The house that eco-warriors built

By Sisi Lwandle Time of article published Oct 13, 2012

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Cape Town - This could be the definition of a new-age greenhouse – a house that uses no electricity and runs purely on sustainable energy, right in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.

Could this be a glimpse into the future?

The house is built from tyres, cement, recycled wooden pallets and tin cans, and is based on the floor size and budget of an RDP house. It is powered by renewable energy from solar panels on the roof.

In addition to the external structure, the house’s internal operations rely on renewable energy too, with all food in the house being cooked courtesy of a parabolic solar cooker. This is a large dish-like plate which draws heat from the sun to heat up the pot.

The kitchen is also equipped with a wood-fired stove, known as an Eco Zoom, with the wood supplied by the surrounding trees on the property.

Running water comes from two rain tanks. The water used in the house is recycled and used for cleaning and gardening.

But almost certainly the highlight of the entire house is the washing machine.

Functioning purely on pedal power, the machine does a full load of laundry – with not a bit of electricity being used. Instead, a pedal bike is attached to the drive belt to roll the drum in order to wash the clothes, with water from the rain tanks.

“So basically, if you want to gently rinse your clothes, you pedal nice and slowly. And when you want to spin them… well let’s just say you’ll get very fit,” said Mickey van der Hoeven, one of the facilitators at SEED (School’s Environmental Education and Development), a non-profit organisation behind the sustainable homestead.

“We are too spoiled as a people, and would rather pay for an expensive livelihood, than maintain it by harnessing our natural resource base,” he added.

Operating from Rocklands Primary School, close to the house, SEED offers opportunities to develop practical examples of sustainable living, along with training and community enterprise.

“This project is a demonstration of looking into other alternatives of how livelihood can be sustained in the absence of non-renewable resources,” Van der Hoeven, one of the facilitators at SEED, explained.

The house was completed in January this year after four months of construction.

Even its surroundings are eco-friendly, with a large green garden with cabbages, spinach, celery and a mixture of herbs behind the house.

Van der Hoeven explained that they used companion planting (planting of different crops in proximity so that they assist each other in growing) and permaculture, which looks at the overall design of the garden to create a healthy natural system.

His main role is teaching the children from the nearby Rocklands Primary School about the garden, and how it operates.

“We are actively involved with the school, teaching the kids how to live in a sustainable way,” he said.

Resident and caretaker of the house, Tony Khulule, feels right at home in the eco-friendly surroundings.

“It’s comfortable because I grew up in rural areas and stayed in a rondavel,” he said.

He had grown up seeing and using recyclable goods. “My school in Transkei was one of the first schools to start using solar panels. We never had electricity.”

The SEED project hopes to inspire many others to employ eco-friendly initiatives.

“Much like pedalling the washing machine, you will get tired, but it’s a case of comfort versus doing something for yourself and for the environment,” Van der Hoeven said. - Weekend Argus

l The sustainable homestead can be seen by appointment with SEED at Rocklands Primary, telephone 021 392 2010.

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