How to green your home without de-greening your wallet

As far as buzzwords go, “green” has been having a pretty good run, with the world becoming more and more aware of climate change and the impact we’re having on our planet. 

As with many trends, however, there are plenty of suppliers jumping on the bandwagon in the hopes of making a quick buck rather than an actual difference. That can make it tricky for homeowners to know which green solutions are actually worth putting in place on their properties, and which ones are simply more expensive than they’re worth.

“In a residential situation, going green is really all about energy efficiency,” says Tony Clarke, Managing Director for the Rawson Property Group. “South Africa’s grid is powered almost entirely by fossil fuels, so by decreasing the amount of grid-supplied electricity you use, you help to reduce the carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere by our power stations.”

When it comes to decreasing your energy consumption, most people’s first thought is to go solar, and there are several local companies offering full or hybrid solar power solutions for both residential and commercial properties. These can cost hundreds of thousands of rand however and, according to Clarke, the investment can be difficult to justify unless you plan on spending the next few decades in your current home.

“Energy efficiency can be a great selling point for a property,” he explains, “but most South Africans aren’t in a position to pay a huge premium for that privilege. The high upfront cost of most solar power systems may well be worth it in the long run, but it can be difficult to recoup that cost in the event of a sale.”

That doesn’t mean all solar power is a waste of money – a solar water heater, for instance, can be a very worthwhile investment, particularly for a large family. “The more hot water you use, the more energy your geyser will consume,” agrees Clarke, “which means the bigger your family, the more worthwhile a solar water heater – or a heat pump – will be. If you use minimal hot water, you’ll still save money in the long run, but it’ll take you a little longer to recoup your initial investment.”

Other well-known electricity guzzlers in South African homes are electric hobs and ovens. “A simple way to reduce electricity consumption in the kitchen is to opt for a gas hob,” says Clarke. “They are very popular because they’re great to cook on, and have the benefit of still working during load shedding.” Gas ovens are a little less popular, but using a convection microwave is a good energy efficient alternative when you want to grill, roast or bake something.

Of course, replacing appliances and geysers isn’t exactly cheap, either, and the savings they achieve aren’t always dramatic or immediate. The good news is that there’s another quick and easy fix that can make a big difference not only to your energy efficiency, but to the comfort of your home.

“Insulation is far and away the most cost-effective way to green your home,” says Clarke. “There are several inexpensive ways to improve the thermal properties of your home, and a well-insulated building is always a plus for prospective buyers.”

Clarke recommends starting by installing proper thermal insulation in your ceiling (an easy DIY) and fitting a geyser blanket while you’re at it. Self-adhesive foam draft strips are also extremely simple to fit, and are very effective at preventing heat loss through cracks around your doors and windows.

“Double glazing your windows is also an option,” says Clarke, “but it’s very expensive unless you’re already planning to renovate, and its effectiveness can degrade over time. A good set of thick curtains is far cheaper to install, and will be almost as good at maintaining a room’s temperature.”

“Something else that is often overlooked in terms of insulation,” Clarke adds, “is the fireplace. You lose a huge amount of heat through your chimney if there’s nothing to slow airflow when it’s not in use. Always make sure the damper is closed when you don’t have a fire lit, and consider investing in a chimney balloon to prevent drafts even more effectively.”

All in all, going green can be a great way to save money (by decreasing your electricity consumption) while also doing your part to save the environment. “There is, however, a risk of investing more money in green solutions for your home than you can easily recover in the event of a sale,” says Clarke, “so always keep a close eye on the immediate value of a solution, as well as its long-term implications.”

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