How To See Carbon-neutral Living, At Your Leisure

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

Why not take some travelling time and observe the endless possibilities of conservation economies driving carbon neutral environments.

South Africa’s nature reserves and eco sensitive resorts illustrate brilliant innovations of long-term energy- and cost-saving strategies – many of which can be observed or implemented while doing upgrades, revamps, or new builds when back at home.

Practical examples abound at any number of rest camps at SANPARK and Cape Nature reserves. Newly-built accommodation structures, such as the architecturally-designed timber chalets at Oudebos Mountain Camp at Kogelberg Reserve near Bettysbay, illustrate how, from the outset, passive building methods facilitate a carbon neutral footprint.

Cape Nature’s new tourism development strategy is reflected throughout the province, and also at the unique fresh and seawater birding environment of Rocherpan on the Cape west coast near Velddrift, as well as the recently-upgraded timber chalet facilities at Ebb and Flow in Wilderness and Tsitsikamma Forest. Green building principles have replaced outdated and neglected facilities, many of which were poorly suited to reserves in arid climates within water scarce areas, and others in coastal and forest surroundings.

At the mountainous surroundings of Oudebos camp, an abundance of natural light through large window enclosures not only reduces solar energy usage for heating or cooling, but also facilitates a sense of outdoor tranquillity while being indoors during all weather conditions. While rainwater catchment areas on green rooftops, and grey water reticulation systems save mega- litres, visitors are obliged to conserve water with automated short showers and flushing systems. Units are furnished with solar geysers and timers, gas cookers and slow burning fireplaces in open plan areas, as well as high efficiency refrigerators, all which help to achieve energy savings of between 60 and 80%.

Architect Justin Cooke, who was appointed by Cape Nature to design various upgrades as well as new accommodation structures at several reserves, says he values the principles of the old Aboriginal proverb: “To touch this early lightly” – which also echoed through the works of internationally-acclaimed Australian architect Glen Murcutt. Cooke says, when working within SA’s delicate surroundings and challenging climates in pristine nature reserves, Murcutt’s architectural notion of light and weightless design is inspiring. His work reflects an all-round conservation approach, of which one of many elements shows the use of locally-sourced natural materials that are of low carbon production and high durability.

When bird lovers from around the globe visit the Rocherpan Reserve, sophisticated accommodation facilities feature north-facing lightweight timber frame chalets, with deep under-cover verandas and specially designed horizontal bird watching windows in bedrooms. Ultimate comfort during all seasons is facilitated here with Isotherm insulated walls and floors, pre-coated corrugated aluminium roof sheeting, and solar water-heating panels.

Visitors of all ages are able to test and try energy and water efficient applications at these camps, which illustrate staggering cost-savings and will reduce carbon footprints over time. These include water measurement metres, which control daily water consumption with penalties, to solar energy, gas cooking, bio-digesters, composting toilets, and recycling facilities.

Long-term planning is essential to achieve conservation economies, say builders and architects. While short-term measures are a good start, they say that the initial capital outlay associated with a permanent carbon neutral environment is offset immediately and recoverable within just a few years.

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