Here comes the sun

2011-12-10 12:23

Durban engineering worker Kwazi Khwela has only been living green for a month, but his household of seven people is already feeling the benefits of a lower carbon lifestyle.

The family lives in one of 30 homes on Borough Road in the Wiggins area of Cato Manor in KwaZulu-Natal These RDP houses have undergone green retro-fitting courtesy of the Green Building Council of South Africa and local and international donors.

The initiative, a COP17 legacy project, was officially unveiled this week and is set to be repeated in other low-cost housing schemes in and around the city.

Khwela says that when his family was first asked to participate, he was sceptical.

“When they first came to see me I was not interested. I didn’t see how it could benefit my family.

“But after I thought it through and we were given a good explanation, I thought we might as well try it.

“We are already seeing a change in our lives. Electricity is much cheaper and the saving is very important for our family and for me as the only breadwinner,” says Khwela.

The refit involved installing a solar geyser and wiring the house properly; fitting tongue and groove polystyrene ceilings for insulation; and installing a shower and an outside tank to catch rainwater from the roof for washing clothes and watering the garden.

Each refit cost R30 000. It took less than a month for the Green Building Council of South Africa’s project team, managed by Nick Alcock, to implement the entire project.

Khwela’s wife, Nonhlanhla Nkabinde (37), says their lifestyle has improved significantly in the weeks since they went green.
“Before we got the new geyser electricity was costing us about R300 a month. Now we pay R80. Only my husband is working, so that money means a lot to us,’’ she says.
“We were using extensions from the pre-paid box which were dangerous. My family is safer now with the new wiring. I was using kettles to boil water, now we can use the shower,’’ she adds.

Does the geyser provide enough hot water? Besides the couple and their children Nomfundo (14) and Perfect (22), the house also accommodates Nkabinde’s siblings, Nonkululeko (25), Phumlani (22) and Nonkululeko’s 10-month-old baby, Awande.

“When there is not a lot of sun the water is sometimes lukewarm, but it works,’’ Nkabinde says.

For Khwela, not having to boil water to bath in the morning means he’s at work earlier: “I can now be more punctual.”

The family’s energy-saving lifestyle doesn’t end there. Nkabinde uses a thermal cooker, which allows her to boil slow-cooked food like samp and beans for 45 minutes and then wrap the pot in the thermal cooker – donated to the family by the manufacturer – for the additional three hours of cooking.

“You just cook normally and then use the Wonderbag for the time you would cook it slowly on the stove. It works very nicely,’’ says Nkabinde.
The external tank provides rainwater for gardening and washing.

“This way we don’t use more than the water we get for free from the council,’’ says Nkabinde.

“We don’t have to pay fines for water or walk to the standpipe on the corner.”

The family’s vegetable patch

is a mix of traditional planting in the ground and ingenious mini-gardens made from used water bottles placed on platforms made of old tyres and wooden pallets.

They and their neighbours have also been involved in a city-sponsored project to clear the neighbouring riverbed, which was clogged with alien plants and used as a rubbish dump, to try and green their street more fully.

The street – and the houses – has been fitted with energy-efficient lighting.

How do they feel about being part of a greening experiment?

“I’m very happy,’’ says Nkabinde. “This is making our life easier.”

Her husband agrees.

“We also understand now about why nature is important to people and why we have to look after it.’’

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