Gorgeous Green House

The Renovation Journey of a 1940’s ‘Traditional’ to 2015 ‘Contemporary, Green & Gorgeous’


A Few Thoughts on ‘The Green Economy’

I was invited to an interactive seminar on the Green Economy a little while ago.  I might have been the only person in the room who doesn’t make their living providing ‘green’ products and services or is in a job related to the green industry.  So, as I had nothing but knowledge (and a few new friends) to gain I could sit back and take it all in.  For what it’s worth, here is my take on the day: The conversation about the opportunities and constraints of the green economy revolved around what I’m thinking of as the three C’s:  Consciousness, Compliance and Competitiveness.  A slight departure from the 6 P’s of traditional marketing wisdom.


  • Our reality is that there is not a huge level of green consciousness (yet).  This applies to all socio economic levels.  The average consumer is fairly illiterate about sustainability so if you want to build your market you need to invest in raising consciousness.  The research is showing that consumers who are aware start to care more and are often prepared to pay slightly more for a comparable green product or service. I.e. ethics/personal values can be purchasing drivers.
  • Although green consciousness is not yet all pervasive it is growing rapidly. Individuals and organisations are often conscious of the need to have a green image. This may or may not be driven by ethics, but it still represents an opportunity to vendors.
  • The consciousness and ethics of the vendor will determine their own sustainability in the market.  If any form of ‘green washing’ is practiced it is likely they will be exposed in time.  Participants also need to take a good look at their own lifestyle.  To what extent are they providing a positive model for green living?  As Ghandi’s taught us “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.  Participants in the green economy who are living authentically green lives will be assured a more enthusiastic response from the marketplace.


  • The global energy and water crises, coupled with the environmental imperative, are driving governments to legislate for change.  For example, in South Africa our new SANS 10400 ensures far greener practices in the building sector.  (Please see my post of 22 May to navigate some of those challenges).  Other examples include mandatory recycling in many countries, controls in manufacturing processes, banning/control/disposal of substances, protection of ecosystems etc. etc.  For each legal requirement there is a potential for green products and services to be offered.  As individuals and organisations achieve compliance, they are consuming!  The opportunities are growing at an exponential rate.


  • It seems it really is time to stop limiting ourselves with the negativity around the notion that ‘green is too expensive’.  People operating in the green economy need to start being a lot more creative in how they ‘sell’ the value of their offerings. (We already know that ‘preaching’ doesn’t always work!).  As with all classic marketing practice, vendors need to be answering the question ‘what’s in it for me’.  Strategizing for greater volumes at lower profit may also be an opportunity as there will always be a threshold at which the majority of people will not spend more.

Of course, with everything in life the 3 C’s are interconnected. As our consciousness grows, so does our green spend. As more green products and services become available so we consume more.  In time even those without green consciousness will be green consumers whether by choice or not, as the ultimate truth is, that if we don’t all make the shift there won’t be much of anything left at all!

The seminar was hosted by alive2green.


Demolition: the images say it all!

nearly gone

The old house is nearly gone!  Although the footprint for the new Gorgeous Green House is the same as the old,  not much of the original structure is strong enough to remain – one doesn’t argue with the engineer!  Thank goodness the rubble is going to fill in the cavity. Carting that to land fill would be green guilt inducing.  So here is the photo gallery:


The green aspects of the process in terms of the recycling and re-using of elements of the house were covered in the post of 15 May 2013 so I won’t bore with repetition.

Demolition isn’t very comfortable but it does mean that  things are happening and it all feels very real.

We’ve also been so uplifted by the measures of care the building team are taking to protect plants in the garden and are so appreciate the opportunity that they were screened off until they could be moved.  Thanks Prith!

fencing off plants that need to be moved

fencing off plants that need to be moved

Prith our foreman on site

Prith our foreman on site

Not being the type of people to miss an opportunity to celebrate, it was wonderful to share this milestone with special friends over the weekend.  Thanks guys.  Can’t wait to be sipping the champagne in comfort on the new (re-cycled plastic) deck come May next year.

 Standing in the 'lounge'

Standing in the ‘lounge’

A good reason to sip the bubbly stuff

A good reason to sip the bubbly stuff

Bonus pic.  Pycnostachys reticulata currently in flower

Bonus pic. Pycnostachys reticulata currently in flower


Mexican Sunflowers and Yellow Bells: sunny aliens

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)

Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia diversifolia)

May is clearly the best month for yellow alien invasive species in the Kingdom of the Zulu.  This  year seems to be showing a massive leap in populations.

