HEAT PUMPS: Revitalise Your Home with an Energy and Cost Saving Heat Pump System

The prices of just about all forms of fuel are rising these days, whether it’s the price per kilowatt of electricity, natural gas, propane, or heating fuel. But no one wants to live in a home that’s simply too cold in the winter, or too blazing hot in the summer. Unfortunately, getting our homes into a temperature range that is comfortable is often a pricey prospect. Heating is always expensive, and there’s simply no such thing as a truly inexpensive air conditioner.

But that doesn’t actually have to be the case. For over a hundred years there has been a basic technology that has existed that can take the place of these forms of heat. The technology hasn’t always been well understood, and where it was, the ability to use it on a small enough scale hadn’t quite been developed yet. But in that span of time from its inception till now, there have been great leaps and bounds in heat pump technology that have served to make it more compact, more efficient, and all of this coming at a time when we need relief from our heating and cooling bills most.

How Heat Pump Systems Work

This solution, of course, is heat pumps. Heat pumps operate under a very basic concept; rather than generating heat, these systems merely take the heat from one location, and transport it to another. The mechanism by which this takes place is fairly straightforward, and is buried deep in the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. All that needs to be understood by the layman, however, is that heat will naturally move from a warmer location, to a cooler one.

Utilizing this very simple concept, a liquid will be passed through a series of systems built into the mechanism known as a heat pump, and will either pull heat from the ambient air outside, and dump it into the cooler environment in the home, or perform this process in reverse.

Contrary to what one might expect, this doesn’t always result in the outside and inside being the same temperature. It is a foible of nature that you can extract heat from any system that isn’t at absolute zero, and no matter what the wind-chill factor may be, this is a level of ‘cold’ you have never been.

There are a number of different heat pump systems available, the best one for you would largely be determined based on your needs and overall location. We’ll start with the most basic of these, the air source heat pump.

Air Source Heat Pump

Heat Pump Systems: Air Source Heat Pump

Air Source Heat Pumps function under the very basic principle mentioned above, transferring the heat from the ambient air outside, into the building you wish to heat. Using a reversal of this process, they can successfully cool the same space. There is an optimum temperature range they can operate in, but unless you live in an area prone to very hot or very cold weather patterns, you can expect that this will do a decent job for you. Like all heat pump systems, air source heat pumps can be used to heat the air, take some of the strain off your water heater, or even be used to heat your radiant flooring. Their efficiency is such that electric, gas, even propane is simply no match for the low cost of conditioning your home that these systems provide.

Heat Pumps Systems in Business

If you run a business, there are other ways air source heat pump systems can benefit you. In those industries that produce a lot of excess heat and then vent it off to the outdoors, a rare opportunity is provided. By installing this system in or near your exhaust vent, you start taking advantage of a variant known as ‘Exhaust Source Heat Pump’. You essentially are using this to capture the waste heat of your building, and are pumping that heat into the areas its needed most. Imagine the money you can save using the heat pushed out by your driers in an industrial Laundromat to heating the water going back into the washers?

Got a restaurant where the grills are always running? Well rather than paying expensive heating bills to keep your customers cozy, transfer that heat back into the dining area without the attendant grease and smell. No reason to let all that heat go to waste out the vents when it can increase your bottom line by lowering your heating bills!

Ground Source Heat Pump

Heat Pump Systems: Ground Source Heat Pump

Ground Source Heat Pumps take grand advantage of the tendency of the earth to hold onto heat for long periods of time. Truth be told, the earth holds onto temperature in general, it is slow to heat, and slow to cool. It is this tendency that makes it perfect as a source of temperature exchange for a heat pump!

Ground source heat pump systems are far more elaborate than the air source heat pumps mentioned above. They involve deep trenches being dug where special coils are laid and buried below the frost line. Either that, or you’ll need to run pipes up to 400 feet down into the ground using special boring techniques. Once done, however, you can take full advantage of one of nature’s neatest tricks! The earth in any given area, once you’ve gone down about 30 feet, has a tendency to stay at the mean-temperature for that latitude of the earth year round. This means if you have hot summers and cold winters, you’ll find yourself in a perfect position to have a nicely moderate home the rest of the year.

Ground Source Heat Pumps vs Air Source Heat Pump Systems

Ground source heat pump systems can also use large bodies of water such as lakes or rivers, or even deep stone wells to take advantage of the thermal exchange that can happen there. These tend to be much more efficient than the air source heat pump systems, as they have a much larger mass to draw on with a much more stable temperature range.

