For many years I have been wanting to write a series of articles on house building, but that never fully panned out turns out it’s quite time consuming (the house building too). Stuff like waste management (garbage and recycling), water security and off grid Solar in an urban area for many years, but the more and more I read articles from people supposed having done it, the more I realize how many people write stuff that they haven’t done considered or even have any experience of it or in it.
What I can save is with everything that is written “Caveat Emptor”. I will also state clearly upfront that I am no professional builder, electrician or plumber, but having essentially rebuilt my own home, including re-wiring, re-plumbing, off gird back-up water supply and recently having had a full PV solar system installed according to my design and specification. I can confidently say in my situation I know what I am talking about and I what I wanted to achieve… And I have succeeded in many ways more then I expected.
And no I am not some sort of Eco-warrior with pent-up anger, that still buys stuff with plastic wrappers… And Everything is doable since I have done it!
Oh, and before you ask, there is a certificate for everything because we don’t want to be in transgression of the law, so lets the legalese stuff out the way first.
For starters you should read the simplified version for the layman, or ‘picturefied’ (is that a real word), it’s like reading CPT bylaws for dummies. In short you cannot Mix Rain water, Grey water (more about gray water later) or any other water to the Municipal water unless approved by the city, and you need to have something that stops back flow. I.e.: a one way valve. So, why government would have you believe that their water system is pristine and you shouldn’t drinking anything else, simple… revenue. You pay for drinking the water and even though you sweat out more then you put down the drain you get charged for it. This is one of the reasons if you are solely on alternative water with no septic tank, you need to meter it so they city can add that to your rates bill. My opinion during very dry periods they should welcome resident putting water down the system because it will prevent the system blocking up. Well, we all know it’s blocked anyways with all the garbage going down the drains, but it would be better then nothing al all. So why does the city want you to register your borehole, supposedly for water management, but my opinion is different and I won’ say them out loud but I think we all think the same. enough said
Make your home to be more efficient
Not everyone will be like more or want to be like me that had the opportunity to re-wire or re-plumb the entire house, but in my case there was a very valid use-case for doing so. Thing first about how you want to save money. and the first place to look is at your municipal bill. For pre-paid water and electricity, ignore the basic access fee, for the simple reason if you want to stay on the grid then you need to pay. It makes sense and you are basically funding the maintenance of the “Grid”.
Quite honestly, we also know that is bull, because the city was turning a profit on the sale of water and electricity for many years before the drought (and load shedding). All the drought did is highlight to the CPT citizen about how high the salary bill is and, that the city needs money to pay the civil servants, so of which are very worth recipients of a salary and lets face facts others are not…enough said.
Look at how many units of electricity and kiloliters of water you are using. For a family of 4 we use no more the 400 unit’s of electricity on average (400kw) per month, if I told you the size of the house you would say how the hell!!! I think once we used 600 Units when we had a visitor for nearly 5 months, which took me too my wits end, and made me strip my “moer” when we went through 13 bottles of my wife and I’s favourite “cuppa joe “in 3 months, especially since that was my years coffee budget at home. We also average between 180 to 220 liters a day water which, was even less during the drought. That’s round 6000 liters per 31 calendar days. I can also walk around my house in winter with a t-shirt and shorts in winter with no heater running
Ways to save
- Want to save electricity, move to gas, if you going to install PV definitely go to full gas cooking. You stove element is in excess of 2000w, cook that Sunday roast for 3hrs in that puppy and you have burned through 6 units. Use an air-fryer or your microwave more. Better yet braai more on the weekend you can make an awesome roast in the fire, because some air-fryer food just looks crap, but tastes fine. We go through 15kgs every 8 to 10 months that’s R39 to R49 for cooking a month (at current 2020 LPG prices)
- Get your ceiling properly insulated or if building replace your Rhino board ceiling idea with IsoBoard (installing 40mm or thinker)
– Replace ALL the bulbs in the house with LED, not energy saving s****y CFG bulbs please. I have on room with 16 down lighters, and that room only uses 62w per hour.
