Today, many developers use the term ‘green’ to describe their buildings. But what are the elements that really make a house environmentally friendly? Does it only refer to using solar power for heating your water? Or harvesting rainwater in a cleverly hidden tank? Seeing as the term gets thrown around so often, we decided to give you a better understanding of what makes a home green.
If you’re serious about green living, there are six general aspects you should consider when building or buying a home. Each of these aspects possesses other smaller elements that are optional. In the end, you will need to decide which ones you can afford, and which ones you don’t really need. Here are the six we have highlighted—with a brief description of each.
Photo-voltaic solar panels are the obvious answer to reducing your reliance on the grid. But you should consider your needs carefully. How much energy would you need, to generate power for all of your appliances? Be realistic and look at ways to reduce the amount of energy you require. Ask yourself whether it’s worth investing in energy efficient appliances. Finally, work with a developer that understands how to utilise orientation, shading devices and insulation to lower your requirements.
- How much energy will you need?
Measuring the amount of energy you need is step one. Step two is working out how much renewable energy you need to generate in order to maintain your household. It’s simple math and the answers are out there. Remember to do these sums thoroughly before you add this feature to your home—or purchase a home that has it already implemented.
- Should you also buy energy efficient appliances?
Appliances that are designed to use less power can be extremely helpful too. However, this is not an option for everybody. If you have to balance your comfort and convenience, then these appliances are not going to make your life better. Living cheaply, doesn’t mean you have to live less comfortably. Rather generate lots of free, renewable power than having to lower your lifestyle.
- Should you work with a green home developer?
Green home developers have already worked with green vendors. They’ve had their bad experiences with the dubious ones and finally found teams of individuals who deliver what they promise. That’s why it can be beneficial to work with these developers for advice. If you are looking for someone to help you get it right the first time, speak to someone who’s already made all the mistakes and come out on top.
After energy, a sustainable water supply is essential for any green home. Every effort must be made to make the collection of rainwater as efficient as possible. This requires expertise in the placement of pipes and catchments. Once again, developers need to have local knowledge of the rainfall patterns in your area to ensure maximum collection.
The most efficient rainwater harvesting methods are the cheapest. Finding a way to collect as much water as possible is the trick to maximising your efficiency and your savings. Remember, the more water you collect, the more you will benefit from your return on investment.
Once again, it’s important to use a proper expert to do this implementation in your home. Working with a green home developer who knows a good vendor, or finding a vendor with an excellent reputation is the key to getting the best system.
There are many important aspects to this green feature:
- Positioning of the catchments
- Installation of the pipes
- Choosing the right collection point
- Having high quality equipment all round
Only true experts will give full attention to detail with ALL of these aspects. So be sure to speak to the right people about installing your rainwater harvesting system.
A home that is truly green is one that takes every part of the building process into consideration. And that includes the materials that are used in its construction. Bamboo is an example of a sustainable alternative to wood. It has a much lower impact on the environment but is just as durable. It can be used for flooring, counter tops and in the construction of shaft covers.
Having a truly green home means using materials that have little impact on the environment. We’ll use bamboo as an example here. There are three questions to ask when choosing material:
- Does harvesting this material take a lot of energy?
In the case of bamboo, harvesting has a significantly lower impact on the environment than other methods. These include cutting down large trees, mining, farming, etc.
- Will the removal of this resource from nature negatively affect the planet?
Unlike trees, bamboo does not play that much of an important role in dissipating greenhouse gasses. Bamboo isn’t a huge oxygen producer either, so removing it has a very low impact on our planet.
- Does this resource grow or generate fast enough to sustain its demand?
Bamboo grows incredibly fast! If and when the demand for bamboo increases, growing more will be quick and simple. This makes it incredibly sustainable as a building material.
Insulating the rooms
Being green is not only about harvesting natural resources for living. It’s also about maintaining what you have without needing to continually generate more. This is especially true in the case of heating and cooling your home. That’s where insulation comes in.
There are many ways you can insulate a room. For now, let’s just look at five:
By insulating your home’s ceiling, you ensure that warm air cannot escape. Even though your ceiling is solid, air escapes through it much easier than you realise. This is an especially useful feature during winter. Warming up a room takes time, and that heat will not leave the room so easily.
Floor insulation is another way to keep the temperature in your home constant. But more importantly, floor insulation ensures that your under-floor heating or cooling system (hydronics radiant heating and cooling system) retains its effectiveness.
Probably the most effective way to retain a home’s desired temperature is through wall insulation. This is often done by using products such as Lambdaboard within a cavity in each exterior wall.
- Window & glass door insulation
So much air escapes through closed doors and windows. In the case of windows and glass doors, even sealing the sides will not prevent air from escaping through the glass itself! Double glazing offers the solution here. By trapping the air within a small cavity in the window pane, your rooms will retain the temperature you set for them.
A homeowner who has truly adopted a green lifestyle will always insist on pipe insulation. This has a number of benefits:
- Less electricity is needed to reheat water that would otherwise have cooled down faster
- Water within pipes retains its heat so that water is ultimately saved by not having to run the tap for long
- Pipe insulation also prevents your cold water pipes from reaching room temperature too quickly. This again saves you on having to run the tap longer when the water is required.
Consider your garden
Gardens take up a lot of time and effort to maintain. Even if you exclude the watering of a garden, there’s still the pruning, treating and mowing that goes into that maintenance. All of these things have an impact on the environment. So what’s the secret to owning a garden that’s as green as your home?
One of the biggest suggestions we put forth to our clients is the importance of planning indigenous trees and plants in a garden. Why do we see this as a green aspect? Because:
- Indigenous plants need very little maintenance
- They attract natural wildlife and birds to your garden
- These plants require very little watering
- They grow well together
- They stay green all year round—that means less replacement gardening for you
Learning about invasive plant species in South Africa is also something you can do to be a more responsible homeowner. There is tons of information on the Internet about this subject. Fortunately for the South African environment, this topic is getting a lot of attention at the moment.
As you can see, gardening is a major part of living green. If your garden isn’t green, time to get a revamp. Green, environmentally friendly gardens are an essential part to reducing your carbon footprint.
Thinking about the little things
Another truly green aspect of any home is how easy it is to maintain the little things. We’re talking about cleaning, repairing, treating, painting, polishing… all those things that require time, energy, and chemicals.
Living green means thinking ahead about small aspects of maintenance. Today there are countless options available to homeowners and developers. Let’s take a brief look at some of them:
- Low maintenance roof tiles
You can now purchase uncoloured roof tiles. This means that you will never have to paint them. It also means that they will never fade from the sun or rainfall. There are no side effects either. These tiles are durable, aesthetically pleasing and cost effective.
Something else to consider is that stainless steel is a great option for certain metal fittings within your home. Stainless steel is easy to clean. It’s also rust resistant and doesn’t require chemical treatment to maintain it.
Maintaining a large area of lawn can be very expensive. It also takes up loads of energy and machine power to do so. If you want to truly live as green as possible, why not consider replacing lawn space with garden decor? This can include pretty rocks & pebbles, pavers, stepping stones, ground cover plants, gravel areas.
Retrofitting existing homes with these features can be challenging. But green homes are becoming more popular in South Africa. Purchasing a brand new green home is already an option that is available to those who appreciate the benefits of green living.
Is the only thing holding you back from investing in a green home the fear that you simply can’t afford it? It’s a common misconception that living off the grid is only possible for the rich. While other’s think that converting their existing home will result in over-capitalization. By the end of this article you’ll come to realise that green homes are not just affordable, but actually add more value to your biggest investment.
Starting from scratch
If you’re in the market for a new home, it makes sense to look for one that already has many green features. Although there are not many of these homes available yet, these homes boast several innovative features that are not only eco-friendly, but contribute significant savings to the running of your household.
Knowing what to look for in a green home is the first step to evaluating whether it will be a good investment. Here are some pointers that you can use:
- It makes the best use of the location: An eco-friendly home should work with the environment to achieve maximum efficiency. If it’s correctly orientated, a green home can use natural sunlight to ensure that it’s easier to heat in winter, and just as easy to cool in summer. Taking advantage of natural sunlight and shadow means you spend less money keeping your living space at a comfortable temperature throughout the year.
- It is properly insulated:Most regular homes aren’t well insulated at all. This means that any money you spend trying to make your home comfortable just goes to waste. A green home is not just well-insulated; it also makes use of eco-friendly materials to ensure comfort and sustainability. The floors, walls and roof of your green home should all be insulated.
- It uses efficient heating and cooling systems:Underfloor heating and cooling may sound like an expensive luxury, but in a green home it provides a more efficient method of keeping your home at the right temperature. Use the innovative hydronics heating and cooling system to achieve this. Pipes laid throughout the house enables hot and cold water to be pumped under the flooring. This is far more efficient and affordable than using heaters in winter or air conditioners in summer to adjust the temperature of your interior spaces.
- It relies on solar energy:This may seem to be the most obvious feature of green homes. At the very least, a solar water heater provides free energy for heating the water that you use on a daily basis. If you instead add different panels and batteries, you can generate enough power to run your entire home without relying only on the grid.
