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Green Home Makeover

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A case study of encouragement for those contemplating a green renovation.

As the trend for green homes gathers momentum in South Africa and as green materials and technologies become more available and affordable, one man has decided to take a ‘green journey’ approach to a home renovation in Lakeside, Cape Town. This is the story of how Lloyd Macfarlane has attempted to lower the footprint and increase the performance of his family’s home.

Lloyd, not unfamiliar with green building practices – having worked in the broader sector of sustainability for almost ten years – decided to put his knowledge (and his patience) to the test by embarking on a self-build green renovation of a (circa) 1960’s house that was in real need of some work but which is perfectly positioned for views of the Lakeside mountain range.

After the home was purchased, the family moved in for a few months before the renovation began in order to be able to design through a living experience. This was to be a self-managed project, so no building contractors were required. They did, however, plumb for an architect and Alan Meinjies, from AMA Architects in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town, proved to be just the man for the job. Alan’s brief was to increase the number and size of the rooms, apply shading and other passive designs, maximise views and create new living areas and spaces – no mean feat!

Many brilliant designs and cups of organic coffee resulted in completed drawings which were subsequently approved by the local municipality. The house would have enough nooks and crannies and wonderfully spacious rooms to keep everyone in the large family happy. A shaded deck was to run alongside the north facing façade of the home, keeping the rooms cool in the hot summer months, while still allowing the sinking sun of a winter afternoon to filter through. The deck provided some additional living spaces outside the already enlarged bedrooms. A large covered veranda was also added to the north side of the home. The paving from around the pool area was used to construct the foundations of the veranda and building rubble from the site was used as landfill. The outside areas of the home now boast new outdoor living spaces that weren’t there before.

Nature has a wonderful way of being absolutely prepared to protect our planet. So tapping into these natural products has far more benefits than mere aesthetics. For example, bamboo, which has been used in construction by the Chinese for centuries, is durable, strong and requires no finishing or varnishing. Bamboo also grows easily and quickly and is thus an extremely sustainable material.

The team at Bamboo Warehouse were chosen to provide the bamboo flooring for the living areas and counter tops for the kitchen and bathrooms. At certain points in the renovation specialist advice and service would be required and the team at Bamboo Warehouse ensured that some of the most visible green components of the home were perfectly selected and installed.

As part of the strategy to reduce water consumption on the property, low flow aerated taps and shower heads were installed in the bathrooms (supplied by Still Bathrooms in Cape Town) ensuring the conservative use of water without taking anything away from the shower experience. Dual flush toilets have also been installed and a rain water tank will be added in time for autumn.

Deciding on the lighting requirements for the home meant more than just the selection of form and function. Different light was needed in different areas of the house: warm in the living room and bright in the kitchen. But other factors such as shelf life, power requirements and energy efficiency were important for sustainability. The solution came from specialists who not only provided the products but also the knowledge behind the scenes. L.E.D. Lighting were able to advise on current control, heat dissipation, installation, mechanical fittings, environment and power supply, in order to maximise the product and minimise its effect on the environment. The result is visibly amazing and yet a fraction of the energy previously required to light the house is now consumed by the 3-Watt LED down-lighters. One of the most exciting stories behind this renovation lies hidden in the walls of the home. In the year that the renovation began, the Athlone Power Station – the last coal-fired power station in Cape Town – was finally demolished, providing a local brick manufacturer with an abundance of recyclable aggregate material. Cape Brick is a company whose business is based on manufacturing products out of recycled construction and demolition materials, and the idea of using bricks made from the Athlone Cooling Towers for this green renovation was too good to pass up on for Lloyd and for the team at Cape Brick. It’s quite surreal to think that, while in the living area of the home, you are surrounded by what was once a landmark on the Cape Town skyline.

Other recycled content materials used in the home so far have been wood composite decking planks from Envirodeck, recycled content outdoor tiles for the pool and veranda areas from Cemstone and recycled content carpeting for the bedrooms from Peter Bates Flooring. Wood composite materials offer the impression and feel of natural wood but require very little maintenance, if any – perfect for a north facing outdoor living space in the Western Cape region.

Some effort was put into the preservation of indigenous plants and trees in the garden, in particular Lloyd’s favourite tree, an African Fever Tree – which nearly didn’t make it through the renovation. Lloyd wanted to connect the living areas with the green spaces around the house and bring the outdoor garden and mountain views as far into the home as possible and to achieve this he chose to install large pane wooden windows and doors (from Swartland) that offer exceptional insulation from heat transfer. Each bedroom now has a large wooden glass-pane sliding door with rubber gaskets which will ensure that no heat is lost during the cold winter months. Olive green exterior wall paint (from Eco-paint Solutions) was used to accentuate the garden spaces around the home, also minimising the dominating effect of one rather high garden wall. Eco paint solutions advised the use of the non-toxic, water-based B-Earth paint range which is 100% VOC free, so no harmful odours and no storm water or ground water impact.

At the time of purchase the house was as hot as a sauna. Large, high north facing windows with no protection contributed to heat gain but so too did the absence of any effective roof insulation. After much deliberation Lloyd decided to maintain the existing roof truss structure but to remove (and donate) the existing tiles and replace them with brand new BlueScope Steel roof sheets which are coated with a high-tech finish that is designed for sustainability, and by choosing the “Cape White” colour, further added to the reflective potential of the roof. If that wasn’t enough, a layer of ‘Sisaltion’ was used just beneath the roof sheets – a silver, foil-like matting that further prevents heat loss and gain from the roof space. The effectiveness of this roof envelope protection now allowed for the installation of high ceilings which added additional volume to the rooms. The result is a spacious but amazingly cool feel, which is arguably the most noticeable and rewarding green ‘performance’ intervention in the home thus far. There is absolutely no need for air-conditioning and the house is beautifully cool, even on 38 degree summer days.

Meanwhile, electricians working inside the home declared the existing DB Board and certain circuits as dangerous, which provided the opportunity to incorporate new boards and switches (from Crabtree) which isolated certain circuits in anticipation of the installation of solar water and photovoltaic panels. Lloyd is investigating a solution that will see solar heated water being stored in the existing electric geyser cylinder and heated further in the pipeline, if necessary, with a small gas flame – technology from Japan. This will completely eliminate the need to use any electricity for heating water in the home. Speaking of gas, a combination gas-electric hob-oven system was chosen to further reduce electricity consumption. Current consumption is around R800 per month and Lloyd is determined to halve that by the end of the year. The Lakeside green renovation journey is not yet complete, and may not ever reach completion as new ideas and technologies continue to change the way that we construct and operate our homes. For now though, a family is enjoying the fruits of this renovation in good conscience and the home is now a story which is serving to promote green principles and to promote the suppliers to the home in the spirit of the green economy.

WORDS: Jane Hendry