Ground source heat pump systems can be used for the same sorts of heating and cooling as the air source heat pump systems. By tying these into your heating and cooling systems, using them to heat the water for your domestic use, or even keep you radiant floors nice and toasty, you’re limiting the amount of expensive electricity you need to use to air condition your home.

Saving Money with Heat Pump Systems

Both of the above heat pump systems can be used in just about any location you can think of to help save money. But the one thing that both of them have in common that can result in huge savings, is their cost over time. These both involve a larger initial investment than you may find in electric or gas powered heating/cooling systems, but in both cases the monthly power expenditure is so low that you’ll find yourself saving the cost of the system in your power bills in short order. In the life of the system, it can pay for itself multiple times!

This is especially true because both of these heat pump systems tend to lack the maintenance required of more traditional systems, and have a life-span well in excess of 20 years in most cases. All in all there is no better way to save money in the long run than to have one of these heat pump systems installed. So whether it’s to heat your home, or to save money keeping your outbuildings warm without the need of expensive new stand-alone heating systems, heat pumps are a fantastic way to help you save money. Not only that, but while you’re saving that money, you’ll be shrinking your carbon footprint.

That last point will be our last pro-tip of the night. If you run a business that produces a large carbon footprint, utilizing these heat pump systems will reduce that footprint, and might even give you some carbon credit left aside to sell on the open market. Not only will you save money on electricity, but you can make it by trading away those carbon credits! Truly a win-win situation!


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WINDOWFARMS DIY: A step-by-step guide

A friend of mine has got me quite excited about windowfarming. You could say the idea is growing on me. I live in a flat with a poor excuse for a balcony and has these 'shiny' white tiles which I don't wish to get covered in soil. A windowfarm seems like the ideal alternative in such cases to introduce some greenery that is both clean and self-sustainable!

This particular 'windowfarms DIY guide' grows three plants and costs less than R300 to put together. The full DIY guide “How to make your own window farm” can also be downloaded at windowfarms.com

Windowfarm DIY - Materials Needed:

  • Windowfarms DIY Guide (image: www.fastcodesign.com)Water
  • 3 x Net Cups
  • Large cable ties
  • String or fishing line
  • 1 x 5 litre water bottle
  • Nail, screw or eyehook
  • 3 x 1.5 litre water bottles
  • 2 x tube / pump adapters
  • 3 x tree bark starter cubes
  • Duct tape, paint or thick fabric
  • 1 x bottle of hydroponic plant nutrients
  • 5 litres Hydrotron expanded clay pellets
  • 1 x two-way air pump (for 100 litre fish tank)
  • 3 x plants with all dirt removed from roots (or use seeds)

The 12-step program to building your own window farm:

STEP 1: Gather all the tools and ingredients you will need to make your own windowfarm. You will also need things like a permanent marker or felt-tipped pen and a sharp knife.

Windowfarms DIY 1STEP 2: Using the cap of one of the 1.5 litre water bottles, trace circles on on the bottom-centre of each 1.5 litre water bottle and cut them into holes.

STEP 3: Now we need to create a space for each plant. Trace and cut large holes on the bottom part of each 1.5 litre bottle as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 2STEP 4: Next we need to create an entrance in the 5 litre water bottle for the pumping tubes. Use the cap from this bottle to trace and cut a circle in the top shoulder of the 5 litre bottle.

STEP 5: We now need to cover the 1.5 litre bottles so that the plant roots don't photosynthesize. You can either use fabric paint to do this, or simply wrap them with thick tape. Cover two thirds of all three bottles as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 4STEP 6: Once wrapped up we need to stack the three 1.5 litre bottles by inserting the tops of the bottles into the holes cut in the bottoms as illustrated. Attach the bottle stack to the rod and air lift tube using cable ties.

STEP 7: Next we need to connect the pump to the air lift tube. Make two small insertions for the needle tips up from the bottom of the air lift tube. Place holes on opposite sides of the air lift tube so that the pipes do not overlap.

Windowfarms DIY 5STEP 8: Cut the adapter tubes and pump tubes to the appropriate lengths. Sleeve half of the adapter tube over the end of the pump tube as illustrated. Using tape, wrap the air pump needles until the threading is covered and sleeve those into the open end of the adapter tubes. Insert the needles into the air lift tube and secure these to the rod using cable ties.

