Gorgeous Green House

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


A Case For Investing in Solar Energy: East Coast Radio Interview

ECREast Coast Radio are running a wonderful series on sustainability and eco issues with Kerry Dell. It is aired on Wednesdays at 09:00 pm.  I was included to share our experiences around investing in Solar Energy.  My intention is to help people think about this investment in a broader context,  which includes the ROI!  Here is the link:




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South Africa’s wind and solar power busts major renewable energy myth

Solar and wind power

THIS SHOULD BE ON THE FRONT COVER OF EVERY NEWSPAPER!  As per previous post, we really don’t need to be spending billions on coal and nuclear power stations.

Re-blogged  from My Broabdand

Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar energy company, has released a research report which states that South Africa’s wind and solar power generation matches electricity demand in the country.

Mainstream analysed wind and solar resource data from 2013 for 18 wind and solar sites across South Africa.

The sites analysed represent a potential combined generation capacity of 42,000 megawatts – 30,000MW wind and 12,000MW solar.

The analysis set out to predict how much electricity the 18 sites could generate and at what times of the day.

The results showed that local wind and solar resources generate power at times of the day when it is needed.

The research further found that when wind and solar generation are combined, the net effect is a significant contribution to baseload power.

Mainstream’s CEO Eddie O’Connor said the initial analysis underpins the government’s commitment to renewable energy.

“Not only are wind and solar power cheaper than new fossil fuel generation here in South Africa, but when combined, they can make a significant contribution to baseload power at the time of day it is most needed,” he said.

The graph below shows the country’s wind and solar hourly generation profile, and the 2008 national demand profile.

Wind and solar power in South Africa

Busting a major renewable energy myth

Penny-Jane Cooke, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, said this research is significant in busting a big renewable energy myth.

“This research effectively busts one of the biggest myths created by the anti-renewables lobby: that we require coal and nuclear generation to provide for baseload demand as renewable energy sources cannot meet this demand,” she said.

She said what is interesting about this research is that this phenomenon does not occur everywhere in the world.

“This means that South Africa is in a unique position to make the most of renewable energy.”

“Contrary to what has been argued about how renewable energy is not available when it is most needed, in South Africa the sun shines and the wind blows when electricity is most needed.”

“This should be enough of a reason to remove the barriers to renewable energy immediately – it’s not rocket science.”


What is the Cost of Going Solar?

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Solar geyser and panels on The Gorgeous Green House

Government mandated power outages for South Africans are to be part of our lives for many years to come.  As we complain and our economy suffers  one might think that many people and organisations of reasonable means are installing solar systems.  This is not so.

Barriers to entry are certainly perceived high cost, but also general lack of knowledge of how these systems work.

One of the frequently asked questions about The Gorgeous Green House is ‘how much did your solar system cost’?

I’ve learned that if I answer the question directly people’s eyes tend to glaze over and they mentally check out of the conversation.  I wish to challenge people to think differently about the subject as it may lead to a different set of conclusions (and hopefully actions!).   So I now answer that question with the following questions:

  • Do you know what you are currently paying for electricity? (you would be surprised at how many  people can’t answer this question)
  • Do you know what increases are on the cards going forward?
  • Have you drawn up a spreadsheet to really get to grips with what you will be spending over the next few years?

We did this exercise, and based on our rather shocking, (but not unusual) $200.00 (aprox. R2000.00) per month electricity bill, we projected our forward costs based on the 12.2% increase that we experienced this year and the 25% increase that ESKOM are asking for. As we have installed, these costs are now savings.

This is what it looks like in South African Rands (divide by 10 for a rough conversion to American dollars):

Old (Non-eco) House Electricity Account:

Aprox 2 000.00 per month

  12.2 % Annual Increase Accumulative Saving 25% Annual Increase Accumulative Saving
2014 24 000.00   24 000.00  
2015 26 880.00 50 880.00 30 000.00 54 000.00
2016 30 105.56 80 985.56 37 500.00 91500.00
2017 33 337.48 114 323.04 46 875.00 138 375.00
2018 37 899.46 152 222.50 58 593.75 196 968.75
2019 42 523.19 194 745.69

Like us, you may be rather shocked at how much you will be spending on electricity over the next few years.  The reality is, however, that South African’s have benefited from relatively low rates compared to the rest of the world and on that score we have little to complain about.

