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Relax. Save your energy and keep warm this winter

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An expert offers advice to help you keep the heat inside your home when the big chill gets its icy grip on South Africa

Tired of having to thaw out after yet another freezing night? Don’t despair. There are ways to heat your home that need not break the bank. Chilly weather invariably means more time indoors.

However, it is neither easy nor cost efficient to heat your home, so the cooler months can become unbearable. Nemone Bieldt of Indigo Architects says older South African homes perform extremely badly environmentally as they were not designed to cope with heat loss or heat gain.

Large windows, open entertainment areas and tiled floors might make for a convivial, low-maintenance family home in summer, but can make it difficult and pricey to retain heat in winter. With the rising cost of electricity and the global focus on energy efficiency, a few wellconsidered tweaks can make the world of difference to your electricity bill and the ambient temperature in your home.

Insulation: On cold days, warm air escapes through the roof and windows. One way to slow this transfer process is to install adequate and appropriate insulation.

“Although new environmental regulations require architects to calculate thermal performance for new buildings, existing homes are often not well-insulated,” says Bieldt.

The good news is that installing or increasing the amount of insulation in your roof is a reasonably inexpensive and simple way to maximise heat retention. 

There is a range of options available, including Isotherm, which is an eco-friendly, non-itchy product made from recycled PET bottles. Be sure to check the R-value (the measurement of the product’s ability to restrict heat flow).

It’s also worth seeing what’s going on in your walls as about a third of the heat in an uninsulated home is lost this way. Although it’s not as cheap to install as roof insulation, cavity wall insulation is worth investigating if you’re planning to clad your interior walls.

Picture: Michael Shannon/Unsplash

Windows and doors: “All too often, you’ll experience huge heat loss through windows and doors that don’t seal properly,” Bieldt says. Well-fitted heavy curtains provide an extra barrier to radiant heat loss, add insulation, reduce draughts and make the room seem cosier.

Closing your curtains as soon as the sun drops can help trap the day’s warmth inside. “Another small yet effective idea is installing draught excluding strips on outside doors,” says Bieldt. “For a once-off cost easily recouped, double glazing is definitely worth considering.”

This technology is becoming standard for new builds, and can be easily retro-fitted to your existing home. The space between the two panes of glass is filled with evacuated air that acts as efficient insulation while also reducing noise levels. Choose from timber, aluminium or UPVC panes.

Fireplaces and heaters: Your open fireplace in the lounge might look appealing, but it’s not the best option when it comes to energy efficiency. Energy experts calculate only 20% of the heat radiates into a room, the rest goes up the chimney.

“Closed combustion cast-iron fireplaces are a better option, especially if the flue is exposed as this generates more heat for your home.” While initial outlay can be high (from R25000 upwards), a pellet or woodburning fireplace is easily installed.

“It’s particularly easy to retrofit if you have an existing fireplace and it will add ambience to your living space,” Bieldt says. While portable gas heaters offer instant heat, gas is expensive, runs out relatively quickly and can be hazardous if not handled properly.

Oil fin heaters will heat a room slowly, but will then keep the room at a constant temperature. If used judiciously, and on a low setting, they will not add too much to your bill. Be sure to keep doors and windows closed when heating a particular space to ensure maximum heating efficiency.

Air-conditioning and underfloor heating: A well-installed air-conditioning unit can be used for heating and cooling your home. Used sparingly, this can take the morning chill out of a few rooms while you get ready for work and when you return home.

“New units are more energy efficient and you can set timers to heat your home when you most need it,” Bieldt says.

First prize, of course, is to use solargenerated electricity. “There’s nothing evil or irresponsible about using air-conditioning or underfloor heating if you have invested in photovoltaic solar roof panels,” she says.

“While winter days can be cold, as long as the sky is clear you will be able to generate your own power from the natural light.” Water (hydronic) underfloor heating is becoming increasingly popular in South Africa as an effective, environmentally friendly way to create warmth and comfort in both residential and commercial buildings.

“With this system, solar panels heat water which goes into storage tank. It is then reticulated and pumped in under the floors via continuous tubes with no junctions or joints,” Bieldt says. However, installing this system obviously requires a radical refurbishment of your existing home.

A simpler option is to cover tiled floors with cheerful rugs, runners and carpets so that walking barefoot is do-able in winter.

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