The Mystic Cat Logo with white strip

Phase 2 Build Begins November 2019


Our journey to living off grid and self sustainably in South Africa. This month we begin phase 2 of building our off grid, eco friendly home.

The First Build

Up to now, Russ and I had been living in a 3m x 6m wendy house (the cabin), with an afdak added on giving us a little covered area outside, and a toilet and shower. While living in 18m2 wasn’t as cramped as we’d expected, all our furniture and most of our belongings were still at our house in Muizenberg, where Russ stayed for work. I missed two things – a couch to curl up on, and the dining room table. We love playing board games with friends, and having people round for dinner. I couldn’t wait to have a big enough space to accommodate those two pieces of furniture. It would also, admittedly, be nice to have a bit extra cupboard space. Russ would be able to spend more time at the farmstead if he had space to move his edit suite here (now that we had the power to run it thanks to the solar system installation), and I was itching to get working on my eco range I’d been planning and researching for months, which I too needed space for.

We had originally planned to use the cabin as the back wall of the main house, and to convert the cabin into the workshop once the house was built. Well, if there’s one thing we have learned about building it is this: everything costs more than you plan for, even when you build in a contingency. So, original plans were scaled back with the knowledge that we can always add on later, making it financially feasible for us to go ahead with a part expansion.

The new plan was to build a 6m x 4m timber frame structure to be the bedroom and the office. A timber frame refers to a building that has a timber frame (shocker) that is then clad in whatever suitable material is desired – in our case, we wanted to go with Zincalume. Timber framing is a traditional method of building with heavy timbers, creating structures using carefully fitted and joined timbers. Germany is most known for this kind of architecture (according to Wikipedia anyway), I’ve always associated it with buildings in Canada.

We’d build the timber frame 4m away from the existing wood cabin, leaving a gap of 4m in between the wood cabin and the new timber frame. It would be easy then to put up a roof between the two buildings, using either side as support, creating a nice big sheltered undercover area of 4m (the length of the gap) by 6m (the length of the two buildings). Later, we could enclose the two open sides and make into another living area. I got the inspiration from this beautiful design:

Russ and I both really loved the idea of using a lot of glass to create a visually open space with no divide between outside nature and the interior. I was really hoping we’d be able to close the sides of the middle area with glass to get this effect.

After chatting with our builder, he suggested that since we are laying a foundation for the timber frame, we might as well throw in and do the space between at the same time. He also recommended that we do a standard pitched roof to cover both spaces at the same time too. The quote came back well over budget, so we had to really pare away all non-essentials… you know, like doors, flooring, internal wall cladding (basically everything that wasn’t part of the external skeleton of the house would have to wait). Finally, we had a quote that fit the budget and a plan that was still easily extendable as finances allowed. 

Building commenced at the beginning of November, with backfill to level the area and placing the foundation frame the first steps. Since our builder wasn’t prepared to trust the existing wood cabin to support the pitched roof, we had to cement in additional poles against the wendy to help hold up the roof frame.

At the end of the first week of November, our foundation had been laid, and there’d been a bit of extra cement left over which we used outside the shower and toilet.

We had to keep the doggos inside for two days with strictly controlled outside time to make sure they didn’t run all over the setting cement. We succeeded on that part, but a naughty resident mongoose (aka the compost diver) had a good old stroll across the main foundation during the night, somewhat mooting our efforts. We had to wet the cement twice a day to slow down the setting speed, reducing the chances of cracks forming.

I had been scouring Gumtree every month for good deals on second hand building materials, with Russ going to buy the items while he was in Cape Town. We scooped up beautiful double french doors for the bedroom, as well as large aluminium windows and 7m of sliding doors for a song! Thanks to that find, we’d be able to enclose the area between the two main buildings with glass like I’d been envisioning!

At the end of November, our builder was back with the timber frames for the walls which he’d constructed off site, and started putting them up. This part went unbelievably fast – from a cement foundation to seeing the shape of a house forming in front of our eyes!