- It’s water-wise:Clean water is rapidly becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet. And as time goes on, accessing water will become even more expensive. That’s why most green homes make use of water tanks to collect rainwater which can be used for everything from washing your car to flushing your toilet, and importantly to irrigate your garden. And the good news is that this doesn’t have to take the form of an unsightly tank in your garden. Instead, they are buried underground and fitted with energy efficient pumps to make the water available where you need it.
While these are just some of the basic features that any good green home should have, look out for those that offer little extras. Double-glazed windows, a garden with indigenous plants and bamboo flooring or counter tops all go a long way to making your home efficient and sustainable.
Counting the cost
Understanding the true cost of a green home requires you to do some serious calculations. While it’s true that you initial investment is higher than normal, you should factor in your future costs to see how much you’ll save in the long term.
To do this, you’ll need to calculate how much energy and water you currently consume and what it costs you every month. You can do this by monitoring your consumption and bills for a month or two. Then, you’ll need to estimate how much your expenses will increase as the cost of these resources continues to rise. Finally, you can offset this against the initial costs of buying a green home.
You’ll realise, as others have, that investing in a green home offers you substantial future savings. On average, you’ll find that it takes between 8 – 10 years to recoup your green investment. And, you’ll have many years of future savings to look forward to. As the costs of electricity rises, you’ll actually end up saving even more with each passing year.
Buying a green home is a serious commitment though. To really appreciate the savings you can enjoy, you’ll remain in your home longer—and when moving, you’ll move to another eco-friendly home of course.
The good news doesn’t end there. Should you ever sell your green home, you’ll find that you can command a higher price for your property. And because green homes require less maintenance, you won’t have to spend a lot of money preparing your home for resale.
Retrofitting your existing home
Even if you’re not in a position to buy a ready-fitted green home, there are several things you can do to make your existing home more energy-efficient. Retro-fitting an existing home with green features is often considered expensive. But once again, you need to take into account your future savings to determine how cost-effective these measures are.
Aside from cost, most people are unsure of where to start greening an existing home. However, it’s always a good idea to start small and build-up to bigger projects. Very often, some serious research is required to determine just what the final cost and savings may be. If you need help, consult with experts who will be able to give you the right advice. Some of these projects require specific knowledge and tools, so don’t be tempted to take the DIY route if you don’t have the necessary skills.
There’s more to owning a green home than just enjoying the cost savings. It requires a mind-shift to start living in a different way. So if you think that you’re ready to embrace a new way of living, try out some small projects before committing to the bigger ones.
- Be aware of how much energy you use: Simply turning off the lights as you leave a room is a good habit to develop. If you do eventually install photo-voltaic solar panels to power your home, you’ll need to be conscious of your energy consumption. That way, if you do make the switch to solar power, you’ll use it wisely and not waste it.
- Use energy efficient products: Light bulbs, dishwashers and fridges all consume electricity. If you ever get to the point where you generate your own electricity, you’ll want to make sure your household appliances are energy efficient.
- Monitor your water usage: Cutting down on your time in the shower can be difficult. But ultimately, it will help you save money on both your water and energy consumption. If you’re going to install a solar water heater, you’ll appreciate just what it takes to have a hot shower in the morning.
- Get water-wise: It’s so easy to just turn on a tap and have access to fresh water that we tend to take it for granted. So start thinking about all the water you use during the day and what steps you can take to cut down. Plant indigenous in your garden, pop a brick in your toilet and re-use your grey water for washing your car.
Once you’re aware of your consumption habits, it will become easier for you to see the value in investing in the bigger projects. When you’re ready to make the change, here are some of the ways you can retro-fit your home:
- Solar water heaters: Installing a solar water heater can knock a good 30% off your monthly electricity bill. When measured against the installation costs, it means you can re-coup your investment within 4 – 5 years. Most solar water heaters come with a five year guarantee and last between 15 – 20 years. As they don’t require much maintenance, this makes them one of the easiest green features you can use in an existing home.
- Insulation:An energy-efficient home is one that is well insulated. With existing homes it may be difficult or costly to add more insulation, but the investment is well worth it. Often your roof is the best place to start as it’s quite easy to add a layer of insulation here. But be sure to use environmentally-friendly material for this project. You can also check your windows and doors for air leaks and use insulating strips or caulk to seal them from draughts.
- Rainwater harvesting tanks:This very much depends on the space you have available on your property. However, there are plenty of options available on the market; your bound to find one that suits your requirements. These tanks can also be buried underground so they won’t detract from the appearance of your property. And they can be fitted to work with the existing municipal supply so you’ll never have to worry that you won’t have access to water when you need it.
- Photo-voltaic solar panels:Living off the grid is possible, but for existing homes it requires a significant investment. However, you can easily start with some panels and add to them as you save on your monthly bills. As with the rainwater tanks, you can supplement your solar panel with the municipal electricity supply.
Once you start investigating the options available for retro-fitting an existing home, you’ll see just how easy and affordable it can be. Not only will you enjoy considerable savings on your monthly running costs, you’ll also be adding significant value to your home. And should you ever want to sell your home, you’ll be able to command a higher price.
What’s more affordable?
The answer to this question will depend on your current situation. If you’re considering buying a new home, it would make sense to find one that has all the green features you want. And while this may mean that you spend more money initially, you will end up saving immediately and continuously.
If moving is not an option, then this article should prove to you that it’s still possible to go green without spending a fortune. Researching various green features will help you make a decision on where to start. And you’ll find that once you have implemented some of these suggestions, you’ll save money which you can put towards your next project.
It’s safe to say that being environmentally conscious isn’t just for the rich. With proper planning and dedication, anyone can change their home into green home. Are you ready to make the change?
When was the last time you thought about your water consumption? During times of drought we are all reminded of how necessary a steady supply of water is to our lifestyle. If all you have to do is turn on a tap, it’s easy to take this limited resource for granted.
But as the cost of potable water increases, the idea of collecting and utilising rainwater becomes even more attractive. Not only will it reduce your monthly expenses, it also means you’ll never be without water. And if you consider how much water you use every day for cooking, cleaning and consuming, it makes sense to reduce costs. In this article we’ll aim to answer some of the more common questions about rainwater harvesting.
What is rainwater harvesting?
Simply put, rainwater harvesting means having some kind of tank which you can use to store collect rainwater. It could be as simple as a large tank connected to your downpipes, or in the case of a purpose-built green home, a tank that is possible buried underground.
Without filters in place, rainwater is not potable and cannot be used for human consumption. But you can use it in other ways:
- Washing your car and watering your garden
- Flushing your toilets
- Topping up your swimming pool
- In your washing machine
However, if you install an underground tank, you can add a fine filter and a pump to channel clean, potable water right into your home. That way you can use the water you’ve collected for showering or bathing and cooking.
What size of tank do I need?
This depends on several factors. First of all you need to know the average rainfall for your area. Then you also need to think about how you will use the water you collect. If you’re only going to use it for irrigating your garden, topping up your pool and washing your car, then you may not need such a big tank. But if you want to also use the water you collect in your home, you’ll need a larger tank to ensure you collect as much water as possible.
The size of your roof and the material it’s made from will also influence the amount of rainwater you’ll be able to collect. You should also factor in the number of people in the home and how much water you use on a daily basis.
Discuss your situation with an expert and they will help you determine what you need. They’ll also be able to advise you on the best placement for your tank, and how to maximise the amount of water you collect. The placement of the collecting pipes is important in allowing you to collect as much water as possible.
Can underground rainwater tanks be retrofitted to an existing home?
Provided you have the space to do it, you can install an underground rainwater harvesting tank on an existing property. While it is much easier and cheaper to incorporate a tank into a new development, it can still be done for an established home. You may only be limited to the size of the tank you can install.
Underground rainwater tanks have some advantages over external tanks. They are hidden away so they don’t detract from your home’s appearance. And they may last longer because they’re not exposed to the damaging effects of the elements. Even the pipes can be buried to make sure the whole installation is neat and attractive.
How does the municipality charge me for sewerage effluent?
It might not cost you anything to collect and use rainwater, but you will still be charged for anything that flows through your pipes as effluent. In general, they tend to charge on volume, so the more water you use, the more you pay.
But this cost is based on the volume of water you draw. In other words, you will only be charged on the amount of water that has run through your water metre. So you won’t be charged on the rainwater that you collect and use. And if you re-use your grey water (from your bath or laundry) you can reduce the amount of water you send to the sewer for treatment down to as little as 5%. That is a tremendous saving for you and for our water resources.
But remember that there are rules governing the use of grey water. Because it has qualities that allow anaerobic bacteria to breed, it cannot be stored and must be disposed of safely. It must be sent through your sewerage system and not re-directed to a river or other water sources.
If you’re using the grey water from your laundry to irrigate your garden, don’t use detergents that contain phosphates. These will poison the soil in the long term, so look for a phosphate-free washing powder.
Can I use rainwater in conjunction with municipal water?
If you’re concerned that your water tank may not always be able to provide for your needs, you can rest assured that most rainwater harvesting tanks provide for an emergency supply. A sophisticated rainwater harvesting system uses a low water threshold sensor to automatically switch over to use municipal water directly, before your own rainwater supply runs dry. With such a system, nothing further is required for a continuous supply to where rainwater is designated.
What about electricity outages?
In the case of a power cut, these tanks have an override that allows you to switch over to the municipal supply. Thus provided there isn’t a water outage happening at the same time, you’ll still have access to water.
Do I have to clean the tank out?
