Well what an experience to page through a magazine and it contains an article on your house. This little sandbag construction is famous! The team took such great photos. We want to share
Well what an experience to page through a magazine and it contains an article on your house. This little sandbag construction is famous! The team took such great photos. We want to share
My conversations with God, as I sat behind my mobile ‘s wheel, was often in the vein of ” Dear God, what are we going to do? I retire one of these days, and I do not have a place of my own” That is how I started believing in something that at the time sounded impossible.
Two years after we started building, I moved in. I can not describe to anyone how happy and comfortable I am in my home. It was not easy.
I have a great and sincere desire to say thank you. First to a Hand that looked over us and then to everyone who stopped and gave advice. The architect who told Susan to move the room windows , the builder who stopped to show us how to measure out the foundation, when I for the umpteenth time laid out the same line. That man, I have never seen again. To all my children’s friends who so selflessly came to help. Their names are mentioned.
To Ozzies and Buco for all their advice and guidance. Francois of Ozzies who made his premises available where we could treat all the frames. A thousand thanks goes to all my friends who helped physically, with advice, food, moral support, tools borrowed or whatever contribution, thank you.
Koot and Sarie who made and installed the burglar bars and the iron gate free of charge. Jim and Maureen for all the advice and Jim for not getting angry about his aluminium ladder that was stolen from our house and the insurance did not want to pay out. Jenny and Jean Joubert that often popped in to observe and give advice as I laboured to finish the shower. Thank you Jean for the Rosewood. Marietta and Rob for so much. Thank you Marietta for the food and the open trusses on the top floor. Thank you Rob that Susan could always rely on you, especially when the workers became unreasonable.
To Mervin White who had the Telkom poles cut down for me on his farm, stored them and had it transported, on his cost. Thank you Henry and Adri du Plessis for storing the poles for probably more than a year. Thanks to Andre, our fifth electrician, that came to fix all the mistakes, finally an electrician that was worth it! Thank you for the truth window “shutter” that you made, we love it. Margaret for all the many sand bags you filled, many days you made my day. Anne and Brian who still helps to finish the house. Thanks for the special instinct you have for my home. Thank you Shannon and Jenny, you have just always been there for me and for stress release. Lumin and Chris , the two of you just came on my way at the right time. I could not have asked for more perfect artists to beautify my house. Marissa who captured the building process from start to finish on her camera. To Johan Muller for all his support in helping us fight Goliath and retain our “picket fence”. To my support group for all the prayers. Thank you Izak for putting my children and myself on your prayer list every single day.
A big thank you to my children. Anneke, Susan and Jakkie. We started with everyone giving a bit of money, and when the first bit of the soil of the foundation was picked up, I almost burst into tears.
My children were incredible. I could only stare, in disbelief, what they could do with drills , hammers, levels, nails, screws etc. To this day I do not know where they gained the skills. I watched, incredulous, how Susan kept doing research her exact way of implementing it. She remained focused and determined to complete the project successfully, and which she achieved, despite the skepticism of so many people. In many aspects I have learned much more from my children than I ever could teach them.Thank you to the three of you, I love you so much.
From my sister:
I remember one of the first major conversations that we had with regards to building a house for my mom. Major, as in with this conversation I realized it was actually going to happen. Susan was still in Cape Town busy working with the NRI, I was doing my Honn in PE and my mom was in Jeffreys Bay, her happy place, where she always will be. We went to a restaurant in Sea Views and bit by bit we started planning this house, this vision, this mountain, on small A3 pieces of paper. Sue suggested we each write down our fears as we go on and I remember my first one (and my biggest one) was that the end of this project, my family would hate each other. I mean, I knew that we were close, but doing something like this together was next level, I am sure even the Brady bunch would crack at even just the thought of this. But low and behold, a few years later, my mom is in the house, my sister has her sanity back and yes, we are still talking.
