Extreme weather dominated headlines globally throughout 2018, heatwaves baked much of the northern hemisphere, which saw unprecedented wildfires in Sweden, drought in the UK and brushfires devastating swathes of the US. Flooding occurred in India and typhoons in Southeast Asia, while the summer season in SA was long and intensely hot and humid, particularly and unusually so in Gauteng.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, last year was the fourth hottest on record, which confirmed a trend towards ever rising temperatures and is a clear signal that we humans are having an effect on global climates. Droughts, storms and resulting floods continue to wreak havoc; as do damaging heatwaves and rising sea levels – and all are expected to increase markedly in 2019.

This is a future we should obviously try to avoid, but it will require a change in energy production and more respect for – and better use of – the natural environment.

So how can technology enable us to combat climate change and global warming?

Ruan Basson of Calore responds: ‘Climate change is a challenge that’s been escalating for some years, and at its heart rests the ideal of living sustainably in an increasingly overcrowded world, while providing both people and planet with the resources they need to survive and prosper.

‘Research indicates that the natural carbon cycle is not able to absorb the amount of greenhouse gases we’re putting into the atmosphere and it’s imperative that a low-carbon future is instituted by the end of the century. Toxic greenhouse gases primarily come from stock hydrocarbon fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas, which have been burned at an accelerating rate since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.’

In South Africa, energy remains on ongoing national challenge: the much-pillaged, dysfunctional and antiquated Eskom possibly being dismantled into small components in the not-so-distant future. Yet there is no guarantee that this will be sanctioned politically, or that it will pay ongoing dividends efficiency-wise.

Eskom remains an unanswerable question.

However, there are increasingly very real eco-issues to consider insofar as the consumption of fossil fuels because their negative effect on the planet is beyond doubt. This presents a year-round basic question as to how to introduce workable and affordable climate control in both the home and workplace.

How best do we go about keeping warm in winter and staying cool in summer, while making the reduction of energy consumption a prerequisite?

Scale of Change

Africa is not for sissies and neither is its climate – even here at the southern tip. The scale of differentials is high and the seasonal vagaries can often be dramatic in their intensity; countrywide the weather can be confusing – indeed it justifies the ‘world in one country’ tag. So seasons from north to south and east to west can vary hugely: damp cold in the south-west with a wet Cape winter, graduating north towards dry sub-zero figures in Gauteng’s early morning, plus cold nights. Further north are the warmer climes of Mpumalanga and the south-eastern coastal areas, which remain mild if less humid in winter.

The damp winter-rainfall region of the Western Cape is largely akin to, though not as lengthy and severe as, a European winter, and yet it presents challenges for keeping both warm and dry. So the winter months deliver varying temperatures in different regions, while summer heat can present as being humid or arid countrywide.

But it’s in the vast Gauteng province’s winter season that temperature variations are most severe. The thermometer can drop to very low single figures for more than a couple of months as night falls and in the early morning, rising to higher than 20ºC at midday and early afternoon. It’s these daily extremes of temperature in winter – such a markedly wide variation – that asks very real climate control questions. Maintaining a happy medium is key to comfort and obviates damaging health.

Hot Stuff

Glowing logs, yellow flames and red embers are part of human evolution; comfort inducing images rooted in the psyche. Fireplaces are still part of interior architecture, albeit in a less rustic form and with very different fuel sources due to there being a number of glaring negatives in regard to traditional open coal fires.

Pollution of the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels is the most obvious, but there is also the issue of inefficiency. The heat output from open coal or wood burning fireplaces is minimal when considered against the mass of fuel burned because a great deal of heat escapes up the chimney. Last is the ash, dirt and dust that may soil the surfaces of the interior and its furnishings.

For the past couple of decades there’s been a proven alternative that ticks all the boxes for those who enjoy that central source of heat during the winter months. Globally, the highly efficient and clean, closed combustion wood-burning stove (CCWB) has found ready acceptance, not least by those who are concerned with fossil fuel consumption. CCWB’s are now available in a variety of forms, from quasi-traditional to ultra contemporary; and offer all the appeal of an open fire. This while being exceptionally efficient in producing high levels of controlled heat from burning timber, an easily renewable resource; or wood pellets.