Most tanks are self-cleaning so you’ll never have to worry about getting your hands dirty. A cleaning mechanism ensures that any sediment is flushed to keep your tank clean. It also helps to oxygenate the water and prevent anaerobic bacteria from building up. Most tanks also include some kind of screen or net to stop insects and debris from entering the tank.
You’ll also find that rainwater harvesting tanks require very little maintenance. When you consider how easy they are to operate, and how much money you can save, installing a rainwater harvesting tank is one of the best things you can do for your home.
What are rainwater harvesting tanks made from?
The tanks can be made from a variety of materials such as steel, plastic and even concrete. But the most common kind of water tank is usually made from high-density polyurethane. This is one of the safest food-grade plastics available. So you needn’t be concerned that any toxic chemicals will leech into your water. And it shouldn’t affect the taste of your water either.
How long will a rainwater harvesting tank last?
While this depends on the material used to construct the tank and where it’s positioned, most tanks will last you for a few years before they need replacing. If your tank is exposed to the elements, you can expect it to degrade at a faster rate. When a tank is buried underground, it will last much longer because it is protected from the sun, rain and wind.
Is it worth collecting rainwater in a low rainfall area?
The answer to this question depends very much on how you value the water you currently use. If you look at it merely in financial terms, it could be that the cost of installing a rainwater harvesting system is too great compared to the potential savings on your utility bills.
However, the value of water cannot be reduced to a sum of money. Water is necessary for a number of essential human activities such as bathing and cooking. These activities add significant comfort to our modern lives and if you have to consider the alternative, you’ll appreciate just how important it is. And if you use rainwater to irrigate you vegetable garden, it also contributes towards feeding your family. This means you save even more money than just that on your water bill.
Even during times of sufficient rainfall, it is essential that we use water sparingly and make every drop count.
Tips for using water efficiently
Should you already have a rainwater harvesting tank, it’s still important to make the most of your water. So here are some tips to make your store go even further:
- Switch your irrigation system to manual and only use it when necessary.
- Water your garden either early in the morning, or later in the evening when it’s cooler. That way the water will feed your plants instead of just evaporating away.
- Reuse grey water from your bath or washing machine to water your garden. But be sure to follow the rules regarding the use of grey water.
- While waiting for water to heat up, don’t let the cold water go to waste. Collect it and use in your kettle or for cooking, or to water pot plants.
- Load up your washing machine or dishwasher before you switch it on. Don’t waste water on small loads.
- Install a low-flow shower head and limit your time in the shower to five minutes.
There are many little ways to save water and they should not be overlooked, even if you are collecting rainwater. Adopting a green lifestyle should be about more than saving money. It’s about changing your attitude towards natural resources and reducing your impact on the planet.
The benefits of harvesting rainwater
The main benefit of investing in a rainwater harvesting tank is a financial one. You can save up to as much as 80% of your water bill. Of course the final figure will depend on the size of the tank you install and what your general water consumption is like. Remember, you can stretch any saving you would enjoy even further by incorporating some of the water saving tips suggested above.
You’ll also have the benefit of a consistent supply of water during times of drought or when the municipal system is switched off to carry out repairs and maintenance. It may surprise you that adopting a green living practice could actually make your life more convenient.
For new and existing homeowners, a rainwater harvesting tank represents an opportunity to save money and make a positive impact on the environment. And the ongoing issue of water security is prompting buyers to seek out homes that already have this feature. All green homes should include rain harvesting tanks and several other green features that make them ideal for the eco-conscious home buyer. These homes are particularly water and energy efficient, even going so far as to include a water-wise, low maintenance garden. In the future, we will all be forced to think about the way we use water and make drastic changes.
Being involved in the construction of your own home is exciting. You’re calling the shots and it’s only natural that when you’re making that kind of investment that you want everything to be perfect. And it stands to reason that what you chose now will influence your lifestyle and that of your family for years to come.
It’s no different when building a green home. In fact, it requires even more thought and planning to build a home that’s not just beautiful, practical and cost-effective, but in harmony with the environment too. So where do you start? This green home checklist should give you something to think about.
Location, location, location
When shopping for a new home, most people consider location to be the most important factor. You want to be close to your place of work, in an area with convenient shopping, entertainment and schooling. It also needs to be safe and have the right infrastructure in place for comfortable living.
But when you’re buying or building a green home you have to take it one step further. Look at the site conditions of your future home and whether it has the necessary qualities such as enough space for rainwater harvesting tanks and access to clean air and water.
Building position and orientation
You’ll want to orientate your home in the best position to take advantage of what the site you’ve chosen has to offer. In the southern hemisphere, a north-facing position is best as it allows you to make use of sunlight to warm your home in the winter and keep it cool in the summer.
Knowing where to place your windows, what size they should be and what the best spot for solar panels would be are all crucial elements when it comes to building a home that is energy efficient. After all, the purpose of a green home is to work with nature and not against it. Getting the basics right from the start will have a significant impact on the practical operating of your home and determine just how efficient it can be.
Get savvy with your layout
This is an important part of turning your green home dream into a reality. When planning the layout of your home take the orientation of the building into consideration. Think about which rooms need natural light and heat to reduce your electricity costs. Look at the flow of air around the building and how you can use natural ventilation to your advantage.
The way you layout your home can go a long way to reducing your construction costs too. So don’t focus only on the aesthetic. Be practical about how your home will function now and in the future.
Choose the right building materials
You might think that green construction is all about using materials that are sustainable and don’t poison or damage the environment. And while that is certainly true to some extent, it’s essential to be practical about this element.
All materials have strengths and weakness when it comes to being eco-friendly. While the production of a certain material may be more sustainable, it might not be very durable. In which case, you’d have to replace it or maintain more often. And that may have a negative impact on the environment. For example, bamboo is an excellent substitute for traditional wooden structures in a home such as counter tops and even flooring. It’s a fast growing plant which means it’s more sustainable than other woods. But the finishes used on bamboo may contain toxic chemicals to ensure its durability. Find out as much as you can about the sourcing and manufacturing of various construction materials before you commit to using them in your design.
Try to achieve a balance between using materials that are sturdy, don’t require much maintenance, are sustainable or recyclable and aren’t produced using methods and techniques that are harmful to the environment. Building a green home requires you to think farther into the future than you would with any other type of home. The initial layout will cost more so you should think of it as a long-term investment. Choose wisely now and you’ll reap the benefits well into the future.
Add green features for future cost savings
A home may be considered green when it incorporates technologies that reduce or eliminate your reliance on the normal infrastructure associated with housing. So make sure these elements are part of your initial plans:
- Insulation:A home that is properly insulated is easy to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. This means you’ll draw less power from the grid to live, work and play in comfort. Insulation should be built into the structure, between exterior walls and in the ceiling and flooring.
You won’t need to use an air-conditioner or heaters to maintain the temperature of your home throughout the year. Not only will you save on electricity, but you’ll reduce the demand on the grid and reduce the risk of outages which affect everyone.
- Rainwater harvesting:With green homes these large tanks can be hidden underground reducing the amount of space they need and ensuring that your property looks as attractive as a regular home. It also means you’ll have a supplementary supply of water available for flushing toilets or watering your garden.
By making use of rainwater, you’re not only saving a precious resource you’re also saving costs.
- Solar panels:Can a home really be green if it doesn’t have solar panels? These are essential for anyone who wants to reduce their reliance on the grid and power their own home. The size, type and number of panels depend on several factors. Careful planning will ensure that you have enough power available for necessities or to run your full household, including for your lights, TV and appliances.
And given the constant sunshine available in South Africa, relying on solar panels to power your home isn’t just wishful thinking. You may need back-up batteries, but if you’re building a new home from scratch these can easily be incorporated into your design. And you’ll never have to worry about being unable to power the things you need if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Solar panels are also perfect for heating your water which has a double cost-saving effect. Not only do you save on electricity, but you could have hot water on tap, meaning you don’t waste it just waiting for the hot water to reach the right temperature – thus saving on water too.
- Hydronics radiant heating and cooling: This is a clever system that uses a network of pipes to run hot or cold water through the floor of your home. It’s a cost-effective way to maintain the temperature without resorting to power hungry heaters or air conditioners.
And if the pipes are properly insulated, the system is not only more effective, but a cheaper method of keeping your home at a comfortable temperature through all seasons.
You may not be able to afford all of these things right away. In which case, you’ll need to decide which are the most important to you. Retrofitting an existing home with green features can be more difficult and costly. Do your research and work with a company that has expert knowledge to help you make the right decision for your family.
Think outside the box
Your home isn’t just about the building you live in. It’s also about your surroundings such as your garden and garage.
Wherever possible, you should look to reduce the maintenance costs of these often neglected areas. A water-wise garden doesn’t just make financial sense; it also makes a difference to the environment. Use indigenous plants to cut back on the water required to keep your garden looking good all year round. And you’ll appreciate how much less maintenance it requires too. Instead of spending hours tending to your garden, you’ll be able to just relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Even your garage should be planned using the principles you apply to your home. Consider its position and location and use green building materials for the construction. A garage can be a dark place, so look for ways to include natural lighting and use energy-efficient LED bulbs to light it up at night.
If your garage is attached to your home, it makes sense to factor it in to your plans. A cold concrete floor could result in an icy draft making its way into your home through a connecting door. So use insulation cleverly to complement the rest of your home.
