Tired of load shedding? Why not take your home off the grid

Tired of load shedding? Why not take your home off the grid

This six-bedroom house in Durban North offers 21st Century comforts with a green-energy leaning, including rain water harvesting, solar heating and the latest home automation technology.

The recent recommencement of load shedding brings home just how dependent we all are on a continued supply of power in order to go about our daily business.

Apart from the inconvenience of load shedding, going off the grid makes economic sense as electricity and other utility costs continue to rise inexorably, says Anthony Stroebel, GM for real estate services at Pam Golding Properties and a director of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).

“Having your home off the grid is becoming an increasing imperative, apart from being both a lifestyle and property investment,” says Stroebel.

“Since we began using solar panels to heat up our geysers, the available technology and options to reduce our load on the country’s dwindling resources have exploded and are rapidly becoming nearer everyone’s reach. Also, we increasingly find that green features in a home enhance appeal and potentially, value, so  they also add ‘saleability’.

“In addition to considering the future of the planet, most people want to know about the cost and the time it takes to amortise an off-the-grid investment. It’s a growing trend, so pressure is beginning to build for banks to come up with more creative lending solutions that offer pre-packaged end-user financing options.”

Grahame Cruickshank, managing executive for market engagement at GBCSA, explains some of the easily-available investment options and the time it would take for these to break even.

The council’s home owner awareness campaign identifies three main options towards greening a home:

No cost

This one could also be called ‘no excuse’ and simply suggests that people change their behaviour to reduce consumption. Examples include:

  • Lower the thermostat on the electric geyser to 55 or 60 degrees and remember to switch it off when going away for longer periods.
  • Pool pumps use a lot of electricity, so reduce the running time to four to six hours a day in summer and two to three hours in winter.
  • Ironing also uses a lot of electricity. Separate laundry into essential ironing and items that can be folded and packed away.
  • Select a cold water cycle (30 degrees) on the washing machine.
  • Avoid using the tumble dryer and instead dry clothes on the line.
  • Geysers are usually the biggest electricity guzzlers in a home, so use less hot water by taking shorter showers.

Low cost

  • You are ready to invest but not break the bank. The good news is that you have plenty of options:
  • 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 LEDs.
  • Install tap aerators and low-flow shower heads, designed to reduce the water flow while still giving you a great shower.
  • Install motion sensor lights for outdoor security, instead of lights running all night.

Invest to save

“Some measures might cost more up-front but can pay for themselves over time from the savings you’ll achieve. More than anything, these expenditures should be seen as investments that lower future utility costs, increase the value of your home and create a healthier environment,” says Cruickshank.

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

  • Install solar water heaters.
  • Consider heat pumps for hot water.
  • Buy a variable-speed pool pump.
  • Use a closed-combustion wood stove or fireplace.
  • Ceiling insulation.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances.
  • Install dual flush toilets.

Says Cruickshank: “The break-even 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.

“Or 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.”

He says it is unlikely that the cost of a completely 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 a mindset change. Cruickshank 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,” says Cruickshank.

What about DIY interventions?

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

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

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