Sustainability in Buildings – Embrace or fight against?

by Ofentse Sefolo
Sustainability in Buildings – Embrace or fight against?

By Lisa Reynolds

The Regulation for Energy Efficiency for Buildings was promulgated in November 2011. Why, after seven and a half years, is it not the norm? Especially given that load-shedding in South Africa is the norm.

Green Building rating tools have been available in South Africa since 2007. Cape Town recently experienced a historical world’s worst water crisis for a major city. So why is sustainability in buildings still perceived to be “a nice to have” as opposed to a “need to have”?

There seems to be a disconnect between the resource crises that South Africa experiences and the drive for sustainable design in buildings.

Capacity building in efficient buildings

Many South African cities have committed to a low carbon future which includes net-zero Carbon buildings in all new buildings by 2030. The National Development Plan also commits South Africa to zero Carbon Buildings by 2030. The push to go beyond the mandatory requirements means that compliance to the mandatory requirements is a fundamental necessity. This is the foundation on which the higher aspirations are built.

One of Green Building Design Group’s current projects is training the Building Control Office staff within different municipalities on the application of SANS 10400-XA. Part of the training is a “Shared Learning” component. The comments that arise from this shared learning are always enlightening.

One of the themes arising from comments is the perception amongst some building owners, developers and builders that energy efficiency in buildings is not mandatory and thus SANS 10400-XA is seen to be merely a guideline to “better” buildings.

This perception is obviously false and relatively scary. The whole of the SANS 10400-series is based on minimum standards. The professionals are encouraged to design, commission and build to higher than the minimum. The premise that the SANS 10400-XA is a guideline for better than business-as-usual defeats this objective.

SANS 10400-XA is the first major step in the journey to net zero carbon buildings.

Energy Efficiency Rating Icon Shows Green Housing

Costs of energy efficiency design

As I said, better than mandatory energy efficient design is encouraged; and it does happen. But, sometimes, it is taken out of the design at the Quantity Surveyor stage of the process – because of material cost. The common market perception is that energy efficiency add between 20 to 20% to the construction costs whereas in reality they only add 1 – 3 %. Instead these added energy efficiency costs result in savings over the life time of the building. An example that I’ve come across is where cavity walls with insulation were specified in a number of building projects (Above the current deemed-to-satisfy requirements in SAN 10400-XA). The Quantity Surveyors on some of these projects decided that the insulation in the cavity wall could be “removed” as a saving on building material costs. In these cases, no consideration was given to life-cycle costs or operational costs of those projects. A single digit percentage saving on material costs has an adverse effect for the occupants and tenants in a double-digit percentage electricity price increase. What about cost vs. investment?

Health and safety in energy efficiency

My journey into drafting energy efficiency standards started in 2002 when I was part of a multi-disciplinary team investigating how to eliminate black mould in Government subsidised Housing in the South Cape Condensation Area. The condensation that was formed inside the houses in winter was a breeding ground for black mould. As you are aware, black mould spores can cause respiratory problems. The occupants of these houses – especially the children – were becoming prone to lung diseases like asthma. The solution to this problem was a more energy efficient house. The National Norms and Standards for Government subsidised housing was amended in this area to include ceilings with insulation and plaster on the exterior and interior of the external walling.

On a particular project, I was witness to the sub-contractors applying a bag-wash to the walls – as opposed to plaster. The perception was that the addition of plaster was aesthetic and that porous, cheap bag-wash would suffice. In this instance, once I explained the knock-on health effects of the sub-contractor’s choice, they changed to applying the specified plaster.

University of Johannesburg research –Approximately 70% of hospital admittance for respiratory problems is directly linked to poor household indoor air quality – types of fuels for heating and cooking.

Approximately 50% of deaths due to respiratory problems is directly linked to poor indoor air quality.

Water Efficiency

Although water efficiency in buildings is not yet a mandatory requirement, these standards and regulations are in the pipeline (excuse the pun). But why should we wait for the mandatory requirements? Why should we wait for the next water crisis? This is the ideal time to embrace innovative water saving solutions. Innovation can be applied at a building level or at a campus level or at a precinct level. This is the time to influence solutions – before the enforcement of solutions.

Energy Performance Certificates – measurement and retrofit

The regulation for mandatory display of Energy Performance Certificates in offices, places of public assembly and places of instruction is expected soon. These are for Public Buildings of 1000 m² or more and for private sector buildings of 2 000 m² or more. Energy Performance Certificates don’t save energy, but they are a tool towards energy efficiency in existing buildings. Not only will property owners and managers know the energy consumption of their buildings, but the potential tenant market will know them too. This will lead to retrofitting of energy inefficient buildings to remain competitive. The challenge that the property owners face is that they are paying the retrofit capital costs and the tenants are receiving the benefits of the utilities savings. This is not a good reason for deciding not to retrofit. Innovative ways of shared savings and/or green leases will result in win-win scenarios.


Version 2 of SANS 10400-XA will be published in 2019. It was supposed to be published in 2016 (5 years from Version 1). The building industry should not complain about the speed at which the changes are taking place, as they are being implemented slower than planned. Be flexible and adapt. Be innovative and creative in the sustainability space. Embrace it instead of fighting against it.

Green Building Design Group
Tel: 082 773 2928
Email: lisa@greenbdg.co.za
Website: www.greenbdg.co.za

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