- Unplug all stealth energy stealers when you don’t need them, like hifi’s, cell phone chargers, power supplies etc… if they are plugged in they are using electricity, that includes that stunning digital toaster
- install a Geyser timer, and if you are going Solar at some point, then put in a 2000w element (my installer recommended this and did it for mahala)
- start replacing you energy in-efficient appliances, a new digital inverter fridge/freezer will use less the 500w per day. use a gas kettle. if you still use an old CRT TV, get rid of it, it will pay for the replacement in a matter of month’s, and the TV’s look cooler. If you want to go Solar by a solar friendly appliance – more on that later.
- Get a bigger washing machine and wash less frequently. Ditch that antique top loader that came from “little house on the prairie”
- If you are not going solar think about a heat pump or solar geyser, I don’t believe in solar geysers but more about that later.
- Get Matts for the tiled floor in winter
- Leave the underfloor heating off – if you have it.
- Get a fire place in the house- If you have a free standing house or a full title unit you could ask the body corporate if you are allowed to install a closed combustion fire place, if they say no install an alcohol based fire place, since no external flue is need.
- Seal doors and windows, If you have doors and windows that let the wind through, besides no one likes the banging of doors due to the wind – I bought some awesome stuff the seal the doors in Czech Republic, pity its no so widely available here.
- get everyone in a habit of turning off the lights and putting the toilet seat down, including guests. Okay, putting the toilet seat down doesn’t save anything other then your houses Feng Shui (just kidding) and it’s a lazy habit, and it’s a pet peeve.
- Just to save money in general, get a decent Nitecore Charger for AAA & AA batteries and replace all the batteries in the house with rechargeable Energizer or Duracell cells, expensive to buy, but cheap in the long run. And the charger is child proof. Mine don’t toss the batteries they just recharge and re-use. environmental it makes sense.
I am sure there is more but this is common sense, and can be done over time while other can be done immediately. I’m sure there is more but fell free to comment so that we can learn from each other. Anyways, here are some more ideas from our great city
Preparing your water security.
So lets start this series of posts off with Water security. I live in one of the drier northern suburbs of Cape town, and no not all Suburbs receive the same rainfall as they are in two very distinct regions, but for brevity lets split it into northern and southern suburbs. I live in the northern suburbs where are rainfall pattern fall more aligned to the Swartland then it falls into the southern suburbs where the rainfall is more influenced by the mountains, and is considerably wetter through the year.
As recent as 2018, Cape Town would have been one of the first major metropolitan area to run dry, they even had a day zero to strike fear in to the locals and had them running wild in to thinking you are going to get “tailed” bugs, bacteria and pathogens in the taps water. So loads queued for spring water and stored up crack loads of bottled water, some of which was just municipal or borehole water put through the process of reverse osmosis. This was / is a great time for those selling bottled water because little of bad news and fear mongering makes for good business. Every “Joe soap” with a trailer and a 1000ltr flow bin, started selling water to their neighbours and friends. Just google it, there are loads of articles on it, and how miraculously day Zero was averted by good management etc…
While this is possible in any part of the world especially South Africa because the government really sucks at planning for the future lets face it they where warned 10 years before proverbial paw-paw hit the fan. Sao Paulo, in 2015 had less then 20 days water left and having traveled to Brazil recently I can tell people in South Africa have a lot to be grateful for in terms of government infrastructure and services. Ironically, the town of Sabara, we met some really wonderful people who’s homes where flooded with 1000mm of rain per square kilometer in a day.
