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. 

How to save electricity in your home

How to save electricity in your home

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

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

Here are some ideas to consider:

Turn down the temperature of your geyser 

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

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

Avoid using additional heating or cooling systems in your home

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

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

Control the temperature of your home without electricity

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

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

Switch off!

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

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

Manage your fridge and freezer more efficiently

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

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

Cook more efficiently

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

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

Cut down on hot water

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

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

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

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

Manage your pool pump’s operating hours

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

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

Use a more efficient shower head

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

Insulate your geyser

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

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

Insulate other areas of your home

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

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

Replace old light bulbs with more energy efficient options

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

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

Consider installing a solar water heater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kitchen

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

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

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

The Bathroom

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

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

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

The Living Room

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

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

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

The Bedrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remodeling your kitchen and bathroom the green way

Remodeling your kitchen and bathroom the green way

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.

The top seven energy-guzzlers in your home—and how to tame them

The top seven energy-guzzlers in your home—and how to tame them

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.

Televisions

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.

Electric heaters

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.

Tumble dryers

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.

Lighting

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.

Vampire devices

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.