March 2014


Solar21 Mar 2014 09:56 pm

YOU Magazine 27 March 2014 Huisgenoot magazine 27 Maart 2014

In either taal

If you wade through the pages on Oscar Pistorius and Beyoncé in the issue of YOU magazine that hit the newsstands today, you will find an article on page 130 about Greener House.

By next week I will be able to reprint full the full text of the article, which is full of advice about saving electricity in the home. For now I will focus on a few key points about solar that were shortened or cut in the editing process.

In the original text, I decided to take a bold stand in order to simplify the many choices facing a homeowner who wants to install solar hot water panels. The uncut version refuted four of the excuses commonly used by those who haven’t gone solar:

“I’ll wait ‘till my geyser fails.” When your geyser bursts or dies, you will need a quick solution. Installing solar takes time. It makes more sense to put up solar panels before your geyser gets into trouble.
“My uncle had trouble with his hot-water solar panels.” A lot of fly-by-night installers importing cheap panels have popped up recently. Insist on SABS approved panels as a first step, but also use an installer who has been in the business five years or more and a panel manufacturer with at least that much experience in South Africa. My nine-year-old flat panels have been problem-free.
“I’m confused by the different solar systems available.” At the risk of oversimplifying, this is my advice: Ask for an indirect system that first heats glycol, which then heats the water. Use tanks meant for solar, not something jury-rigged onto your old geyser. Larger tanks are worth the expense; I have 600 litres of storage. Ask for flat panels, unless your roof gets limited light. Evacuated tubes tend to overheat in the summer and are more vulnerable to hail.
“I don’t have a roof that gets any sun.” That’s fine. Replacing a traditional geyser with a heat-pump will save almost as much electricity as a solar system can.

Even this unabridged advice may seem too short to account for the many configurations possible in solar hot water systems. I well understand the urge to find a custom solution that maximizes efficiency. But for those who will only make the leap to solar if it is simple and safe, these guidelines point in the right direction.

Hot Water &Water Use/Greywater03 Mar 2014 11:48 am

Shower Head

A Strong Buy

When I last wrote about low-flow shower heads, I focused on just two findings: The water savings were dramatic — I measured that my shower rose uses half the water of my neighbour’s — and the experience under the spray was as good as the old, wasteful showers.

This week I have calculated that low-flow shower heads are also an amazing investment that beats anything you can find on the JSE. Because they cost so little (R100 to R500), and you save on both water and the electricity to heat it, the returns can start accumulating within months.

Take this example: a family with a standard electric geyser that takes 3 daily showers of 4 minutes each — or one teenager in the shower for 12 minutes a day — replaces a typical 14-litres-per-minute shower head with a 9 l/m model. (All new Cobra heads use 9 l/m.) At the end of one year, the savings from water and electricity are more than R1200 at current Jo’burg tariffs. Even if they splashed out on a R400 shower rose, this family has profited R800. And the returns continue, with a “dividend cheque” of more than R1000 each year. If you know of an investment that good on the JSE, please email me.

Savings will be lower if you are using solar panels or a heat pump to heat your water, but a 12-minute-a-day family will still cover their outlay in less than a year. If you want to test whether you are currently wasting water in the shower, just put a bucket under the spray for 12 seconds. If well over 2 litres collected in the bucket, your shower head is using more than 10 l/m and could do better. Three litres in 12 seconds is 15 l/m, a real water waster.

My last discovery this week was a YouTube video on how to change a shower head that takes all of the fear and mystery out of this simplest of plumbing tasks. The video is by the same people who produce the black-and-yellow “. . . For Dummies” books. This one should be called “Investing for Dummies.”