All garages have a roof, which means they can be used to collect run-off water. This water can be stored in a tank and used for general cleaning purposes. At minimum it is efficient and eco-friendly to use run-off water from your garage to wash your car.
The benefits of green construction
Many people feel that investing in a green home is an unnecessary expense. Yes, they do cost more to build but in the long term the savings are substantial. Apart from that, there are many other benefits to green living:
- Your impact on the environment is minimal: Green buildings reduce energy usage, CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage.
- It’s healthier: Improved indoor air quality means you’re less likely to suffer from common respiratory ailments.
- It increases the value of your home: If you should ever need to sell your property you’ll be pleased to discover that a green home commands a higher price.
And once you get down to planning your green home, you may be surprised to find that it doesn’t cost that much more than a traditional one. The key is to work with experts who are knowledgeable in the area of green construction. They’ll be able to give you good advice and know where to get the features and eco-friendly materials you need.
It’s not just how you build; it’s how you live
Building a green home doesn’t stop at using eco-friendly construction materials or adding green features to save you money, it’s about the way you live your life. You’re conscious of the impact you have on natural resources and extend this way of thinking into every area of your life, from how you use your car to recycling your waste whenever you can.
The many benefits of living in such a home should not be taken for granted. It can be at least as comfortable as living in a traditional home, even luxurious, and with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re treading as lightly as possible on our planet.
Finding ways to save water around the home has never been more important as South Africa is currently facing its worst drought in 23 years. It’s a heart-breaking situation as the demand for access to clean water continues to increase. Our existing infrastructure is simply not up to the job and as a result we are over-exploiting our existing water sources.
Pressure is being placed on government to improve the management of our rivers and dams. But ordinary citizens will have to make real lifestyle changes too, if we are going to reverse this situation. Rainwater harvesting tanks can be used to take advantage of harvesting all the rainfall,
And you can apply some of these to your existing home if you want to contribute towards the solution. So let’s look at all the areas in your home where you can start saving water.
In the kitchen
Do you know how many times a day you turn your kitchen tap on? Try to keep track of it for one day and you may be surprised. Kitchen appliances require water to run, and to be kept clean. So it’s the perfect place to start looking for ways to cut down on your water usage. This is how you can do it:
- Purchase water-efficient devices: Dishwashers and washing machines make our lives so much easier. Some can use more water than they need to. If you’re looking to replace your existing machines, research before you buy. Look for machines that are not just energy-efficient, but water-efficient too.
- Make a full load before you switch on: Don’t be tempted to run your dishwasher if you only have a few dishes to wash. Although using a machine can save more water than washing by hand, it only works if you fill the machine up before you switch it on. The same goes for your washing machine. Wait until you have a few more clothes to wash and then make a full load to get the most out of the water you’re using.
- Plug your sink: Whether you’re washing dishes, rinsing your hands of washing your vegetables, don’t let water just drain away. Plug your sink and collect that water. It can still be used to water your plants or flush your toilet. Re-using water like this is the best way to get the maximum value from it.
- Don’t let the tap run: While you’re waiting for your hot water to come through, don’t let the cold water in the pipe go to waste. Collect it in a jug and use it to fill up kettle for your next cup of coffee.
- Install and aerator: A simple fitting with a mesh screen when attached to the end of your kitchen tap, provides a steady stream of air and water. You’ll still get a steady stream but use less water to achieve the same effect. They’re inexpensive, easy to install and effective.
A little thought goes a long way. Just being mindful of how you use water in the kitchen can help you see ways to save it. So think before you turn on that tap and make the most of every drop of water.
In the bathroom
Another good place to look at saving water is in the bathroom. There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of water you use and still stay clean. Try these simple tips:
- Don’t bath, shower instead: A bath uses far more water than a shower. Although, when you do shower, try to keep it under five minutes. It really shouldn’t take you much longer to get clean. If you want to bath, don’t overfill the bath. You can also re-use your bath water for flushing the toilet or watering your garden.
- Install a low-flow shower head: You can find them at your local hardware store and it doesn’t take much to install one. Your shower won’t feel any different and it will save you a lot of water.
- Put a brick in your cistern: It sounds crazy, but it really does work. By displacing some of the water in your cistern you won’t use as much when you flush. It’s a cheap but effective way to stop good water going down the drain.
- Don’t leave the tap running: When you’re shaving or brushing your teeth, turn off the tap. You’re letting good water go to waste; so leave it off until you need to rinse your razor or your mouth.
In the garden
Maintaining a beautiful garden takes lots of effort and lots of water. While these tips won’t make gardening any easier, they will help you to save water. Adopt these habits and your garden will still be beautiful:
- Water your plants in the evening: If you water your plants in the heat of the day most of the water will simply evaporate. But watering later in the evening, when the ground is cooler allows it to absorb and maintain the water. Your plants will benefit and you may find you don’t have to water them as often.
- Watch where you put your sprinkler: Don’t water your pavement. Make sure your sprinkler is placed where water is really needed—next to your plants. Letting water go to waste like this does nothing for your garden and is a complete waste of water.
- Use natural and organic garden products: The water you use in your garden may eventually make its way back into the system. If it’s loaded with dangerous chemicals recycling is hampered. Use natural and organic products which break down quickly.
- Plant indigenous: They don’t need as much water as aliens. They’re much easier to care for and much appreciated by the local insects and bird life. Group plants with similar water requirements together. You’ll be able to water those that need more water without drowning species that don’t need as much.
Cars and swimming pools
Taking care of your home extends to your car and swimming pool and offer you the opportunity to use water as wisely as possible. This is how to keep them in top condition without wasting water:
- Wash your car using a bucket: preferably a bucket of grey water that you’ve collected from around your home. There’s no need to spray every speck of dust off your car with a hose. It’s better to use a bit of elbow grease than send a river running down your driveway.
- Don’t overfill your swimming pool either: If you’re not using it all the time, it’s not necessary to fill it to the top. You can also use a gutter pipe to fill your pool up, rather than water from a tap. Just slide an old pair of pantyhose over the end to catch any debris from going into the pool.
Check for leaks
An important part of saving water involves checking your home for any leaks. It may seem like a small thing but over time a steady drip can lead to a lot of wasted water. This can also cost you money so it’s worth finding and fixing a leak quickly. Here’s how to do it:
- Watch your water meter: It’s the easiest way to check for a leak. Read your meter and take note of the figure. Then don’t use any water for at least two hours and check the meter again. If there’s a change in the meter reading it’s certain that you have a leak.
- Use food colouring to check your toilet tank: Add a few drops of food safe dye to your toilet tank and if the colour appears in the bowl within 30 minutes, you know there’s a leak.
- Check the toilet handle: Another sign that you’re toilet is leaking is when the handle doesn’t return to its original position. That means the water keeps running and you should attend to it immediately.
Did you know that if a tap is dripping at a rate of 1 drop a second it adds up to 10,220 litres in a year! Usually all that’s required is installing a new washer to solve the problem. So never underestimate a leaking tap—and don’t wait to get it fixed.
The ultimate water saving tip—a rainwater harvesting tank
If you have the space for one, it’s well worth investing in a rainwater harvesting tank. They can easily be installed in your garden and allow you to collect and store rainwater for free. In green homes they can be installed underground. Connected directly to the gutters, they collect rainwater which can be filtered and pumped into the home for use in the washing machine and toilets.
Not only do they supply free water, they help to reduce the burden on the municipal system. And when there’s a water shortage, you’ll always have access to your own supply. Even ordinary rainwater harvesting tanks can make a big difference. Simply being able to water your plants, wash your car or fill your pool without turning on a tap helps to save water resources.
These are all simple tips, and if everyone used them in their homes, the water crisis facing the country could be reduced. Using water carefully also makes financial sense. As our demand for electricity increases, so does the price and the same is true for water. Finding ways to save on your water costs means you’ll have money to invest in bigger projects such as rainwater harvesting tank.
While the problem with outdated and inefficient infrastructure still remains to be resolved, reducing the demand for water will make things a bit easier for everyone. All that we really need to overcome is the way we take water for granted. Being water-wise isn’t just for the eco-conscious; it’s an attitude everyone should adopt if we want to avoid an even bigger water crisis in the future.
Finding the perfect home is hard work. As it’s the biggest investment we’ll ever make, it’s worth taking our time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of every property. We’d also need to consider how much maintenance our home requires. If our preference is to spend more time enjoying our home, and less time maintaining it, eco-friendly homes are ideal.
The importance of maintaining your home
It’s something that first time home buyers rarely consider—how much will it cost to maintain a dream home? It’s easy to fall in love with a property that we’ve only seen a few times. Only when living in the home will we realise the work it requires to keep it in tip-top shape and in perfect working order. Maintenance is essential to maintain or improve the value of our home for years to come.
A swimming pool or a large garden might be a pre-requisite: They both need a lot of work; to keep the pool clean and sparkling; and a lot of water is required to keep the garden. Maintenance requires time, effort and money. By adopting a greener living philosophy reduces the aforementioned multiple fold. Looking at purpose built eco-friendly homes thus becomes an attractive option.
Do eco-friendly homes require special maintenance?
