A Guide to Energy Efficient Construction

Energy efficiency is more than just a buzzword and it should also be the focus of practices in every industry. Construction is no exception.
In South Africa, there’s already strain on even our most basic energy sources and building a house is extremely energy intensive. Apart from the actual building practices, building design is also becoming more and more focused on affording a structure more energy saving capabilities.   
But let’s look at what energy efficiency means: basically, it’s doing the same thing while using less energy. Simple, right?
Not always. There are numerous factors that often make an energy saving approach in construction less feasible. In South Africa, this is often because of access to the right materials or skill sets.
However, as of November 2011, energy-efficient buildings are a legislative matter. These building regulations, named SANS 10400-XA and SANS 204, primarily dictate the design and planning aspects of a new construction.
The issues the regulations address include a building’s orientation, the size of its windows and where they’re placed, shading, and also the materials used during construction.
We’ve unpacked a few of these and other aspects of the regulations on energy efficiency.

Lighting

Since these regulations were written into law, lighting has become a design consideration more than ever before. This involves a more detailed indication on the designs.
The designer or architect now also needs to factor in how the lighting layout affects the overall energy demand and consumption of the structure they’re planning.
Natural light is another fundamental consideration. Designers are also required to factor in the property’s northward orientation and capitalise on optimal natural light. This contributes to the property’s overall energy efficiency by mitigating the need for electric lighting.      

Insulation

The key factor contributing to cooling and heating is insulation. It’s estimated that a house can lose the majority (up to 70%) of its temperature through the roof and ceiling, the walls, and the floor. When the insulation is planned effectively that shortfall will need to be accommodated by traditional, energy-rich technologies.
By using accredited insulation materials that actually keep the structure’s energy inside, the need for air conditioning and heating becomes significantly reduced.

Moisture Barriers

Effective moisture control also helps regulate a house’s temperature and also assists the insulation process significantly. When planned properly and efficiently, this could also protect your property from mould forming on the walls.
The key to creating an effective moisture barrier for a home overall is ventilation. When the air movement inside the house is guided and controlled, the effects of humidity won’t be as damaging over time. This is another element that should be planned before construction.   

Water Heating

The regulations also dictate that 50% of hot water should be generated without electric element heating. More specifically, hot water in new houses should be supplied by a solar heating system of some kind.
However, geysers with solar heating components still often use a degree of electricity. The alternative solution to this would be to install a heat exchange pump for heating water.  
These are only a few of the energy saving regulations to consider when you’re starting a new building project or even a home renovation. It’s important to discuss these with your architect, designer, suppliers, and contractors before you start construction.