Mexican sunflowers are scraggly shrub growing up to 3.5 M high.  Yellow bells is an evergreen shrub or small tree.  Very ornamental

Read this conjunction with my post of 13th May if you are not sure why alien invader species are a problem  I also offer some indigenous (native) alternatives


The Idiot’s Guide to SANS 10400. (Applicable to all new builds, not just green ones!)

Glandiolus dalenii flowering this month

Safety used to be the primary criteria for glazing. It’s got a lot more complicated!

Until very recently our building standards mainly focused on strength, stability, safety and the like.  Your windows could be as large (or small) as you liked, as long as you could show they wouldn’t kill people (too easily). You could put in as much lighting, heating and air conditioning as your heart desired and you could heat your water in any way you cared to (just about).  Rainwater that accumulated on your roof and other hard services as well as your waste water just needed to be routed into the municipal storm water systems.

This has all changed significantly under the recently released SANS (South African National Standards) 10400 regulations.  And lots of professionals in the building industry have been caught on the hop!  The domino effect has been delays in plans being approved, construction pushed out and in some instances halted, while everyone gets ‘up to speed’, certificated and educated.  It seems that our government’s invitations to consultative processes were largely ignored so the new standards were implemented with little fanfare.  It is only now that non-compliance is being identified by the authorities that architects, designers, builders and suppliers of goods and services to the industry are fast tracking their knowledge and skills.   These standards are not a South African invention.  In fact much of the science has been lifted from all the good work done in the rest of the world.  We are actually lagging far behind and currently only have 30 Green Star Rated buildings to brag about.  Our Green Building Council http://www.gbcsa.org.za has only been in existence since 2007.

So What is SANS 10400 all about? 

Before I go any further with this post I must get my disclaimer in!  I am not an expert on SANS 10400 and can only share the lessons I have learned with my own build.  The standards themselves are complicated and require lengthy calculations. I have no plan to get into the nitty gritties of such, nor will I address the standards in a comprehensive way.  My intention is to rather provide a general overview of what the key challenges are and offer some suggestions on navigating some of the worst bits.

As we are all aware we have an energy crisis in this country, because we’ve felt the pain of power cuts for protracted periods.  We also have a water crisis and infrastructure problems but we haven’t had rolling water outages (yet) or major life taking floods due to overburdened storm water systems so we are still somewhat complacent. By the way, these problems are not unique to SA, they are of concern all over the planet. So essentially, the new regulations have been implemented to mitigate these problems.

Basically, these regulations are forcing all new builds and alterations to be a lot greener than before.  Whether you are interested in building green or not, you won’t get your plans approved/passed until they achieve the minimum requirements.   SANS 10400 needs to be read in conjunction with SANS 204 and they cover everything about buildings from safety, glazing, lighting, ventilation structural design etc. etc.  I will be focusing on some of the issues contained in the Environmental Sustainability and Energy Usage sections (parts X and XA).

These standards may look very onerous but when one considers that 17% of our national energy is used in residential buildings and 10% in commercial ones it is clear that we need to be building a bit smarter.  It’s also quite sobering to learn that the buildings globally are responsible for a third of CO2 emissions either in their construction or lifespan.   The standards are also very complicated.  South Africa is divided into different climatic zones (not always with sound logic is seems) as Durban (annual temperature range 16°  – 28° C) and Mooi River ( 0.6°C  – 24.2°C)  are in the same zone.  There are different standards for different building use and even different calculations to be applied for rooms relating to the different directions they face.          


Qualified Professional

First and foremost you are going to need your intended architect and/or engineer to have been accredited by the Building Control Authority.  Do not assume this is already so.  Many professionals have attended various presentations etc. but unless you find their name on this website:  http://www.buildingcontrol.co.za/page34.html  they are not ‘deemed competent’ and your plans will not be approved.  If they are this far behind the starting blocks you are in for a protracted process of referrals (declined plans).  Best find someone who is qualified to do all the tricky calculations that are going to need to be done and generally up to speed on building green.