Does green living features such as photovoltaic solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system require special maintenance with prohibitive costs? Although these are cutting-edge green technologies, they been designed to be simple and easy to maintain. Let’s look at each of the features typically found in eco-friendly homes and how much they cost to maintain:
- Photovoltaic solar panels
Photovoltaic solar panels are made of semiconductors, a material that absorbs energy from the sun and converts it into electric current to power appliances and devices in our homes. They’re a standard feature of eco-friendly homes and are often the first image that comes to mind when we hear the words ‘eco-friendly’. They help homeowners reduce their reliance on the grid for electricity.
While they look impressive, photovoltaic solar panels actually require very little maintenance. They’re built to last and to withstand hail and storms. Photovoltaic solar panels don’t have moving parts that rust or break. The only maintenance needed is cleaning.
Safety first! When working on the roof to clean the photovoltaic solar panels requires safety precautions.
Dirt, grime, bird droppings and debris block the sun from being absorbed efficiently by the panels. So cleaning is a key aspect of photovoltaic solar panel maintenance. Inspecting the photovoltaic solar panels periodically, around once per year. If they do need cleaning it’s as easy as using a garden hose to rinse off the worst of the dust and grime. If they need more attention, using a squeegee and some soapy water gives them a good clean. Then using a hose to rinse off the soapy water and they’ll be as good as new. This is an easy task for DIY enthusiasts. Or is easily done by a professional. Remember safety first!
Aside from a simple wash down, photovoltaic solar panels do not require any expensive, specialist maintenance.
- Rainwater harvesting tanks
Harvesting rainwater for use in the garden and home is an effective way to reduce our reliance on the municipal supply. Harvested rainwater reduces the use of municipal water over the year by around 60% and fits in with living green. Here are some preventative maintenance points to consider:
- Clear your roof and gutters
Remove leaves, debris and overhanging branches from the roof and gutters. That way, bird dropping won’t find their way into the tank and cause water discolouration, odours or bacterial growth.
Periodically check the inlet/s and outlet/s screens and filters for leaves and insects, any blockages and damage, and clean or repair the screens or filters. Some systems come with self-cleaning options.
Depending on the type of system, the pump needs regular checking to make sure it is working properly. Cleaning/replacing the filter is a necessity. This is another DIY job; by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check the first-flush diverters and rain-heads
Regularly clean and empty the first-flush diverters and rain-head. This is necessary to prevent roof debris, insects and plant particles from getting into the system. Certain systems do this automatically.
- Check for cracks, holes and gaps
With some tanks it is necessary to ensure they are structurally sound. Repairing any gaps or holes stops animals and insects from getting into the tank and reduces the risk of algae and bacteria infecting the system.
- Taking care of the water filters
If the tank is used to provide water to toilets and the washing machine, it will have a water filter. These filters generally need to be rinsed and where required replaced. This is another small maintenance job for the DIY enthusiast.
- Inspect the tank for accumulated sludge
Sludge will accumulate in the tank and needs to be checked and cleaned professionally.
For all the added value and savings rainwater harvesting tanks provide, the maintenance they require is minimal. Most eco-friendly houses install water tanks underground to save on space and maintenance costs. Because these tanks aren’t exposed there’s minimal chance for them to crack or leak.
Although heat pumps may not be the most eco-friendly option for some scenarios, they are incredibly efficient. This makes them a popular choice for eco-friendly houses. They require professional servicing twice per year.
A popular choice for eco-friendly houses; bamboo is a material that’s renewable, solid and durable. It looks beautiful and doesn’t need too much maintenance. And it’s not limited to countertops. Bamboo can be used as flooring, furniture and in construction.
A professionally installed bamboo countertop gives many years of pleasure. Here are some pointers to keep bamboo countertops looking as good as the day they were fitted:
- Wipe the surface down on a regular basis with a damp cloth and an all-purpose, non-abrasive cleaning product. Avoid ammonia based cleaners as this may damage the surface.
- Never use harsh chemicals or thinners based products on the countertop.
- Don’t chop anything directly on the surface. Bamboo is tough, but knives and other sharp instruments will damage them.
- If the surface is damaged, a light sanding and re-sealing should restore it to its previous condition.
- If the bamboo countertop is severely damaged, it can be repaired and re-sealed by a professional.
- Avoid putting hot pots and pans directly on the bamboo countertops. The heat will damage the surface.
Bamboo is a beautiful material that is very easy to care for. Looking after the bamboo countertops will avoid any expense repairs. In fact, as part of green living, it’s easy to make a natural cleaning solution to clean the countertops safely.
- Aluminium and stainless steel
You cannot speak of durable building materials without mentioning stainless steel and aluminium. Green living is focused on using quality materials that last well and don’t have to be replaced often. Both of these metals live up to that philosophy.
As both of these materials are so easy to maintain, it’s worth investing in a home that utilises them.
Used to construct the frame of eco-friendly homes, stainless steel is one of the recyclable materials in the world. Every year, millions of tonnes of stainless steel is recycled and used in a variety of construction projects. It’s is durable and strong and doesn’t rust. Stainless steel is a first choice for balustrades.
Aluminium window and door frames requires far less maintenance than wooden or steel frames. They don’t need to be painted or varnished and are easy to clean. When powdercoated almost no maintenance is required.
- Face brick and naturally coloured roof tiles
There are few building materials requiring as low maintenance as face brick. With no plaster and paint, big maintenance projects are not required to keep the outside of the home looking neat. Eco-friendly houses favour face brick because it’s a durable material that doesn’t need any special care.
And when combined with naturally coloured roof tiles, maintenance is reduced even more. Naturally coloured tiles never fade and stand up well to hail, wind and other harsh weather conditions. Making smarter choices is a key element of green living.
A water-wise garden cleverly landscaped and combined with indigenous plants and natural pest care saves time and money on maintenance. And requires very little water.
Greener living focuses on preserving resources and making our lives comfortable and efficient. A water-wise garden is the perfect example of this philosophy. Indigenous plants are well suited to the local environment and will thrive with little attention.
First-time home buyers get caught up in the excitement of house-hunting and don’t stop to consider the amount of effort and expense it takes to maintain a home. Being aware of the maintenance and costs, and of eco-friendly homes, creates more options. Green living and eco-friendly homes bring about benefits now and in the future as a green home increases in value and remains attractive to future buyers who recognise the benefits of living green.
Environmentally friendly homes are not the norm in South Africa. Homeowners are however slowly realising that green homes are sound investments. They have significant advantages over traditional homes that will become important as the years go by. If you’re unaware or unconvinced that investing in eco-friendly homes is a wise move, here are some reasons why greener living is a smart move.
Eco-friendly homes have a longer lifespan
Would it surprise you to learn that green homes age better than traditional homes? That’s because eco-friendly building materials are tougher. For example, steel beams equip a home with a solid frame that is much stronger than wood. As a result, green homes can withstand high winds without damage. And steel beams aren’t at risk from rot or termites.
Even natural, sustainable construction materials are treated so that they last as long. In order to minimise waste, green living demands that every element of a home is used to maximum effect.
Green homes are healthier
Paints, adhesives, upholstery, carpets and other materials all emit Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) into your home environment. You may not be aware of it, that breathing in these dangerous chemicals can affect your health. They are responsible for a variety of conditions that range from mild to serious. One thing is certain; being exposed to these VOCs for long periods of time result in being more susceptible to illness.
On the other hand, green living focuses on using products that are non-toxic and not harmful to the environment or people. Low VOC paints, varnishes and adhesives are available and used in the construction of eco-friendly houses. Wooden flooring is an alternative to carpets. Even tiles made from recycled materials are available to ensure that green living principles are followed throughout the construction of a home.
The result is that green homes have a better air quality. And good air quality reduces risk of illness and allergies. It’s difficult to imagine that a home could be a source of becoming sick, though those living in eco-friendly homes know that being environmentally conscious makes a difference to their health.
Eco-friendly houses are more valuable
Should the time ever come to sell, green homes command more money. As the trend towards greener living gains popularity, buyers will be on the look-out for eco-friendly homes. Features such as photovoltaic solar panels, comprehensive insulation and a rainwater harvesting system make such homes attractive to eco-conscious buyers.
It’s these features that make green homes comfortable. Green living is about modern conveniences, about luxury living. Photovoltaic solar power and rainwater harvesting means efficient access and use of two important resources. Why be solely dependent on the grid for electricity when it’s easy to generate electricity. And the same with water, why be solely dependent on municipal water, when it’s easy to harvest rainwater.
When compared to traditional homes, taking the benefits of the aforementioned translated into monthly savings, and that green homes are fully temperature controlled throughout the year, and that the temperature of each zone is individually adjustable, it stands to reason that eco-friendly homes are valuable assets.
Green homes are cheaper to run
One of the noteworthy points of eco-friendly houses is their low running costs. Other points are their convenience and benefits to the environment. In fact, living green saves a substantial amount of money. In comprehensive tests, calculated savings of up to 65% can be achieved – that is – including the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling – registering better than optimal temperatures during the tests in summer and winter.
Harvesting rainwater reduces monthly water costs by as much as 60% averaged over the year. Installing a solar water heater reduces water usage slightly and saves electricity based on usage patterns. Using photovoltaic solar electricity to power a home reduces electricity costs by almost by 100%.
Even small actions result in big savings over time. For example, switching to Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) reduces electricity consumption immediately. Green living is about finding efficient ways to achieve things.