It was one hell of an experience, not only because we were way over our heads right from the beginning, but with building in general, you are constantly faced with situations where you literally don’t know what the hell to do. For this, I have to thank my sister Susan. From the beginning this was her wonderful idea, to build a house for my mom so that one day she can retire without the stress of not having somewhere to stay. I mean seriously, what an awesome human being. Susan is literally the best person on this planet. She sacrificed so much, moving from Cape Town to Jbay, leaving her dearest friends, looking for employment to help fund the project, being the project manager, builder, labour relations consultant, cook, financial manager….anything you can think of, my sister did it. Without anyone asking her to do it, and without expecting a thank you in return. She was the one spending late nights going through books, reading things on the internet, asking everyone for advice. The scientist that embarked on becoming a builder. The hours that she put in on site, the battles that she had to fight on her own, the endless stress and worries, I do not know how she did it. But she did. Her labour of love pulled through and the result is absolutely amazing. There is not enough thank you’s in the world for what she has done for my mom and the legacy that she created. Words fail me when it comes to her, but we are blessed just to be in her presence.
I also remember when people asked my mom who is building for her, she would smile from ear to ear whilst replying: “My daughter Susan”. Not once did she question her abilities or the changes that she made. Not once did she say “No, you can’t do this.” My mom, with her utmost faith in the One above, supported my sister and told everyone she will do this. She is the perfect example of one of those Voortrekker vrouens that ran barefoot across the mountains. One December, she sat in front of a pile of sand that was literally almost the size of half the plot, she sat there, day in and day out, filling bags and bags until she almost disappeared, only getting up for water and eating. This persistence carried us through this whole process, her words simply echoing “Ons sal (We will)”. And luckily, she is still going strong, the house is literally blossoming since she moved in, every weekend something is changing, a painting is being hanged, a door is being fixed, the garden is thriving (with an abundance of veggies and flowers), the grass is being cut and and and and. My mom is amazing. When I look at her and how incredible she is, I remember why we decided to do this for her in the first place.
Throughout the process there were many other people that supported us that I would really like to thank:
Anneke and Fritz: For being there when no one else was. For always helping, either by fixing something or for just listening. For endless advice and support. For thinking we were crazy but for being there regardless.
My wonderful friends: Simone Ferreira, Shaula Greyvenstein, Lucinda Erasmus, Lucinda and Stephan Neethling, Jeanette Strydom, Jeanine du Plessis, Regardt Landman, Malan Joubert, Ettiene Stevens, Tess Rautenbach, Kalinka Lombard, Betsi van Zyl, Isabeau Joubert, Markie Paarman, Willie Erasmus, Mike Hemsley, Carin Steyn. For listening, for the support, for all the encouragement, for proving shelters when I had to get away, for sitting with me when I cried, for providing endless beers and laughter, for just being the best and being there.
Ryan Allen: For all the inspiration, the volunteering, the belief in the project, the good vibes, the energy…the awesomeness.
To all my mom’s friends: Tannie Marietta en Oom Rob, Oom Louis en Tannie Marisa, Clive, Shannon, Margaret, Maureen, Jim, Oom Koot en Tannie Sarie, Jenny en Johnny, Tannie Denise en Tannie Elmari, die omgee groep that supported us with their prayers, everyone that supported my mom and my sister through every up and down.
The girls and guys from Ozzies and Buco. Often we would wander in asking for something that we didn’t even know how to explain (that square thing that fits into the ceiling that goes into the corner) and they would smile and help us with such kindness that we often felt blessed.
Lumin and Chris: For making the house feel and also look, like my mom. I don’t know how you did it, but every little detail represents her. You had such a big contribution in making the place feel like a home.
The entire Jbay community. Everywhere we went, people would ask us about the house and in general be so supporting. The lady where we got our paper bags from, the old oom that randomly stopped me because he recognized the bakkie. Everyone that gave us things for free, from driftwood, to cow manure, to food, to advice…Jbay is such a special place and the community support was so humbling.
To my dad, thank you for raising tough cookies.
The One above and all his helpers. Thank You for taking care of my family, for keeping us safe, for sending the right people along the way. We are blessed with Your grace.
Lastly, to all the assholes that thought we couldn’t do it. Sucks to be you.
