New rules make homes greener

The new regulations for the building sector are making new houses more energy efficient and could save homeowners a small fortune in heating and cooling bills.

SANS 10400-XA, known as the environmental sustainability regulations, came into force in November.

Pretoria-based architect James Hamilton said the regulations were slowly changing the construction landscape. Walking around a new housing estate in Pretoria East, which he helped to design, he said the changes were a way to play catch-up with European standards, which had been evolving since the 1970s.

‘In South Africa, we have always been really silly when it comes to building houses. We think it’s always summer and build these huge open-plan houses that are perfect for [watching] rugby and [having] a braai around the patio and pool in summer. But then we suffer in winter and put on all the heaters.”

Simple things such as double-glazed windows and proper insulation have been ignored. This means people cannot control the temperature of their houses, he said.

Regulations to right past wrongs
But the regulations should dramatically change this. The houses on Waterkloof Estates, which are on the market for about R800 000, are built according to the new rules. They are no longer on an east-west axis and the lounges and living rooms, which have big windows and glass doors, are on the northern side.

It means that in winter, when the sun retreats to the north, they get more heat. When the sun migrates to the south in summer, it is more overhead. Extended roofs shield the windows and help to keep the interior cool. Everything is heavily insulated and there are no bare pipes to be seen.

Solar geysers and black piping on each roof heat water—the regulations say half of all water heating needs to happen in the house.

‘People could save two-thirds of their electricity bill with all these changes,” said Hamilton.

Thuli Lisimba, standing outside her low-cost house in Cosmo City, Johannesburg, is eager to talk about how much money she is saving. She got energy-savings improvements rolled into her bond. It meant she had to pay R100 more a month on the bond, but she said she was saving twice that on electricity.

The first reason for this can be seen from a few streets away—a big geyser on her roof. It gives her free hot water except ‘when there is lots of rain and no sun for a long time”.

Inside, special plaster and insulation in the roof regulate the temperature, which has made a huge difference in her lifestyle. She used to live in a block of flats and in summer, she said, she would try to stay outside. In winter ‘the cold was too much. I could feel it in my bones.”

The two-bar heaters she used to own are gone; now she has an oil heater. The energy-efficient additions cost about R12 000.

To ease the pain of the greater start-up costs, the National Energy Act has been adapted so that new homeowners receive credits on tax returns. If a house meets energy­efficient requirements, the owner can obtain a certificate from the National Energy Development Institute, which then goes to the receiver of revenue.

Polokwane-based builder Jannie van Staden said the extra costs were the chief reason why people still tried to bypass the new regulations when they consulted him. He said he had to ‘teach them” about the savings they would make in the long term. Normally, this only worked if he could get clients to talk to someone who had already saved money from going the efficient route. But things were changing and more people were asking him about energy-efficient additions to their houses.

Although the regulations did not apply to old houses, there was a grey area in terms of upgrades and extensions, he said. But, because most people did changes informally and without planning permission, it was hard to police that.

Sipho Kings

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