• ALL'S WELL: Waterfall Estate homes have all the elements of green living, including water from a well. PICTURES: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE

  • COOL IDEA: Windows and glass are double-insulated to regulate temperature

  • COST-CUTTERS: Stoves and heaters in the estate are powered by gas

WITH Eskom's prices reaching new heights each year, everyone is looking for ways to reduce their bills.

 There are many options, from switching off anything electric when you aren't using it to knocking your house down and rebuilding it entirely off the grid. Here are some ways to decrease your reliance on Eskom - and your bills:

Solar

It doesn't yet make financial sense to power your entire house using solar energy, but solar can make a significant dent in your power bill.

Solar geysers pay for themselves in three to four years. But there are downsides in terms of convenience. You won't get hot water in the mornings or if it's been cloudy, and heat is generally reduced in winter when the sun is less direct.

There are two ways to get around this: you can change your habits so that you use the water when it's hot or you can have a back-up plan using another power source.

Geyser heat pump

Hendrik Roux, CEO of Home Comfort, a company that specialises in energy-efficient technologies, suggests using a geyser heat pump either in conjunction with a solar system or on its own. The heat pump works by compressing ambient air and heating it.

Water is heated in pipes that run through the hot air in the pump and into your bathroom or kitchen. The heat pump uses about 70% less electricity than a normal electric geyser.

 It is compact and easy to install, and it produces cool air as a by-product, which can be used to cool the house in summer.

Gas

Gas water heaters are small, you heat only the water you need, and your water is always hot when you need it to be. You also never have to worry about them bursting.

The downside is that gas is not cheap and this option might not be ideal if the heater is used extensively. But, used in conjunction with a solar system, it could cut costs.

Gas is the obvious choice for cooking and for heating your home if you want to extricate yourself from Eskom. The heat from a gas fire can be used to heat much more than just one room.

At Waterfall Estate, in Kyalami, heat is in some instances collected from above the gas fireplace and piped through the walls and ceiling to heat upstairs and neighbouring rooms.

Plastic piping, which is built into the screed of the floor, is placed on top of the polystyrene insulation, which is laid above the concrete layer.

Water, heated by gas in a radiator, is then circulated through these pipes to warm the rooms. Piping can also be used in walls and ceilings in double-storey homes to heat top-floor rooms.

This system also works using solar or Eskom power.

Biogas

Biogas has long been used as an energy source, and its popularity is growing in rural regions of countries like India and China.

It has great potential for rural South Africa, but could also be used in peri-urban areas. The process involves creating methane, which is captured and stored and used for the same processes as LP gas.

 It isn't easily transported, as it can't be compressed, and is most efficiently used on site.

Organic waste, such as garden and kitchen waste products, animal manure and even human waste, are used to create biogas.

These waste products are mixed with water and placed in a biogas digester, an airtight container inside which the wet waste is broken down by anaerobic bacteria. The result of this process is the production of methane and carbon dioxide.

Typically, one cubic metre of biogas will provide a cooking time of two hours. Each 2.5 cubic metres of biogas is equivalent to 1kg of LP gas.

Insulation

Insulation is vital if you want to keep the house at a steady temperature and reduce your need for heating and cooling.

Ceilings and floors are often insulated in South Africa, but a great deal more temperature control can be achieved by insulating the doors and windows. Double glazing is a possibility, but is expensive.

 It involves two sheets of safety glass with an air pocket in between, which, according to Dan Brown, Century Property Developments deputy executive director, cuts down by between 60% and 70% the transfer of temperature from the outside.

A less expensive option is laminated glass, which is about 10 times more effective in keeping outside temperatures at bay than ordinary glass. It involves two sheets of glass with a laminate in between. It can also be tinted for greater effect.

A loose-fill insulation is also worth considering. It is a granulated material made from carpet offcuts, wool and paper products that is literally blown into the ceiling.

 Unlike traditional carpet-style insulation, it gets into corners and hard-to-reach areas. Because it is granulated, you can add things to the ceiling - a sound system, for example - without having to cut away the carpet.

This kind of insulation is also effective when used between two layers of bricks in an outside wall.

*This article was first published in Sunday Times: Money & Careers