things that make a big difference. And where better to make a difference than in your own home?

Reducing your carbon footprint is all about having as little impact on the earth as possible. We all know that climate change is affected by some of the ways we live our daily lives. A large factory may be emitting harmful gasses into the atmosphere. A private person may own an automobile that’s way too large for what he or she needs.

All of these lifestyle choices have an impact on the environment. Reducing your carbon footprint is about making the right decisions in your everyday way of life.

In this article we will discuss small ways you can reduce your carbon footprint in the simple way you live your life at home. And best of all, these methods won’t cost you any extra to implement. It’s a great harmony of living well, living cheaply, and living responsibly towards the planet.

Insulate your home from draughts and air leaks

Insulation in-between external and separating walls helps to maintain the temperature inside the house. This reduces the cost of heating your home in winter and cooling it in summer. If you’re buying a new home, look for one that is expertly insulated.

But insulation goes a lot further than your walls. In summer, a lot of hot air comes into your home when the sun bakes your roof. Ceiling insulation is a must in these cases. A home that has ceiling insulation can be easily identified when the weather outside is uncomfortably hot or cold. You walk in and can immediately feel the difference.

Insulation is all about trapping air inside and preventing external air from coming in. A great way to do this is by insulating your windows and glass doors. Believe it or not, air does travel through glass. But preventing this from happening is easier than you think. Double glazed glass panes can be fitted to your window frames. This special glass can also be used in your glass doors.

So how does double glazing work? Simple. It’s two panes of glass with a cavity of air in between them. This air traps the hot or cold air and keeps your home at a consistent temperature—regardless of the climate outside.

Now if a home is TRULY green, it goes even further to ensure insulation. Floor insulation makes a big difference to ensure your comfort. Not only can air escape through your floor, but under floor heating and/or cooling is best maintained with a floor that contains some form of insulation.

So if you’re searching for a green home, ask your agent about these types of insulation. Having some is great, but having all of them is even better! The more insulation your home has, the more power you end up saving in the long run.  And of course the environment will love you for it.

Replace incandescent lightbulbs with CFLs or LEDs

Compact Fluorescent Light and Light Emitting Diode bulbs are more energy efficient and last longer than regular incandescent bulbs. You won’t have to replace them as often, so you save in the long run. Even turning off the light when you’re not in the room will help to reduce your carbon footprint.

There’s been a lot of publicity about these light bulbs. Truth be told, not enough can be said about how great they are. Not only do they shine brighter, but electricity usage is minimal. These light bulbs are a bit more expensive, but they will last longer than regular bulbs and save you loads on your utility bill.

Use a low-flow showerhead

How can a low-flow showerhead help save the environment? Simply put, water is the earth’s most precious resource. So if you can save it, you’re doing a lot. You’ll still enjoy getting clean, but you’ll use a lot less water. And don’t forget to turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth. It’s a little thing that can make a big difference to your water bill.

You like shower pressure? No problem! Many of the low-flow showerheads on the market today can be adjusted in such a way that water pressure is focused and strong. This is done despite the fact that little water gets utilised.

When you think of the slightly higher cost for a showerhead like this, you will quickly see what a good return on investment this is for your pocket and the environment. You save a lot of water in the long run. The longer you have it, the more you get out by saving water. So be sure to include this in your home’s carbon footprint reduction strategy.

Replace old appliances with energy efficient ones

If you need to get a new fridge, freezer, dishwasher or microwave, check the energy star rating before you check the price tag. At the end of the day, an energy efficient appliance will save you more money.

Most people don’t even know that appliances have energy star ratings on the packaging. In short, the more stars such a rating has, the less electricity it uses. This is becoming an important factor to many shoppers all over the world. And yes, South Africans are starting to shop according to energy star ratings too.

The energy star ratings put a lot of responsibility on the manufacturers of these appliances. It adds an extra competitive element to products too. As more and more shoppers begin to recognise the energy star rating system, more and more manufacturers will start to produce appliances that run on less energy.

At the end of the day, the main reason for energy efficient appliances is not predominantly for money saving or better competitiveness. The main reason is to help the environment. You as a consumer and the manufacturing companies are both taking part in an important responsibility—reducing your carbon footprint on the planet.

A water-wise garden strategy

There are many small ways you can save energy and money around the home. But don’t forget your garden. Even if watering your garden doesn’t use energy, harvesting rainwater in tanks will also help you save money by saving you on your water bill.

As mentioned above, water is our most precious resource. It’s important to save as much of it as we can. Rainwater harvesting is an effective way of doing this. When certain parts of your home utilise rainwater instead of municipal water, your carbon footprint is reduced. That’s because using less water in general is beneficial to everyone around the globe.

Now there are various ways you can use rainwater in your home. But you will find that most of your water goes to maintaining your garden. South Africans are avid gardeners. And hey; there’s nothing wrong with that. However there are some simple ways to run your garden in a way that very little water is used.

The first is by planning indigenous plants, shrubs and trees. Plants that are accustomed to the South African climate need much less water than non-native plants. Another way is to fill your garden with lots of pebbles, pots, statues, birdbaths, rocks and pavers. These will negate the need for lots of watering and they will lend your garden an aesthetic quality that will never grow old.

But your biggest water saving method will be to not use municipal water to irrigate your garden in the first place. Now you may be saying that all water is originally rainwater anyway; so besides your water bill, what’s the difference? Well, remember that a lot of rainwater gets lost after it falls over your home. It sinks into the ground, washes down the street or gets soaked up by the sun.

Rainwater harvesting collects as much of this water as possible, and keeps it for when you need it! This puts you in control of when you use a resource that you obtained for free. It prevents waste and ensures a clean alternative to treated water from your municipality.

Can you buy a house like this?

You may be interested to know that many houses already have these strategies in place. But even more importantly, green home developers are building green homes that have ALL of these factors in place. Imagine living almost completely green!

People who live in these homes reduce their impact on the environment. It’s awesome to watch parents raise their children in this kind of lifestyle. Fortunately for us all, more and more South Africans will begin switching to a greener lifestyle—some quicker than others.

It takes no more than a little imagination and effort to make any home a green one. By doing so you are securing a future for future generations. You are also limiting the impact you and your family currently have on the environment. The wonderful truth about living green is that it all works out for the benefit of everyone. Yes, the planet will be smiling, but so will you. You’ll be healthier, happier, and financially better off for implementing these strategies.