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?
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.
What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the words ‘solar power’? Do you picture an eco-friendly home with solar panels on the roof? You’re not wrong, though there are some other ways to harness the power of the sun for your home. Using solar power can help you reduce your reliance on the grid and put cash back in your pocket.
Solar power is a versatile and sustainable source of energy. Here are some unusual ways you can use it to power your home:
Solar water heaters
Heating water for your home accounts for a significant portion of your monthly energy bills. A family of four needs a lot of hot water for their daily cleaning, bathing and cooking needs. Installing a solar water heater can reduce the cost of generating hot water by as much as 80%. Solar heaters use either evacuated tubes or solar thermal panels to heat the water directly. The heat is then used to warm up water for your household needs.
Apart from saving on costs, a solar water heater can also save water and time. With green homes, during building by installing a linked-loop throughout the home, enables that as soon as you turn on the tap, hot water is available. You don’t have to let the tap run and wait for the water to reach your desired temperature. Few people realise that greener living can actually be more convenient.
Keeping the lights turned on in a dark area of your home is a sure way to run up your energy bill. Installing a skylight in a poorly lit area is a cheaper and better way to bring light into your home. Sunlight is healthier and completely free. If you install a skylight that opens, you can use it to release warm air and keep your home cooler during the hot summer months.
You don’t always need a large skylight either. Tubular skylights are a good option for smaller areas and allow you to funnel daylight into the areas where you need it. They’re inexpensive and relatively easy to install.
Solar garden lights are the perfect way to light up your outdoor areas without flipping the switch. With a tiny solar panel, battery and LED lamp, you can set your garden lights to turn on automatically when the sun goes down. They come in a variety of forms: string lighting, fairy lighting, tube lighting and even Christmas lights. You can get creative and make your garden look even more beautiful without spending a cent on electricity.
Solar chargers for electronic devices
Although they aren’t common, you can find solar charges available in South Africa. These handy devices can be used to charge small electronic devices such as your cell phone or tablet. Depending on your needs, they are inexpensive and portable. Essentially they consist of a small solar panel and some models may include a battery.
You can use them at home to charge your electronics for free and they’ll help to reduce your carbon footprint. Solar charges are the perfect example of how green living can be affordable and convenient.
You’ll find over 60 different types of solar cookers and are categorised as follows:
- Box solar cookers
- Panel solar cookers
- Solar kettles
- Parabolic solar cookers
- Hybrid cookers
What they all have in common is that they use energy from the sun for a chore that you have to do every day—cook food. Not only do they provide you with massive energy savings, they’re much safer to use. They don’t require any kind of fuel and they don’t produce any flames or fumes. Solar cookers provide a clean and efficient form of energy which is completely free.
Going solar doesn’t mean having to sacrifice your creature comforts. If anything, using sunlight to heat your water and charge your electronics makes your life easier. If you’re reluctant to incorporate solar power into your home, perhaps these examples will change your mind. Aside from the cost savings you’ll enjoy, there are some other very good reasons to use solar power in your home.
Reasons to go photovoltaic solar
Photovoltaic cells are incredible. They generate an electric charge when photons in the sunlight hit them. These solar cells are usually made from silicon and mounted in panels on the roof of the home where they are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight.
By absorbing photons from the sun they generate enough electricity to run your home without relying on the grid. This makes them perfect for eco-friendly houses which are designed to reduce your carbon footprint. The cost saving alone are a good reason to consider installing photovoltaic solar panels.
But there are some other reasons why solar photovoltaic panels are a good investment, particularly if you’re interested in green living.
Photovoltaic solar energy is affordable
While you may think that installing photovoltaic solar panels is expensive, they are actually quite affordable. The cost has come down considerably as the demand for alternative energy sources has increased. Today, they cost half as much as they did in 2008 and the solar market has increased substantially.
