The homeowners' guide to saving money, the planet and increasing the value of property

As South Africans dust off their heaters ahead of winter with the knowledge that Eskom has inflicted yet another above-inflation price hike (9.4%) for electricity this year, cash-strapped consumers feeling the pinch of the gloomy national economy will increasingly be looking at ways to lower household running costs.

TEMPERATURE CONTROL:  Glazing on windows helps to regulate the indoor temperature in winter and summer, especially in homes built to maximise views and natural light like this house in Bantry Bay which is on the market for R39 million

That’s the word from Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Atlantic Seaboard CEO Brendan Miller, who says properties already fitted with energy-saving devices are increasingly attractive to prospective buyers when they start compiling their dream home wish list.

“At the turn of the century barring the odd ardent environmentalist, things like solar energy didn’t even register on buyers’ radars, but they’re most definitely there now.

“Municipal services have become prohibitively expensive and as the country’s infrastructure deteriorates the cost to consumers will increase. It therefore makes sense to become as green-powered and self-sufficient as possible; not only from an environmental perspective, but from a financial one as well.”

Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Director Sandy Geffen believes it is scandalous that the government, through the Department of Energy, last year chose to end the programme of rebates to incentivise homeowners to install solar geysers. The programme was previously administered by Eskom, but was shut down almost immediately after being transferred to the Department of Energy in March 2015.

“An average family comprises three to four members, each bathing or showering once a day. Considering that heating a geyser accounts for 40% or more of a household’s monthly electricity usage, just getting everybody clean can rack up a large bill before you even start adding other power guzzlers like stoves.

“I believe it’s morally wrong on numerous levels, not least of global climate change. But closer to home with the rebates gone installing solar geysers is now out of the question for most South African families who are already battling interest rate hikes, fuel price increases and surging food costs as a result of the drought and other factors.

“As a rule the only way the majority of homeowners who have to cut down on their bills manage to fund the approximately R15 000 to R30 000 required for the parts and installation – depending on the size of the geyser – is to dip into their mortgages or fall further into financial difficulty by taking out bank loans. Both scenarios are bad news for debt-ridden consumers, and in some cases their efforts to do the right thing ultimately see them go belly-up.”

Geffen says the only correct way to fund an installation is for homeowners to save until they have enough in the bank to pay cash for the solar geyser.

“You’ll recoup the initial investment in less than four years, after which it’s just pure electricity bill savings, and if you choose to sell your house you’ve added significantly to the value of the property if it already has a medium to large solar water heater installed.”

Miller says particularly in relation to larger properties, buyers are increasingly asking realtors to source homes that have existing solar water heaters, solar panels, grey water irrigation systems, rainwater tanks, comprehensive insulation or even double-glazing, which helps with climate control and dampening external noise.

“There’s no question that energy-saving home alterations and additions raise both the value and desirability of homes that are put on the market, because buyers are increasingly asking questions like whether a property has one or two geysers, and whether irrigation systems are grey water or mains water.

“Fitting these systems will reward homeowners with a significant return on investment in the short term in the form of savings on household running costs, as well as adding value to their properties in the long term.”

According to Geffen it’s possible to reduce a household’s energy expenditure by up to 70% using passive solar design.

“We’ve consulted with specialist architects and here’s how to do it with the implementation of simple design principles to reduce lighting, heating and cooling needs that can make a big difference to your monthly energy bill,” says Geffen.

Tips include the following:

Replace a tin roof if you can, but if the budget is tight, simply insulate it and paint it white.
Natural materials such as stone, timber, thatch and clay are better at regulating temperature than most man-made substances.
Rooftop solar panels provide electricity to run low-consumption appliances such as TVs, radios and lights. A big enough spread of solar panels will even see your electricity meter running backwards for much of the day when it’s sunny, feeding power into the grid. You don’t get paid for this, but your electricity bill plummets.
Although not a cheap initial investment, solar geysers will more than pay for themselves.
Home owners with gardens can reduce water usage by as much as 50% with a grey water irrigation system.
Install energy efficient light bulbs (CFLs), which have a much longer life-span and use far less electricity.
Install window shutters, awnings or screens. These will cool rooms by keeping direct sunlight out of the home in summer.

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