MAY 2015




Saving Earth -  One House at a Time

By Shalane van Rensburg


The idea that we can protect the environment seems like a noble one which all of us would love to be part of. However, most of us do not practise the ‘green principles’ in our daily lives, as it is either considered too much work or too expensive.


Eco-couple Riaan and Michelle Garforth-Venter, are committed eco-warriors and their television show, called ‘Love and Mortar’, 

revealed what can really be achieved if you are committed to 


protecting the environment. The television show featured the building of their bio-climatic home and it demonstrated just how easy it is to live by ‘green principles’, when building your dream home.


Riaan and Michelle explain the different green-building choices they have made with regard to their new home and the materials used. “There are so many remarkable products, yet so little guidance is available to help consumers decide which product is right for them. Also, once investigated, many products aren’t actually healthy for you or the environment. We hope to lift the curtain on the myths of eco-building and general products and show what can be done to live in a healthier, greener home.”


Sustainable Design

Sustainable design is the art of designing physical objects and the built environment to comply with the principles of economic, social and ecological sustainability. It is a growing trend within the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, engineering and interior design. Green construction requires the construction of a structure in a way that does not harm the environment and its workers, while maximising resources used.


Solar Geysers

Passive solar and solar water geysers ensure that your home is in line with the movement of the sun. It stays warm in winter and cool in summer just by using the power of the sun. Solar geysers and panels enable you to use less energy from the municipal power grid to power appliances or heat the geyser water.



Water-wise gardening and grey-water systems are useful water conservation methods. An indigenous garden only requires watering once a week and requires less maintenance than normal gardens. Grey-water systems use recycled household water for watering the garden. As an example, the average bath produces 120 litres of water, a shower 80 litres and a washing machine 100 litres a load. Recycling can reduce your water needs by 50%, and it is environmentally friendly. Installing ecofriendly shower heads can reduce the amount of water you use by half, compared with normal showers.


Double Cavity Walls

The home of Michelle and Riaan was built with double cavity walls, using polystyrene to insulate the house. “Think of your home as a cooler box: if it is well insulated, you keep the warmth in during winter and stay cool in summer, making energy usage efficient,” they explain.


CFL Light Bulbs

Compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs can save you around 80% of the energy you use to light your house and are available in the dimmable and down-lighter assortments. Owing to electricity price hikes, it is viable to make this smallest change in your home. The savings gained in the long term are worth the initial outlay.


Occupational Health and Safety

The occupational health and safety of workers on a construction site is considered part of green construction. A building cannot be green if workers’ rights have been violated in the process of constructing the building. To minimise waste and harmful practices, many contractors are adopting lean manufacturing practices by manufacturing in factories and then taking the materials to site for installation. Most construction materials such as iron ore, aluminium, cement, clay, sand and stone, are produced by the extractive industries. The mining of these materials is usually done in a manner that has a significant, negative impact on the environment.


Green Construction

Green construction materials, which have a lesser impact on the environment, require less energy and chemical processing, are locally sourced to reduce transportation, and are either renewable or high recyclable.


Feeling Green?

If you are feeling inspired and would like to start living a green lifestyle, here are some tips from Riaan and Michelle:

  • Use natural, plant-based, biodegradable soaps and detergents.

  • Run a full load of laundry in cold water to get the most of your water and energy use.

  • Choose natural and organic cosmetics and personal-care products such as paraben and lauryl or laureth, sulphate-free products.

  • Install a water filter to obtain clean and safe water without all the waste.

  • Turn your toilet into a low-flow toilet by submerging a brick or a full plastic bottle in the tank to reduce your water consumption and save the planet’s water one flush at a time.

  • Fix leaking taps and toilets.

  • Invest in some house plants, which produce fresh, clean air and absorb carbon dioxide and chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene.

  • Plant a tree. Remember that trees are the ‘lungs’ of our planet – this is a great way to offset your carbon usage as well as making a long-term investment in the world’s trees.

  • Eat a vegetarian meal, two or three times a week. A plant-based diet requires a lot less energy and water to produce than a meat-based diet.

  • Change all your light bulbs to CFL and LED (Light-Emitting Diode).

  • Turn down your geyser thermostat and insulate your geyser. Insulating your water heater will reduce the heat loss by 25 to 45%.

  • Check the temperature and seals on your fridge and freezer.

  • Unplug your appliances – your cellphone is a big culprit in using a lot of energy when plugged in but not switched on.

  • Invest in solar.

  • Buy local, as it reduces the carbon footprint of your product.

  • Stop buying plastic bags. Plastic is the serial killer of the oceans – it doesn’t always end up in the landfill, but often ends up in our oceans where it starts a deadly cycle of killing the marine life.


“Green living is not only for the rich. In actual fact, it is the poorest of the poor who receive dignity of living through sustainable practice,” comments Michelle, when asked to dispel the most common myth regarding green living.





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