Our Johannesburg exhibitor, Foo Dog Design House was founded by Bradley Clark. Aside from creating funky eco-friendly home furniture and accessories, he is a qualified interior designer and architectural technician who has worked on some of the biggest commercial design projects both locally and abroad over the past 23 years. A true green movement champion, Bradley built a composite off-the-grid house for himself…entirely from scratch.
Located on a farm in Gauteng, the house has a small organic veggie farm, an eco-pool and a tennis court made out of recycled car tyres, among other green design features. We spoke to Bradley about this proudly South African example of eco-conscious innovation.
Can you tell us a little bit about the green features of the house?
The house is not just designed with a high conscience of its impact on the planet but it is also completely off-the-grid.
People have not come to realise that there are two separate philosophies at play. Off-the-grid houses are sometimes termed as green when their construction process could have been extremely damaging to the planet. Similarly, a house designed and developed with a high conscience of its impact on the planet can still get all its energy, water and services from the “Grid”.
Our house embraces both of those principles and generates all its own energy and processes all its own waste while having a very limited impact on the environment.
How does it “operate”?
It operates like any other home would. It used off the shelf appliances and most people who come into the home for the first time do not realise that all the power being consumed, water and waste used are not supplied but generated. I fill the batteries with distilled water every 6 months and move my 4 bovine lawn mowers around every few weeks.
Then there is the usual house work – just like the “Jones” next door.
What is it made of?
The entire house has been designed with materials that can either be recycled easily or be redeployed in another structure in a second life. One of the most important factors I focus on when designing a structure is what happens to it when it reaches its “end of use”.
I also prefer using “accurate material” – this means material that are factory produced to be straight and can be prefabricated in a factory for greater accuracy. The accuracy of a building has a direct relationship on how much waste gets produced by the construction process. It also impacts on the construction time. I have also employed an “honest” approach to finishes – this means if the floor is concrete it stays concrete and gets sealed. The solid timber floors that you see are part of the structure. There are no applied finishes other than paint and tiles on the shower walls. The structure materials are steel, steel sheeting and glass. The interior finishes are 22mm solid teak, plasterboard, concrete exposed copper pipes and steel. I added some insulation here and there with neoprene curtain liners to add more insulation to the large windows.
Are you able to power the whole house through the solar panels?
No, we also use LP and natural gas. The solar powers the lighting and appliances. The gas is used for hot water and cooking. Heating is via two convection closed door fire places. We burn all the invader trees we cut down on the farm and use the ash to add potassium to our compost.
What compelled you to go off-the-grid?
I was working on a very large corporate construction project for a large bank in 2009 and the “city” could not supply power to the project so the project had to fund and build its own substation. It was before the days of load shedding and I saw the writing on the wall. I have also always been a bit of a tree hugger and it’s the right thing to do. I wanted my children to grow up with different mindset by living a less consumer driven life. I am very fortunate to have a wife that shares my ideals.
What does it mean exactly to live “off-the-grid”? Did you impose any rules or restrictions on yourself?
I think true creatives shudder when they hear the word “rules” or “restriction”. It’s not every day that you get the chance to design your own home. The only rules I applied was not to adhere to any. I started by breaking Architecture’s golden rule number 1. “Though shalt design the structure taking into account all the site has to offer.” I designed the building completely and then went looking for a suitable site.
Off-the-grid for some people can encompass a different way of life. They are those people lugging their recycling to recycling spots, buying organic food, drinking home pressed juice, going to the homeopath and not the local quack – OH (shit) that sound like us.
More and more people are choosing to go off-the-grid. Why do you think that is?
It seems to have a bit of a fashion element to be off-grid, so I hope they are doing it for all the right reasons. If it’s good for the planet then it’s good for me. I think, in the not too distant future, state supplied energy will only be available to the very rich and the very poor and everyone in between will have to sort themselves out.
Foregoing comforts of city living must have been a truly life-altering experience. What were some of the big life lessons you learned along the way?
That’s funny. I grew up on a farm and then spent 22 years living in Parkurst and Greenside – now that was uncomfortable and noisy. I traded body corporate for cows, taxi hooting for bird song, traffic for a walk across my garden, club base beats at 2am for our release owls hooting – I think you can see where this is going.
How feasible is it for anyone to make the change and go off-the-grid? What advice do you have for our readers?
100% feasible even on an existing house. In urban areas the only real challenge is potable water. If you want to treat your own sewage you will have to put it back into the “grid” sewage system. Your biggest hurdle in not how to do it , it’s how the authorities view it, let’s be blunt by going off grid you are depriving them of an income stream so they play the game – just persist. My 6 year old does not even know what load shedding is.
Visit Foo Dog Design House to see their selection of eco-friendly home products: www.foodogdesign.co.za