SA power, water crisis spurs eco-building demand

NOVEMBER 16, 2015

High demand for affordable, innovative eco-building coupled with dramatic rise in green-star certified projects; Estate agencies report ‘green’ homes are more sought-after by top-end buyers

Soaring electricity prices, frequent load-shedding and crippling drought has seen a surge in green developments nationwide as landlords seek to ease their reliance on the strained and ailing national grid.

Backing this trend is the sharp rise in eco-friendly buildings which have been green star certified by the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA) – from four in 2010 to 56 during 2015 alone (January up to mid-October), bringing the total in the country to 121. The trend is spurred by buyers’ eagerness to have homes and businesses which are load-shedding ready, and also boast a reduced environmental impact, according to real estate agencies Pam Golding and Seeff.

Developers and home owners are more willing than ever to fork out for eco-building solutions, given the long-term savings amid surging electricity prices and increasing water scarcity, according to green building solutions firm Rhino Green Building.

The firm has been involved with the development of the entirely off-grid Rhino Group showcase home, House Rhino, which is located at Crossways Farm Village outside Port Elizabeth and recently won acclaim at a global sustainability conference in the UK.

The home is unique for South Africa and, according to green building academics, one of about 50 globally to incorporate unique water and energy-centric eco-building solutions, making it a green energy generator (also known as energy-plus houses). House Rhino treats its black and grey water using a high-tech filtration processes, while natural aqua-gardens allow for a chemical-free swimming pool. It also harvests rainwater.

According to architectural designer and Rhino Green Building director Ian van der Westhuizen, there is an increasing need to “respect and promote the importance of green design principals” given the electricity crisis and increasing scarcity of water. The firm focused on combining water and energy-centric eco-solutions, such as was used for House Rhino, he said.

“We are at the forefront of exploring innovative eco-building methods. We work with architects, engineers and developers in order to incorporate cost-effective and cutting-edge green building solutions on their projects,” Van der Westhuizen said.

The firm is now involved in developing other green residences at Crossways Farm Village. It was also involved in the construction phase of the nearby R1.7-billion Baywest Mall. 

Government has also joined the green building trend, with the departments of Environmental Affairs in the Western Cape, Public Works in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the City of Cape Town all boasting Green Star SA rated state buildings.

“Apart from the obvious cost savings associated with sustainable and energy efficient buildings, hopefully those who live and work in green buildings will start to see the [cost, health, and lifestyle] benefits of doing so,” said GBCSA chief technical officer, Manfred Braune.

“Corporate South Africa will benefit from the cost savings – direct and in terms of increased productivity – increased asset value and return on investment, as well as increased global competiveness.”

Braune said that issues feeding into the demand for green building included:

  • Rising electricity prices, which have put energy efficiency onto many agendas, while load-shedding was causing property owners and occupiers to seek alternative energy sources;
  • A rising awareness of humans’ impact on – and role in – protecting the environment. An increased consciousness of water scarcity, for example, appeared to be resulting in an increase in the installation of rainwater catchment devices, grey water systems and low-flow taps; and
  • Several major banks and property funds which were differentiating themselves in terms of green buildings.

Department of Construction Management academic at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Chris Allen, along with colleague Katharina Crafford, co-authored a study of House Rhino and the benefits of green building.

“This paper reports on a case study of an energy-plus residential building in South Africa, one of the first of this project type on the African continent. House Rhino... provided an unprecedented opportunity to research the potential for a residential energy-plus building as a proof of concept for a future where energy and water are rare commodities. House Rhino combines active and passive features in a modern residential design that has been created as a living lab,” the paper’s abstract reads.

Allen presented their study, African Energy-Plus construction: A case study of House Rhino, at the international sustainability conference known as SEEDS (Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design for Society) at Leeds Beckett University in the UK in September.

The firm also incorporates other unique, but utilitarian green building concepts, such as light-weight concrete.

“The light-weight concrete walls aid in sound proofing as well as thermal insulation,” explained fellow Rhino Green Building director, Jarred van Niekerk. “It’s a fast means of construction and our team can construct up to 150m² of wall in nine hours.”