The solutions for the city (my opinion on it)
Storm water management follow the Japanese example, with a little hybrid flair
Few things to work out, what do you want to use the water for:
- washing your sports car – I can’t see the point washing your car all the time but, I know people who have rain water just for washing their car, seems wasteful from the onset
- Toilets – There are bylaws to this so be warned see the bylaws below regarding using rainwater or other sources of water
- Watering (the garden)
- Filling the pool, fish pond
Back-up drinking water (in the municipal system) – Here to start
Chapter 7 Disinfection – section 49 of the bylaws says you need to clean your tanks every 5 years, this involves draining the water tank climbing inside and cleaning them. I have no issue with this, but if you have 4 tanks it makes more sense o have one tank that is the “Dirty tank”. All water enters here and then sediment settles in this tank and then water gravity feeds to the other tanks. So you only end up with one “Dirty tank”
There are a few ways to automatically limit the amount of dirt in the tank, and all of them you can make yourself, and some are just easier to buy
Preparing for Solar:
Having recently converted my house to runs 98% solar, I have been asked so many times now how do you make your house run almost off the grid. I start by stating I started planning this three years ago, and reason why it took so long is a case of waiting for technology and lower coasts to catch up with one another.
There are three ways to install Solar, this description is plagiarized for the city of cape towns website… I mean referenced the city’s words:
“Choosing a solar PV system
There are two types of solar PV systems to choose from.
Grid-tied SSEG systems
These are connected to the City’s electricity grid either directly or through your property’s internal wiring. There are two types of grid-tied systems.
Grid-tied feed-in system (also known as an SSEG with export option): the electricity generated by the PV system is used on the property. Excess electricity generated from the system is fed back into the electricity grid – you may receive credit from the City.
Grid-tied non-feed-in PV (also known as an SSEG without export option, with reverse power flow blocking): the electricity generated by the PV system is used on the property only when there is a demand for it. Excess electricity generated is blocked from feeding back into the grid.
Off-grid or standalone SSEG systems
These systems have no connection to the grid. They are physically separated and electrically isolated from the grid. An example would be connecting a pool pump directly to a solar PV system instead of connecting it to the building’s wiring.”
Okay, so what is the right route for you: Well, my humble opinion is in the city’s terms “Grid-tied non-feed-in PV with battery back-up”, basically means you generate power, you consume and charge batteries with said power and don’t feedback into the grid. It would be rather stupid to go through the entire expense of install solar panels and an inverter and then not to add batteries to the system, that’s like relying on Eskom for power over night when you are not generation electricity for your own home.
Feeding back into the grid
WELL ALRIGHTLY THEN… Okay, so in short don’t waste your time, it’s not going to pay for your rates bill and will cost you more then what you make. You as they put it “No, you must be a net consumer of electricity” see savingelectricity.org.za
Well how can I say that. Simple, I have a friend that does does it and it’s doesn’t work, the framework is there so you can feel better that you are feeding in to the grid but financially it is going to cost you more. Here’s why:
Special feedback meter = R11400 in 2019
Speaking of tariffs and these are 2019 tariff:
You buy at R1.7546 per unit, they buy from you at R0.6851 per unit.
SSEG tariff = R215.93
Home user charge = R142.06 (service access fee)
As an example and these are real figures from friends installation, not ones I made up. Looking at this you can see it’s costing more the what it makes you are essentially score R100 of your electricity bill, or do you. Do that math thoroughly before you jump into this
Buy: SSEG Domestic 488.2300kWh as R1.7546 = R856.65 Ex vat
Sell: Generation offset 455.900kWh @ R0.6851 = 312.34
Total Electricity cost less service fees = R544.31
Service Charge: SSEG tariff = R215.93
Access fee: Home user charge = R142.06
Services fees Total = R357.99
Total Electricity cost = R902.30
Savings = R96.21 (2019 Dec)
But wait there more Lets claw back the capital expenditure of the special meter
R11400 / 96.21 = 118.49 months (9 years 9 months) at no tariff increase
vs (using above figures)
Buy: SSEG Domestic 488.2300kWh as R1.7546 = R856.65 Ex vat
Access fee: Home user charge = R142.06
Total cost: R998.71
So as I said DON’T DO IT, sorry for saying this. In my opinion it’s not economically viable, until the city comes to the party and gives you the same tariff plus VAT as they pay Eskom, drop the extra tariffs and give the meter for free to synchronize with the grid. After all, I have my power, and I would be doing the city a favour buy selling it to them. I don’t need to be ripped off by doing it.