A fully kitted-out smart and green home may not be within everyone’s reach, but there are simple innovations available at every price point to suit your needs.
The most basic and oftentimes overlooked aspect of home innovation isn’t innovative at all – it has to do with maintenance. Many South African homes were built in a bygone era, when electricity and water were considered to be a non-issue. As a result, many homes are still fitted with water-wasting fittings and electricity-guzzling appliances.
Energy saving light bulbs
By now, most of us are familiar with the marvel that is LED-lighting. Using only 25% of traditional incandescent bulbs’ energy, LED bulbs also last up to 25 times longer. Another option is CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps). Basically a curled up version of traditional fluorescent lights, these use about one third of the energy of halogen incandescent lighting.
In addition to saving on electricity, today’s consumer also gets to choose between a wide range of smart lighting solutions. From the simple motion-sensing lights popular for outdoor use, to timers that allow you to set when your lights switch off and on. We’re also seeing lights that can be controlled via a mobile app.
The biggest name in this market is Philips with the Hue bulb. Available locally from R1 900, the Hue kit includes two smart bulbs and one hub. The bulbs simply screw into your existing light fittings, before being paired to the wifi-enabled hub. Once this is done, you’re able to control your lighting (including brightness and colour) through the smartphone app.
If you’re not looking forward to replacing every existing bulb with a Hue alternative, consider something like the WeMo Light Switch. Coming in at approximately R2 000, the wifi enabled switch replaces your existing lightswitch, but works with your current light bulbs. As with the Philips option, it allows you to regulate lighting straight from your phone.
If there’s one thing that’s united Capetonians more than their traffic woes, it’s the amount of water being used by everyday activities like doing the laundry or washing the dishes. Never before has a population paid so much attention to the amount of litres used in a single wash. And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
While appliances aren’t typically built into South African homes, having energy and water efficient ones can save you a pretty penny (and place you in Mother Nature’s good books.) Appliances sold in South Africa are required to display their energy efficiency. The rating system is broken down into seven tiers, with A+++ being the most efficient, and D the least. Similarly, you’ll be able to spot the water consumption per load on both dishwashers and washing machines.
Windows and doors
Replacing old windows and doors is a great way to add value to your property. While wooden windows and doors require regular maintenance to avoid rot, alternatives like aluminium are much better suited to the harsh African climate. Taking it one step further would be to add more modern alternatives like stacking doors, instead of the traditional sliding doors. While these are more expensive, when used correctly they allow for an almost seamless transition from indoor to out.
Adding glazing to glass can also save you in the long run, with energy costs showing a dramatic decrease during the summer months. Less permanent but just as important are blinds and curtains – or any other covering for windows. Whether you opt for awnings, pergolas, linen curtains, or bamboo blinds, there are countless options out there to naturally regulate a home’s light and temperature.
Going off the grid
Certainly on the more expensive side of the scale, optimising your property to go off the grid is becoming increasingly popular. From greywater systems to solar power, there are hundreds of local products to choose from.
“The increases that South Africans have already seen in the price of electricity over recent years have consistently outpaced the rate of inflation. With an even higher price increase now under discussion, it is becoming vital for homeowners to consider alternative sources of electricity to power their homes. Unlike coal-fired power, alternative energy solutions have become exponentially more affordable and accessible to consumers,” says Cala van der Westhuizen, Head of Marketing and Sales at Energy Partners Home Solutions.
In order to correctly implement solar power, you’ll need a few things. First off, solar panels. There are three types of solar panels on the market: Polycrystalline (high performance at a lower price), monocrystalline (highest performance at a higher price) and thin film (least efficient, but less affected by shade and heat.) Panels typically require 7-9m2 per kWp, so how many you need will depend on the extent to which you’d like to generate your own power. Having all that energy won’t help much if you can’t store it, however, so you’ll also need to factor in the cost of a regulator and batteries.
When it comes to water, you have several option. Depending on your location, you could opt for a wellpoint, borehole, rainwater harvesting system, or a combination. Prices vary depending on your requirements, but a single 1000l water tank starts at about R1 800. Factor in the price of a pump, sufficient storage, filters and treatment plants.
Combining both electricity and water efficiency is a heat pump. In contrast to a geyser, the heat pump will only heat up the water you’re about to use. Using less energy and water at a time, it’s a worthy option to investigate.
Building materials and styles
While the average homeowner is unlikely to rebuild their house using more modern and sustainable materials, it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are alternatives to the old brick and cement options. Bamboo, which grows much faster than trees, is a particularly popular choice for flooring. It can also be used for cladding.
One of the most important factors to keep in mind when designing a new home, is the aspect. By planning this correctly, you’re ensuring a more sustainable home by reducing the need for heating, cooling, and excessive lighting.
By incorporating natural materials like straw or stone, you’ll not only have an eye catching home, but also a more sustainable one. By eliminating the need for produced materials like bricks, you’re already doing your part to make your home smarter for the future.
With new technological advances coming to light each day, you’ll never be at a loss for ideas to innovate within your budget. The smart home – with its interconnected gadgets and toys – is one part of a truly innovative home. The other, more practical, is having a home that takes care of your needs no matter the external circumstances.