Medupi Coal Station.  As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Medupi Coal Station. As unattractive as it is unhealthy.

Our government’s solution to our energy crises is the building of even more filthy, polluting coal powered stations and extremely controversial nuclear stations.  The science shows us that with some political will and sensible interventions we can avoid these options with healthy, earth affirming renewable energy systems.  Starting at home seems like a good place to begin.

If you do you sums as above the next step would be to consult a reputable solar provider  for a quote.  You may be very surprised at the ROI time frame.  Ours will be somewhere between 4 and 5 years. If your quote to go ‘off grid’ is not possible, why not start smaller.  You can add to and expand your system very easily as your means allow.  In the meantime at least benefit from avoiding the incessant power failures!

We plan to be in our house for many years so relatively soon we will be scoring financially and using electricity in a way that serves our concern for the health of the planet!

In addition, we continue to lobby our authorities to implement systems to pay small scale electricity generators  for their excess electricity as this will offer further incentive to others to get on board. Watch this space!


Wonderful Professional Images of the Gorgeous Green House

Our architects Sagnelli Associate Architects are entering our project into the  AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture.   The exceptionally talented Grant Pitcher has been commissioned to take the photos for entry.


My favourite is this one. It is a birds eye view shows off the solar technology, roof garden and eco-pool from a vantage point not seen before.

gorgeous green house

Good luck Chen Sagnelli and team for the competition!


Gorgeous Green House Covered by Papers Nationally


It has been a fantastic week of media exposure for the Gorgeous Green House. Lindsay Ord has written up our story and shows how living green can be much more accessible than many people realize.  If you missed the article in your local paper you can see the online IOL version HERE.

Star 125cape-argus




Net Metering: South Africa slow to compensate small scale generators for excess energy

Solar Panels on the Gorgeous Green House

Solar Panels on the Gorgeous Green House

South Africa’s current energy crises resulting in up to 6 hours of blackouts (the term load shedding is misleading) on any given day has everyone’s attention.

In this post I would like to focus on one opportunity that is not yet getting traction in our country but has been fairly commonplace in developed countries around the world for several decades.

Net Metering is a fairly simple idea: it is generally an arrangement with a service provider whereby excess electricity generated by a customer who has installed their own solar/wind/other electricity generating technology is used to offset electric energy provided by the electric utility to the electric consumer during the applicable billing period.

For example, this system has enabled German citizens to build and own nearly half of all the wind turbines, solar PV, and biogas plants in the country. Individual German citizens—not their utility companies–have invested more than $100 billion in renewable energy. They have done so because they are paid a fair price for their electricity and because they can install the size, type, and amount of renewables that is the most economic for them and the best fit for their communities.  energyblog.nationalgeographic.com

This model appears to be a ‘no-brainer’ in its potential to incentivise property owners who can easily calculate a faster return on an investment in alternative energy while contributing to a greener planet.  A document recently released  by NERSA (National Energy Regulator South Africa) has pointed out:

MECHANISMS should be developed to allow the integration of electricity generation by solar panels on residential, commercial and industrial buildings into the power grid.

Nersa’s document comes during what it says has been a great increase over the past year in the number of private rooftop photovoltaic (solar) panels installed on residential and commercial/ industrial premises at the cost of the owners. These are connected to the grid and could feed surplus power back into it.

The owners of a number of rooftop grid-tied solar systems have agreements with municipalities on net-metering, which sets off the electricity consumed with the surplus electricity supplied to the grid.  The Gorgeous Green House has signed such an agreement with our local municipality but are yet to see any credit for surplus electricity. The Mercury Newspaper and IOL have been covering aspects of this story and approached eThekwini for comment as to why the process has not been implemented.  The full story can be accessed here.  Leshan Moddliar from eThewini’s response was:

 “Currently, the municipality is not ideally structured to remunerate renewable small scale embedded generation, as processes are designed to buy power from Eskom and supply customers. When a customer wants to generate electricity, power is now flowing in the reverse direction and it does pose a challenge to integrate to current systems.”

