Are green homes only for the rich?

Are green homes only for the rich?

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.

Start small

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?

How to save electricity in your home

How to save electricity in your home

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

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

Here are some ideas to consider:

Turn down the temperature of your geyser 

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

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

Avoid using additional heating or cooling systems in your home

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

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

Control the temperature of your home without electricity

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

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

Switch off!

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

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

Manage your fridge and freezer more efficiently

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

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

Cook more efficiently

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

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

Cut down on hot water

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

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

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

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

Manage your pool pump’s operating hours

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

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

Use a more efficient shower head

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

Insulate your geyser

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

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

Insulate other areas of your home

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

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

Replace old light bulbs with more energy efficient options

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

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

Consider installing a solar water heater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kitchen

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

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

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

The Bathroom

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

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

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

The Living Room

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

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

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

The Bedrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why eco-friendly houses make good investments

Why eco-friendly houses make good investments

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:

  • Comprehensive insulation

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.

  • Eco-friendly fixtures

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.

What’s greener? A solar geyser or a heat pump?

What’s greener? A solar geyser or a heat pump?

News of another hike in the electricity price may cause you concern. The increasing cost of living has prompted South Africans all over the country to look for alternative ways to meet their demands for energy. Heating water for your daily needs accounts for nearly 40% of your total electricity bill. A solar water heater or heat pump could slash costs and bring your monthly expenses down. Well how do you choose between a solar geyser and a heat pump? Which of these two options would save you the most on your electricity bill?

Understanding your options

Before you delve into the pros and cons of each one, here’s how they work. Of course either would be suitable for greener living.

Solar Geysers

A solar geyser consists of two elements: the solar collector and the tank. Solar panels are arranged on the roof of an eco-friendly home in a position where they are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight. The collector itself comes in two different variations. Flat plate collectors are made up of hot water pipes that run through shallow metal boxes coated with thick black glass. The glass collects and traps the heat, transferring the water in the pipes which feed into your tank.

Evacuated tubes are a bit more complicated. They have the appearance of fluorescent lights, and are empty (hence ‘evacuated’).  The heat they collect is redirected to a manifold at one end that contains water or another fluid which carries the heat to the hot water tank. They are more efficient than flat plate collectors because they don’t allow the heat to escape. That improved efficiency comes at a higher cost.

The hot water tank or ‘geyser’ is where warm water is stored. It may be fitted alongside the collector on top of your roof. For aesthetic reasons, you may not want this so the tank can be placed inside your roof instead. You don’t have to sacrifice style for the sake of living green.

A heat exchanger is a separate circuit that transfers the heat collected from the solar panels to the water that you use in your kitchen or bathroom. It takes the form of a giant copper coil in the tank. The water in the tank is heated up and the cooled water (or fluid) is returned to the collector to start the process all over again.

A pump helps to circulate the water between the collector and the water tank. And finally, there’s the control switch. Although our South Africa climate is sunny, there are odd days when it’s overcast and the last thing you want is to let cold water into your tank. In which case, you can turn the system off completely or switch over to your municipal power supply. It’s a simple system that works well in South Africa due to the fact that we average about 3000 hours of sunshine per year.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps work off ambient air temperature and not direct sunlight. They use a small amount of electricity to transfer heat from one place to another. You have probably heard of heat pumps being described as an air-conditioner in reverse. And that’s exactly how they work.

A heat pump is about the same size as an air-conditioning unit and is mounted outside the house where it can come into contact with freely circulating air. A fan draws hot air into the heat pump and passes it over a refrigerant. The refrigerant boils and evaporates at low temperatures allowing it to heat up a condenser coil which in turn, heats the water in the tank. Warm water flows out to your taps and cold water fills up the tank again as the process continues.

Unlike a solar geyser, a heat pump does need electricity to work. The difference is that it requires substantially less electricity than your regular geyser. Remember, all it does is move heat from one area to another, it doesn’t generate heat. Think of this way, if a geyser uses three units of electrical energy to produce three units of heat energy, a heat pump converts one unit of electricity into four units of heat energy. Heat pumps are proof that greener living is possible without sacrificing convenience.

Now that you have some idea of how both solar geysers and heat pumps work, let’s move on to the specific advantages and disadvantages of each system.

The pros and cons of solar geysers

On paper, a solar geyser sounds like the ultimate solution to our need for affordable power for everyone. As a green living feature it would enable us to simultaneously provide more people with access to a reliable supply and reduce our consumption of polluting fossil fuels. Now, when it comes to your personal situation there are some things you should take into account.