My mom moved into her very own home exactly, almost to the day, two years after we started building it. Two years seem like a long time, but consider that we built only when we had cash and time available and that our work involved a lot of pioneering trial-and-error experimenting. The strange part of moving in was that the house was not completely done. We still had to finish a shower, finish the plastering around the switchboard, put doors in on the upstairs section, build a balcony and so on. When I mentioned this to friends, those with building experience response was that yes, a building is never finished. It took some time absorbing this information. I had dreamt of building a house, and once it was finished, handing it over to my mom. But now, almost 9 months after my mom has moved in, she is still working at finishing the house. A little something here, another little something there. But she is living in her own house and the joy it gives her beautifying it is lovely to witness.
I never realized what an undertaking building a house is. It is HUGE. Then throw in on top of that, building it yourself with a fairly unknown sandbag technology and going even further with plastering it with natural materials…… you got yourself a damn big, challenging endeavor. Towards the end of the project, my mom and sister’s words of encouragement consistently rang along the theme of “Don’t worry, we won’t do this again, ever and we are almost there.”
The other strange thing about building is to experience how the building changes. When you mark out the building lines, it looks so small, when the walls go up it looks so big, but nothing compares you to the changes that happens when the lights go on and the furniture comes in. All of a sudden it transforms into a home.
So much happened in that two years. Parts of it was filled with so much support from friends and family and parts of it was lonely, rainy, cold and required a lot of determination to keep going.
I want to thank some of the help along the way. My friends came to help us build over the first Christmas holidays. Carly Tanur, only slightly bigger than a sandbag herself gave up her entire holiday to help build our house and create this blog. She developed some muscle, smaller than peanuts, and was very impressed by them. Janna Kretzmar, drove down to support my big project with words affirming that she’s coming, I should not worry, after I phoned her in a slight panic to say: “You are coming right?” Stef Skupin and Alex Eppel, raised two twin girls among filling sand bags and building frames, all over their holiday break. You guys are so amazing, living in my small house over your holiday, thank you. Alex’s friend from the USA, Jo and his partner, a girl from Germany whose name I have forgotten, jumped in to help. A blind lady came to fill bags for a day with the support of one of her friends, Diane. Fritz Joubert, started me off on the frames, a hand always on one of his hips, he taught me how to calculate levels, sponsored our unique submarine doors, cooked ridiculously good food and much much much more. Oom Louis, who came to save the day when I couldn’t get the door frames square. The builder whose name I never got, who stopped and taught me how to mark out square things. Anthony Wolf and Jean Joubert who came and provided some technical knowledge.
Michael Hemsley for straightening the long wall after I sunk into tears, with a string. I was dubious, but your logic saved the day. Also for managing a tricky construction project, after I explained how to do it over skype with some sketchy drawings and driving me to site in the middle of a rainy night because I could not sleep, to check on our house. Anneke, my sister who came to help after I told her it is so lonely out there. Her company was as always, a lot of fun. Teresa and Norbert, Miriam, Brandon, Tanja Lategan, Ryan Allen, Miriam for popping in. Anna Shevel for help with a building plan, cause planning breaks it down. Andre my soon to be architect friend, who volunteered with manpower and a lot of brains. Elisabeth Meiring – you always just think I am amazing. Also, all the builders who attended our course, they jumped in and contributed so much. Jillian Hogan, the expert natural builder, with great skill in explaining and encouraging. Oom Rob Buchanen, my second dad, sometimes swearing for having to help again, and threatening me with death if I did not return his borrowed tools, but with a heart more gold that you can imagine, and after his initial cursing phase had subsided, helped us over and over again. His wife, tannie Marietta for all the words of encouragement and all the love. Markie Paarman for providing me with support during the second year of building. When I was drifting out at sea, Markie, you were a rock, I am forever in your debt, your friendship supported me so much. Simmie, Tess, Shaula, Jeanette Strydom, Lucy Erasmus, Isabeau Joubert, Malan, Ettiene, Betsi, oom Charl, Jeanine du Plessis, you carried my sister and me with so much love.
Oom Geoff was my right hand man and sent by God, to whom he often prayed for on our behalf. His prayers can bring tears to your eyes. A reliable stalwart, he would work on his own for many days, sometimes in unpleasant weather conditions. You would never say he was 90% blind, he guided me so many times.