 One can’t help wondering why this ‘structuring’ is taking so long to sort out. We signed our Power Purchase Agreement in October 2013.  Perhaps the real reason is as the NERSA document points out:

“The widespread installation of rooftop solar panels, which is also referred to as embedded generation or distributed generation, poses a real threat to municipal and Eskom revenues,” 

My follow up questions for Leshan are as follows:

  • What has eThekwini/NERSA/ESKOM been doing in the last few years  to address the structural issues that are preventing the implementation of our PPA?
  • Why is it that other municipalities have pilot projects running and NERSA are not inhibiting them?
  • What is eThekwini/NERSA/ESKOM doing to learn from these models and other successful projects around the world?
  • To what extent is eThekwini prioritising this opportunity in light of the energy crises?
  • What are you time lines?
  • What is your comment in terms of the NERSA document (quote above). Is it possible your reluctance to move these projects forward is because it poses a threat to your revenues?

Unfortunately, several e-mails and messages left for Leshan have elicited no response.


Gorgeous Green House Complete!!

Party House!

Perfect Party House!

This post is somewhat later than it should be but I have the best excuse!  We’ve been sharing this beautiful space with our overseas family (10 in all) for 6 weeks and have been incredibly busy chilling, having lots of fun and feasts and just joyfully hanging out.

A good test for a home is a lot of visitors for a protracted amount of time and I am thrilled to report that the GGH works beautifully. The kitchen and open space living area flows brilliantly and dozens of meals were seamlessly put together without bodies bumping into each other.

Thanks to our super efficient solar system we were blissfully unaware that Eskom (SA’s only power utility) gifted South Africans with numerous power outages during this time. We remained switched on, connected and cooking!

The natural swimming pool coped with the daily invasion of overheated, sunscreen coated humans and the fish, shrimp crabs, plants and birds seem no worse for wear for sharing ‘their’ space with us.

The large covered veranda is perfect for our African climate.  It coped with many for several big celebrations (including Christmas Day) and all meals were enjoyed al fresco. This has been our first chance to soak up the beautiful garden within which, to date, we’ve enjoyed whilst hard at labour rather than relaxation!

The veggie garden, although not properly planted as yet, provided an abundance of deliciousness and a foretelling of how are food lives will be in ‘normal’ mode.

In celebration of the finishing of the house I thought it would be fun to document the journey with ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘now’ images.  At the beginning of this journey I wrote on my ‘About’ page that part of OUR MISSION was to provide:

inspiration, information and motivation to others to follow suit.  We wish to de-bunk myths such as ‘green is ugly’…….

I also shared in one of my early posts:

Several years ago when I started talking about my dream of building a ‘green house’ a friend said “oh I saw one of those … a kind of hobbit house…really ugly”.  So the first misconception to clear up is that green design has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the house!  Whatever your taste (hobbit-like or otherwise) one can incorporate green design principles.  Essentially it means building in harmony with the natural environment and cooperating instead of fighting with the regional climate. 

Now we are at the end of the project (at least the building part) I do so hope that these images represent a realization of that early goal.  I look forward to your feedback.

Front View 'Before'

Front View ‘Before’

Front View During

Front View ‘During’

Front View 'Now'

Front View ‘Now’

Back View LHS 'Before'

Back View LHS ‘Before’

Back View LHS During

Back View LHS During

Back View LHS 'Now'

Back View LHS ‘Now’


Entertainment/barbecue Area 'Before'

Entertainment/barbecue Area ‘Before’

Entertainment/barbecue Area 'Now"

Entertainment/barbecue Area ‘Now”

Pool 'Before'

Pool ‘Before’

At the commence of the build the pool became a pond.

At the commence of the build the pool became a pond.

Reshaping The Pool Area

Reshaping The Pool Area

Constructing the Reed Beds to Filter the Pool

Constructing the Reed Beds to Filter the Pool

Finished result. A beautiful green and healthy place for us to play and relax for years to come.  Click HERE for more details.

