Thinking of renovating or building a new home? Here are a few tips from Simon Gear to keep things green and sustainable.
1. Build Appropriately
Next time you’re in the Eastern Cape, do yourself a favour and stop by Grahamstown. Have a wander through the town and pause to think about the fact that many of the buildings you see there pre-date your grandparents’ births by half a century or more. And because they’ve lasted so long, every one of those buildings is inherently more eco-friendly than any modern development. Somewhere after the Second World War the building industry lost its pride and soul. Sure, there are a couple of worthwhile projects going up here and there, but I have yet to see anything that can compare to the quality of materials and craftsmanship used more than a century ago. So next time you build, be realistic. If you envisage this building being a testament to your time on the planet, do your bit. Pick decent, long-lasting materials. Employ the best builders you can afford and take your time and do it right. If you have something more temporary in mind, look at building with wood (or indeed straw, little pig) and thus dramatically reducing the footprint of the structure.
2. Think About What You Build With
Everything material has embodied energy. That is, energy that went into the creation of the material, and this energy needs to be taken into account when making decisions on the ecological footprint of a building. For example, the amount of energy (and associated emissions) that goes into making fired bricks or cement is substantial, whereas natural stone or wood will obviously have very low embodied energy. There are a host of green building techniques and materials on the market these days but you still need to do a little bit of research to confirm which is going to be best for your area and application. As a general rule, the closer to the site you can source your material, and the fewer production steps it has had to go through, the better. Same principles as green food, really.
3. Permeable Paving
One of the most difficult to manage side effects of our love for paved surfaces is the additional power created by water run-off that isn’t slowed by soil infiltration. This increased run-off means that water courses downstream have to cope with larger and faster flowing volumes of water than they would otherwise have to, often leading to quite severe erosion problems in places. By laying down permeable paving, surface run-off is slowed down as it slowly permeates the paving and seeps into the soil below, better mimicking a natural system and thereby maintaining a more natural cycle. You may not notice the difference immediately but a wetland a few blocks away may continue to receive its water flow in a more natural manner, making the knock-on effect enormous.
4. Leave Your Geyser Alone
Concentrate your power savings elsewhere. Geysers seem to come in for an awful lot of attention when it comes to power-saving ideas. Unfortunately, most geyser management plans are either geared towards shifting power demand away from peak periods, which doesn’t necessarily save you anything, or decreasing the effectiveness of the thing by turning down the thermostat. If you’re a showering household (and you should be) then lowering the temperature of the water will likely save you money as you will simply use less cold water to compensate. But if you bath, you’ll simply empty the geyser with the first draw, leaving no hot water for the second bath. As far as insulation is concerned, your geyser should already be well insulated, and there is some evidence that during our hot summer, insulation may land up increasing your electricity demand because you aren’t taking advantage of the hot roof space in which your geyser sits. One thing you can do is to switch it off when you go away for a few days but apart from that, you’re probably better off spending your time and money making savings elsewhere.