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:






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!


Join the Rooftop Revolution, it’s the Solar Solution!

Join the Rooftop Revolution

We’ve got 24 hours for South Africa to Go Solar!


In the midst of a crushing electricity crisis, Greenpeace considers it a right of every South African to produce their own power, and to feed extra electricity into the grid and get paid for it as a long-term energy solution.

This means being permitted to put solar panels onto rooftops and connecting to a decentralized energy system, where energy can be generated near the place where it is needed. This would have a double impact of increasing energy efficiency, while allowing electricity production to finally be in the control of the people who need it.

As we have seen in examples in more than 50 countries, a rooftop revolution is not only feasible, it is ready to go.

So this is great news!

What is holding this back? Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork, with barriers imposed by the South African government.

YOU can change this!

Greenpeace is urging government to make the process feasible for South Africans.
we are sending a formal submission to NERSA (the National Energy Regulator of South Africa), and with your help we can put the pressure on NERSA to simplify the regulations governing installing solar panels and feeding extra electricity into the grid.

It’s pretty technical, but essentially we believe that if you sign this petition to NERSA then there is a clear indication of support for simplifying the regulations, and focusing on helping people install solar panels, rather than burying them in paperwork. 



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’


Great News: Gorgeous Green House to be an Embedded Generator!

Every sector has its share of jargon and the renewable energy area can be very confusing.  Two years ago the title of this post would have been meaningless to me and now it’s cause for celebration!

Embedded generation is the term used for any electricity generating ‘plant’ that is connected to the regional electricity distribution networks. In other words our solar energy system will be designed and set up to feed into the ‘grid’.

So what?

Firstly, once the municipality has the infrastructure in place (and we’ve signed off on all the paperwork known as Power Purchase Agreements) we will be able to export our excess electricity for profit.  It also means that the set up cost of our system is substantially reduced as we don’t need to invest in batteries to the same extent (approximately $8 000.00 saving).  This is because we have now decided not to be ‘off-grid’ i.e. not totally independent but rather ‘grid-tied’ so we can also draw electricity if we have very protracted cloudy weather. In other words we are to be part of a bi-directional metering pilot project. We need only invest in batteries to tide us overnight (and a bit extra in case of outages).

The bigger picture, of course, is that significant growth in embedded generation (of all kinds; wind, bio-fuels etc.) will contribute to a reduction of our dependence on ‘dirty’ energy (ESKOM Coal in the case of South Africa) which is important for the environment. It will also reduce the cost of energy which is currently predicted to increase 16% annually in South Africa.

South Africa Lags Behind

Embedded generation is fairly mainstream in Europe, North America and Australia.  In South Africa the Western Cape is piloting 6 properties, Port Elizabeth a few more and currently, that is it!  We recently read in the press that 17 bidders have been selected by government to produce 1 500 megawatts of renewable energy and more will follow.  Good news but we have much catching up to do.

The time frame for Durban Municipality to come on line by July 2014 is ambitious if one studies the document ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Small Scale Embedded Generators.’ Published at the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU) convention that took place in October 2014.  It tells of a plethora of legislation that needs to be amended, technical requirements that are not standardised and the perception that local government is perceived as a blockage rather than and enabling agent.

Currently financial barriers are identified as the biggest barrier to investment.  In SA it is extremely expensive to set up one’s own system (see my post of October 2013, Solar Energy:  What does it Cost. How to Explore Feasibility).  Rebates for installing Solar Geysers (only) are about $1 000 on a $ 2 800 investment through the SHISA programme. It would help if additional incentives such as rebates, tax credits and financing mechanisms were provided to customers over and above the SHISA programme.  Offering our citizens a way to make money from excess energy generated is a logical way to mitigate the high initial outlay, will stimulate and demand and hopefully drive prices down.  Tariffs will need to be carefully considered.  It is unlikely that we will be remunerated at the same rate/s that we pay for electricity but if the differential is too great it will not be motivational.

Durban property owners who are interested in becoming Embedded Generators need to start by completing the application form which can be downloaded here.

Come on everyone!  The more of us that put up our hands and make our voices heard the more momentum this process will get.  It has to be part of our way forward in saving this beautiful planet. So if you have the means now, this can be a huge contribution you could make and with all things that are correct and true and have integrity, as the law of abundance teaches us; ‘What you put out will be returned’.


An example of the PPA can be found here.

You can learn more about the Shisa Solar programme here:  http://www.durban.gov.za/Resource_Centre/Current%20Projects%20and%20Programmes/energyoffice/Pages/Shisa-Solar.aspx


Gorgeous Green House Goes Mainstream Media!

daily_newsNews Flash!  

Gorgeous Green House has gone mainstream media.

Lindsey Ord from the Daily News is covering our progress and a series of articles are planned.  Please go to  http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/lifestyle/the-green-house-effect-1.1530307#.UcmME_lTDiw  for the on-line version of the first.

So exciting to be getting all this good green info out there. Thanks Lindsey for helping us get to a wider audience.