Image credit:  Tony Budden, Hemporium. ‘Hemp House in Noordhoek, Western Cape

A conscious guide to environmentally savvy homes

Whether planning to build your dream house or renovate a much-loved home, any new project takes vision, courage and determination.   Your home is so much more than a building – it is a transformation towards living a new lifestyle.   In the planning of that new lifestyle why not consider and incorporate elements of a ‘green’ build in order to reduce your environmental footprint and impact.  

Green buildings evolve from the conceptual design through to construction and beyond, incorporating practices that reduce or eliminate a negative impact on the environment. Essentially greener houses are more energy-efficient, resource-efficient and environmentally responsible.   That all begins with desire and design!

While it is great and certainly easier to engage the use of a professional team who encourage green building principles, it can be done by the home owner themselves with creative thought and a whole lot of research.

Think innovation!

Taking on board some advice from the Green Building Council of SA whose certification process encourages, supports and evaluates resource efficient buildings, I would recommend considering the following areas:


·         Having a great managing team ensures implementation of green building practices that follow through with efficient use of resources on site.  

·         A thoughtful concept and design can reduce raw material and resource usage in all areas; the results bring about a positive impact on the environment which can be huge! 

·         Careful planning, well-informed design, good building practice and responsible, competent management on any building site means jobs are done once and done well!  A job redone is a drain on energy, finance and resources.  

Indoor environment quality and energy usage 

These areas cover a large amount of possibilities including:

·         The relatively expensive but effective practice of using solar and/or gas for power, water heating, cooking and space heating.  

·         Consider greenhouse emissions and try to minimise wherever possible.  Energy efficient appliances also fall into this area.   Also, under emissions – consider negative discharge of sewer and positive and effective use of storm water. 

·         Daylight, general lighting and thermal control – how efficiently does your house run?  The design of the home, including its position on the site, will assist with heating and cooling through the different seasons.  Natural light wins every time!

Materials (embodied energy)

As landfill areas diminish and the overwhelming waste from building sites continues to grow, clever use of materials needs to be seriously considered:

·         Environmentally friendly materials.  Do your research before committing to a product.   Concrete, sand, cement and steel are all high contenders on your green footprint – use them wisely. 

·         Omission of materials.  For example – raw sealed brick versus plaster and three coats of paint.  Raw floors versus tile, adhesive and glue.  Both are examples of cost effective and creative ways to reduce material usage.   Refuse any type of environmentally hazardous materials.  

·         Reusing and reducing materials – especially for a renovation.  Reusing tiles, sanware, paving, roofing, lights, doors and ironmongery (to name a few) can add creative and interesting elements to any space.  

·         Disposal of building waste generally has extremely negative impacts on the environment and is a serious contributor to the ‘greenness’ of your home. 

Transport and land use (ecology) many people do not think of transport while choosing their site or building their home; however, consider this: Every object involves layers in the mechanics of it and most are not sustainable. Consider the ‘cloud in the table’ element of all materials.

Look at a table you see in front of you …think about all of the elements involved in the making of the table and the place where it now stands. Visualise the transport of the table, the fuel to facilitate the transport, the place of manufacture, the cutting of the original trees, the planting of the trees, the rainfall which feeds the growth of the trees…  if you look carefully in the table you can see the cloud for without the cloud and the rainfall there would be no table.

·         Materials to site – consider the source element of all materials. Local is lekker!   Consider where materials are sourced and the energy consumption and emissions from their manufacture to getting them delivered to your site.  Even small items have an extensive environmental footprint.

·         Location of your home.   Transport of staff during and after the build and your own access through the years you will live there.    Unless by foot or bicycle – all other methods of transport have an impact on the environment. 

·         Reusing previously used land is often a better choice than building on a new site – especially outside of an already developed area.   You might like the home in the forest or on the beach dune but does the forest or the beach like you!   Consider water courses specifically when considering where to build your new home. 

·         Size – in building, size does count!  Every square metre adds potential footprint – if you don’t need it – don’t build it.  If you do need it (or sometimes just want it) then, yes, enjoy it, knowing your good green building practices can make up for the additional square metre area of your home. 


We all love water and while it can be considered, a basic human right’, in fact it is both a privilege and gift to have readily available and potable water. 

·         An effective and well-designed use of rainwater, grey water and black water is a must for a green home.  Get creative!  It is worth it. 

·         Landscape creatively with indigenous plants.  

·         Laundries, kitchens, bathrooms and swimming pools can all be designed with water efficiency in mind. 

Without a doubt the benefits of a green building are environmentally rewardingIt also a great investment, as green building is recognized and respected in the market place today and into the future.  However, added to that is the pride one can take in seriously making a difference! It is a new world in 2020 and the efforts made by all of us will have a lasting impact on the future of our precious planet.  

Embrace the incredible experience of building your new lifestyle and remember:

There is only one way to go and that’s GREEN, enjoy! Sarah

“What is it to work with love – it is to build a house as though your beloved were to dwell in that house” Kahlil Gibran

Sarah Unsworth

With a keen interest in ‘green’ building practices and a passion for both the wellness of people and the planet, Sarah Unsworth qualified as an Accredited Professional from the Green Building Council South Africa(GBCSA) in 2017 and has completed the GBCSA “EDGE” Expert Online Course. Sarah grew up in Johannesburg and, after travelling to England, Europe, Australia and Cape Town, settled on the Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast. In 2002 she started Southern Natal Construction which she still runs today in a joint venture partnership with John Nicholas from Jesjo. To view Sarah and John’s projects or to contact them: