The junk house

The walls are 70cm thick, made of old car tyres, so there us little need for heating or cooling, which cuts costs and carbon. Photo: Jason Boud

It’s built of old tin cans, car tyres, cardboard boxes, chicken wire and mud. But with a layer of plaster and paint over it all, few would guess that the walls are full of junk.

It is called a “post-carbon house”, built to a similar floor size and budget of an RDP house, costing about R80 000. It is independent of Eskom electricity, has solar lighting and hot water, a pedal washing machine, grey-water system for a vegetable garden and rainwater tanks.

Designers believe it is the answer to SA’s future low-cost, low-carbon housing.

The house, a finalist in the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Awards, was built at Rocklands Primary School in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. Last week, school principal Kevin Pretorius “test-lived” in it for a week.

“I was the ‘post-carbon survivor’, and it was an absolutely wonderful house. This is what will save us. It taught me a few lessons, to use less electricity because you want to conserve the solar power. And it was exceptionally warm. My wife joined me and we used only one blanket,” Pretorius said.

At the weekend, the former chairman of the school-governing body, Fowziyah van Harten, took over from the principal. Her verdict: “I can recommend it any time. You’re actually taking care of nature, for instance all your organic waste goes into the worm bin or on to the compost heap.”

The house is part of a project by Seed, a non-profit organisation that grew out of the Cape Flats school environment. Although there is a solar stove, there is a gas stove, too. There are rainwater tanks, but the main water supply is municipal.

Nick Ralphs, whose company did the construction, said they had used 400 scrap car tyres. “We filled each with earth and rubble, compacted it with a heavy hammer, and put the next layer on, staggered like bricks. We filled the cavities with tin cans and cardboard boxes, wrapped chicken wire around the whole lot and plastered it with lime plaster. It looks just like a normal house. These have been used in Malawi on a huge low-cost housing scale. You need only one trained person and eight unskilled labourers,” he said.

“We have presented a business plan to the city council, but they didn’t show much interest,” Ralphs said.

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