Gorgeous Green House

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


Free Compost


Leaves scrounged from my neighbours

As the Southern Hemisphere is moving into Winter, Autumn first provides her most important harvest:  fallen leaves.  Natures perfect cycle of replenishment to the soil and the provision of nourishment for all life in the ecosystem.  And what do we do with this abundant gift?  We sweep it up into plastic bags and send it off to land fill.  Come spring we drive to the garden center and buy compost in more plastic bags.

Where did we get this idea that leaves are unsightly and need to be done away with?  When you think about it for a minute it really makes no sense. I appreciate that leaves on hard surfaces are not a good idea so lets sweep them into the flower beds where the mulching provides moisture and nutrition through the harsher winter months.

Exquisite winter colour well nourished by compost

Exquisite winter colour well nourished by compost

Once you get excited about the difference it makes to your garden  (check out my winter colour!) you get quite greedy for the stuff.  I frequently stop on verges as I see people raking leaves into bags and ask them if I can have them.  I get a few strange looks (and comments) but most people are too flummoxed to say no!  hopefully I leave them with some food for thought.

Easy to make wire leaf cage

Easy to make wire leaf cage

I am currently just making a big pile with the leaves but if you prefer a slightly neat tidier approach I’ve also made this very simple cage out of wire fencing.

In a few months beautiful quality compost for free!


Green Demolition Can Be Easy and Fun


Slate roof conserved for another home.

One of the least green aspects of building or renovating is the waste that is created.  Figures from North America estimate that 3 600 kg of waste are typically thrown into the landfill during the construction of a 700 square metre home. Landfill operations are generally under pressure and are expensive.  Transportation to sites, normally at a distance from residential areas, increases the carbon footprint of a project. Waste from sources such as solvents or chemically treated wood can result in soil and water pollution.

Doors, sink etc to be re-used

Doors, sink etc to be re-used

What I’ve learned is that it is really easy and fun to minimize waste. Many  materials can be re-used. I’m saving items such as doors, stainless steel sinks, balustrading, metal gates curtain rails etc to put into the new house.


Oregon floor gone to new home and cavity to be filled with rubble

The Oregon floor has already been lifted and installed in a new home.  The slate tiling is being carefully stacked for the same.

The cavity left in the floor will be filled with the rubble from the walls to be demolished.


Brick paving will be reinvented to veggie planters

Re-purposing other materials just needs a little planning. For example, all the brickwork in the garden is being lifted and stacked to be reincarnated into veggie planters.  All decent solid wood from cabinetry and shelving will be re-used for storage units.In South Africa we have programmes whereby flourescent light bulbs and old shower heads can swopped for LED’s and energy-efficient products, green and economical.  Great combo!


Conserving/protecting Pavetta lanceolata with fence. Thanks team!

Perhaps the greenest aspect of Day 1 of this project was measures to conserve.  A fence has been built around our precious Pavetta lanceolata (Bride’s Bush) which is located where it could easily get destroyed.  Thanks Pretty, Wise and 3rd person (still to learn name).  I appreciate that traditional building practices are not very sensitive to the vegetation on site and it means a great deal to us that these measures have been taken.

Lastly, the easiest and most fun part of green demo is donating the multitudes of materials that don’t have much resale value but are desirable to many. Friday was the first day of our build and it is clear that everything from the old melamine kitchen, windows, doors, in fact all manner of materials will find new homes.  People were literally walking in off the street asking what they might have.  So no excuses, South Africans.  We can massively reduce our contribution to landfill and help out a few people at the same time.


Staying Motivated and Keeping the Vision Alive

The Gorgeous Green House property was purchased about 4 years ago.  In October 2011 the architects were briefed and it felt like the dream was beginning to materialize.  Since then endless planning approval issues and delays have been taking their toll on general levels of energy and enthusiasm.  I don’t want this space to be a whining forum so you will be spared the details until they can be condensed into a useful guide to navigate the new SANS (South African National Standards) 10400 building regulations.  I decided I needed and injection of happiness and positivity and a reminder of what this project is all about.

'Forest' Walk

Indigenous ‘Forest’ Walk

I invited some special ‘green orientated’ friends for a picnic in the garden.  We started with a stroll through the indigenous ‘forest’ to admire old trees and newly planted ones.

Picnic Freinds

Picnic Friends

Fascinating Beetle

Fascinating Beetle

We marveled at an extraordinarily beautiful beetle then relaxed on the veranda and oohed and ahhed at the bird and butterfly life.

Newly Resident Egyptian Geese Family

Newly Resident Egyptian Geese Family

We ate  a delicious picnic and talked about the future food that will be grown here, meals to be shared and parties to enjoy and about how absolutely fabulous this urban farm/nature reserve is and how utterly blessed my family is.

