If you would like to read directly from the pages of YOU magazine about my house and how we cut our electricity consumption by 75 percent, click on the image above to load a pdf of the article.
If you would rather read it within this post, here are the nuts and bolts of the article’s advice in the orginal, unedited form. (If you want the personal tidbits about my family added by the editors at YOU, you’ll have to read the pdf.)
LEDing lights. Compact fluorescent lamps are no longer the latest, greatest and greenest. We’ve switched most of our lighting to high-tech LED globes that have a more natural tint, last a lot longer, and use only 1/6 to 1/10 of the power gobbled by ordinary incandescents.
When I first started buying LEDs to replace halogen downlights, I paid R250 per bulb for this new technology. Still, I calculated that they could eventually save me money in heavily-used rooms like the kitchen.
But LED prices have been plummeting. Recently I bought the same bulb for R50. These will pay for themselves in less than a year, even if used only a couple hours a day.
LEDs are now available in nearly every shape and size, though many globes still cost more than R100. Look carefully at the packaging for an equation that indicates the low-wattage bulb’s brightness compared to an ordinary incandescent, such as 10W = 60W.
Personally, I stick with established brands such as Osram and Philips. I have more than 50 LEDs lighting my house, some for more than two years, and not one bulb has died yet.
Penny-Pinching Pool Pump. Pool chemicals seem expensive, but you may never know how much you are paying to run the pump. A 1.1 kilowatt pump working 12 hours a day could add R8 000 to your annual electricity costs. I pay a tiny fraction of that, with the best-kept secret in home energy savings: a variable-speed pool pump.
Variable-speed pumps save watts because they only run at full power for backwashing. During ordinary filtration, a mere 175 watts powers the Viron P300 pump supplied to me by AstralPool. Most installers still do not keep variable-speed pumps in stock, but they can find one. All of the major pump suppliers, including Speck, Zodiac and Pentair Kreepy Krauly, manufacture at least one energy-efficient pump.
Expect to pay R7 000 to R14 000 up front, compared to R2 000 for an ordinary pump, but you should earn all of that money back within a few years as you enjoy lower utility bills. What’s more, variable-speed pumps are whisper quiet and long lasting.
Sun Bathing. It’s no secret at all that a solar geyser is the most important step for homeowners who want to save electricity. Hot-water panels cut our utility bills by about R6 000 a year. Still, most South Africans continue to heat their water with traditional electric geysers—and pay for it every month. Let’s take a look at the main causes of resistance to going 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.
Central heating, SA Style. When we moved into our Johannesburg house, it had five electric heaters. A contractor suggested we replace them with electric underfloor heating throughout the house. Back then, electricity cost less than 30c a kilowatt hour.
It gives me chills just to think of the damage five electric heaters or—worse yet—underfloor heating could do to our winter electricity bills today, at well over a rand a kWh.
I grew up in a centrally heated home in America, but I cannot see the logic of heating every room in a typical South African home, where the cold continuously leaks through uninsulated windows, walls and ceiling.
Instead we have returned to the old tradition of keeping just the centre of the house cozy, where we gather in the evenings. Then we sleep snugly under down duvets, hot water bottles at our feet.
But we use modern technology in our old-fashioned gathering place. An ultra-efficient Rinnai ventless gas heater is our go-to for quick warm-ups, especially in the mornings. Every evening I build a wood fire in a state-of-the-art, closed-combustion fireplace that creates a surprising amount of heat.
Unlike my LEDs and pool pump, the savings from evicting electric heaters from the house will take several years to cover the up-front costs. Bottled gas is not cheap. And a good quality fireplace insert or wood stove costs more than R20 000. (An open fireplace sends too much heat—and smoke—up the chimney to be efficient.)
But I cannot put a price on the warm ambience of our wood fire, which draws the children out of their rooms and into the lounge. Conserving electricity isn’t just a way to save money and the environment; it brings our family together.