My co-builders my mom and sister. My sister Jakkie, put in a lot of elbow grease. She often came to site, to help, when it was the place she wanted to be least in the world. On occasion she would also fire people when they needed to be fired, and would then grab a hammer and declare: “We will do it ourselves!” which perplexed and frightened me somewhat, but resulted in a new skill learnt, despite it sometimes being a steep, frustrating learning curve. My mom had an amazing ability of always speaking positively and supporting me. Never in the two years of building did she say anything other than we are going to do it and that I’m doing a good job of it. She is an amazing example of what can be done, when you simply believe you are going to do it. And of a mother’s love, believing in her daughter, beyond the call of duty.
Thanks also goes to all the skeptics and critics. You will not believe how such beliefs inspires one to keep going, fueling the fire of perseverance. One guy told me, we are all just watching and waiting for it to fail. I thought I did not hear him correctly, but he repeated himself. Oh, I said, ok. To such persons, I guess I would like to invite you for a cuppa on the stoep. No walls have moved, nothing leaks, no, to any other doubtful question you might have. The most common response we get from visitors is: “it feels nice”. Like you can’t put your finger on it exactly, but you want to linger.
And thank you for the Grace. My Guide. Constantly making me aware that I am held and blessed.
Almost exactly to the day two years after building – we move in to our own home
Sitting down for a well deserved rest this time not on the ground but on furniture…..
It has been a while since our last post. As the house moves towards completion the finishing touches is what most people comment on. Now you really can’t see the house has been built using sandbags – the walls look like any other wall you would find in a conventional house. So should we have bought ordinary lights, doors, kitchen and bathroom cupboards, our house would certainly have lost some of it’s special character, and definitely some of it’s intent, which was to do it naturally, and to keep our footprint light and green. But here enters my mom, steadfast and stubborn, and even though she would say I’m the visionary, she kept saying: “normal lights will not fit in my house” and “that man thinks I will not have wooden cupboards he’s got to think again, it can be done” and so on and so on. I kept nodding, admiring her determination, whilst my mom described her imaginary “natural lights” and insisted that she started making and buying lights before the house exterior has been completed. This meant she could purchase it over time and she can get exactly what she wants.
And here enters our angels Lumin and Chris. Perfectly sent with their abundant artistic hands, minds and hearts and a complete appreciation and understanding of my mom’s dream. One by one they crafted each light and mirror fitting in our house – with care, patience, creativity, and soul. From the start we never felt that they were service providers that treated us as their clients, we were friends. And having had many experiences of how cold the building world can be, they not only created our lights, but really brought so much warmth and character to our house.
So herewith follows a little tour of each light. We first noticed Chris’s fishes made from driftwood at our friend’s dentist practice. Stunningly made from driftwood collected on their daily excursions on the beach, and the fish’s head made by Lumin in her pottery studio. Could we not turn this into a light? The fish sits above the staircase and looks magnificent.
My mom sourced two sneezewood poles, originally used for fencing, with the holes and even some of the original wire still in tact from a generous farmer. Could we not turn those into lights? Chris made lights out of these hanging from the ceiling which took quite a bit of time on the technical side of things.
To cast light on the kitchen counter, Lumin suggested we take one of the frames we used to build the house, and fill it with recycled wine glass bottoms, that she fired in her pottery oven as glass panes. The effect is magnificent and the only showpiece of the frames used to build the house.
To light the working area over the stove, Lumin and Chris sourced enamel lids from scrap yards and made a lovely piece of it, that now hangs over the stove in the kitchen.
For one of the bedrooms, Chris and Lumin combined a mixture of driftwood with glass and pottery pieces to make an unusual and unique chandelier. During the day, the sun hits the crosses and casts beautiful light reflections on the walls.
Using bits of glass picked up from the beach, and a whole collection of “lost keys” Lumin made a glass fitting for the bathroom.
A simple light for the guest toilet, that fits with the wooden theme.
This light was made to fit the mirror, all made by Chris.
Handmade mirrors from driftwood and old railway sleepers.