If your windows are large you may have to install fixed awnings

Glazing/fenestration/windows are always significant in building for reasons of comfort and aesthetics.  If yours represent more than 15% of your wall area things are going to get complicated because you will potentially take more energy off the grid to cool and heat your building.  Bottom line, you won’t be able to install standard single glazed windows.   To put in larger windows, calculations will have to be done to justify the fenestration plans.  These are based not only on the surface area but the type of glazing and framing proposed, your climactic zone etc. The overall aim is for your windows to let in as little heat as possible in summer (because you will then want to use air-conditioners) and let out as little heat in winter (because you will want to use heaters).  The directional of the window is also part of the calculation.  So basically, if you want big windows you may need to plan for some or all of the following to reduce your electricity draw :  Low E-glazing (film applied to the glass), double or even triple glazing to improve thermal performance, awnings, shuttering and wooden frames rather than aluminium.

Don’t be naive (like me) and believe that the ancient huge trees shading your property will get factored into the calculations.  I was feeling most upset that on one set of ‘referrals’ from council we were advised to install awnings on our very shaded outbuildings. I must confess to feeling rather foolish on taking pictures to council of the trees, cool and moist paving (close ups of moss included!) to have it pointed out that the next owner may just come and cut down the trees and therefore vegetation cannot feature in the calculations around fenestration. Makes sense from that perspective.

You would be very wise to also check that your intended fenestration supplier has had their product appropriately tested:   www.aaamsa.co.za  or www.saggga.co.za or www.safiera.co.za

Renewable Energy

Providing your own energy will not automatically allow you bigger windows.

Fascinatingly, many of the new standards have come into being because of our energy crises, but if your building plans show that you are making provision to make your own via wind turbines or photo voltaic systems (our plan) you will not automatically get Brownie Points that enable you to have for example bigger windows.  The evaluators at council do not have a formula that calculates a relaxation for you because you are generating your own energy.  You might get quite a shock to learn that you need to put in double glazing (double the price) and even lose some of the windows planned. In other words you have not met the category   Deemed-to-satisfy: This path to compliance is met by showing that various building features meet minimum requirements. These include glazing dimensions, insulation thickness and wall types.

To get special dispensation you will have to make a special case. Known as  Rational assessment: This path to compliance allows the use of additional calculations to show that a building, irrespective of glazing size and insulation thickness, uses less energy than either a value provided by the XA standard, or a reference building that complies with the deemed-to-satisfy requirements.  Phew!

Ok, so that jargon just means that if you live in Durban you need to get hold of an electrical engineer who will draw up a whole lot data showing your energy consumption, how much you will supply from your renewable sources and how much you may still need to draw from ESKOM.  Please note, that it must be an electrical engineer, not your architect or your PVC supplier or your favourite blogger’s calculations.  All of this will need to be notarised.    Apparently, however, in the rest of the country this may not be the case as the code only requires only that this “competent person” be qualified on the basis of their experience and training.  It is clear the implementation is not being applied consistently across the country!

Water Heating

Old fashioned electrical geysers are no longer an option. You will be required to install a greener alternative.  You will find some useful information on my posts of December and January on solar and induction geysers and heat pumps.

Water Use, Re-use and Disposal

Our storm water systems are under pressure. All new builds will be scrutinized for their water management plan

Because our storm water systems are under increasing pressure, water disposal on your property will be carefully scrutinized   Your roof area and all your hard surfaces will be measured and depending on the type soil in your area (soil type permitting) you will in all likelihood be required to install an engineer designed soak pit.  These can be very costly in addition to being detrimental to any plants you may have in the garden!

You might be skimming quickly over the paragraph above because you are patting yourself on the back for already making provision for massive volumes of rain water harvesting and storage.  This you are going to use in the loos and showers and washing machine.  In addition, you’ve planned to re-cycle your grey water to irrigate your organic veggies.   You’ve consulted a water expert fundi like Alex Holmes http://www.pulawater.co.za   who has drawn up charts and graphs to show rainfall and your water consumption and you know your excess is tiny.  Your green halo is shining. So you’re exempt right?  WRONG!!  The evaluators do not have rainwater harvesting in their formula so you will need to make a special case for yourself if you want reduce the size of your soak pit.  But do persevere.  Talk to the Storm Water custodians at your local council (not the plan evaluators), make a case and back it up with hard figures and fingers crossed.  There are many sustainable options that could be implemented.

Water management is such an important topic that is going to need its own post to do it justice so watch this space.

Building materials

Bricks/block, roofing, insulation, pipe lagging (yes apparently we need insulation for pipes in a city that never gets cold) etc. etc. must be carefully considered. Many of the materials you use will have associated energy related numbers that may or may not be acceptable.  There is a plethora of new products on the market.  Please be very wary of ‘Green Washing’.  Look for SA Bureau of Standards approval and other relevant ratings and or registrations.

