The best ways to green up your home

Private Property South Africa
Bridget McNulty

Whether you’re renovating or building from scratch, follow the global trend and make your improvements eco-friendly.

  • Flooring

When it comes to eco-friendly flooring, bamboo is hard to beat. Because bamboo grows so fast, doesn’t need a lot of pesticides and produces so much oxygen, it’s becoming the go-to alternative for wood in many circumstances – and floors are no different. Bamboo floors are easy to maintain, slip resistant and don’t scratch easily, and they’re an affordable, environmentally friendly alternative to hardwood floors. retrofit or build it in? Strand-woven bamboo is installed as a floating floor, similar to a laminated floor, so it can be installed in existing homes or new builds. it can often be placed over existing tiles, as long as they are level and secure. Costs from R585 per section (1830x135x14mm), including underlay and installation. Trims, skirting and staircases are separate. For more information, visit or

  • Heating

If you’re looking for a friendly heating option, infrared heaters are the way to go. Working on the principle of safe infrared waves (similar to the sun), infrared heaters give off gentle heat and can save up to 50% on energy costs. These savvy heaters don’t waste energy by heating the ambient temperature through convection – they simply emit radiant heat in an infrared band. The heat is entirely safe for humans, and they come in a range of designs. Retrofit or build it in? The heaters are freestanding. Costs from R1 200 to R2 600. For more information, visit

  • Electricity

In a country as filled with sunshine as South Africa (more than 2 500 sunshine hours a year), solar panels are a no-brainer. A solar power kit consists of the solar panels that work in conjunction with charge controllers, solar storage batteries and inverters to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. A solar power kit can help you supplement your household energy usage or even go completely off the grid. Although the initial set-up cost is high, the investment pays for itself in time as you continue to save on electricity month after month. It is important, though, to become as energy efficient as possible before switching to solar power. Retrofit or build it in? Either way, as a solar power kit is easy to add to an existing system. Costs from R2 300 to R30 000. For more information, visit

  • Geyser

Everyone knows that geysers are one of the biggest energy drains. While the most basic way of greening your geyser is to insulate it, if you really want to have an eco-friendly solution, your options are solar geysers or heat pumps. It is not necessary to have both (although a hybrid system of heat pump for winter and solar geyser for summer is the ultimate solution, it is very expensive). A heat pump is often chosen as the more convenient option. a solar thermal system is made up of the solar collector on the roof, a pump, a controller and a hot-water storage tank. The life expectancy of one of these systems is more than 20 years, and at current electricity prices, it will pay for itself in 2 to 5 years. Retrofit or build it in? There are special conversion valves that change most electric geysers into a solar geyser, or a solar geyser can be installed from scratch. Costs from R11 000 to R15 000 to convert an electric geyser, depending on the system and whether the supplier has a rebate. A complete system of solar and new geyser costs R16 000 to R20 000 depending on the size of the system. For more information, visit

  • Heat pump

Using solar energy, a heat pump can provide water heated to 60°C day and night, winter and summer, at a quarter of the cost of an electric geyser. It is extremely energy efficient, with no greenhouse-gas emissions, and can be integrated to work with your geyser. If you’re replacing or retrofitting an existing electric geyser, you can get a heat-pump rebate of between R4 100 and R4 900. Retrofit or build it in? Most electric geysers can have a heat pump connected to them. Or you can install a heat-pump system from scratch. Costs from R11 000 to R13 000 to retrofit your current geyser, fully installed and after rebate (the rebate can be offered up front). Or expect to pay from R15 000 to R17 000 for a new complete system of heat pump and geyser. For more information, visit

  • Water

Flushing the toilet is one of the major culprits in water wastage. Everyone knows the old trick of putting a brick in the cistern, but a more sophisticated solution is the rhapsody multi-Flush, that only flushes for as long as the handle is held down. As soon as you release it, the flushing stops and the cistern refills. Problem solved! Retrofit or build it in? It fits almost any shape or size of cistern, so there’s no need to build it in. Costs from R700 to R800. For more information, visit

  • Rainwater tank

While installing a rainwater tank is a great solution for minimising municipal water usage, leaves and debris often get caught in the water, making it only useful for watering plants. The rain runner is a cleaning device that diverts and sieves the rainwater, clearing out any debris that could block the pipe and letting the clean water fill a sealed rainwater tank. This water can then be used for household taps or the pool and essentially becomes your primary water supply. Retrofit or build it in? It is easily added to an existing system. Costs from R32 000 to install the complete system – harvesting rainwater, supplying and installing water tanks and a pump to deliver pressurised water to the household. For more information, visit

  • Insulation

insulating your home isn’t only good for the environment – it’s good for your wallet. Badly insulated houses need more heating in winter and cooling in summer, which means more electricity and higher bills. a little bit of insulation goes a long way. One of the best ways to insulate your home is to use cellulose-fibre ceiling insulation. It’s an eco-friendly insulation made from recycled paper and it’s nonallergenic and nontoxic. Retrofit or build it in? New legislation (the energy usage in Buildings act) makes it mandatory for all newly built homes to have insulation installed. It’s always better to insulate as the building is being erected, but it’s entirely possible to retrofit insulation into existing homes. Costs from R5 000 for an average-sized three-bedroom house. For more information, visit

  • Roofing

Growing vegetation on your roof is fast becoming an eco-trend – and for good reason. Not only do these roofs green urban spaces and provide new homes for biodiversity, they reduce stormwater run-off, regulate temperature and insulate against noise. Once the green roof is installed, it will last three to four times longer than a conventional roof and reduce your carbon footprint significantly. Add on a rainwater tank and your roof might just be one of your greatest green assets. Retrofit or build it in? In theory, most roofs can be converted easily, although limiting factors include slope or gradient and structural strength to take the load. Building the green roof from scratch is definitely preferable. Costs from R700 to R2 000 per m2 depending on plant variety and soil depth. For more information, visit

