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 Greening your building without breaking the bank


 South African property owners are fast learning that greening their buildings is no longer just about saving the planet, says Sadhna Maharaj, regional property manager at Business Partners Limited.

Although the big picture of global warming remains important, the savings that can accumulate by making your building more energy and water efficient have become a strong imperative, she says.

And apart from keeping the operational costs down, greening initiatives can add substantial value to a building by making it more comfortable and attractive to tenants. Also, as property owners in Cape Town have learned during the recent drought, energy and water self-sufficiency of buildings can be a major advantage during climate shocks and power failures.

The biggest problem with greening a building is usually the cost, especially when it comes to old buildings that were designed and built in the days when energy was cheap and humankind was blissfully unaware of climate change.

But Sadnha believes that there are many affordable steps that property owners can take to green even draughty old buildings without breaking the bank:

  • Insulate the roof: This is often the single biggest difference you can make for the least amount of money towards greening your building. Roof insulation material is plentiful and relatively cheap, and it has a dramatic effect on the temperature inside, cutting the cost of heating the building in winter and cooling it down in summer. Depending on the kind of structure, consider tackling your insulation project incrementally if you cannot afford a single large expenditure.
  • Fit energy-efficient lighting: Power-hungry light-bulbs are the low-hanging fruit of greening a building. The higher cost of energy-efficient LED lighting is quickly offset by the savings they generate. Again, if you want to avoid a large once-off expense, consider replacing the lights one-by-one as the old light-bulbs expire.
  • Install solar panels: With the cost of solar panels falling, the storage capacity of batteries increasing, and the price of grid electricity rising, the case for installing solar panels is becoming stronger every day. It does not have to be an all-or-nothing change-over. Start with one or two panels connected to, for example, the outside security lights while the rest of the building remains connected to the grid.

    Don’t break your link to the grid if you are unsure of the future electricity needs of your tenants. Future tenants may need more electricity than your solar panels can provide. On the other hand, if you are the end-user and your electricity needs are stable and predictable, going entirely off the grid becomes more feasible.

    The rooftop is not the only space to place solar panels. Carports are increasingly being covered by solar panels, and some outside lights come fitted with their own mini-solar panels.
  • Consider double glazing: Two layers of window pane separated by a layer of air is an excellent way of insulating windows without having to block out natural light. You therefore save in heating and cooling costs, as well as the need for electric lighting.
  • Get portable water tanks: Installing a fully functioning grey-water system might be beyond the reach of most owners of existing buildings because of the cost of redoing the plumbing system. But installing large portable water tanks to capture rainwater is an affordable step towards sustainable water use.

    If you are developing a new building from scratch, consider building in a fully functioning grey water recycling system.
  • Use recycled building materials: Recycled building materials are cheaper and greener, and can be made to look brand new. Consider this option whenever you need to extend your building or build from scratch.
  • Install sensor-controlled lighting and air-conditioning: Huge amounts of power are wasted when lights and air-conditioners run at full blast even if there is nobody in the room. A system that switches the appliances on and off automatically as people enter and leave each room can pay for itself many times over.
  • Use drought-resistant plants: Landscaping with hardy, drought-resistant plants can save lots of water without compromising the aesthetics of your buildings.
  • Work with a green architect: Not all architects and building teams are equally knowledgeable about green options. When you need to build from scratch or modify existing buildings, seek out builders and experts out who will help you look for solutions that are both environmentally sound and affordable.



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