South Africa’s first “Green Street” upgrade project in a low-income area in Cato Manor in Durban has highlighted the significant cost savings and job creation benefits that could be achieved if the 3 million low-cost houses built since 1994 were retrofitted.
The findings of a case study of the project, led by the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA), show significant potential policy implications for the government, which plans to build a further 3 million low-cost houses by 2025.
Sarah Rushmere, the head of advocacy and special projects for the GBCSA, said three key interventions stood out from the study and it would be cheaper to retrofit the existing low-cost housing with insulated ceilings, low-energy compact fluorescent lighting bulbs and heat-insulation cookers than building the next power station in the country.
Each of the 30 households received an energy-efficient retrofit in the form of solar-water heaters, insulated ceilings, efficient lighting and heat-insulation cookers.
Unsafe electrical wiring was replaced in the process, rainwater harvesting tanks were added and food gardens established for the production of home-grown food and a polluted nearby stream was cleaned up and indigenous trees and smaller plants and fruit trees planted.
The Cato Manor Green Street retrofit, which involved 30 low-cost houses, has been nothing short of life-changing for its residents.
Rushmere said some of the positive outcomes from the project included residents having hot water on tap for the first time through solar-water heating; a saving of up to 25 percent on electricity; improved water and food security through rainwater harvesting and food gardens; greater comfort through better insulation that reduced peak summer temperatures; and less need for fuels such as paraffin, coal and wood, which meant reduced health problems from respiratory illnesses and reduced fire safety risks for these homes.
Rushmere said energy and water savings estimated at about R3 billion a year would be possible if retrofits similar to those done to these 30 houses were done for the country’s existing 3-million low-cost housing units.
This money would stay in the pockets of residents and be retained in the local economy, she said. Rushmere added the electricity saving would amount to more than 3 400 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to about a third of the electricity usage of cities the size of Cape Town and Durban.
“For the purposes of generating revenue on international carbon credit markets, 9.72 million tons worth of carbon credits are possible,” she said.
Rushmere said it was estimated that about 36.5 million days of work could be created by a retrofit programme for the country’s existing 3-million low-cost houses, which was equivalent to employing more than 165 000 people for a year of work.
The cost benefits of the interventions indicated a maximum potential average monthly saving to residents of R78.42 for electricity and R9.55 for water.
Bruce Kerswill, the GBCSA’s executive chairman, said the project turned an idea into reality on the ground through simple interventions that made an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of people’s lives.
The project, mostly funded by the British High Commission, was completed shortly before the COP17 international climate change talks last year.
A second phase of the project, involving the retrofitting of 26 houses, is expected to commence soon and be completed by the end of this year, will cost about R1 million and is being funded by the Australian High Commission to South Africa.
Dame Nicola Brewer, the British high commissioner to South Africa, said the aim of the project was to demonstrate a range of socioeconomic, health and environmental benefits that could be obtained from sustainable design and resource-efficiency interventions in low-income housing.
The case study report said energy-efficiency measures had been introduced into the National Building Regulations and would be enforced for all new buildings.
However, the degree of enforcement in respect of low-cost housing was uncertain because it was not integrated into the National Housing Code, the building standard for low-cost housing construction.