And with costs of basic services such as electricity, water and refuse removal continuously increasing, living in a green home makes solid economic sense.
Eco-friendly homes are attractive
Homes fitted with green technology is not unattractive. When building eco-friendly homes from scratch, designers and developers find ways to incorporate green features so they don’t stand out. Photovoltaic solar panels are indeed visible. And large rainwater harvesting tanks are usually installed underground and out of sight. It’s even possible that an eco-friendly home isn’t distinguishable unless told.
Very often, the natural materials used to decorate eco-friendly homes are as beautiful as traditional materials. Bamboo floors and countertops add a touch of luxury to any home. Recycled materials that have been re-purposed have a charm of their own. Finding eco-friendly tiles, paints or finishing’s to decorate interior spaces are easy to find. More suppliers are recognising the demand for green living alternatives.
All that is needed is educating about these choices and asking manufacturers the right questions. Take into account how products are sourced and handled and to decide whether they match green living principles.
Green homes keep working during shortages
There’s nothing worse than arriving home after a long day to discover a power or water outage. With a green home, this won’t be the case often. Even during rolling black-outs, cooking, having a hot shower and lighting the home continues. Investing in back-up batteries to store the power generated by the photovoltaic solar panels, though expensive, provides power when needed.
Likewise, rainwater harvesting tanks supply water as designed even when the municipal supply is turned off. Or, if water restrictions are instituted, rainwater is likely available from the previous rains for flushing the toilets and irrigation.
These are examples of how green living make life easier. Being self-sufficient enables the use of resources as implemented for the home. And reduces the impact of price increases for power and water. In a green smart home, it is easy to monitor and manage usage to retain basic comforts.
Eco-friendly homes are the future
The idea of building sustainable homes has already taken off in many parts of the world. Designers and builders are constantly coming up with innovative ways to build homes that work with the environment and use limited resources efficiently.
At the same time, more homeowners are becoming aware of how green living saves money. Swapping out old lightbulbs for more cost-efficient CFLs or buying a geyser blanket, is beneficial to our pockets and the environment. These are small aspects of being eco-friendly. Image implementing green features comprehensively.
If you’re in a position to buy a purpose-built eco-friendly home, don’t hesitate. It’s worth the investment. Not only will you save on your monthly costs, you’ll be investing in the future. An eco-friendly home is a home for life. You’re investing in a home that will last you well into your retirement, a home that you can leave to your children.
Green homes are better for the environment
It’s worth stating this advantage again. The benefits of eco-friendly homes extend well beyond the construction phase. As time goes on, green homes continue to reduce impact on the planet: Using less resources and releasing fewer toxins into the environment.
Although the full impact of current habits is yet to be felt, by adopting green living habits, we’re contributing to an improved environment. Few people appreciate how uncomfortable life would become if steps aren’t taken to stop pollution or reduce the consumption of precious resources.
Greener living doesn’t require much. It requires changing just a few habits, and we stand to benefit as much as the planet does. Being committed to leaving our children and grand-children with a bright future, we’ll need to take action, rather sooner than later.
As is evident, there are many reasons to invest in a green home. In the future, eco-friendly homes will be in demand. Be an early adopter. Start saving money and reducing your impact on the environment.
What to look for in a green home?
If you’ve already decided that your next home should be a green home, here are some features to look out for when you go house hunting:
One important feature of eco-friendly houses is how well they’re insulated. Retrofitting an existing home with ceiling insulation is not enough. An eco-friendly home will have:
- Ceiling insulation
- Floor insulation
- Exterior wall insulation
- Double-glazed windows
- Water pipe insulation
A home that is properly insulated will significantly reduce your cooling and heating costs. An underfloor Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system will eliminate your need for heaters and air-conditioners. You’ll be able to control the temperature in separate zones for maximum comfort all year round without using much electricity.
Being well insulated contributes to sound proofing the home.
- Rainwater harvesting tanks and a water-wise garden
All eco-friendly homes have some kind of rainwater harvesting system. Whether tanks are installed underground or above ground, a pump and filter enables using harvested rainwater inside and outside.
Combined with a garden that features indigenous plants, water usage is minimal. And the harvested rainwater is available to flush your toilets and supply the washing machine.
- Heat pump or solar geyser
Both options provide you with hot water. Not only does this make eco-friendly homes more comfortable and convenient, it saves on water and electricity. With a linked-loop system, hot water is immediately on tap, reducing the need to run the water until it reaches the right temperature.
- Photovoltaic solar panels and backup batteries
For the full green living experience, include photovoltaic electricity. Reducing dependence on the grid provides massive savings on monthly bills. Backup batteries ensure that electricity is available during the evening when the sun is down.
Bamboo countertops, reclaimed wooden floors and tiles and efficient use of building materials are all features of eco-friendly homes. The environmental impact of every material used in the home needs to be investigated. It’s the only way to ensure that building a green home creates the least possible impact on the environment.
Speak to the builders and designers and ask them about the various features they include in their eco-friendly houses. Work out how much you can save by living in a green home and compare it to the cost of living in a traditional home. You’ll discover how well-designed and efficient they are. Once you understand how greener living can make a difference to your life, you’ll realise that buying an eco-friendly home will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
Temperatures are beginning to rise which means summer is on its way. With the warmer weather, you may be planning to spend more time outdoors, enjoying the heat. Along with the longer days, comes the prospect of thunderstorms. While a sudden shower would delay your outdoor activities, it presents the opportunity to adopt a greener living habit—harvesting rainwater.
Last summer water restrictions were put in place as South Africa was in the grip of a drought. Many communities were forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and organisations to supply them with clean water for drinking and cooking. Harvesting rainwater reduces the demand on the municipal supply and supplements your need on municipal water.
What are the benefits of harvesting rainwater?
Installing a rainwater harvesting tank on your property makes a significant difference to you, your community and the planet. Greener living really does benefit everyone.
The water collected in a rainwater harvesting tank is available to flush your toilets, water your garden, wash your car and in your washing machine. Although it’s not fit for human consumption unless you filter it first, using rainwater for general purpose cleaning and irrigation reduces your reliance over the year on mains water by up to 60% and thus cut your water bill accordingly.
- Minimises the impact on local storm water infrastructure
During the thunderstorm season, it’s not unusual to see rivers of water flowing down your street and into storm water drains. That’s because our paved and tarred areas don’t allow for the rainwater to be absorbed back into the ground.
The excess water places a strain on the drainage system and increases the chances of flooding. By harvesting rainwater and releasing it back into the natural water course, this helps minimise the strain on your local municipality.
Harvesting rainwater achieves several green living principles. You’re saving potable water which is a valuable resource. That makes water available to other communities who need it. At the same time, you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Water has to be pumped around to the cities and towns where it’s needed which means it uses electricity. By harvesting rainwater, you reduce the amount of power used to supply your home with potable water.
With all of these benefits, it’s no surprise that eco-friendly homes incorporate rainwater harvesting tanks into their designs. Rainwater harvesting makes a definite contribution to the planet, saves homeowners on their monthly utility costs and stretches water supply, though marginally, even during times of drought.
If you’re keen to make rainwater harvesting a part of your lifestyle, you have two choices. You can either buy one of the eco-friendly homes currently on the market or install a rainwater collecting tank on your existing property. Let’s take a closer look at these two options.
Rainwater harvesting and eco-friendly houses
The trend towards green living is growing in South Africa. More and more developers are aware that homeowners are looking for properties that are cheaper to run and kinder to the environment. Eco-friendly houses typically include several green features that achieve this.
Photovoltaic solar panels and insulation keep energy costs down. Underground rainwater harvesting tanks ensure a supplemented supply of water. Eco-friendly building materials reduce environmental impact. Eco-friendly homes require less maintenance, cost less to run and provide families with a healthy and comfortable lifestyle.
Eco-friendly houses are more expensive than traditional homes. And with the money you save on maintenance and running costs, it’s possible to recoup your initial investment within a few years.
Buying a rainwater tank for your home
You don’t have to buy an eco-friendly house if you want to harvest rainwater. It is possible to retrofit your existing property with a tank, and it is affordable. Here are some things to consider if you want to buy a rainwater harvesting tank and start living green.
How to choose a water tank
It’s more efficient to have one large water tank rather than several smaller ones. Determining the size of the rainwater tank that will provide for your needs depends on the rainfall in your area and the size of your collection area (roof size).
- Calculating the collection area
A general rule of thumb is that 1mm of rain falling on 1m2 will deliver 1 litre of water to your tank. Measure the size of your roof and you’ll have an idea of how much rainwater you’ll harvest.
- Working out the size of the tank you need
How much water does your household need? Think about how many people live on the property and what you’ll do with the rainwater you harvest. Rainwater tanks come in many sizes – broadly classified as follows:
- Small tanks hold less than 2000 litres
- Medium tanks hold between 2000 and 10000 litres
- Large tanks hold more than 10 000 litres
Don’t forget to take your local climate conditions into account. In South Africa, different regions get most of their rain either in winter or summer. If the rainwater you collect will be used to flush your toilets or feed your washing machine, then you’ll want a rainwater system that automatically switches over to the municipal supply when the tank drops below its threshold. Research green living ideas to help reduce your household water usage.