Finished result. A beautiful green and healthy place for us to play and relax for years to come. Click HERE for more details.

Old Garage Wall

Old Garage Wall

Old Garage Wall Becomes Backdrop for Vertical Garden

Old Garage Wall Becomes Backdrop for Vertical Garden.  Click HERE for more information.

Mid Way Through Planting Process

Mid Way Through Planting Process

Planting Just Completed

Planting Just Completed


Old Garage Wall Today!



Old Roof Above Kitchen and Lounge

Old Roof Above Kitchen and Lounge

Flat roof replaces old pitched roof providing foundation for roof garden which is off the master bedroom.

Flat roof replaces old pitched roof providing foundation for roof garden which is off the master bedroom.

Layers of Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.

Layers of Geotextile (white) then Flow Cell mats.

Early stages of planting

Early Stages of Planting

Roof Garden 'Now'

Roof Garden ‘Now’. Click HERE for more information


Outside Dinning Area Before

Outside Dinning Area ‘Before’

Outside Dinning Area 'Now'

Outside Dinning Area ‘Now’

Old Outbuilding with Lemon Tree foreground

Old Outbuilding with Lemon Tree foreground

New Veggie Garden with Lemon Tree Still Pride of Place

New Veggie Garden with Lemon Tree Still Pride of Place



Back View 'Before'

Back View ‘Before’

Back View 'Now'

Back View ‘Now’

Original Store Room and Washing Line Area

Original Store Room and Washing Line Area

Storeroom now a Granny Flat and Washline Screened off with Recycled Plastic Fence

Storeroom now a Granny Flat and Washline Screened off with Recycled Plastic Fence

Area Outside Kitchen 'Before'

Area Outside Kitchen ‘Before’

Outside Kitchen Area 'now'

Outside Kitchen Area ‘now’


Gorgeous Green House Featured in Green Home Magazine

Cover Green home magWe are thrilled that our green message is being picked up by other publications.  Thank you Green Home Magazine for sharing our story.  They have shared an electronic version.  Click here  and go to p.12 to see what a wonderful job they have done!

Green home mag p.12


Gorgeous Green Dream Kitchen

It’s a cliche that the kitchen is the heart of the home.  For families who love to cook and eat together, though, it is true. After many years of cooking (often alone) in a kitchen separate from the rest of the house I was excited about designing a space that was more open plan, with the main cooking and prepping area integrated with the dinning and lounge, but with a scullery area tucked out of sight.

View from dining room/lounge

View from dining room/lounge

I trust you will agree, that even if you have no interest in the green stuff, this is a beautiful kitchen.  You know you’re getting the green info any way, so here goes:

We chose bamboo for the cabinetry as it is the most extraordinary sustainable product.  It grows up to 10 cm per day (is actually a grass) and is as hard as nails by the time it is processed into a ‘plank’.  A far greener option than any wood you could choose. Better still, it has been heat processed to give it this gorgeous caramel colour, which will never scratch off like a stain/coloured varnish.  So for those of you who have been put off all the ‘blonde’ bamboo that’s mostly available this other option may be of interest.  Darryn Kemper from Woodkraft Kitchens did the installation.  Wonderful precision craftmanship, thank you Darryn, it was a joy watching you work!

Bamboo cabinetry edges close up

Bamboo cabinetry edges close up

I love the way the lamination is visible on the edges of the panels and doors – proudly announcing that this is a special material!

Composte work surface with 60% recycled content

Composte work surface with 60% recycled content

We found this fabulous work top product from Samsung.  It has aproximately 60% recycled content in it.  Natural granite is hard pressed to compete for beauty and no hillsides have been demolished in the process.  This particular composite has unusual copper coloured flecks in it – a beautiful tie-in to the colour of the bamboo.  Tracey and her team from Flintstone Granite and Marble did a wonderful job on the installation. Lots of tricky elements and cut outs all executed beautifully.

Recycling bins

Recycling bins

We thought long and hard about the re-cycling storage.  At one point we were thinking about ‘post boxes’ to outside bins. This could have led to a lot of broken glass so we went more conventional with large pull out drawers with off-the-shelf plastic bins lined with the bags that they go to the re-cycling depot in. I’ve made the bags out of large feed sacks simply by sewing on handles. Works like a charm.

