What a lot of people learned and possibly benefitted from as a result of the pandemic, is to have more respect for our planet. The clearing of the skies in China and the canals in Venice, when people were confined to their homes and industry was largely halted, was a reminder to us all that for the most part we don’t do enough to encourage a more sustainable world.

One way we can do this is by building more sustainable homes. As professional builders, we try to assist in this area and here are a few tips for building a more sustainable home or offices…

Reduce the energy generation

The most critical thing about assisting the ecology of the planet is to reduce poor energy sources, like electricity. In South Africa, in particular, this is mostly generated by fossil fuels which leaves a massive carbon footprint.

Low energy buildings mix passive techniques with active systems that produce a good environment to dwell in with the lowest usage of energy and greenhouse gas emissions. Passive techniques are things like the shape of the building and the materials with which it is built.

Active systems are things like using machinery that service the building with minimal energy use. When we add some renewable energy generation like solar energy this reduces carbon emissions even further.

Natural and Artificial Light

Typical of passive techniques is the designing of buildings to make the best use of sunlight. This is usually done by the architect. By facing buildings in the right aspect and the strategic placement of windows and skylights one can maximise daylight and allow sunlight in during winter. The use of high-efficiency glazing also maximises daylight and reduces the loss of heat through the apertures.

Regarding artificial light, the light fixtures you choose to install can also determine energy levels. There are many types of low energy bulbs and LED lighting that one can choose to achieve this. Consult with your builder.

Insulation 

Another heating and cooling issue is that which is caused by poor insulation. Poor insulation minimises the exchange of heat. Poorly sealed doors and windows allow too much airflow which means heating and cooling systems require more energy to remain constant.

Using denser materials in the actual construction, double glazing windows etc, create a ‘thermal mass’ that stores heat and releases it later. This helps to minimise overheating in summer and maximise it in colder weather.

Materials

An example of active systems is the choice of materials that can save on cost and a burden on the environment – i.e. recycled materials. These are materials like composite decking manufactured from recycled paper and wood; rubber roofing from recycled products; countertops from the tree pulp that comes from managed forestry and even some carpets are made from recycled plastic!

Water and general energy saving

Particularly here in the Cape, water saving has become an essential part of sustainable living. To save on water consumption, one simple example is to choose a dual-flush toilet. These toilets offer two flush options, one for liquid and one for solid waste and this alone can save up to 80% on toilet water consumption.

Save in the garden too by landscaping with less lawn and more plants that need less water, like plants indigenous to our country. Also, use eco tanks to catch rainwater from gutters to water the garden and catch shower water to refill toilets.

Solar energy too is an absolute must when one looks at energy saving in the long term. This and gas installations will be better than electricity usage and these can be applied in many aspects of the home like swimming pools, geysers, stoves and heating in particular.

Cost

Generally speaking, there is some additional costs in using renewable energy sources and better insulation, some estimate around at least 5%. Remember though that this cost is amortised over time because of savings on electricity, a rapidly rising cost factor and of course on the value of the home in resale. The trend is growing to own this type of home or offices and buildings already containing such energy savings are generally favoured.

Davel and Lottering care

Davel and Lottering Construction care about such issues and will be happy to discuss building a more sustainable home or offices with you. We hope you have found these tips useful and suggest you simply contact us for any advice you need concerning building or renovations. Be eco-wise and be safe!

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