Increased densification and environmental consciousness are realities of a new era where much emphasis is placed on getting the green thumbs-up and finding effective ways to work with smaller spaces. It may have become more challenging than the days of bricks and mortar, but it has also pushed architects and engineers to create fascinating and innovative house designs.
In the last decade, light steel frame (LSF) building technology has been popularised in South Africa. Far from traditional building methods, this product is manufactured from cold-formed light galvanised steel. Erected as the structural frame which supports and forms the house, this form of building technology is regarded as a “green building solution” for being cost effective, thermally efficient, as well as faster than previous building techniques.
Besides serving as a skeleton frame, LSF is also used for wall panels, flooring systems, roof trusses, and internal and external cladding to name a few. A number of companies such as Light Steel Frame Supplies and Futurecon have succeeded in using this new building technology in South Africa.
Plastic, one of the biggest waste products on the planet, has gone from ‘used’ to ‘useful’. In an effort to spare natural resources such as wood, the lifespan of used plastic has been extended by being included in building materials such as I-Plas and RePlast.
I-Plas uses recycled plastics, wood fibre and binding agents to create composite lumber. With the same use as traditional lumber, composite lumber can be used for decking, fencing, retaining walls as well as structural support. Similar in principle is Re-Plast, a material made of plastic sourced from the oceans and compressed into units resembling concrete building blocks.
It is estimated that about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year. Besides filling landfills, an alarming amount of plastic also ends up in the ocean, posing a great risk to marine life. Products such as I-Plas and Re-Plast are the responsible choice, as they not only promises to reduce plastic in the ocean, but can also be used in both commercial and residential building projects.
Shipping container homes have become a dominant example of sustainable housing in South Africa. It’s been more than twenty years since the government started building Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses and despite building more than 2.6 million homes
so far, there is still a severe housing shortage.
Shipping container homes seem to be a sensible solution for those who do not qualify for RPD houses or who simply cannot afford to buy a house. The containers are cheaper than houses, while offering the same functions. But it doesn’t stop there – from the townships to the CBD, shipping containers have proven to be versatile, serving not only as homes, but also as classrooms, portable clinics, ablution blocks and businesses.
What makes the humble shipping container so appealing is its adaptable nature. For many years it has been used as “prefab” classrooms in schools. It is easily incorporated with traditional styles of building and as a result serves the same purpose – at a cheaper price – of a classroom made of bricks and mortar. Small business owners have invested in them to run their Spaza shops, barbershops and cell phone repair shops. Its practical nature lies in its solid, lightweight design that can be easily constructed anywhere with minimal fuss. But this does not exclude those who wish to live in a luxury home with a bold statement. Architects have been able to accentuate the container’s cube shape to give it a modern edge flair.
The Ecocapsule home is arguably the most impressive self-sufficient design. The solar and wind-powered, egg-like shaped home is one that should be highly considered in areas such as Cape Town, which is adopting an increasingly arid climate. The smart home is equipped to minimise heat loss, provide electricity and collect rainwater. Solar cells deliver 600W, while the wind turbine is able to produce electricity 24 hours a day. Rainwater is collected on the surface and stored in a built-in water tank. The pod also boasts a back-up rechargeable battery with a four day life span. Inside the compact mobile home is a bed, a working and dining space, a toilet, a shower and a kitchenette.
The Ecocapsule is easily transportable and rolls on its four extendable wheels. Anyone looking for independent housing that does not rely on electricity and water services will find the Ecocapsule meets all their requirements.
The bridge house designed by architect Max Pritchard is one of the most unique homes found in Adelaide, Australia. Made of two steel trusses that extend from one side of a river to the other, the house is a unique example of how architecture and nature can live in harmony. Its features include a roof made of plantation pipes, thermal windows and heat-absorbing concrete floors. Its narrow design allows its occupants to enjoy the scenery of surrounding trees. It may not be the most practical home, but Pritchard certainly shows innovation in the way he used the surrounding nature as a backdrop to make the home as unobtrusive as possible.
It’s back to basics for a New Zealand wool company who says it is more eco-friendly to insulate homes with sheep’s wool than with synthetic materials, such as fibreglass or foam insulation. The company called Havelock Wool says wool can absorb moisture up to 35% of its net weight against 65% of relative humidity.
Wool became a by-product of the meat industry with the invention of cheaper synthetic materials, but now there is a new found value for the natural product which would serve as the better choice for health-conscious homeowners and builders.
People living in smaller airtight homes, where condensation and moisture become a problem, would benefit from 100% wool insulation as the amino acids in the wool naturally bond with and trap the harmful chemicals such as nitrogen oxide which in turn creates cleaner air in homes. Wool is also flame resistant and self-extinguishing.
In an age where we have to rethink using finite resources, it is good to know that a renewable and sustainable product such as wool is a better alternative that will be around as long as sheep are, and while insulation may not exactly be a house design it deserves to be on the list for being a forward thinking solution to sustainable house planning.