Here is a scary statistic. While China during 2007 became the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally, per capita, South Africa emits three times more carbon dioxide, and overall, emits more than the rest of Africa combined. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that greatly contributes to negative global climate change. Scientists predict that left unchecked, emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from human activities will raise global temperatures by 2 – 4.5 C in the next 80 years. This could produce rising sea levels up to 55cm with an increase in frequent flooding as well as intense droughts, left unchecked will also increase the spread of infectious diseases.

A building or home’s carbon footprint is the amount of CO2 it produces during its operations and activities.

We often hear about carbon footprint, but what does that really mean?

Carbon footprint simply refers to the amount of carbon that is released to the atmosphere due to a particular activity. Driving a car to the supermarket releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other polluting fumes from the exhaust pipe to the air.

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to produce electricity releases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, soot and other noxious gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. They are called “greenhouse gases” because they stop heat from radiating from the earth’s atmosphere into space.

As a result countries worldwide have reported warming temperatures. The year 2015 was the planet’s warmest year since the 19th century, triggering heat waves, droughts, storms, hurricanes and flooding worldwide. And it is continuing to get warmer – that’s climate change.

Managing and reducing carbon footprints forms part of how we now design buildings this forms part of a low carbon strategy. Building green is one of the greatest strategies to reduce negative climate change because the knowledge and technology to make substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions already exists.

Benefits in reducing a building’s carbon footprint decreases its running costs, improves home environment in residential design and employee morale in commercial and other buildings, raises property values. Buildings become environmentally responsible, profitable and healthier places to live and work in. The following tips can help reduce a building’s footprint.

Rainwater harvesting

Water is precious and has become an increasingly scares necessity and commodity. Rain water harvesting is rather simple. It contains the collection of water from rainfall for storage and for later usage. Typically, in a residential application water is collected from the roof of a building then stored in a suitable tank sized for your requirements.

Ascertain your water consumption based on household size once these factors are taken into consideration you can then select an appropriate tank capacity. Consider factors such as most lucrative roof section, the larger the roof area the more rainwater for storage, preferably positioned in an unobtrusive setting. It is imperative a concrete plinth be constructed to house the tank on a level surface. You can add a photovoltaic panel with battery back up to run a water pump for higher pressure.  Rainwater harvesting certainly isn’t limited to rainwater from a roof, ground runoff can also be harvested and stored in a subterranean tank as an alternative, this can be activated with a water pump to provide necessary water pressure when you require.

 Advantages of rainwater harvesting

Easy to Maintain: besides the community advantages that are derived with rainwater harvesting. Rainwater harvesting allows us to reuse this precious resource. Drinking water is not renewable, which makes this practice of utmost importance. Systems for rainwater harvesting are simple.

Reducing Water Bills: This will become evident once implemented. Water that’s harvested through rainwater can be immediately used for many, non-drinking water functions. This can ultimately lead to huge reductions in utility bills for both businesses and residential applications. When it comes to industrial buildings, harvesting rainwater can provide the perfect amount of water to reduce any operation’s operating costs. Ultimately saving you a huge amount of money.

Suitable for Irrigation: Save money on building expensive, natural water irrigation systems! Forget the new infrastructure. Stemming mainly from rooftops, rainwater harvesting can be a sufficient supply for household irrigation system. Rainwater is free from most chemicals that are commonly found in purified water, this alone makes it suitable for irrigation, topping up your pool etc.

Roof Insulation

To keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter one of the important factors are by means of thermal Insulation, this is an essential factor in home comfort. As a result, roof Insulation in South Africa is compulsory to all new homes as of January 2012. This however can also be retrofitted to existing homes with insufficient or no roof insulation as a result of the summer heat, the roof space heats up increasing indoor temperature by 4-8 degrees C. Similarly, in winter losing warm air from the home to the roof space or through the roof will also equate to a loss of 4-8 Deg C. Therefore insulating a roof weather flat or pitched will dramatically improve the comfort of your home. The 145mm Isotherm product is SANS compliant “Isotherm” is an ideal application for dry walls with its high tensile strength will prevent it from compressing and collapsing and has great acoustic values.

Lighting and water heating

Use energy efficient lighting, example Light emitting diodes (LEDs) example solid state lighting , use +- 5 Watts as opposed to the 50 Watts of the previous generation incandescent globes which need a lot of energy to emit light.

Lighting accounts for approximately 6% percent of the energy used in a typical residential home, the older type Incandescent uses 90% energy to release 10% light. – not good!

Eskom noted that geysers eat into as much as 39% of SA consumers monthly energy usage.

The state-owned company provided the following list of items and how they contribute to your electricity bill:

  • Geyser 39%
  • Space Heating 16%
  • Other 12%
  • Stove & Oven 7%
  • Lights 6%
  • Cold Storage 5%
  • Laundry 3%
  • Pool Pump 11%
  • Other Cooking microwave etc 1%

There are several cost-effective systems in place., gas water heaters, heat pumps

Advantages of solar water heaters

  • Solar energy is free and clean: solar water heaters save you money and reduce your carbon footprint (carbon emissions can be reduced by up to 2000kg’s per year per household).
  • Solar water heating systems are perfect for generating hot water where no electrical back up available.
  • Solar heaters are easy to maintain.

Gas water heaters

  • No need for water storage in geyser
  • Water is heated on demand
  • Accessible hot water when Eskom has power cuts
  • Cost effective to run
  • Reliable system

Photovoltaic

Photovoltaic systems provide green, renewable power by making use of solar energy. We can use photovoltaic (PV) panels as an alternative energy source in place of electricity generated from conventional fossil fuels. Consequently, the more we use PV panels (or other renewable energy technologies) to cover for our energy needs, the more we help reduce our impact to the environment by reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

You could have an entire home run off a system such as this, however one could employ a lesser system to run the essentials such as Fridge, light points, television and plug points for charging mobile phones and use of laptops etc.

This would consist of Photovoltaic panels placed on your roof which is connected to a battery backup system, the panels charge the batteries which is directly linked to your distribution board  (DB) board, in the event your power is down from the Eskom, the battery system will provide you with electricity.

The other option is a UPS (battery bank system) The concept is straight forward. It consists of several batteries connected together, this to form one big battery, Known as a battery bank.  Plug that bank into your home’s power supply to keep the bank fully charged. Should the power go off line, the battery bank or array will kick in seamlessly to substitute the Eskom power. This however can only be for a short while based on the Kva (Kilowatt /hr) of your battery bank.

The above information is a shortened condensed version of basic and simple ways to consider improving your home comfort in a relatively cost-effective manner.