The Green House effect
Jane Troughton and Greg Courtney are an eco-conscious couple who live in a rambling, beautiful home in Glenashley, with their children Caitlin, 19 and Peter, 16.
They eat organically, growing much of their food, Peter keeps bees, they have a worm farm and a compost heap, but because of space limitations, everything is done on a small scale.
Their new project, however, is a giant step in their journey in responsible living. They plan to create a living space that uses as much green technology as possible and to achieve this, they have bought – and demolished – a house, in upper Durban North.
Their idea of a Gorgeous Green House arose several years ago when they decided to create a home that would use as much green technology as possible, hopefully getting them off the grid.
They would harness solar power, use recycled material where they could, build a chemical-free swimming pool and vertical and roof gardens. Once in, they would grow organic food, keep a few chickens, Peter would continue beekeeping and they would live in a wildlife friendly haven.
To achieve this, they bought a second home, planning to strip it of energy-guzzling materials, reusing or repurposing as much as possible.
The project was extensively researched, drawing on the expertise of green experts in this country and beyond, a master plan was created and building plans drawn up and submitted.
Then they hit a brick wall – and it turned out to be the first of many. It also turned into a steep learning curve of how to navigate the South African National Standards (SANS) 10 400 building regulations.
What followed was 15 months of referrals (declined plans), resulting in spiralling costs and their builder being unable to wait while authorities pondered their eco-friendly plans.
“In the first few months the authorities were perplexed and confused about the ‘green’ aspects of the house and many referrals had to be dealt with,” said Jane.
“Just as we thought we were nearly there, the new SANS regulations came into effect in October and 21 new referrals were identified. The building/ architectural industry generally seemed unprepared.
“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 wished, as long as you could show they were safe. You could put in as much lighting, heating and air conditioning as you wanted and you could heat your water in any way. Rainwater that accumulated on your roof and other hard surfaces, as well as your waste water, just needed to be routed into the municipal storm water systems.
“This has all changed significantly under the SANS 10 400 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.
“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 in the country to brag about.”
Finally, after copious motivations by Jane and Greg, backed up by affidavits and verifications by experts, Gorgeous Green House got the go-ahead and demolishers moved in.
“It was devastating to see a house going down but I have learnt that it is easy and fun to minimise waste. Many materials can be re-used and I have saved items like doors, stainless steel sinks, balustrading, metal gates, curtain rails and more to put into the new house.
“The Oregon floor was lifted and installed in a new home – our new floor will be tiles made from recycled content.
“All the rubble went into the cavity from the floor and the only materials that went to the landfill were bits and pieces of old roof waterproofing.”
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.
“The most fun part was the fact that so many materials that don’t have much resale value but are desirable to many.
“On the first day of our build, everything from the old melamine kitchen, windows, doors, in fact, all manner of materials, found 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.”
Jane stresses that she is neither a green professional nor connected to the building industry. She wants to share this story and motivate others to move towards a greener lifestyle.
Here are Jane’s top tips for getting started and navigating the new SANS 10 400 regulations:
Find a qualified professional
Your intended architect and/or engineer needs to be accredited by the Building Control Authority. Unless you find their name on http://www.buildingcontrol.co.za/page34.html they are not “deemed competent”, your plans will not be approved and you are in for a protracted process of referrals (declined plans). Best find someone who is qualified to do all the required calculations and who is up to speed on building green.
If windows represent more than 15 percent 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. 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.
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 (Jane and Greg’s plan), you will not automatically get points that enable you to have, for example, bigger windows. The evaluators at the 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.
You need to show 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. If you live in Durban, you need to get hold of an electrical engineer who will draw up 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.
Old fashioned electrical geysers are no longer an option. You will be required to install a greener alternative, like solar and induction geysers and heat pumps.
Water Use, Re-use and Disposal
Because our storm water systems are under increasing pressure, water disposal on your property will be carefully scrutinised. Your roof area and hard surfaces will be measured and depending on the type of soil in your area (soil type permitting) you will in all likelihood be required to install an engineer-designed soak pit. These can be costly.
You may be going to use harvested rainwater in the loos, showers and washing machine and recycle grey water to irrigate your organic veggies, but the evaluators do not have rainwater harvesting in their formula so you will need to make a special case if you want to reduce the size of your soak pit. Do persevere. Talk to the storm water custodians at your local council, make a case and back it up with hard figures and fingers crossed.
Bricks/block, roofing, insulation, pipe insulation 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. Be wary of “green washing” – where “green” marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s aims and policies are eco friendly. Look for SA Bureau of Standards approval and other relevant ratings and or registrations.
If you put together a competent team on your build and do your homework, you should be able to navigate these regulations with ease.
* Jane Troughton and Greg Courtney are building a home that will enable them to live in a green environment, and, as far as possible, off the grid. Gorgeous Green House is the name of the project and they hope to inspire others to do the same.