Chris made a lovely piece for the hallway, using driftwood and mounting it on swiveling metal rods. The three pieces swivel individually, casting light in different directions through the hallway.
Lumin and Chris can be contacted as per details below. Expect a warm and hearty engagement.
Lumin James Originals: 072 514 8658
Just Naturally Driftwood Creations (Chris): 074 129 5012
All of the cupboards in our house have been made from wood. Chris Constanza from Wattle and Daub put the cupboards in for us. Chris volunteered on our natural building workshop where he did a lot of the cooking. We approached many kitchen cupboard companies to get quotes on using wood. Most conventional kitchen cupboard companies were reluctant to use wood stating that it would be to expensive and difficult to work with and strongly advised us to use melamine. One company suggested using wood in the kitchen would cost close to a R100 000 ($ 11 000).
Chris’s quote was very reasonable and his workmanship was of the highest standard. We can honestly say that of all the service providers that were involved with our house in the building of it, Chris far out-shone the others in terms of professionalism, quality and respect for our property. He was also the most accommodating and insightful when it came to understanding our vision for the cupboards and the “look” we wanted to achieve. He incorporated the recycled wooden boxes that my mother salvaged from my grandmother’s garage. These wooden boxes were used to deliver paraffin in and my mother stripped the paint of the boxes to reveal the old “advertising emblems” engraved on the sides of the boxes.
Chris used these boxes to build a food storage cupboard and pull-out drawers. The kitchen tops and doors are made from black wood (Acacia melanoxia) and karri wood (Eucalyptus diversivolor). These trees are invasive exotics from Australia and using it helps to clear alien vegetation and preserves our indigenous hardwood species.
We used all of our left over half tins of varnish for treating the interiors of the cupboards and a natural varnish for the exterior.
Chris Constanza lives in St Francis Bay and works in the Kouga area. He loves challenging and different projects (I think our house fits the bill ). Chris Constanza (www.wattleanddaub.co.za – 076 828 6100 – firstname.lastname@example.org)
The final lime layer of our natural floor has been put down. The floor comprises of a rock layer, followed by a cob layer and then two layers of lime plaster. We used clay and earth to add color to the lime. The first layer of lime cracked considerably and we did a series of experiments to see how best we could get the last layer not to crack. Our experiments showed that adding cement is not required, which is great.
Once the last layer of lime dried, we sealed it with a combination of linseed oil, turpentine and natural floor wax. The end result is beautiful. So far the floor is holding up well, it does not dust and is fairly waterproof. It is really easy to clean, just sweeping up dust and washing with water.
We used a combination of techniques to put the last layer of lime down. We put the floor down in one continuous go, without the use of any material to allow for expansion. It took some experimenting to crack it but the end result is amazing.
Article that appeared on the green business guide:
The house that Susan built
What makes a house green? Is it the energy saving features? Is it the high thermal properties of the building walls? Or is it the relentless pursuit of a journey to create a home that makes as little impact on its environment as is humanly possible?
This is the question Susan and Jakkie Botha of Jeffrey’s Bay set out to answer when they decided to build a sustainable house for their mother. Susan and Jakkie set out to prove they could build a green home using local, natural materials and could keep the cost within their limited budget.
Susan and Jakkie run a successful, edible landscape business in the Jeffrey’s Bay and Port Elizabeth area called Urban Harvest. By their own admission, they confess they knew nothing about construction and its management, so their first step was to embark on a fact-finding mission to determine which of the natural building styles would best suit their requirements.
After much consideration, sandbags were selected as the most suitable natural material to use for the construction of the house. The bags chosen to hold the sand are made of a robust geotextile material and they were readily available from the local market. The structure utilised approximately 20,000 of these specialised bags. The sand was sourced from a nearby quarry and delivered to site by the truck load. Each of the bags holds approximately 7.5kg.
The foundation was made using a crushed stone sub-base topped with sandbags. It was recommended the sandbags be filled with 1:10 cement to sand ratio for improved strength. The structural wood & galvanized sheet latticework forming the outside walls, sits directly onto the sandbag foundation. Questioning the structural integrity of sand bag walls, Susan and Jackie first carried out a field test, which demonstrated clearly that sufficient structural integrity was derived from the sheer weight of thousands of sandbags.