- The best place for your tank
When you’ve worked out the size of the tank you need, you’ll need a place to install it. Underground water tanks are common in purpose-built eco-friendly houses. That’s because underground water tanks take up less space, last longer and produce a better quality of water. Subsoil conditions would need to be ideal if you want to install your water tank below ground.
Above ground water tanks are easier to fit, they’re exposed to the elements which affect their lifespan. Place your rainwater tank to best use gravity so water flows into the tank. If this is not possible, then a pump is required to push the water to the tank.
You should try to place your rainwater harvesting tank under some form of shelter such trees or a roof. By limiting its exposure to sunlight, you’ll reduce the temperature fluctuation and extend the life of the tank.
- Choosing the right material for your water tank
Water tanks are made from a wide variety of materials. Light shouldn’t enter the water tank so prevent algae. Choose a water tank made from solid, opaque material.
Polyethylene water tanks
Polyethylene is a tough plastic used to make water tanks of varying sizes and colours. They’re affordable and attractive which makes them ideal for use in existing gardens. If the polyethylene is reinforced, the tank is made for underground installation. Though the material itself doesn’t conform to green living principles, it is used in a way that benefits the environment overall.
Although they are robust and require little maintenance, the material is susceptible to UV damage when exposed to the sun for long periods which means they’ll need replacing at some point. If the tank is painted appropriately or installed under some form of shelter, its life is extend. It’s worth paying a little more for a high-quality polyethylene as these tanks have built-in UV protection.
Fibreglass water tanks
More expensive than plastic tanks, fibreglass water tanks are not easy to find in South Africa. They require precise installation because they cannot tolerate any soil movement.
Galvanised steel water tanks
Steel water tanks are better suited to greener living commercial applications. They hold more water than plastic tanks. They are prone to rust, so if potable water is required, the tanks need to be lined with a membrane.
Concrete water tanks
Concrete water tanks could last u a lifetime. They’re durable but expensive. They provide the best storage conditions for rainwater. Concrete neutralises the slight acidity of rainwater which improves its quality. It’s not biodegradable, so not a good choice for those who want to follow green living principles.
The disadvantage of using concrete water tanks is cracking and leaking. Before installing a concrete water tank underground, best to consult civil and geotechnical engineers. The soil conditions need to be suitable and the installation perfect to decrease the risk of cracking. These tanks need to be waterproofed to reduce the risk of leaking.
Pre-manufactured concrete water tanks are available too. They come in sections for quick and easy installation underground in modules to provide for required volumes.
Protecting your rainwater supply pipes
Pipes installed underground need to be of the appropriate code and specification and require additional protection against heavy vehicles. Pipes above ground require support or they will crack and break when filled with water. Paint appropriately to protect them from sun damage. Or pipes with built-in UV protection are best suited.
Installing an overflow pipe takes excess water to natural light. Water tanks overflow several times a year so the water flow needs to be correctly designed. Uncontrolled overflow could cause unwanted damage.
Adding a pump to your rainwater tank
Your rainwater tank will need a pump to help you achieve the right water pressure. A water tank installed 2m above the tap and filled with 2m of water will only produce a discharge pressure of 40kPa. Normal household water pressure ranges from 250kPa to 400kPa. So your rainwater tank needs a pump to help achieve the required water pressure.
Cleaning and maintenance
Rainwater tanks need a screen to stop debris and organic matter such as leaves and bird droppings from contaminating water supply. A first-flush device is recommended for diverting the first rainfall after a dry season away from the tank. The collection area needs to be clear of leaves and debris.
Tanks require inspecting for an accumulation of sludge at least every 2-3 years. This requires emptying and rinsing completely if necessary. Professionals could be used to clean tanks and make sure that the water supply is correct.
Depending on the rainfall in your area, it is possible to harvest rainwater for various needs. When harvesting rainwater, you realise how green living supplements your water needs. Using water wisely is one feature of eco-friendly living. Whether living in an eco-friendly home or implementing this feature at a conventional house, goes to show, anyone can enjoy the benefits of harvesting rainwater, financial and otherwise.
Your garden is the ideal place to start practicing greener living. Working in your garden is satisfying. Whether you grow prize roses, or vegetables to feed your family, sustainable gardening makes your efforts more rewarding. With a focus on preserving the soil and using resources wisely, eco-friendly gardening is cost-effective and easy to do. Here are some sustainable gardening principles you can start using in your garden right now.
Eco-friendly homes take advantage of available resources and make the most of them. Recycle your food scraps, used coffee grounds, vegetable peeling and plant cuttings. By making your own compost you’re able to fertilise your garden for free. And you’ll provide your plants with a rich source of nutrients. Composting is a perfect example of green living.
To make your own composter, start by picking out a shady spot in your garden. Your compost heap should be larger than a cubic metre, but smaller than 5 cubic metres. The compost heap should be large enough to generate sufficient heat to break down the material.
Start with a layer of course material such as thin sticks or twigs. Then add a mixture of grass clipping and green and dried leaves. Then add some soil. You can also add manure to your compost heap, make sure it’s well-rotted. You don’t want to be inundated with flies or a subject your neighbours to the potent smell. Keep adding more layers to your heap in this order until it’s a about a metre high. Over time, the material will turn to compost.
These are typical items you’re able to add to your compost heap:
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
- Egg shells
- Lawn cuttings
- Nut shells
- Cardboard and eggs cartons
Composting ticks two greener living habits off your checklist in one go. You end up sending less waste to the landfill, and you recycle organic materials at the same time. A third is, you feed your garden without it costing anything.
Any gardener knows that a beautiful garden needs water. This is one of our most precious resources. When experiencing a drought, harvesting rainwater is the ideal way to start living green. A sound investment in the future.
Rainwater is used for watering your garden, washing your car and even flushing your toilets. It’s not suitable for human consumption unless you filter it, using rainwater for general purpose jobs reduces the strain on the municipal supply. And, you’ll save money on your water bill at the same time.
While purpose-built eco-friendly homes have water tanks installed below ground, with existing homes if not possible to install underground, they are easily installed above ground. You’ll need to take into account how much water you need, the collection area of your roof and the rainfall pattern in your area to determine what size water tank you need. Water tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you’re bound to find one that works best for your garden.
If you haven’t got the room for a water tank, there are other ways to keep your plants hydrated the green living way:
- Use mulch and ground cover to prevent water from evaporating.
- Create raised beds to collect water and let it soak into the ground.
- Use a watering can to water your garden instead of a hose pipe. That way you’ll use less water.
- Swap your direct irrigation system for a drip irrigation system. This is an efficient way of watering your plants.
Using water wisely is the cornerstone of greener living. Water tanks are a great addition to eco-friendly homes. And in times of drought and water restrictions, you’ll prolong your supply of water to keep your garden blooming.
Choose native plants that are hardy and drought resistant. Not only do they contribute to greener living, they require less maintenance. You’ll spend less time working on your garden, and more time enjoying it.
Native plants are well-adapted to local conditions so they don’t need as much water as foreign species. Indigenous trees, shrubs and flowers are more resistant to local pests and diseases. When planting trees consider their position and type to reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs.
Evergreen trees are green all year round so use them to form a windbreak and protect your home from chilly winds in winter. In summer, they’ll keep your home cool and comfortable. While deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter making them ideal for protecting the areas of your home that get the full sun in summer. Come winter, when the leaves fall off to let the sun in to warm the room.
Using plants to control the temperature of your home means you won’t have to rely as much on air-conditioners and heaters. If you adopt this green living trick you can make your home more comfortable and save on electricity. These natural methods are something that eco-friendly houses incorporate into their design from the start. And there’s no reason why you can’t do the same in your garden.
- Controlling pests organically
Gardens attract insects and while eco-friendly gardeners recognise that some are beneficial, others are just pests. There’s no need to abandon your green living principles with them. From home-made insecticides to encouraging natural predators, there are organic ways to stop pests from ruining your garden:
- Natural solutions: Save your eggshells from breakfast, crush them up and spread them around the base of your plants. That will keep slugs and cut worms away. Sprinkle salt around on the soil to stop snails from taking over. Don’t go overboard though, too much salt in the soil isn’t good for your plants.
- Clean and tidy: Pests prefer untidy gardens. It gives them the chance to settle in and start breeding. So keep your lawn manicured and your beds tidy. Remove fruits and vegetables before they start rotting and become a food source for pests; and good for the compost heap.
- Install barriers. Physical barriers such as mesh and nets protect plants from pests. Loosely woven material protects plants while they get enough water and sunlight to grow.
- Insect-repelling plants. Citronella, marigolds, thyme, lemongrass and spearmint are all plants with insect-repelling properties. When planted in-between your shrubs they naturally repel pests – no need for chemicals.
- Encourage birds. Hanging a feeder gets birds to visit your garden. Birds are fond of snacking on bugs and will help control the pest population in your garden. Lizards and frogs are another natural form of pest control.
Save on expensive and damaging chemicals and use natural, greener living methods to manage pests in your garden. You’ll discover that once you start working with nature, you’ll achieve the results you want with less effort, and costs.
- Old-fashioned garden maintenance
To maintain a garden you rely on a number of tools to keep it looking tidy. Lawn mowers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers are an essential part of any gardener’s kit. Where possible, choose electric-powered equipment. You could invest in cordless tools to make your job easier.