Advantages:

  • Free hot water: With a solar geyser it costs you absolutely nothing to heat water for your daily use. The massive savings you’ll enjoy every month are reason enough to consider installing a solar water heater. And you’ll save more as the price of electricity rises. Residents of eco-friendly houses enjoy even greater cost savings with solar power.
  • Constant and reliable supply:You’ll never have to worry about load shedding or power cuts affecting your supply of hot water. When the grid goes down, you won’t be affected.
  • Renewable source of energy: The energy from the sun is an endless source of power that you can harness. Unlike coal and gas, there is no danger that the sun will stop producing energy we can use.
  • Non- polluting:Solar energy doesn’t produce any pollution. It’s the cleanest form of energy available. If you’re serious about green living, think how much a solar geyser would reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Low maintenance:Solar panels don’t have any moving parts so they’re unlikely to break or wear down even after years of use. They will easily last you 15 – 20 years.  With continuous use, only the pump and inverter may need some attention after 10 – 15 years.

Disadvantages:

  • Cost: Solar geysers are expensive. Aside from the cost of the technology you’ll have to factor in the cost of possibly altering your roof to accommodate the unit. It may not even be possible to retrofit an existing home with a solar geyser in which case you’ll have to consider buying a one of the purpose built eco-friendly houses if you want to pursue greener living.
  • Backup: Your solar water geyser may not be able to provide you with sufficient hot water during winter. In this case, you’ll have to ensure that you can still run your geyser on electricity when you need to.
  • Time:The less sunlight your area receives, the longer it will take for you to recoup the costs of installing a solar geyser.
  • Space: Your roof should be large enough to accommodate both the solar collector and the tank. If your roof is too small, you may not be able to fit a solar collector large enough to provide for your needs.

What to consider before opting for a solar geyser:

  • Do you have the space?Solar collectors should be placed facing north at an angle of 35° to collect enough sunlight to heat your water sufficiently.
  • When do you need hot water the most? A solar geyser will produce most of its hot water during the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • How much water do you need? A family of four will need more hot water per day than a retired couple. Work out your water consumption and figure out what size tank you’ll need to meet your requirements.
  • How much sunlight does your roof get?If you live in an area that experiences more overcast and rainy days than sunny ones, a solar geyser may not be a practical choice.
  • Will it detract from the appearance of your property? Solar geysers are sometimes considered unsightly. If you think that installing one would affect the look and style of your property you should consider alternative solutions.

The pros and cons of heat pumps

Heat pumps may not be as eco-friendly as solar geysers though they are energy efficient. They don’t need sunlight to work which means you’ll never go a day without hot water on tap. If you want to start living green and save money, a heat pump is ideal.

Advantages:

  • Tank size: You can choose a tank that holds the volume of water required by your household with no restrictions.
  • Wide temperature range:Heat pumps can work just as well on rainy and cloudy days, even at night. The operate efficiently in a temperature range from -10°c – 43°C regardless of the amount of sunshine available.
  • Easy installation: You can install a heat pump indoors or outdoors. Unlike solar water geysers with solar collectors, that are fixed to your roof. And modern units can be controlled remotely.
  • Long lifespan: A heat pump can work for 15 years or more provided you take proper care of it.
  • Low maintenance: Your heat pump won’t require much attention and there are many small things you can do yourself to ensure the unit runs smoothly and efficiently.

Disadvantages:

  • Cost: Heat pumps are not as expensive as solar geysers, though they aren’t cheap. You’ll need to work out how much hot water your household uses to determine the size of the tank you need. With the savings on your monthly electricity costs, you should be able to recoup your investment within a few years. It may take some time before you experience all the benefits of living green, it’s worth it though.
  • Professional installation: You need technical expertise and specialised tools to install a heat pump. Unless you have the skills, you’ll need to get a professional electrician, thus adding to the costs.

What to consider before opting for a heat pump:

  • What is your average air temperature?Heat pumps should not be installed where the average ambient air temperature is 5 degrees or below. Fortunately, this is rarely a problem in our mild climate. You may experience problems in winter when the temperature drops and the air cools down.
  • Do you have space?Heat pumps cannot be installed in confined spaces such as garages. You’ll have to install your heat pump outside or in an open area where it can get the air flow it needs to work.
  • Do you want to go off the grid?Heat pumps need electricity to work. Combining your heat pump with a photovoltaic system is ideal and are the first steps to go off the grid.
  • Can you put it close to your hot water tank?By installing your heat pump near your hot water tank, you can reduce the heat loss that occurs as water travels through the pipes to the tank. If you aren’t able to do this, merely insulate the pipes.

It is possible to embrace green living and save on your electricity costs. Heat pumps and solar geysers are a good alternative for eco-friendly homes.  You get to live a convenient lifestyle while reducing your costs and carbon footprint. Consider your needs before deciding on a solar geyser or a heat pump for your home.