With autumn upon us, and winter lying head like a dreaded mid-year exam, it’s time to turn our collective thoughts towards how we intend to keep our families and homes warm during the chilly months.  Eskom has been degraded once again, and another electricity price hike is both guaranteed and imminent.  With the traditional sources of thermal comfort subsequently becoming unattractively overpriced, some old-school solutions to keeping warm in winter offer a slight reprieve.  A hot water bottle instead of an electric blanket, a fire place instead of an oil heater. And by far the best way to keep your body warm is through layering of clothes. Wearing two or three layers of lightweight clothing instead of just one thick sweater or a jersey is much more effective at keeping you warm and comfortable in cold weather.  Outdoor experts suggest a synthetic base layer to keep moisture off the skin, a medium layer of natural fiber such as Marino wool over that to maintain a constant comfortable body temperature and then a thicker outer layer and a hat, to prevent heat loss.


So that’s your person sorted. Now what about your home? Did you know that you lose up to 60% of heat through your house’s walls and roof?

Just imagine if you could do the same  with your house – keep it warm in winter by using layers of insulation. Well, believe it or not you can.  Apply this same process of layering of thermal insulation to buildings and you have a system called ETICS – External Thermal Insulation Composite System.

The good news is that you don’t even need to be in the design stage of your dream house to benefit from this thermal comfort solution. ETICS is perfect for retrofits i.e. you apply it to your existing house or apartment block.  A proven solution to thermal comfort,  the Weber ETICS system was tested for efficiency during a 2014 pilot project at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. One of the floors of a students’ residence was externally clad with Weber ETICS and resulted in a massive 40% energy saving compared to the other floors that were not insulated.


ETICS is a thermally insulating and decorative exterior cladding system that consists of a series of specially designed components, each of which performs a designated function and as a system they offer excellent insulation properties for buildings.  Firstly the specially designed insulation panels are adhered onto a brick or concrete substrate using  adhesives and fixings, to deliver the thermal insulation required.  Thereafter the reinforced base coat and  polymer render are used to finish off the façade providing the building’s aesthetics.

Also very effective at insulating existing buildings is the addition of thermal insulation layers in your ceiling. Different locally manufactured products are available from your local building supply store at very affordable prices. They are easy to install through DIY and the difference in thermal comfort you will feel is  instant.

Voila! Layered insulation for your home.

For more information on ETICS , visit www.weber-tylon.co.za.


weber.therm SFS
Image courtesy of Weber Saint-Gobain

From big wants to small needs: the tiny house alternative for sustainable living

Today’s challenge of sustainable urban living has given rise to a number of inspired solutions by architects and designers the world over. Increasingly we read about smart homes that self-regulate according to your lifestyle, prefabricated houses that can be assembled like Lego pieces in a matter of days, and passive houses that run entirely on solar energy.  And of course, the rise of the tiny house.

Although these overseas trends in housing are still relatively new to the South African residential landscape, there is definitely a move towards redefining and evaluating what we consider as a great home. Increasingly too, South Africans are starting to think that bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to houses.

The movement towards embracing a simple and inexpensive lifestyle through homes with a small physical (and carbon) footprint is increasingly taking hold in urban areas where space is available only at a premium, and often unaffordable. A viable (and local) solution for cash-stressed young professionals or those who prefer not to purchase a house in the current economic climate is also the first of its kind in South Africa. The innovative POD-IDLADLA from Johannesburg-based architect Clara da Cruz Almeida is a modular, prefabricated nano-home, recently launched at the SANLAM Handmade Contemporary Food Wine and Design Fair.


Image by www.pod-idladla.com

This pod is wholly designed and manufactured in South Africa. Measuring only 183 square feet, it is flexibly designed to combine with other pods into various configurations that form larger, multi-use living areas.

Although its footprint is tiny, the Pod still appears spacious because of its high slanting roof that maximizes solar-energy capture on the roof. The interior design by local duo Dokter and Missus also makes use of a relaxing palette of white, mint green, and grey. To create more space and avoid clutter, the house incorporates storage along the high walls and also features a fold-down table, fold-away couches that allows the space to adjust to your needs. The extremely efficient use of space and compact design encapsulates practically everything you need from a home, even a small deck. The modular design also allows for expansion in line with your needs and pocket.


Image by www.pod-idladla.com

The impeccable application of sustainable and functional design in this tiny house bears testament to the limitless possibilities available if we build houses according to only what we need. If we do that, then a smaller carbon footprint and the accompanying lower electricity, rates and water bills are guaranteed to follow.


Biomimetic architecture: taking a leaf out of nature’s book

Probably one of the most exciting developments in sustainable design in the last decade has to be the emergence of Biomimetic architecture. This multi-disciplinary approach to sustainable design takes its cue from nature: its models, systems, and processes, and presents design approaches that not only propels technology forward but also helps limit environmental impact.

http://icould.com/files/2011/03/eden-project.jpgImage courtesy of Google

A prime example of biomimetic architecture is the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, which consists of a sequence of eight ‘biomes’ or greenhouses.  A sequence of inter-linked geodesic transparent domes that covers 2.2 hectares, it encapsulates vast humid tropic and warm temperate regions that house different species of plants from around the world.  The design of the biomes were inspired by soap bubbles and mimic nature’s way of filling 3-D space in the most efficient way. Structurally, each dome is a hex-tri-hex space frame that has two layers.  The frame is made of steel tubes and has joints that are light and small. The cladding panels are triple-layered pillows of ETFE foil, a Teflon-like translucent plastic, thus making each dome environmentally efficient, with maximum surface area and minimum perimeter detailing.