  • Worm Farms

If you want to take your recycling efforts to the next level, it’s time to get a worm farm. Between 21% and 40% of South African municipal solid waste is organic – that could all be worm food and compost for plants. Installing a worm farm is as easy as choosing what size you want and where to put it. Modern worm farms have taken all the hassle out of the process with stacking trays that let you get top quality worm-tea compost without having to handle the worms or decomposing waste. Retrofit or build it in? Freestanding, so it doesn’t matter. Costs from R350 to R1 000. For more information, visit

  • Grey water and irrigation

Installing a rainwater harvesting system and using grey-water recycling can go part of the way to achieving some level of water self-sufficiency. The garden rhapsody system diverts water from your bath, shower, basin and washing machine into a filter in a pump chamber, where it is automatically pumped down a hose pipe and sprinkler onto the garden. As soon as the plug is pulled, your garden is watered. A system like this can save you 35% of your average water bill. Retro-fit or build it in? Either, but if the system is installed into existing homes all the pipes need to be visible (in this case, the waste pipes from the bath, shower, basins and laundry). Costs from R10 000 to R16 000 For more information, visit

  • Indigenous planting

Indigenous plants are native to the water patterns of the land in which they grow. They are genetically adapted to thrive in certain environments – which means they won’t need extra water if it’s a dry area. Because they are indigenous, they also naturally support the insects and animals in the area, and they look great. Who needs an english rose garden when you can have an indigenous succulent garden? Succulents and other indigenous plants available from R10 at your local nursery. For more information, visit

  • Swimming pools

Want a swimming pool without the pool-sized guilt and hassle of chlorine and cleaning? Natural swimming pools mimic ponds and pools of water found in nature. The water is circulated through an ecosystem of water plants, which keeps it clean, and there’s no need for salt, chemicals or sterilisation. Besides looking beautiful, natural swimming pools are low maintenance (they self-regulate) and are as much a landscaping feature as a swimming pool. retro-fit or build it in? An existing swimming pool can be converted into a natural swimming pool, but the advantage of building from scratch is that the materials can be carefully chosen – liners and timber instead of concrete and fibreglass – and the design doesn’t have to be restricted. Costs from R70 000 to R180 000, but remember there won’t be any future bills for pool chemicals, services or treatments. For more information, visit

  • Swimming pools and water wastage

Cut down on water wastage when you backwash your pool by using a backwash recycling system. The water from a backwash process is toxic to plants, but this system includes a water chamber into which a little flocculant is added during backwashing. After 24 hours, the clarified water can run back into the swimming pool – no problem. Retro-fit or build it in? The kit is easily used with existing swimming pool systems. Costs from R3 500. For more information, visit www.water

  • Build a pond

As natural ponds disappear, so small wildlife like dragonflies, toads and newts are finding their habitats decreasing. Building a pond is a simple way to start a garden ecosystem – just be sure not to stock it with goldfish, which eat the eggs of the wildlife you’re trying to encourage! Also choose solar-powered aerators, filters and fountains over traditional water features that run on mains electricity. Retro-fit or build it in? Existing ponds can be ‘greened up’ or they can be built from scratch. Cost depends on the size, shape, and material used. For more information, visit To read more about property trends visit

Easy everyday eco-changes

  • Start using environmentally friendly detergents, dishwashing liquid and washing powder
  • Change to low VOC paint (VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, some of the most harmful chemicals found in paint)
  • Replace every last energy-guzzling lightbulb with an energy-efficient bulb
  • Replace some of your flowerbeds with organic vegetables and salad plants

Don't let energy costs kill your home ownership dream

Increasing energy costs like rising electricity charges are problematic for everyone, but especially for those who are trying to become homeowners. However, says Berry Everitt, CEO of the Chas Everitt International Property Group, there are steps they can take to make sure that energy costs don’t put paid to those dreams.

"The first of these is to try to save more for a home purchase deposit by finding rental accommodation that is energy-efficient and will thus cost you less each month. What you should look for is a rental unit that has its own, preferably prepaid, electricity meter rather than a shared one. This will allow you to control your own expenditure on electricity. In addition, you should seek out rental units where the owner has invested in energy-saving improvements like proper insulation, a solar geyser or heat pump and perhaps a gas stove. these will help you save even more each month."

Secondly, says Everitt, you should be seriously energy-conscious when you go househunting. "Many first-time buyers gravitate to newly built homes because they assume that such homes will automatically be more energy efficient. But this is not necessarily the case and you shouldn’t overlook resale homes that may have been renovated specifically to take account of the new energy considerations.’

Also, when viewing existing homes, you should ask to see copies of the municipal service bills for the past year so you can make comparisons that may help you decide which property to purchase. "You don’t want to buy a 'bargain' only to find that it costs you a fortune in electricity each month. and you need to the municipal charges you will have to pay as a homeowner to be as low as possible because they are taken into account by the banks now when they are calculating whether or not you qualify for a home loan," he says.


Found this content useful?

Get the best of Private Property's latest news and advice delivered straight to your inbox each week

Related Articles

The appeal of "Off-The-Grid" living
Increases in water and electricity prices have seen a renewed interest in off-the-grid living.
Off-grid becomes more difficult for Cape Town home owners
City by-laws effectively remove the option of being off-grid and may also prove costly to the many home-owners who have installed alternative energy systems that may prove to be non-compliant
Buyers Are Going Green
Granite countertops and laminate flooring are so 2009. The hot finishes this year are solar panels, boreholes and whatever else will help you to save energy, water and money in your home.