Worm food drawer

Worm food drawer

After years of having containers with the worm food (vegetable, fruit cuttings) sitting on bowls on the counter top a special drawer was planned to scoop the peelings into as we go.  Far less unsightly.

Scullery area, small induction geyser under sink

Scullery area, small induction geyser under sink

We were also concerned about heating water and really wanted to stick to installing one solar geyser in the house.  The kitchen is at the furthermost point from the geyser which would not really have been practical as heat would have been lost over the distance. Our solution was this tiny induction geyser that sits under the sink.  It heats only 10L at a time, more than enough for a sink of dishes.  Perfect!

All the appliances are energy efficient.  Shop around and ask all the specific questions.  It is not just the expensive brands that do green appliances.  I am particularly thrilled with the induction hob.  After being a confirmed gas lover for many year (instant heat) I wasn’t easily convinced that it would work as well.  I am delighted to report that the heat is quicker, hotter and ‘off’ quickly to.  It is so easy to clean and ‘disappears’ into the work surface.  Best of all uses very little electricity, so it made sense as we are generating our own, not to bring another non-renewable product into the home.

Induction hob

Induction hob

The taps are also cleverly designed to minimize water use..  Grohe have a wonderful range of water wise sanware to choose from.

The splash back has no green credentials, but for those that are interested it is not mirror but brown glass painted black on the back which makes it somewhat reflective.  A beautiful final touch!

Bonus pic:  Dendrobium aggregatum growing on Bridelia next to verhanda

Bonus pic: Dendrobium aggregatum growing on Bridelia next to verhanda



This kitchen is a joy to cook in and we look forward to many many years of feeding family and friends from the beautiful space.



Daily News Covers The Gorgeous Green House


Today the Daily News published the third article on the most Gorgeous Green House on the planet!

Click HERE to read the on line version.

Thank you Lindsay Ord and Marilyn Bernard for getting this information to a wider audience. Fingers crossed it will inspire and motivate others to look at some greening options in their own home.


Photo Update

The build seems to have accelerated, or maybe its just because we are starting to get to the best bits.  The most exciting installation, so far, is the vertical garden.  I’m going to be really mean though, and not show you a single picture yet because it is so magnificent, and the landscape artist James Halle is so talented, it has to have its very own post with lots of elaboration.  Watch this space!

Floating staircase

Floating staircase

The shuttering has come off the ‘floating’ staircase, and although this is not a green aspect of the build it is so beautiful I just need to show it off!

The interior painting has commenced.  There are loads of eco-friendly paints on the market these days.  They are much lower in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which basically means toxic stuff our bodies don’t like.  Confirm this with your paint supplier though because you won’t automatically get a low

Low VOC paint primer

Low VOC paint primer

VOC paint as there are still mixed perceptions about its efficacy.  Rest assured, they are equally effective and no more expensive than traditional.

veggie box

Mesh lining veggie box

The veggie garden now has 3/5 veggie boxes installed.  We are using a plastic timber product. These recycled planks are now widely available.  They are 100% recycled plastic so get great green points.  We lined the base with chicken mesh too keep out the moles.  Galvanized rods secure the sides from bowing out. This stuff will last forever, looks attractive, is easy to install and cheaper than recycled brick options which we had considered

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

Trichocladus crinatus

Trichocladus crinatus

I was really excited to see my Trichocladus crinitus (Black Witch-hazel) in flower. This small indigenous tree is quite rare and the petal form delicate and unusual.

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

There are lots of eco-friendly options for insulation these days.  We’ve gone with a product made from recycled plastic bottles.  The recycled newspaper product was a close contender.  The team on site report that the green stuff is really great to work with as it doesn’t shed prickly bits like the more traditional pink products.


Off Shutter Concrete

Off Shutter Concrete

The off-shutter concrete wall has had its first of two buffs and polishes.  It looks fabulous. I love the industrial /contemporary aesthetic and the honesty of the material.  Its a great ‘hard’ contrast to the green abundance of the garden.  Very happy with how its turned out.