The house WILL come when the time is right 🙂

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride's Bush) in full bloom

Pavetta lanceolata (Bride’s Bush) in full bloom

Thank you wonderful people.  It really was a great reminder of the bigger picture and a bolster for the ongoing challenges we have in getting the house aspect of the project underway.


Solar Geysers vs Heat Pumps: cheap can be expensive!

Eskom (South Africa’s national energy provider) has recently conducted a study comparing solar geysers to heat pumps

Solar geyser

The conclusions drawn from the study were:

  • Heat pumps achieve at least 80% of the savings possible with a comparable solar water heating system, but at far lower installation cost.
  • Heat pumps are a cost effective technology for heating water in commercial applications.

They offer this graph to show the reduced payback period for heat pumps attributing it to the lower installation costs of heat pumps.

Pay back Solar Geysor vs Heat Pump (according to ESKOM)

Pay back Solar Geysor vs Heat Pump (according to ESKOM)

This appears to be a reliable endorsement of heat pumps, but here is what they don’t tell you:

  • Eskom do subsidise heat pumps, but do absolutely no performance testing on them.  Currently there are no heat pumps in South Africa with the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) mark of approval. In the solar industry, all products on the subsidy programme had to be tested against SANS 1307 prior to being permitted on the programme.
  • Heat pump providers claim they will save you 60% on your water bills.  Possible yes, if every day was an optimum weather day with low humidity and high ambient temperatures.  It is not realist for providers to claim a ratio of the heating provided over the electrical energy consumed (COP) of 3:1, it will average out at 1:1.5.  This assumes you have purchased a quality machine and the large majority of the cheap heat pumps were actually designed as under floor heaters!   To achieve water temperature of 55 degrees the pressure has to be raised from the 18 bar (which it was designed for) to the 38 bar setting.  Making the compressor work at this level is a bit like placing a brick on the gas pedal of a V8.  It’s going to fail!
  • Heat pumps require a sanitary condenser.  This ensures that in the event of a failure no contamination of your water occurs.  When this happens in heat pumps without condensers, the smell of hot oil lingers in the hot water taps.  For this reason Australia and New Zealand have banned non sanitized condenser units, no such restriction are applied in South Africa!
  • Heat pumps are cheaper than solar geysers. Yes, but you still need to buy or connect your heat pump to an electrical geyser and that cost is seldom factored in to the comparison.
  • Heat pump suppliers will tell you that because the sun doesn’t shine at night you will have a cold shower in the morning.  Not true!  A good quality solar system, correctly sized, is designed to supply 24hrs of hot water from 6hrs of sunshine.
  • A final scary scenario to consider:  you purchase a heat pump which fails.  Your phone your insurance company who refute the claim because it in a non- SABS product.  The plumber has disappeared because he bought a container from the east and is getting so many phone calls he’s ‘shut up shop’ and disappeared.  Finally you phone Eskom, as your logic says they’ve provided a subsidy therefore perhaps can provide some sort of relief. They will refer you to point 6 on the subsidy form which states that they take no responsibility for the performance or quality of your heat pump!
polygala virgata

Polygala virgata currently in flower. Beautiful delicate shrub, perfect for urban gardens.

You then go out and purchase a solar geyser!


The South African Mechanical Engineer VOL 62





End to Procrastination

August 21, 2012 by gorgeousgreenhouse | 1 Comment

Hi Everyone.

I’ve been procrastinating for months about getting this blog started; boring to tears those nearest and dearest with my relentless obsession about our green project and my promises to ‘get the information out there’ must be wearing thin:  so time to get over this irrational, brain numbing, unexplainable, cold sweat inducing fear that confronts each and every time I click on my dashboard/theme options/widgets and endless other new techo jargonny places and possibilities…and just accept that it won’t be perfect (ha, is that a breakthrough?) and focus on the intention/outcome and trust that it will have greater value than the slipups I will make along the way.  Bear with me and hopefully with LOTS of constructive feedback you will let me know if my tech stuff is working but more importantly whether the info and my delivery is useful or not.

Please check out my ‘ABOUT’ button (top RH side alongside heading) for jaaa… stuff about the blog (apologies to the generation that were ‘plugged in’ from birth, some of us appreciate a little direction).

My current idea is to focus on one aspect of the greening project in each post, with nifty ‘CATAGORIZATION’ (RHS) for future reference rather than doing a sort of ‘life in the week’ thing which is obviously fascinating to my immediate circle of 8 but not necessarily to people who are actually interested in greening their own lives.

My first post will be about the architectural genius design of our beautiful home, so watch this space.  To sign up / ‘FOLLOW’ click on said button (small black button bottom RHS in the leaf border) and follow instruction to get notifications of new posts.