Architect Michael Pawlyn, author of the book Biomimicry in Architecture  explains during a TED talk how architects should draw on the 3.8 billion years of research and development that mother nature has to offer, and find inspiration from nature’s impeccable design solutions. During his TED talk ‘Using nature’s genius in architecture’, Pawlyn describes the three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society for the better: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

Radical resource efficiency forces us to rethink how we view waste products and to innovate new ways that these waste products can be reused and fed back into the business system, therefore going from waste material to raw material. In doing so, the amount of external resources required for production is limited through the development of a closed loop system.

Biomimicry approaches the issue of sustainability by creating closed loop systems that treat waste products from different processes as inputs to others, thereby looping and creating value add through this interconnected approach, which is circular in thinking rather than linear.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems use large mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight to drive a heat engine, which then generates electricity. In developing CSPs, the geometric layout of sunflower florets was used as a reference to find the most efficient layout of heliostats (solar mirrors).  Essentially, the rules of botany were applied to technology to improve CSPs. Similarly, when seeking solutions to solar cells and energy storage, scientists have looked to butterflies.  By investigating the structure of butterfly wings, information was gathered on how this insect is able to efficiently retain heat, which then led to improvements on the design of solar cells and energy storage solutions.

Biomimetic architecture reminds us that we don’t need to be constantly inventing new ways of building sustainable and energy efficient dwellings.  We can merely take a step back and consider how Mother Nature’s efficient designs can be drawn upon to help us find simple solutions to complex architectural problems, and limit the environmental impact thereof.


On 12 February this year most of us were sitting somewhat in the dark, reeling from the wave of Phase 2 load shedding. Thankfully at the same time in the USA, South African born engineering prodigy Elon Musk (inventor of the Tesla all-electric sedan) was making an announcement that could forever change the role of utility providers the world over:

“We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people’s houses or businesses fairly soon,” he said.

Tesla will use its lithium-ion battery technology to manufacture batteries that can, in conjunction with solar panels, provide enough power to run an entire house. Thus making a utility provider such as Eskom, potentially redundant.


This news couldn’t have come at a better time and is reason for us to be hopeful that within a few years, this technology will be available in South Africa at an affordable price. It is exactly the kind of development we need to be witnessing in the sustainable energy sector – particularly if we are serious about promoting smart building solutions for a sustainable future.

Although many homeowners have solar geysers, the price of photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for household use is still largely unaffordable to the general public. Add to that the high price of the batteries needed to store the electricity plus their relatively short lifespan, and you understand why so many South Africans still rely on Eskom just to make a cup of tea.

It’s believed that Tesla’s energy-storage product could be “disruptive” in the U.S. and in Europe as customers seek to avoid utility fees by going “off-grid.” According to experts, if Tesla’s stationary battery does take off, it could change the way electricity is priced and traded on a market scale. Cheaper and better batteries could revolutionize the solar power business, and maybe even end South Africa’s reliance on Eskom as the sole provider of electricity. At the same time it would relieve Eskom of the massive demand that it currently cannot supply.

Through it’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPP) Eskom has already started to exploit the solar energy potential of South Africa’s sunny climate, albeit for it’s own benefit. Power is being generated through solar energy farms in the Northern and Eastern Cape. These Solar farms ‘harvest’ energy from sunlight and that electricity is then fed back into the Eskom grid. What Tesla’s home battery system offers is the ability to do what these solar farms are doing, but on a domestic scale.

Fortunately there are other ways to become less reliant on the grid and less vulnerable to the high cost of energy, which are both affordable and accessible. You can do this by building new or renovating existing houses with materials that make homes more thermally efficient, thus losing less warmth in winter and staying cool in summer.


Flexible living: more than just a pretty space

Described as ‘an upgradable, futuristic greenhouse’, the recently launched plans for Google’s new headquarters in California are so futuristic they’re quite surreal. With this new design, Google are looking to future-proof their organization by making allowances for the almost guaranteed change their company will undergo in future. They are essentially treating architecture as software, allowing for their buildings to be upgraded, similar to an app.

Cutting edge as these designs are, beneath Google’s spider-web like glass structure lies a basic design concept that’s not altogether new when it comes to architecture: flexibility.

“The idea here is simple,” says David Radcliffe, Google’s vice-president of real estate. “Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas.”

The idea of flexibility in building design has been around for more than a century. Prime examples are the London terrace house dating back to the 19th century, and the classic Modernist housing schemes that were built in Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s. Iconic designers like Mies van der Rohe supported a flexible approach to housing because it could cater for a wider range of occupants.

Essentially, a flexible house is one that can adapt to the changing needs of users. Expanding for growing families and contracting for empty nesters. Using flexibility as a key element in design, you look to future possible uses of a space and make allowance then to decide what that space will be used for, now and in the future.

As a homeowner, you have the choice if and when to reconfigure your home as your needs and financial situation change. To facilitate this as an easy transition, allowances are made for possible changes right at the design stage. Thereafter rooms can be made bigger or smaller or be adapted for children, persons with disabilities or elderly people.

This flexibility is also not limited to the design of residential houses and company headquarters – public and communal spaces such as libraries and schools also require flexible space planning, to respond to the changing needs of end users.

Architects and developers agree that there is a definite relationship between construction techniques and flexibility, which is fully supported by Saint-Gobain through its innovative and range of building materials and systems.

Images courtesy of Google