Pellet stoves are relatively new. Their biggest advantage is ease of use thanks to automatic ignition, power modulation and the fact that depending on the model, these stoves can be programmed. They’re also very efficient, have a high level of autonomy and are outstandingly environmentally friendly thanks to their renewable CO2-neutral fuel.

Ruan Basson: ‘Through the promotion of wood based biofuel technology, we’ve embarked on a journey to make a lasting impact on the local sustainable energy industry. Biomass can be used as a versatile, alternative fuel source in applications that produce power in the form of electricity, steam or heat – from small units supplying individual households to multi-megawatt heat or power installations.

‘The real strength of these products, and the reason they offer a truly sustainable alternative energy source, is that they are a natural waste from sustainable wood plantations. They are burned in state-of-the-art closed combustion wood log and wood pellet fireplaces that achieve the highest efficiencies compared to conventional heating appliances.

‘These pellet fireplaces come with a repertoire of benefits and features, such as automated remote-control heating, ducting to multiple rooms from one heat source and temperature control with the most economical fuel usage. They vary from built-in to insert and freestanding options with multiple colours and finishes.’

Depending on model choice, such units can represent a considerable investment, yet they are becoming increasingly popular globally, mainly because the use of pellets provides a sustainable heating option. However, there are also several other advantages.

Pellet stoves are user-friendly and, depending on the appliance, heat output can be adjusted with a remote control or in-room thermostat; some models allow programming by day or week and this via messaging or an app. Importantly, their efficiency is 80 percent or above, while the integrated control system ensures efficient burning; the ash content of the burnt pellets is minimal at between 0.5 to 1 percent. And pellets are relatively cheap compared to other fuels, with their price remaining stable in recent years. They are supplied in bags, which are easy to store and compact; moreover, the fuel is dry, odourless and always ready for use.

Go with the Glow

When making a fireplace selection, first consider the required performance of the unit chosen insofar as the amount of heat required and how far it needs to penetrate the interior area in question. In 2019 there are many options in the CCWB and pellet burning categories, but these can differ in terms of how easy they are to install, how much heat they generate and how cost-effective they are to operate; this latter happily being a given.

CCWB fireplaces of varying dimensions and shape feature a large glass panel door that enables the fuel to be viewed as it burns with the rate of consumption being easily monitored by vent controls. The enclosed CCWB units are far more economical on wood or pellet usage when compared to an open hearth fire, yet do the job of heating the interior far better. There are many variables in design and materials and the latest models are most definitely aesthetically appealing. A good quality unit that is correctly located can effectively heat an average living space, especially if centrally placed between two areas, such as living / dining with a pipe flue.

Says Malcom Sims of Infiniti and Lifestyle Fires: ‘Developed over 100 years ago in Europe to provide efficient home heating, CCWB units have updated their looks over time to match architectural styles. They’ve also increased their performance with the best 2019 models now reaching the 80 percent efficiency mark.

‘They burn wood in a sealed steel or cast-iron box, using adjustable air vents that allow control of the rate of consumption, at temperatures up to 1 000°C. At these temperatures wood burns incredibly cleanly with very little emissions; it’s reckoned that the high temperature burning process produces less emissions into the atmosphere than if the wood had been left to rot naturally in a forest. It’s a win for the environment in creating a forestry industry that will reduce carbon in the air.

‘CCWB units are rated as being environmentally friendly in most countries globally and the SA market for these units is currently about 10 000 units per year. Sales each year reduce Eskom demand by 100 million kWhrs per annum and saves up to 15 million litres of water.

‘The Scan & Jotul CCWBs that Lifestyle Fires import from Norway and Denmark are very much top of range units of great style, exceptional design and material and offer very high efficiencies. Those that Infiniti Fires manufacture in Pretoria are well suited to the South African market with powerful heat outputs designed to warm our large, open-plan living spaces, while providing long burn times to keep areas warm overnight.’

An equally attractive and pristine alternative is the modern gas-fed simulated fireplace, and although these may not offer the same visual appeal as wood burning options, they burn more cleanly. And typically create equal heat at manageable cost.

Malcolm Sims: ‘Flueless gas fires – like CCWBs – are designed to maximise heat from the gas burnt. With no heat wasted up a chimney these units are economical to run, while being powerful heaters capable of warming spacious living areas. They offer all the convenience of heat at the flick of a switch, plus great visual effect from the dancing flames.

