When SEED invited us to visit their recently-unveiled post-carbon homestead in Cape Town, we jumped at the opportunity. Built using the same blueprints and budget as an RDP house, which is the government housing standard for underprivileged South Africans, this remarkable solar-powered home made of tires, clay and recycled timber pallets demonstrates that we can survive in a world without fossil fuels. Built on the Rocklands Primary School grounds and tested by the Head Principal known fondly as "Mr. P," the charming house exists independently of the national grid.
The site and design optimize daylighting and solar gain during the cold winter months while the windows were placed strategically to capture the prevailing breeze and allow hot air to escape during summer. SEED, a non-profit organization that provides permaculture education throughout South Africa, planted deciduous trees on the north side to provide shading in the summer months. But because deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, solar gain is maximized when temperatures drop.
Built from recycled tires that are filled with sand and clay and packed with tin cans and a lime-cement plaster, the post-carbon homestead is clad in recycled shipping pallets; its thick walls provide excellent thermal massing that makes this pilot project comfortable year round. The photovoltaic panel provides a decent amount of energy and hot water, which could be increased if necessary, and rainwater capture tanks, a compost toilet and a natural grey water recycling system ensures that water is conserved as well.
Most notably, this has all been done with a limited $10,000 budget, which drowns out any argument that sustainable housing is not as affordable as new construction. Leigh Brown, SEED’s Director, explained that the price would decrease if the government ordered a succession of these self-sufficient homes. Just one part of SEED’s Urban Abundance Center, which is currently comprised of a mushroom-growing business, organic garden and an outdoor classroom, and located in a seriously oppressed neighborhood outside of the city, the post-carbon homestead is a beacon of shining light that gives us a whole boatload of hope for South Africa’s future.