I know that if you put together a competent team on your build and do your homework, you should be able to navigate these regulations with relative ease.


Pretty but Dangerous: alien plants do harm

Image result for Senna bicapsularisPretty yellow flowering shrubs are currently blooming all over Durban (and further afield).  What many people don’t realise is that these plants are alien invaders.

A plant is classified as ‘alien’ when it has the ability to spread without the assistance of people and is destructive to the environment, bio-diversity or human interests.

They are fast growers, produce massive amounts of seed and because the come from countries with different ecosystems the usual predators, diseases and parasites that keep them in check are not in place.  They overtake our indigenous plants and upset the equilibrium that eco-systems require to be healthy.  As plant species are crowed out the insect, bird and animal species are likewise impacted.

Distinctive leaf and flower makes identification of this alien easy

I was quite shocked to discover at the Gorgeous Green House  that I had three of these pretty ‘horrors’ lurking behind my Carissa hedge. Alerted only because they’ve just come into flower.  Time now being of the essence (before they set seed and pollute my entire neighbourhood) we needed to get out the clippers. It didn’t take long to get them down to stumps as the wood is fairly soft.  It is  imperative after this step to  ‘kill’ the stump with a mixture of diesel and herbicide (your nursery will advise).  No need to break your back digging the things out.  Keep an eye on it though as they are tenacious and may need follow-up ‘painting’ as they will try to sprout.

Now the fun part begins!  What to replace them with?

Flowers of Ochna serrulata

Carnival Ochna, Ochna serrulata

Tree Laburnum, Calpurnia aurea

Curry Bush, Hypericum revolutum

Yellow bauhinia, Bauhinia tomentosa

There are so many gorgeous indigenous (native) yellow flowering trees and shrubs that we are spoilt for choice.  Indigenous alternatives will draw birds, butterflies and other wildlife while still providing the beauty the Senna offers.  If I consider alternatives that have similar visual appeal these top my list:  Showy Ochna (Ochna natalitia), Carnival Ochna (Ochna serrulata),  in fact the whole Ochna family, some are better inland, Curry Bush (Hypericum revolutum) though that’s also better slightly inland not coastal, Wild Laburnum (Calpurnia aurea), Senna petersiana would be great for the highveld, and Yellow Bauhinia (Bauhinia tomentosa).

Senna pietersiana

If you don’t live in my province or country these options obviously don’t apply.  A good nurseryman will know local indigenous plants for you.

Failing which of course there is always the power of Google!

I’m going to print this page and pop it into the post boxes of neighbours who have these plants, I hope they find it helpful.


Avaaz Helps Create Breathing Space for Our Bees

Bees worldwide are under threat.  Bee colonies are collapsing on a frightening scale. The main culprit that has emerged is a new type of insecticide which is a neurological toxin that affects information processing in the bee’s brain.  After a while they can’t navigate home.  Foraging bees die before they can get back to feed the babies or they pass it onto the babies and queen.  In SA we are now using these toxic insecticides even though they have been banned in Germany, France and England.

Bees pollinate two-thirds of all our food.  Their contribution to the SA citrus industry alone accounts for 1.6 million rand in value.  When scientists noticed that silently, they were dying at a terrifying rate, Avaaz swung in to action, and kept on swinging until they won. This week’s victory is the result of two years of flooding ministers with messages, organizing media-grabbing protests with beekeepers, funding opinion polls and much, much more.

As Einstein pointed out:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Bernie, the huge inflatable bee, helps deliver the 2.6m strong petition to Brussels

Some good news.  Avaaz’s activism has convinced the politicians in Europe to ban these lethal insecticides.  Vanessa Amaral-Rogers from the specialist conservation organisation Buglife, says:“It was a close vote, but thanks to a massive mobilisation by Avaaz members, beekeepers, and others, we won! I have no doubt that the floods of phone calls and emails to ministers, the actions in London, Brussels and Cologne, and the giant petition with 2.6 million signers made this result possible. Thank you Avaaz, and everyone who worked so hard to save bees!”

However, the EU ban is only in place for 2 years pending further review. In South Africa and across the world there’s lots of work to do to ensure sound science guides our farming and environmental policies. 

PS: Let’s keep this going — chip in to ensure we can launch rapid-fire, multi-tactic campaigns on the issues we all care about: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bees_victory/?boAYgab&v=24668