‘Trends in aesthetics are towards longer and slimmer models with increased demand for both wider CCWBs and Flueless Gas Fires.’

Ruan Basson adds: ‘Heating has happily become more accepting of slicker, contemporary finishes that enable home owners to make their fireplace a part of their overall design style – be it a statement piece or a uniquely integrated installed finish. Gone are the days of an uninviting, eyesore fireplace tucked away in a corner; today’s modern fires offer elegantly executed form, tone, texture and aesthetics to create timeless appeal.’

Due to the variables of heat and cold in much of SA, there is a justifiable case for synergised heating / cooling solutions. In most regions, the autumn / winter months are shorter than the spring / summer period in a 40 percent to 60 percent ratio approximately. In 2019, combined heat / cool functionality makes sense and the latest state-of-the-art air conditioning units deliver silent efficiency with an integrated heat pump facility.

An example is Daikin’s new Bluevolution range designed for maximum ease of use and low running costs, while creating a healthy indoor climate. The 2019 models include the new Daikin Emura, based on the award-winning design of its predecessors, and the FTXM indoor and Multi outdoor range.

Bluevolution is rated up to A+++ for maximum energy efficiency in both heating and cooling modes. All models are optimised for seasonal energy efficiency, taking into account local climate zones and seasonal temperature differences throughout the year, to deliver further energy savings through automatic system adjustments.

Virtually noise-free in operation, the range incorporates the latest developments in climate control technology: intelligent eye sensors automatically adjust air flow to minimise draughts and reduce output in unoccupied rooms to save energy, while 3D airflow provides even temperatures throughout the interior for optimum comfort.

The new FTXM indoor unit incorporates Daikin’s latest Flash Streamer, which uses high speed electrons to decompose allergens, smells and bacteria without collecting mold and viruses – delivering cleaner air in as little as ten minutes.

Daikin has been proactive in the development of air conditioning systems that have a lower environmental impact, with the refrigerant choice a key factor in the drive to reduce global warming. Bluevolution uses R-32 refrigerant, with a lower environmental impact, which is safe to handle and already fully compliant with new EU regulations on the use of refrigerants in home air conditioning systems that are due to be introduced in 2025.

Many examples of contemporary South African architecture pose seasonal problems due to large areas of glass that require suitable cladding to prevent heat loss and / or penetration. A very aesthetic and decorative solution is to install shutters or blinds; but thermally-efficient glass panels are another plus. Lastly, insulation helps in delivering a positive result that’s not prohibitively costly.

What are the advantages, trends and eco-benefits of sun control with window cladding such as shutters?

‘For anyone renovating or building a home, energy efficiency is a key factor. From insulation to location, how the home is designed and built can have a direct impact on the amount of energy used, which makes the choice of window and door treatments more crucial than ever,’ so says Karina Palmer of American Shutters.

She continues: ‘Window treatments are constantly changing as per the requirements of the modern home with new materials and designs being introduced as the sector evolves. However, shutters have been around for centuries, not only because they are practical and aesthetically pleasing, but because they help to insulate the glass panes of windows and doors, which are responsible for the largest amount of heat loss and gain. The added benefit of installing shutters with adjustable louvres allows for the warming or cooling of an interior space with natural ventilation, while simultaneously controlling the sun’s light and heat.

‘Eco-friendly window treatments are identified as being particularly ‘green’, based on their material content, functional performance and recycling potential. Traditionally, shutters are manufactured from wood which, when sustainably harvested, not only reduces the harm on the environment but also provides energy-saving advantages thanks to its natural ability to keep rooms warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

‘The more recent introduction of aluminium as a material for shutter manufacturing is proving popular for its security and all-weather features rather than for insulation capabilities; however the fact that aluminium is 100 percent recyclable also contributes towards its eco-friendly choice. Through our ongoing international research and the need for solutions within our industry, we strive to combine the need for aesthetics with the drive for energy efficiency and sustainable design.’

Winter is almost upon us. In cash-strapped 2019 SA, keeping warm for the next four months will be a part of most residential budgets. Choose well and spend wisely.


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