Electric-powered lawn equipment creates less noise and air pollution than the gas-powered models. Electricity is also cheaper than fuel and another way of saving on costs of keeping your garden in tip-top shape. Alternatively, using a traditional push mower and get a workout while attending to your garden.
An alternative to leaf-blowers, is sweeping the driveways and sidewalks the old-fashioned way – and getting in a workout. Though it may take longer, it saves on fuel and noise pollution. Green living, though by working differently, saves costs in various ways.
And did you know that using a hoe to cultivate between your plants suppresses weeds and aerates the soil? Spending a few minutes in your garden every day and pulling weeds, by hand contains weeds and they won’t spread get out of control. Ten minutes daily beats hours of weeding once a month.
Working in your garden is as good for the garden as for your soul. By returning to greener living practices you re-discover the joy of spending time in nature.
- Designing eco-friendly gardens
Eco-friendly homes with eco-friendly gardens is a balanced eco-system. Compliment the indoors and outdoors, by following greener living through to your outdoor spaces too. Whether working with an existing garden, or starting one from scratch using these tips create a garden that’s eco-friendly:
- Recycle materials. If you want to build a deck or a patio, use recycled materials or a material that can be recycled such as wood or aluminium. Some manufacturers offer you a composite material made from a combination of plastic and wood particles. This type of decking is fade-resistant and easy to clean. It requires little maintenance and looks attractive.
- Plan your planting. Learn about native plants to make your garden attractive. The local nursery is able to help pick out indigenous plants that are ideal for our gardens. Native plants will help you to cut down on water usage, repel local pests. Have a beautiful garden. Use a combination of sun-loving and shade-loving plants appropriately. The more you know about the plants you want to use, the better your landscaping.
- Limit your lawn area. Lawns require frequently watering and care to keep them looking at their best. Consider whether you need a large lawn and if you don’t, experiment with other kinds or ground covers that don’t need as much water or maintenance. Natural grasses are just as attractive and are suited to droughts and our particular weather conditions.
- Make maintenance easy: Designing your garden in way that makes it easy to look after. Remember that green living is convenience. If you want to harvest rainwater for use in your garden, or start a composting heap, set aside space for these projects. Incorporate them from the start and make them part of your garden. Reduce the need for gas-guzzling or power-sapping garden tools. Working on your garden is a pleasure when approaching it differently.
When adopting green living gardening principles, changes the way you see your garden. Eco-friendly homes are about convenience, saving costs and being environmentally friendly. Everyone benefits when becoming mindful of how resources are used. Explore ways that you’ll enjoy and start a small project putting your ideas into practice.
A green smart home is one that combines both eco-friendly features and technologies with smart home technologies. The concept is still new to the South African market, and offers various benefits for savvy homebuyers. Not only is a green smart home energy efficient and cost-effective, the addition of a smart home technology system makes it easy to monitor and efficiently manage the green smart home feature’s resource consumption to maximise the monthly savings.
With only a few of these homes on the market, here are some cost-effective features making them sound investments.
We would expect an eco-friendly home to be fitted with photovoltaic solar panels. Energy-efficiency is at the top of the list when shopping for a green home. It’s not essential for all of our power needs to be provided for by a photovoltaic solar system. Research concluded that a grid-tied system is the most practical solution. A grid-tied system provides the homeowner with a balance of energy-efficiency and energy-reliability.
Although the technology has come a long way, photovoltaic systems are still pricey. To install a fully off-the-grid system would require a hefty initial investment. That’s partly due to the fact that we would need to add either more photovoltaic panels or more batteries. Either of these require installation space. Batteries are used to store the power generated by the panels during the day to power the home at night. And also power the home when the sun is blocked out for extended periods. It’s these additional photovoltaic and specialised batteries that are pricey.
A grid-tied system is recommended. During the day, the photovoltaic solar panels provide free electricity. Once the sun sets, the system automatically switches over to the backup batteries. When the batteries reach the lower threshold, the system, again automatically switches over to the municipal supply. To make provision for when tiered electricity tariffs are introduced, the system design especially caters for using the home’s own energy during peak periods – approx. 05h00 to 08h00 and 17h30 to 19h30, so we enjoy an uninterrupted supply of power, for free, or at the lowest service provider tiered prices. Furthermore, another design feature is to feedback into the grid the excess self-generated power.
Combining a heat pump and the linked-loop hotwater system, enables you to have hot water throughout the home immediately on tap. Heat pumps are remarkably efficient. They require very little energy to heat up the water in the tank. Producing hot water is a large part of the electricity consumption. Using an alternative, such as a heat pump dramatically reduces energy consumption and thus the home’s monthly running costs.
Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling
Traditional homes rely on energy-hungry appliances to maintain the temperature inside the home at a comfortable level. In winter we drag out heaters and electric blankets while in summer we switch on air-conditioners to provide relief from the soaring temperatures. Or possibly use air-conditioners all year round. Installing a Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system consists of a network of pipes which is used to take hot or cold water to maintain desired temperatures. [The heat pump also produces the cold water.]
We’re able to monitor and manage the system by setting a comfortable temperature, as and when required.. Each of the home’s zone’s temperature is individually adjustable to provide their required temperature and comfort. The system is energy-efficient and effective. In winter, it’s possible to walk barefoot on the warm tiles. This simply isn’t possible in a traditional home without resorting to expensive underfloor heating or air-conditioning that uses a significant amount of electricity.
Once again, this demonstrates luxurious green living, which focusses on comfort while using resource efficiently, thereby reducing monthly running costs. Eco-friendly homes are designed to use resources efficiently. Such homes are more expensive to purchase, though over the long-term, the benefit of momentous monthly savings on power make green smart homes sound investments. This is particularly attractive when considering that prices for these basic services will continue to rise.
With South Africa currently experiencing its worst drought in 23 years, saving water ia a priority. Having access to fresh, clean water is a large part of what makes our modern lives comfortable. Take a moment to consider how many different ways we use water in our home every day; for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning.
Eco-friendly homes use a variety of methods to reduce water consumption. This includes the use of low-flow shower heads and taps to rainwater harvesting used to flush toilets, for the washing machine, and garden irrigation. These features improve comfort or convenience.
The rainwater harvesting tanks cab be installed underground so that it doesn’t take up valuable space. The tank is well-constructed and not prone to damage or leaking. The roof gutters and slab downpipes channel water to the tank. The design maximises the collection and storing of rainfall in the area. This is an example of how eco-friendly homes work with the environment.
The tank itself requires almost no maintenance as it is equipped with self-cleaning filters. The rainwater management system is connected to the municipal supply to ensure a constant supply of water. The rainwater management system switches over automatically, from rainwater to municipal water and vice versa..
It’s always a good idea to increase water savings by completing your home with a water-wise garden. A water-wise garden is one that uses indigenous plants that are accustomed to local weather conditions. These native plants are able to withstand dry periods and local insects as opposed to foreign plants. The garden has almost no lawn, instead it contains well designed walkways, reducing the amount of water needed to maintain the garden. Aforementioned makes for a garden that is easier to maintain and to care for.
Smart home technology
While the green features are effective on their own, the addition of a smart home technology system serves to enhance them. The Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system, the heat pump, the rainwater harvesting and the water pump can be connected to the software. This provides you with two important abilities:
- The ability to monitor consumption
Information is a powerful tool and with smart technology we have instant access to the home’s data. The system constantly collects information about power consumption and the level in the water tank. These are available at a glance – how much electricity and water is being using. This is available for right now, and back over time, for the current day, weeks, months and years
Without a smart home technology system, it is impossible to gather this type of information manually. And it provides us with an accurate, up-to-minute picture of how much electricity and rainwater we’re using. With this information, we’re able to make important decisions.
For example, though the effects of adjusting the Hydronics temperature is completed within 24-72 hours, we’ll immediately see the effect that reducing or increasing the temperature inside the home has on the power consumption. This enables us to adjust the temperature with a half or full degree to balance the comfort with the power consumption, instead of waiting for 24 – 72 hours. Imagine how useful this is when working out how much energy and money it takes to run our home? Not only does it increase our monthly savings, it also makes our home energy-efficient.
- The ability to manage our home remotely
The beauty of the smart home technology is that it comes with an app. With the ability to monitor and manage your home from within the home and remotely. You are able to install and run the app from your smartphones, tablets, and computers.
In an age where we’re increasingly using our smart devices and laptops, it stands to reason this convenience is extended to our homes. And with further customisation, the green smart technology is able to provide other conveniences.
It is possible to extend the system to include some of the other features too which include security and convenience. It is flexible, powerful and focused on reducing the monthly running costs. Simply being able to monitor and manage adjusting various aspects of the home makes it easy for homeowners to efficiently manage their home. As aforementioned, like having the ability to balance electricity consumption comfort and cost.
It is best to seamlessly blend the best of both green technologies and smart home technology and work with the environment to create a space that is eco-friendly and luxurious.
The grid-tied solar panels with the Hydronics Radiant heating and cooling system and the underground rainwater harvesting tank maximises the use the available resources. And the smart home technology system adds an extra layer of monitoring, managing and customisation creating a home that is eco-friendly and ahead of its time.
Investing in a green smart home provides us with instant savings on our monthly running costs and additional savings in the future as costs rise. It’s a home that increases in value as more people realise the benefit of living in a green smart home.