Note: Make sure the mouth of the air lift tube is pointing straight down – flush with the rod. Ideally you want the whole tube to remain as straight and vertical as possible. Insert the rod with the tubing into the 5 litre base bottle. Make sure the mouth of the last plant-holding 1.5. litre bottle of the stack feeds into the mouth of the 5 litre base bottle.

Windowfarms DIY 6STEP 9: Bend the top of the air lift tube and insert it into the top of the first plant-holding bottle – forming a “U” shape inside the bottle, with the end of the tube pointing down. Attach the air tubes to the pump. Full the 5 litre base bottle with water to test your pump. Water should spurt out the air lift tube into the top plant-holding bottle and begin draining down through the other bottles. If everything is working, you can then add plant nutrient into the reservoir (5 litre bottle).

STEP 10: Place your plants into net cups and cover with clay pellets. You can either completely shake out the roots (to prevent dirt entering the system and clogging the pipes) or you can start your plants from seed by placing these in compost sponges.

Note: If you decide to start from seed, run your system without plant nutrients for the first week. If you start with adult plants, leave the lights off for the first few days. This will help the roots grow better and will help the plants recover from 'transplant shock.'

STEP 11: Place each plant of choice into the large openings of the 1.5 litre plant-holder bottles. Switch on your pump and viola! Adjust each bottle so that the plants are facing the light source from your window.

Windowfarms DIY Guide

Important Note: Take caution not to place your windowfarm too close to an electrical outlet. Loop your cords before plugging them in to prevent water from flowing along them towards the outlet.


  • If there is not enough natural light for your windowfarm, check out windowfarms.com for ideas.
  • If you are worried about your windowfarm tipping, attach the rod to your windowsill with a nail and string.
  • There is also an option of creating a silencer for your windowfarm if the noise of the air pump is too much. Refer to the website for more.

I hope you found this Windowfarms DIY Guide helpful.

Happy eco-farming!

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GBCSA: Creating a sustainable future brick by brick

THE Green Building Council of South Africa is an independent, non-profit organisation which aims to ensure that all commercial buildings are built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way. The goal is to ensure that all South Africans can work and live in healthy, efficient and productive environments.

The GBCSA was formed in 2007 and is a full member of the World Green Building Council. The official certification of green buildings in South Africa falls under the Green Star SA Rating System. The GBCSA released a really great explainer video at the end of 2011, which explains everything in animated detail:

The Green Building Council of South Africa

A “green building” is classified as a building which is energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible.

"It incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and occupants. Building green is an opportunity to use resources efficiently and address climate change while creating healthier and more productive environments for people to live and work in" - www.gbcsa.org.za

In practice, this encompasses the use of design, materials and technology to reduce energy and resource consumption with the aim of creating improved human and natural environments. Specefic green building measures include: (taken from www.gbcsa.org.za)

  • The use of renewable energy sources;
  • Water-efficient plumbing fittings and water harvesting;
  • The use of energy-efficient air-conditioning and lighting;
  • The use of environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials;
  • The reduction of waste, and the use of recycled materials;
  • Sensitivity with regard to the impact of the development on the environment; and,
  • Careful building design to reduce heat loads, maximise natural light and promote the circulation of fresh air.

To achieve certification, building owners submit documentation to the Green Building Council of South Africa. Submissions are assessed and a score is given. Certification is awarded for 4-Star, 5-Star or 6-Star Green Star SA ratings. The South African rating tool is based on the Australian Green Star system.

"The rating system sets out a "menu" of all the green measures that can be incorporated into a building to make it green. Points are awarded to a building according to which measures have been incorporated, and, after appropriate weighting, a total score is arrived at, which determines the rating" - www.gbcsa.org.za

A great example of a 6-Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa is the Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC). It is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere.

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SSIC: The super energy efficient SSIC building

THE Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC) is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere. It houses techies who are working on solutions for the future in the fields of construction, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and wet services. The SSIC is the first 6 Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa.

The aesthetic principle was to create a harmonious and seamless integration between the physical building and the surrounding landscape. The SSIC is a sustainable living building envisaged as a functioning showcase for innovative techniques and design.

The Greenest Building in the Southern Hemisphere

Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC)

The SSIC is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere and houses techies who are working on solutions for the future (image: http://www.glh.co.za)

The design has a narrow floor plate surrounding a central open air courtyard with a rainwater pond and wetland. The building maximises the use of daylight using performance glass and motorised blinds.