Although professionals were required at certain stages to fine-tune the design and the construction process, it was quite surprising and on some level, liberating to learn how the Botha sisters made use of resources available to them to achieve the majority of the build by themselves. They made use of a free version of Sketchup to draw up a 3D model of their plan and received useful tips from friends such as how to use a clear, water filled hosepipe to work out their levels.
Knowing their limitations and understanding the need to quickly learn the construction ‘tricks of the trade’, the best thing Susan and Jakkie did was experiment, experiment and experiment some more. When they bought the plot, they spent 12 months researching and closely studying the local weather patterns. Weather patterns are an essential observation for proper orientation and design of a passive house. Most importantly, the sisters listened carefully to and aimed to meet their client’s requirements.
The Botha sisters were surprised to find that they were not the first to attempt such a feat. A short time searching the Internet yielded many examples of people who have succeeded in building their own house from natural materials, right here in South Africa. This was a very important find for them as a precedent had already been established and allowed them to approach local authorities with built examples that helped to explain their own application. The local building authorities’ requirements had to be taken into account as the utilities connections would have an effect on the buildings eventual orientation.
The building process itself was a series of highs and lows. It was a very steep learning curve for the sisters, involving continuous experimentation with different materials of various recipes. For example, the ideal solution for the exterior walls was a wire mesh fixed to the sandbags, plastered with a cob mixture and sealed with lime/prickly pear juice mixture. This recipe was perfected after considerable experimentation. The building walls took approximately 1 month to erect, with an average of 5 people working per day. Sitting inside, one can appreciate the impressive thermal quality of the building envelope, even when gale force winds were battering the other side of the walls.
There was obviously a lot of preparation work to be done before building could begin, as the sandbags needed to be filled by hand. This is when delegation of priorities set in and team-work became an integral part of this project.
As soon as word spread that the building had commenced, many people expressed a desire to be part of this exciting project. People from as far as Cape Town came to J-Bay to volunteer their services and expertise. This was truly becoming a community project. Susan and Jakkie were also able to raise much needed funds with practical courses during the construction process.
In addition to the ‘natural’ building materials used for the building envelope, a solar water heater has been installed on the north facing part of the roof. The intention is to add further efficiency features such as a 50,000 litre, ferro-cement water tank for rainwater harvesting and a photovoltaic installation. A black water digester was considered, but the volume created would be too low for the system to function effectively. A composting black water system is currently being researched. It is worth noting that the roofing material was also selected on the basis of tests undertaken by manufacturers to show the effect their materials would have on rainwater collection. Some roofing materials could not guarantee that the water harvested would be suitable for residential consumption making them unsuitable.
The one factor remaining to consider is costing. What did this building cost and how does it compare to a conventional building? According to Susan, the 160m² cost approximately R450,000, which works out to approximately R2812/m². The Kitchen still needs to be accounted for, pushing the final per meter price to approximately R3500. There was a higher than usual man hours invested into the construction of this natural house. That translated into a higher total labour cost. However, there were many man hours invested but not considered in the costing as they were invested by volunteers who bartered those hours for experience. Furthermore, many of the building materials could not be considered in the per meter price as those materials were sourced at no cost. For example, the prickly pear is considered invasive and farmers were all too happy for them to be removed from their farm. The stones for the sub-base were also sourced from the adjacent properties at no cost. Another unexpected cost, considered in the final cost estimate was material loss due to theft. Susan estimates R50,000 was lost due to theft of materials and the subsequent security costs incurred with trying to minimize such loss levels.
Through trial and tribulation, Susan and Jakkie have created a truly natural house that does not negatively affect its environment and aims to be as energy and resource efficient as possible. It will be very interesting to see how the house settles into its environment and how it evolves to become even more efficient with the addition of various technologies. The lessons learnt from this trailblazing construction will no doubt be employed in other natural buildings throughout South Africa, aiding the spread of energy efficiency in a country with limited and overstretched resources.
By: Khaled El-Jabi