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Smart Building Handbook: Energy efficient homes

Smart Building Handbook: Energy efficient homes

Jul 2, 2014

The City of Cape Town recently produced a Smart Building Handbook that provides practical information on energy-efficient technologies, design criteria and appropriate materials and solutions that will result in addressing “whole green building design”. Available on the City’s website, the book is a guide to green building for homeowners, architects and designers, contractors, developers and even tenants.

The handbook shows how “green building design” requires a holistic approach to resource-efficient building design and construction to promote resource-efficient building practices, which will reduce the impact that buildings have on the environment as well as the operating costs of running them.

Long known for taking pride in its “green” efforts on both land and sea, the City of Cape Town’s encouragement of energy efficiency in homes and offices can be adapted across the African continent to reduce the impact of buildings on the planet. With buildings contributing some 40% and 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city – making them a major contributor towards global climate change – offers a wealth of information on creating energy efficient houses.

Suggestions include, among others:

  • Reduce up to 70% of your total household energy needs by means of simple design principles that reduce lighting, heating and cooling needs. This is known as passive solar design.
    A skylight in the roof allows natural light into the house on sunny days and eliminates the use of artificial lighting.
    Natural materials (stone, timber, thatch and clay), often obtained locally, are most suited to keeping the home cool in summer and warm in winter. Mud bricks are an excellent source of insulation.
    Floors made out of brick or concrete maintain comfortable temperatures in your house as they are good at absorbing heat during the day and releasing this slowly at night. These floors should not be covered with carpets as a concrete floor absorbs more heat than a floor covered by carpeting.
    Heat loss is ten times faster through glass windows than through insulated walls, so open the curtains during the day (let in the natural light and heat) and close them at night (keeps in the heat).
    A tin roof loses a lot of heat during the winter and gets very hot in summer. Insulate the roof and paint it white (reflects light and is therefore cooler) or use aluminium or other roofing materials.
    Ensure suitable ventilation for fresh air and cool breezes – rooms can be ventilated using airbricks, forced ventilation or by opening windows.
    Install efficient heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems if required and ensure they are efficiently used. Be sure to shade the air conditioning unit outside with a tree for example.
    Install a solar water heater – these are relatively expensive but result in substantial savings on your electricity bill (water heating is the biggest part of most household’s electricity use profile).
    Install solar (photovoltaic) panels on the roof to provide electricity to run low consumption appliances such as the TV, radio, lights and fridge. Commercial roofers meet repair and replacement needs.
    Install energy efficient light bulbs (CFLs) throughout the house. These are usually more expensive than conventional incandescent light bulbs, but have a much longer life-span and use far less electricity. They pay themselves back in a few months and are a very sound environmental choice.
  • Eco-friendly building materials can be used, including reclaimed wood, recycled/composite plastic, non-toxic eco-sensitive paints. Consider switching to green electricity.
  • Green electricity is generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar and wave power.

As more individuals and companies realise the importance of lowering our impact on the earth, architects and construction teams are finding ways to use more “green” products and designs, and many consumers are choosing to support companies that offer renewable energy resources and planet-friendly buildings.

For more information and downloadable resources, visit

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