Blackouts should power building innovation

Property developers should embrace the challenges posed by South Africa's electricity crisis and introduce energy efficient measures in new housing developments.

This is the call from Fanie Lategan of the Chas Everitt International Western Seaboard office. "It is evident that measures must be taken across a broad front, not only in the immediate future, but also with a view to make better use of energy resources that are set to become scarcer and more expensive."

Lategan says electricity shortages will affect SA's economic prospects and it is therefore vital that all sectors do their utmost to conserve electricity. "In this regard, property developers can make a substantial contribution by including energy efficient features in as many new houses as possible. They now have a great opportunity to influence the way consumers view and use electricity in a country that has become used to cheap energy."

"In the past, many available energy-efficient methods and devices were not specified in new construction because of cost and other factors. With electricity scarcity set to continue for several years, and tariff hikes an inevitability, many of these will start making economic sense - and will no doubt enhance the desirability of energy efficient homes among consumers."

Lategan says not all measures are expensive. "Solar power is widely touted as sustainable, but costs are still high. However, age-old basics such as positioning buildings to face north and to ensure adequate natural ventilation, should not be negotiable and should take precedence over cosmetics such as, for instance, positioning buildings to capture particular views.

"Insulation, such as the many proprietary brands of ceiling insulation, and even double glazing of windows, which is normally found in colder northern climes, will go a long way in cutting electrical consumption for heating and cooling." He also adds that roof paint that reflects heat away from surfaces is locally available and that the so-called "green roof" concept, where living plants are set into a growing medium on top of the roof surface, is gaining renewed acceptance worldwide thanks to considerable energy savings in air-conditioning.

Lategan suggests that developers also pay particular attention to hard landscaping in housing complexes since large expanses of brick or concrete act as heat traps. "Heat islands, a term describing the phenomenon in which urban and suburban temperatures are 1 to 6 degrees Celsius hotter than nearby rural areas, are created by such landscaping, as well as conventional roof surfaces."

Other possibilities include making provision for gas appliances, fitting automatic timers to electric geysers or installing solar water-heating systems, insulating plumbing and installing window shutters. "Homeowners will probably make some, or hopefully many, of these changes to their existing properties and in future, buyers of new properties are likely to favour developments that already include such features," Lategan says.
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