Eco friendly homes

Beehives in autumn.

Eco friendly homes are coming in vogue for those with a green persuasion. Whether it's because folk are seriously interested in saving the planet for their grandchildren, or simply to keep up with the Jones, it makes no difference; an investment in environmentally friendly houses and gardens makes good economic sense.

These beehives each produced 70 pounds jars of honey this year, for example.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 11th September, 2019.

By Bernard Preston

Then of course with the prices of utilities soaring for the home owner in many parts of the world, investing in green technology makes a lot of sense.

Utility companies will often score off residential properties.

For example in Spain the price of non-residential electricity is quite low at 107 euros per megawatt-hour, but more than double that for home owners.

In South Africa Eskom is planning to raise the price of electricity by 20% for each of the next three years to recover losses from corruption and inefficiency during the Zuma presidency years.

All of this makes an investment in a green home more attractive.




With the price of water in cities such as Cape Town set to double next year, that is assuming there is aqua to be had, an investment in harvesting and storing the rain doubly makes sense too.

So what are the issues to look out for when purchasing, or building, eco friendly homes?

Orientation is vitally important; our north facing home captures all the light and heat in winter from the low-slung sun; avoid houses facing east or west.

They are hot in summer and cold in winter.

Insulation

Keeping the warmth out in summer, and in during the winter months makes a huge difference to both the comfort and cost of running an eco friendly home.

In a brick under tile home, one is thinking of a hundred or more years, so recycled polystyrene is a good option. It's indestructible by termites. Those sheets would go under the concrete floor, in the cavity between brick or block walls, as a ceiling board and as a thermal blanket in the roof.

Our first house was brick under tile, without insulation. Our daughter lives there now with her family, and we have added on 'the gardeners' cottage', with all the tips we learned from the eco-friendly homes of the Netherlands. The difference in temperature control is truly astonishing, and not at great cost.

Brick wall insulation with polystyrene.

In homes with a shorter expected lifespan, paper recycled into sheets is perhaps a better option. A polyester blanket made from recycled plastic bottles above the ceiling is also a possibility.

Large windows with double glazing will let light and warmth in during the winter months, if the home is correctly faced south in the Northern hemisphere, and vice versa where I live in Southern Africa.

In the summer, with the sun overhead, less direct heat penetrates those windows.

This obviates or at least reduces the need for under floor heating and air conditioning.

If you are seriously interested in building an environmentally friendly house, and live in KZN, South Africa then think of contacting Ecobuilders.

Energy

This is Bernard Preston's home with vacuum tubes on the right filling a hot water geyser, and part of his 5.1kW of PV panels above supplying electricity.

Solar power energy is a must for eco-friendly homes.

We just done an upgrade, adding another 5kW of panels, facing east and west, and two lithium ion batteries; we are making preparation to go off the grid.

West facing solar panels
  • Heating of water requires more than half of the energy used in many homes. Vacuum tubes can reduce this electrical or gas cost to almost zero.
  • Solar PV panels can by harvesting sunshine provide the total electrical needs for a home, but you have to be grid tied, or have a bank of batteries.
  • The chimney of a little woodstove is seen, used primarily for heating in winter. 

"We do not have to pay for wind and sun - the feedstock will come free."

- Michael Power


Energy storage

Don't use lead cell, but go straight for lithium ion, or Redflow batteries; there will be new types arriving regularly. They are guaranteed for ten years, and the specifications are far superior.

Lithium ion batteries are far superior to lead cell.

Harvesting rainwater

Harvesting rainwater has become a major issue for eco friendly homes, with many cities around the world is serious trouble. Whether it's climate change, or simply bad management of the existing infrastructure, and poor planning for the future, we need to become resilient in the face of these difficulties.

Storing that rainwater in above ground tanks is a poor option; they are unsightly, expensive and the water too warm in summer.

Better still is the building of an underground reservoir which works out cheaper in the long run, and we can easily store far more water.

That water is icy cold reducing the proliferation of any bacteria that might get into the reservoir from the roof, where birds' droppings can be a problem. Mostly the heat of the roof takes care of the bugs, and we've had no problems with drinking the water.

Reservoir harvesting rainwater for gardening.

Solar powered gate motor

With sensitive charging equipment, vulnerable to both lightening strikes and utility surges, a solar powered gate motor should be a feature of eco friendly homes.

This 431 volt surge from the utility did massive damage down our street. We are considering going off the grid.

power surge

Depending on the amount of traffic, I actually recommend two 25W PV panels at 90 degrees, one to collect early morning sunshine and the other for the afternoon. A battery of at least 35Ah is desirable; good second hand electric golf cart batteries can be bought for a song.

I have both a sealed battery, and one which must be filled with distilled water periodically; both seem equally good.

Residential solar panel 10W for the gate motor.

This single 10W PV panel we found was inadequate during inclement weather.

Read more about how to make your own solar gate motor eco friendly.

Eco friendly homes

Eco friendly homes are becoming a sought after acquisition, making investment in solar and water harvesting more attractive. Since the damage done by the power surge shown above, we are again revisiting the issue of going off the grid.

One could and should consider other items such as compost heaps, a vegetable garden and even a worm farm for kitchen waste, but these can be added later at minimal cost.

Planting organic fruit trees takes rather longer; purchasing a house with an established lemon and avocado tree would be a big plus.

Five cardboard boxes to separate paper, plastic, glass, can and tetrapak waste is not difficult.

Heating and cooling

The wood stove has a central place in our eco friendly home.

Cooling during the day is no problem in eco friendly homes, but heating at night certainly is.

With surplus electricity being produced by solar generators during the day when it's hot, running an airconditioning unit can certainly be considered environmentally friendly.

Compromise with heating at night, using either electricity from a utility power station, or a small woodstove; both contribute to greenhouse gases. Should one have to chop down trees specifically for the latter, that would swing matters in favour of the power station.

Where there is surplus timber, then the woodstove heating system would make more sense.

Here is a tree down in our garden, blown down in a massive wind storm. After the chainsaw, I will use a hydraulic splitter to produce suitably sized logs.

Wood stove logs are important for those with homes in a cold climate.

A compost heap

Compost heaps are where the hens find their food and you can grow divine butternut squash.

Every eco friendly home must have a compost heap. In a compact home it might be in a neat and tidy box, but the larger garden it will probably be a rather untidy mess.

Compost heaps deal with the apple cores and potato peels from your kitchen, attract earthworms, contribute to reducing greenhouse gases and make organic food a real possibility.

Real humus means your vegetables will take off like these butternut are doing.

A monster butternut can only be grown in compost.
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56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa

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