A La Lucia couple’s dream of living a green lifestyle in a gorgeous green house is within reach as they prepare to move into their home in the next few weeks.
Jane Troughton and Greg Courtney’s seven-year journey, from the time they decided to upscale their already-green way of life to the almost-complete super-green house in Durban North, has been a mix of elation and despair. But, as each hurdle has been overcome, a sense of achievement and excitement – mostly from the fact that they are reducing their demands on the planet’s resources – is making it all worthwhile.
The couple, who lived with their children, Peter, 17, and Caitlin, 20, in La Lucia, bought a traditional 1940s house in Durban North last year, demolished most of it – using the original foundations and footprint – and built a new house, in the most eco-conscious way possible.
The house is almost complete and the family is living in an outbuilding on the property while the finishing touches are made.
“Our vision was not just to put some green technology into a house, but to develop a gentler and kinder way of living on the planet,” says Jane, surveying the impressive structure that has risen from the rubble.
“We wanted to create a space to live in that utilises as much green technology as possible, like solar and water harvesting, to get us off the grid, and even supply the municipality with any excess.
“We will be living in a way that embraces growing organic food, utilising permaculture techniques, beekeeping and chicken farming. We want to develop an environment that is wildlife friendly, while being beautiful and peaceful to live, work and play in.”
Demolition of the old house did not mean wastage: everything that could be repurposed, recycled or reused, found new life. Bricks and mortar from the demolition went into the foundations of the new house.
The only material that went to landfill was some waterproofing from the roof. People in the community happily carried off kitchen cupboards and windows, so little was thrown away.
Jane and Greg did, however, hold on to a lot that could be restored and reused.
Oregon doors have been given a facelift for use in cupboards and the original front door will be used in an outbuilding. The old gate was reinvented as a creeper trellis, Forties outdoor stone tiles have been spruced up to create a pretty patio at a side entrance and an old green sink has been turned into a mint planter.
Eamonn Kriedemonn, director of Bancamp Construction, said the house was “fantastic” with its rainwater storage, electrical system that worked off battery power from solar panels.
“Prices of solar technology have halved in the past three years,” he said. “More people should be looking at this form of power.”
The Green House is testament to that – solar panels are generating power and the house is essentially off the grid and generating excess to their needs.
SOME OF THE ELEMENTS:
* Rain water harvesting/recycling
Jane researched various systems available and settled on the Pula Water modular system. The quality of the water, once it has been through the unique filtration units, means it can be used everywhere in the home. They planned to use water extensively so they went for a 20 000-litre tank.
Alex Holmes of Pula Water said they supplied a matrix tank system and water doesn’t stagnate because of capillary action.
A product made from recycled plastic bottles has been used. A recycled newspaper product was a close contender. The team on site say the green material was great to work with as it didn’t shed prickly bits like the more traditional pink products.
* Solar energy
On the roof are 20 solar panels generating enough power for the house, explains Trevor Wheeler of Solarsun Solutions.
“The house has a grid-tied system which will off-set its daily energy requirements,” he says.
“This system has back-up capabilities which in the event of a grid failure will switch over to an off-grid system. The battery has been sized to bridge the night hours in the event of grid failures.”
* Solar Geyser
This is such an easy energy/money saver and can save a minimum of 40 percent on your electricity bills so it is a win all round, says Jane, who chose a solar beam geyser over a heat pump. She shares her research on solar geysers versus heat pumps on her blog.
* Building materials
Bricks/block, roofing, insulation and pipe lagging must be carefully considered, says Jane and many of the materials have associated energy-related numbers that may or may not be acceptable.
There is a plethora of new products on the market.
Jane warns against “Green Washing”, or being taken in by products that are not actually green. Look for SA Bureau of Standards approval and other relevant ratings and or registrations.
There are loads of eco-friendly paints on the market, which are much lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which basically means toxic stuff our bodies don’t like. All paint in the new house is non-toxic.
The Green House has a beautiful deck and other elements that look like wood, but are not. Eva-last decking is an environmentally-friendly wood plastic composite (WPC) material and no trees were cut down in its making.
According to the company website, hardwood trees typically used in the building industry take in excess of 50 years to reach maturity and are being irresponsibly wiped out, aiding in the destruction of rain forests. WPC technology now affords the opportunity to eradicate this damage to our planet.
* Eco pool
The pool has a new rectangular shape and a reed bed will filter the water so no harsh chemicals will be required.
* Roof Garden
People are seeking alternatives to the alienating and sterile world of concrete, without moving to the countryside, and roof gardens do just that, says Jane.
“I have dreamed of creating my own green roof for so long it hardly seems real that it is now in. Early inspiration came from the Green Roof Pilot Project at eThekwini which is testing various options that provide healthier urban environments.
“This project, among others, has shown that these living roofs (as they are also called) naturally increase biodiversity and are aesthetically beautiful, but there are numerous other good reasons: they insulate the house, reducing the amount of cooling and heating required, they lower the amount of stormwater run-off, reduce sound through insulation, reduce maintenance costs of roofs and increase their lifespan, promote food security, provide fire resistance and offer electromagnetic insulation.”
Jane’s roof garden above the dining room is already flourishing with water-wise plants having taken root easily.
Birds, butterflies and monkeys are enjoying it, as well as the surrounding indigenous landscape.
The key, says Holmes, is to allow water to linger long enough for plants to drink, but not to stagnate and seep through the roof.