Design Insights


No cost, low cost, invest to save – we look at all types of interventions.

The idea that the sustainability of our planet begins at home is evident as homeowners across the world are investing in off-the-grid technology – and in South Africa where utility costs continue to rise, decreasing the carbon footprint of our properties, will soon be much more than a ‘nice to have’.

Real estate experts assure us that taking our homes off the grid is both a lifestyle and property investment and there is no shortage when it comes to options. Since we began using solar panels to heat up our geysers, the available technology and opportunities to reduce our load on the country’s dwindling resources, have exploded.

Apart from looking into the future of the planet, the question on everyone’s mind is around cost and the time it takes to amortise an off-the-grid investment. As a trend that is only growing in influence, pressure is beginning to build for banks to come up with more creative lending solutions that offer pre-packaged end-user financing options. 

In the meantime we spoke to Grahame Cruickshanks, Managing Executive for Market Engagement, at the Green Building Council of South Africa, about some of the easily-available   investment options and the time it would take for these to break even.

According to Cruickshanks, the GBCSA’s homeowner awareness campaign identifies three main options towards greening a home.

No Cost

This is an interesting one that could also be called ‘no excuse’ and simply suggests that we change our behaviour in order to reduce our consumption.  Here are a few of our favourites.

  • Lower the thermostat on your electric geyser to 55 or 60 degrees and remember to switch it off when you go away for longer periods.
  • Pool pumps use a lot of electricity. Reduce the time your pool pump runs to 4 to 6 hours in summer and 2 to 3 hours per day in winter.
  • Ironing also uses a lot of electricity. Separate laundry into essential ironing and items that can be folded and packed away.
  • Set the washing machine to use cold water (30 degrees) for all clothing colours.
  • Avoid using the tumble dryer and rather dry your clothes on the washing line instead.
  • Geysers are typically the biggest electricity guzzlers in a home. Take shorter showers ideally no more than two minutes.

More here 

Low Cost

You ready to invest but not break the bank. The good news is that you have plenty of options. Some of our favourites:

  • Install a geyser timer that switches off during the middle of the day.
  • Target your heat. Use electric blankets and hot water bottles instead of heating an entire room.
  • Replace your incandescent light bulbs with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).
  • Install a low-flow shower head, designed to reduce the water flow while still giving you a great shower.
  • Install tap aerators – which again reduce the water flow – to reduce the quantity of water you use.
  • Opt for motion sensor lights for outdoor security, instead of lights running all night.

More of those ideas here 

Invest to save

It goes without saying that some measures might cost more up-front but can pay themselves off over time from the savings you’ll make. More than anything, these expenditures should be seen as investments that not only lower future utility costs but increase the value of your home and create a healthier environment, says Cruickshanks.

Some of the ways to be smart about this investing to save include:

  • Instal a solar water heater.
  • Consider a heat pump for hot water.
  • Buy a variable-speed pool pump.
  • Use a closed-combustion wood stove or fire place.
  • Ceiling insulation.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances.
  • Instal a dual flush toilet

Find out more about these interventions here. 

How long will it take to break even, is of course, the million dollar question.

Says Cruickshanks, “the breakeven period for different green interventions varies according to a range of factors including consumption rates. Remember that two household showers a day, as opposed to six, using the same solar water heating system, will have different outcomes.

Another example would be the cost of installing a solar PV system designed to supply full household needs, will differ from a blended energy supply which includes municipal as well as on site renewable energy.

Says Cruickshanks, “it is unlikely that the cost of an off-grid home will be recovered in under 10 years due to the high capital investment required. In the future however, rapidly increasing utility costs and changes in legislation which will allow for electricity to be returned to the grid, will reduce the pay-back period.”

It seems like the greatest change should still be behavioural. Cruickshanks uses a water example to offer further advice.

“Ideally water should be harvested from rainfall and recycled from the household showers and basins, rather than extracted from aquifers using boreholes as this is a finite resource.”

What about DIY interventions?

“In order to get the best performance and pay-back period it is important to ensure that a solar system for energy or water, as an example, is correctly sized, specified and installed. Unless the homeowner is familiar with these criteria it is best to seek out professional advice from an experienced professional or installer,” says Cruickshanks.

Not only will the value that you add to your home make it increasingly attractive, says Lanice Steward, head of training for of Pam Golding Properties, but when your potential sale is in competition with other properties, these features could be the deal breaker. Also, don’t forget that beautiful gardens do help sell homes, so being able to keep your garden alive with borehole water –  and being able to enjoy it at the same time, is an added benefit, she says.

Whichever way you look at it, investing in taking your home off the grid is certainly worth a look. Maybe in the future, households will even be generating income by selling their own power back to the grid.

Imagine that?

If you are searching for a green home, or wish to have yours valued, your Pam Golding Properties area specialist is a good place to start.

Image: Marketed by Pam Golding Properties for R20 million, this exquisite, six-bedroom luxury residence in Durban North, offers 21st Century comforts with green-energy leaning, including rain water harvesting, solar heating and the latest home automation technology. It also has a granny flat and staff accommodation. Find out more here or call Philip Reynoldsfor more information.

Share the News