Living off natural power in the middle of the city

2014-01-31 08:00

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An energy-efficient house has been built to encourage people to use green technology

At the edge of busy Grayston Drive in Joburg, just before you hit the N1, a new house has been built.

Not a big deal at first glance, but the construction of an energy-efficient house is part of a plan to reshape how Joburgers think about keeping their homes warm in winter and light at night.

Its proud owner, City Power, has nicknamed it EE House and hopes that a tour around the house – which is in Innesfree Park and is due to open to the public later this year – will encourage people to choose smart green technologies that work for them.

City Power believes many electricity customers have become complacent and apathetic about just how inefficient their home and business appliances are.

EE House has been built in an attempt to get people excited about the possibilities for leaner and greener homes and offices.

“It has become increasingly necessary to save electricity and to use other sources of energy,” says City Power’s Retha Karsten.

“When customers see some of these appliances in operation at the exhibition’s model house, they will be motivated to change and ultimately save energy, our city and our planet – to say nothing of savings in their energy budgets,” Karsten says.

The house has three concrete decks supported on steel beams and doesn’t feature a single brick.

The lowest deck is suspended from the middle deck and the entire structure is raised above the ground on splayed “legs”.

Access to the building is via a 17m-long structural steel ramp.

City Press visited the house on one of the hottest days of the year. There are no trees around the house to provide shade, but the interior is lovely and cool.

“We call it the cave effect,” says Simon Berry, the project’s green consultant.

The house is fitted with thermally activated surfaces that provide heating and cooling and provides super insulation for the house.

The roof is covered in solar panels, one set warms the water for the solar geyser and the other will provide renewable energy.

One of the house’s most prominent features is its ground source heat pump, a 100m heat exchange borehole that provides coolness to the house in summer and warmth in winter.

The pump relies on ground temperature and can save homes up to 75% of heating and 80% of cooling requirements, all year round. It’s not a common technology in South Africa, but it is not very expensive.

The house also boasts the latest efficient LED lighting, as well as advanced building controls such as motion detectors that switch off the lights when you leave a room, daylight sensors and blind controllers.

It is also fitted with low flow water fixtures, which reduce water consumption – and even has its own mini waste treatment plant.

Berry says if you are building a new home, as much as 40% of your energy savings can be made through smart architectural planning, and harnessing the sun correctly also helps immensely.

In the EE House, big windows are placed to ensure the house stays cool and warm as needed. It has just two small windows on either side so that a cool breeze circulates through it in summer.

Berry works for WSP Consulting Engineers, where he advises corporate companies about how to green their office buildings.

His work with City Power is pro bono – the consultants did not charge for their time and most of the technologies came for free.

SIP Project Managers donated its services, which included helping out with the design and appointing contractors.

ArcelorMittal provided the structural steel, Grohe provided the efficient taps, Ozone donated a green sewerage treatment and recycling system for the house and PG Glass provided the double-glass windows. A host of other retailers provided the green hob, lighting and blinds for the house.

It won’t stand empty. Once it’s finished, one of the consultants’ families will live in it for a year so visitors can see it in action. All told, it will cost about R3?million to build.

Don’t panic about the price tag, though: Berry says that if consumers decide to use just one of the green ideas that have been included in the house and implement it at home, they’ll be making a big difference – to the environment and to their lives.

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