Erythrina humeana

Erythrina humeana

The Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral Tree) are exquisite at the moment.  A really showy splash of red at the bottom of the garden.    

The pool has a new rectangular shape and fits snugly into the space of the old.  The reed beds are almost complete. It’s going to be great fun planting them up.  I’ll be sharing much more information on how to install an eco pool.  Suffice to say at this stage that the plants will do all the filtering of the water and no harsh chemicals will be required.  The plants and water provide the foundation for the wetland eco-system and we look forward to the

New Rectangular shape to pool

New Rectangular shape to pool

Reed beds constructed

Reed beds constructed

bird, amphibian and insect life we will be attracting.

Next to the veggie garden we have two of the Baunia’s in flower at the same time.  Gorgeous!

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia tomentosa

Bauhinia tomentosa

The whirly gigs are on site. Prith and Eamonn are finding them quite amusing.  Definitely a first for them as they are usually found in industrial builds.  We are putting them in to draw and pull up the cool air that will pass over the pond outside and into the hallway.  The best way to reduce the need for air conditioning in this space.

Whirly gig

Whirly gig

So overall fantastic progress!  And still so many of the best bits to come:

  • Vertical Garden (as promised)
  • Roof Garden
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Eco Pool
  • Veggie garden
  • Chickens
  • Bees
  • Worm farming
  • Grey water recycling
  • Solar system
  • Induction geysers
  • plus…plus… plus


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.


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






So What’s the Problem With Eskom Power?

We’ve all been grumbling in recent years at Eskom’s unreliable provision of electricity and are aghast at recent tariff increases.  Brace yourselves; Eskom is targeting an average annual increases of around 15% for the next five years.  The rate you per kWh depends on how much you use.

Figures from ESKOM website

Yet compared to global consumers our electricity bills are cheap.  Europeans for example are paying 4 times as much.

Coal is the most polluting energy source on the planet, and the main cause of the world’s CO2 emissions. (In addition it spews out nitrous oxide (N20), hydrofluorocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs) and methane (CH4). These emissions trap the sun’s heat and warm the planet, adding to the earth’s natural greenhouse effect. Coal ash, the solid waste produced contains large quantities of toxic metals, including mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and selenium.

South Africa is the world’s fifth largest producer of coal, and is the sixth largest consumer on the planet.

The reality though is that the price we pay does not reflect our real cost.  South Africa’s addiction to coal generated electricity (only 1% of our electricity is coming from renewable resources) has other externalised costs including the following:

  • Acid mine drainage
  • Air pollution
  • Polluted water, massive use of water in production
  • Tunnels causing instability
  • Coal miners and local communities health and high mortality rate
  • Environment and eco-system degradation from the physical process of extracting the coal
  • Long term environment and eco-system degradation as a consequence of the greenhouse gases produced.

The University of Pretoria’s Business Enterprises unit has just released a report entitled The True Cost of Coal which clearly outlines the impact of continuing on this path.  The projected externalised costs (the ones that don’t appear on your utility bill) for the proposed new Kusile mine alone are a whopping R60.6 billion (766,656,000.00 USD) a year! The same report outlines the benefits of the transition to renewables, including far greater job creation and potentially faster provision to communities who are as yet not connected to the grid.  There are still 10 million South Africans without power (nearly 20% of us) and the technology is here to do it clean and safely.

But….How Much Will it Cost the Average Household to go Solar?

Before answering that question I urge you to look at your current energy costs.  Scrutinize your electricity bill.  Look at how many Kwh you are currently using.  The Eskom table above could be a little misleading as my family is currently paying R1.02 (0.12 USD) per kWh. Calculate what you will be paying based on a 15% annual increase over the next say 10 – 15 years.  Try not to fall off your chair in a dead faint!

Eskom have a nifty calculator on their website that allows you to drop in your current kWh consumption and it shows you what you are paying and how much you will pay next year.  Go to http://www.eskom.co.za/c/53/tariffs-and-charges/ and click on the residential tariff comparison tool.