Fresh air is cooled via a gabion or thermal rock store constructed below the building before it is released into the office space through vents. This functions as a natural air-conditioner. A solar absorption chiller provides radiant cooling or warming through water pumped through a thermally activated slab. The chiller also provides cooled air to the office space, so no water-based heat rejection systems are used.

SSICInstalled on the roof are 292 photovoltaic panels delivering 230kWh of solar energy to the building – twice the amount of energy required. The balance is fed back into the Vodacom campus, creating a zero-rated energy building. Motion light detection sensors are used to minimise energy use.

For efficient water consumption, grey water is treated through the constructed wetland and then reused for irrigation and toilet flushing. Rainwater (harvested from the roof) is stored in the pond in the courtyard and in tanks below the building.

The structural elements of the building have been constructed using material excavated from the building site. The structural columns are a combination of steel and eucalyptus gumpoles while the roof structure is an exposed timber beam system. The structural elements are designed for disassembly and 90% of all the steel used has an average post-consumer recycled content of 60%.

The Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre and its landscaped garden is a great example of green and sustainable living. It also illustrates how big corporations such as Vodacom can operate in such an eco-friendly manner. The SSIC will be open to visitors and demonstrates the innovative techniques and systems utilised to create a low energy and sustainable construction solution.

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THE OASIS: Fresh thinking on climate change

IT’S hard to imagine that anything sustainably substantial will come out of this year’s Cop17 (Conference of the Parties on climate change). This assumption is based on the fact that this will be the 17th attempt to reach agreement and that climate change remains a heavily heated issue with much to be done by way of solution.

Polar Bear (image: egea.eu)Basically, if things continue the way they are with regards to industry practice and global carbon emissions, we will all be cooked within the next 20 years.

Only acting after the shit squarely hits the fan and the sea levels are on our doorsteps, seems to be the consistent tale of humanity. It is known that if you place a frog in a tub and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will not react until it quite literally boils alive.

We have come a long way since evolving from amphibian-hood and we are better equipped with knowledge and technology than we have ever been before. Let’s hope to hell that this year a real plan of action will be set in motion at Cop17. We need fresh thinking around climate change. Our lives may depend on it.

Fresh thinking on climate change

One of the central issues regarding combating climate change is that big, profit-driven businesses are often reluctant to reduce their carbon emissions if this means a reduction in profits.

But increasingly some big business is coming around to the necessity for change. This year more than 300 businesses have signed the The 2°C Challenge - a document that the Corporate Leaders Network for Climate Action – calling on governments to break the deadlock at Cop17 and reach agreement. Governments must decide how to divide up the carbon budget available to us if we want to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees (a target agreed at the last COP held in Cancun).

Obviously some countries are in a stickier position than others and this will mean a sweaty slap in the face of economic growth for many. Countries and business need to get a lot more creative if they want to find alternative ways to grow without destroying the planet.

Frustratingly, green technologies, in general, are not yet cheap enough for mass use. Older technology - specifically power-generating technologies, are still being pawned off to poorer countries such as South Africa, which puts them firmly in the category of “high carbon emitters.” Then there is the painful attitude of those who plead ignorance and deny that global warming is a scientific reality.

Perhaps what is needed is greater incentive to go green. For one, the country of Bhutan for example is one of the only countries on Earth that is actually a carbon sink. Not only that, but Bhutan’s major export is hydro-electric power. Surely such a role model to the world should be praised and rewarded?

By the same token, businesses of all shapes and sizes should not only aim to meet their new carbon budgets, but be given the incentive to go further - greater rewards for being greener than thy neighbour. But then of course there is the issue of where reward funding would come from.

It will be interesting to hear what businesses themselves have to say on such matters and what some of them aim to do in the coming decades. I’m sure we can expect a lot of PR speak and lobbyist chatter at Cop17, but much of it is likely to be interesting.

Fresh thinking on climate change

One to watch is the discussions that are set to take place at the Fresh Thinking Oasis. This will be convened by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership – the organisation behind the Corporate Leaders Network for Climate Action. The CPSL is also widely acknowledged to be a champion of progressive international business when it comes to sustainability issues.

While the world’s governments sweat it out next door around the negotiating table, the folk at the Oasis will be hoping to generate some fresh thinking on the old challenges in a more relaxed environment.

** Video Gallery of COPpuccinos at COP17 **

Greenpeace Report: Who's holding us back?

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