Photovoltaic solar panels are easy to install
If you’re retrofitting an existing home, you’ll be pleased to hear that installing photovoltaic solar panels is not that difficult. If you have the knowledge you may be able to do the installation yourself. Though it’s always wise to work with an expert. They’ll be able to provide you with the right advice when it comes to choosing and fitting the panels for your home. Your energy requirements should be assessed and the size and position of your roof taken into account before installation begins.
Photovoltaic solar panels require little maintenance
Green technologies are surprisingly robust and photovoltaic solar panels are an excellent example of this. They are strong enough to survive some tough weather conditions such as rain, wind and hail. A high quality installation can last as long as 30 years and requires hardly any maintenance. Monitoring and operating your photovoltaic solar panels and battery back-up will be no hassle at all.
Photovoltaic solar energy is reliable
This is of particular importance in South Africa where the power supply can be erratic. Load shedding can be frustrating and inconvenient. But with photovoltaic solar panels you never have to worry about coming home to a house without power. Given our sunny weather, you can look forward to a constant and free supply of energy throughout the year.
Photovoltaic solar energy is safe and clean
Solar cells are environmentally friendly. They do not burn fuel, produce noise or pollute the atmosphere. You get all the benefits of a constant supply of power without damaging the environment or contributing to the load on limited resources. Your carbon footprint is reduced without having to sacrifice any modern conveniences.
Photovoltaic solar panels conserve water
And while you’re reducing the strain on the national grid, you’re also saving water. Electricity generated from a photovoltaic system use 100% less water per kWh of electricity than coal power plants. That’s a double saving for greener living enthusiasts.
The big benefit of photovoltaic solar power for home owners still lies in the impressive long term saving you achieve. If you take into account the fact that electricity costs will only continue to rise, investing in photovoltaic solar power now makes it the best investment you can make for your home. While the initial installation costs are high, your savings will enable you to offset that in just a few years. And you can always start small and add on more panels as you can afford them.
The more you understand photovoltaic solar power, the more you’ll be convinced that it’s worth investing in. Here is some information you may find useful.
Photovoltaic solar power components
A photovoltaic system comprises of the following components:
- Photovoltaic solar panels: Made from silicon, these panels are mounted on your roof where they catch the sun and convert that energy into power for your home.
- DC-AC inverter: This unit is responsible for converting the current generated by the panels into a form that can be used for running your appliances and devices.
- Storage batteries: South Africa averages upwards of 2500 hours of sunshine a year. It’s entirely possible that your system could generate more energy than you need. Storage batteries are used to store the power providing you with a constant and uninterrupted supply every day.
- Charge controller or regulator: This prevents damage to your batteries as a result of excessive discharging or overcharging.
All these elements are required, and you can alter the size and number of photovoltaic solar panels depending on your budget and needs. The beauty of a photovoltaic system is that you can add to it at a later stage. This allows you to start small and increase capacity when you can afford it.
Photovoltaic solar power installations
You can choose from three types of installations depending on the size of your property:
- Ground mounted: This type of installation is ideal if you have a large, clear area of land to work with. You can install as many photovoltaic solar panels as you need.
- Roof mounted: Mounting your photovoltaic solar panels on the roof ensures that they receive maximum exposure to the sun.
- Thin film photovoltaic solar panels: These panels are glued onto your roof which eliminates the risk of damage to your tiles. They are perfect for sunny climates as they collect more energy than conventional panels.
Take some time to work out how photovoltaic solar panels could make a difference to your monthly expenses and weigh that against the costs of your preferred installation type. You’ll see why going photovoltaic makes sense.
Though retrofitting photovoltaic solar panels is a big investment to make, it’s the perfect way to start living green. Alternatively, if you’re in the market for a new home, look for one that already has this feature.
Photovoltaic solar energy can be used in different ways to help you cut costs and start living green. Whether you’re ready to say goodbye to the grid for good, or just make small changes to reduce your consumption, the technology does exist. And with each passing year, new developments make eco-friendly homes that utilise photovoltaic solar power easier to afford. Don’t wait too long, the sooner you start living green, the more you’ll save.