I worked out that if my family were to continue in our current very non-green house with our current shocking consumption of 1664 kWh per month our electricity spend over the next 10 years   would    be in the region of R694 995.93 (80367 USD).  Over the next 13 years    R1 236 697.00 (143 013.00 USD). Your own calculation may well provide similar impetus to explore alternatives! So clearly ‘dirty energy’ is costing us at all levels, but it still boils down to ‘what can I afford now’?

For several years I’ve had a minor obsession with the notion of ‘getting off the grid’.  I would ask vendors at Sustainability Expo’s and the like “how much for a family of 5 to set up to get off the grid”?  Five years ago the response would be a sorrowful shake of the head and responses like “maybe just aim to get your water heated and supply your lights”.  If I pushed the numbers ranged around the 1 Million Rand (116 000.00 USD) mark.  Fortunately the cost of photovoltaic (PV) cells is falling fast and some say that they will be at grid parity with Eskom by 2015.  (David Lishitz: Our Power Station).

I’ve been researching options, talking to vendors and doing some sums.  I recommend that you talk to   www.solarsunsa.co.za   who will walk your through the minefield of technicalities to help you understand your options.  Please beware of the plethora of inferior imports.

I’ve worked my calculations based on an annual consumption of 6694 kWh which is feasible if you make some changes.  For example, just switching to a solar geyser or heat pump can reduce your use by 40%.  (Note:  I plan to post a lot more all options to reduce energy consumption, including the hotly debated solar geyser vs heatpumps issue!).

The bottom line:   to get 97% off the grid your costs (panels, inverters, batteries, display screen, controllers, installation/labour etc.) from a reputable provider will cost approximately R340 000.00 (39317.92 USD).

I know, I know!!!  It’s a massive amount of money but if you plan to be in your home for a while you will get your money back by year 13.5 and thereafter you are laughing.  Remember the 15% increases we are promised? The scenario in the previous paragraph plays out like this:

So sadly, it’s clear at this point that only the wealthy can afford to make the investment (and benefit from the longer term payback) but is this not true of most investments?  Perhaps this is the way to view the opportunity?  My sense is that if industry, government and private households just get this thing started volumes will drive costs in the right direction, enabling more and more people access, encouraging further price reductions etc.  What will also create incentive is the ability to ‘sell back’ our excess energy when we have more than we need.  This is standard in other first world countries so fingers crossed we will catch up soon.

So, if you’ve got the means to make this investment and want to look at the viability for yourselves where to start?

Designing Your Solar System

Assuming you have already reduced your energy usage via the usual switch to LED’s, energy efficient appliances, solar geysers/heatpumps, general energy conscious living etc. start talking to vendors in the industry about how they would put together a system for you and what the costs would be based on your kWh consumption. Ask for a range of quotes to take you from 60% – 95% ‘off the grid’.

Battery Enclosure

You need to have a place to put your panels, and batteries, display screen and converters etc. That all needs to be planned for and a good specialist should advise.  You will need an outside cupboard that is well ventilated.

Most vital to the success of the technology will be the amount of sun you are in a position to harvest.If you are concerned that your intended roof/wall/garden space gets too much shade you

Solar Pathfinder

can ask you vendor to install a Solar Path Finder to calculate how many kWh of energy you will be able to harvest at all months of the year. The first design of our Gorgeous Green House had the panels positioned in the shade of an ancient Albizia adianthifolia (Flat Crown tree), not good! Trevor Wheeler www.solarsunsa.co.za  climbed up on our roof to put the Solar Path Finder in 3 places to take readings for us so we are now confident that our roof now facing North East is going to be right.

Don’t be put off if your are retrofitting and you roof line is wrong.   One can get creative and brackets can be used to place them just about anywhere as the link shows:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC-Xb3uaTk0

IOL Business Report SA Time: Fri Oct 05 2012 11:21:33 GMT+0200 (South Africa Standard Time) http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/News/news/The-True-Cost-of-Coal/

(http://www.precaution.org/lib/08/prn_is_coal_green.081106.htm) ( World Coal Association. 2010. Coal Statistics. http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/