• The Content Copywriter

When you’re building a brand new home, the garden is often the furthest thing from your mind. However, your garden is as important to the overall aesthetic of your home as any of the built features, and it’s a good idea to consider this in your planning.

You don’t have to have a green thumb or be a professional landscaping expert to grow and maintain a beautiful garden. It just takes a little bit of research and some planning ahead – the rest is just a little bit of maintenance, then it’s up to Mother Nature.

Start early

If you’re completely new to gardening, this is especially important. The good news is that “starting early” doesn’t necessarily mean getting stuck into the cold outdoors in the middle of winter. (We much prefer curling up on a comfy couch during this time, with a mug of hot chocolate and Google guiding us through the dos and don’ts of gardening.) Of course, if braving the frost is your bag, who are we to stand in your way?

Jokes aside, though, it’s a good idea to establish a few important basics before you begin, and winter is the perfect time for doing that research. For example, do you know what type of soil you have on your property? What types of plants would work best in this type of soil? If you don’t really have a garden so much as a barren wasteland, is it possible that there is something preventing things from growing in your yard, such as poor soil nutrition?

Be choosy

The simplest, most cost-effective way to ensure that you have a beautiful garden all year round is to choose plants that are likely to thrive in the existing environment. It’s also a good idea to pick plants that won’t take up more of your time than you are willing or able to spend looking after and maintaining. Those pretty little colourful flowers might compliment the neutral tones of your boundary walls perfectly, but they may also be extremely delicate and require daily tending. If you don’t have that kind of time, you’ll either end up with bare flowerbeds or spend a fortune on garden services. Similarly, if you place plants together that have different light and watering requirements, you’re bound to have a patchy, non-cohesive result. Your best bet is to settle on a particular theme or look before you go shopping for plants and seedlings.

Don’t dig it

The condition of the soil in your garden is key. And contrary to what many gardeners have been taught, turning or aerating the soil can actually do more harm than good, resulting in hardening of the soil, drainage issues and soil erosion. Rather, take steps to protect the soil by using compost or planting groundcover plants, or letting leaves that fall in the flowerbeds stay there and nourish the ground, rather than raking them up.

Strangle the weeds

Or better yet, pluck them out – quickly. Unfortunately, weeds are a problem that will never entirely disappear, as their seed is carried on the wind or brought into your garden by birds. You’ll need to be proactive about keeping them at bay, because once they’ve taken over, it’s a painful and often costly exercise to get rid of them – especially if they’ve been allowed to take over your lawn.

Take it easy

Even if you’re not an avid gardener, there is a great deal of joy to be had from seeing the results of the work you put in. Don’t take on too much, though, and let yourself be overwhelmed by the size of the task at hand. If you’re just starting out, select a spot you’d like to improve and start there. Gardening is a soothing, meditative activity for many who need to break away from the daily grind and enjoy a little peace and solitude. Your local nursery or garden centre will most likely have a few very knowledgeable staff who can help you get started, and will guide you in your selection of plants and equipment. And if you’d rather just enjoy the finished product, you can always bring in the professionals and sip sundowners in the gorgeous green getaway they make of your back yard.

With winter hitting us hard recently, keeping warm is the first thought on many people’s minds. Most of us are fortunate enough to have a number of options available, and are especially glad to have them on those sub-zero degree nights. However, the strain of several hundred thousand heating appliances on our infrastructure is making itself felt via the return of rolling power black-outs, so we’ve been looking into some of the various heating solutions available and considering the costs of each.

It’s a gas

Gas heaters are a popular solution in South Africa as they are very effective and come in a wide variety of styles, sizes and colours, making it easy to select the model that best accommodates your specific needs.

The good:

The best thing about a gas heater in South Africa is the fact that you’ll still be warm when load shedding happens. Then, there’s also the relative speed with which it can warm a space, and the relatively low running cost of a heater with a 9kg gas bottle, which seems to be the average.

The bad:

When your heater runs out of gas, you may find yourself braving the frost in search of a refill, which is the exact opposite of what you’d rather be doing when it’s -3°C outside. And if your installation or appliance is faulty, gas leaks may cause serious problems before they’re detected; Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation and usage instructions at all times!

The price tag:

You can expect to pay between R800 and R2500 for a gas heater, depending on the brand and model you choose. A 9kg gas cylinder costs around R600 to R700 new, and roughly R200 to refill. How often you’ll need to refill your cylinder is highly dependent on how frequently you use your heater, at what setting and for how long. However, your appliance should have a g/hr (grams per hour) rating. If you divide the cylinder’s capacity in grams (i.e. 9kg = 9000) by the appliance’s g/h rating (e.g. 191 g/hr), you’ll get the average number of hours’ worth of heating you can expect from your cylinder.

Eternal flame

Despite the portable convenience of most modern solutions for warming the home, man’s love affair with fire persists and home, it seems, remains where the hearth is.

The good:

There is no denying that few things beat the almost hypnotic draw of a roaring fire on a cold night. And there are so many more choices available today than just a coal or wood-burning fireplace, although those still remain an option. But for those who prefer a slightly less rustic atmosphere, the romance of a good blaze is still attainable, without the smoke, firelighters or next-day clean up, thanks to the wide array of contemporary fireplaces on the market, including closed combustion, flue-less, double-sided and even automated and freestanding fireplaces.

The bad:

Whether you choose to install a classic, wood-burning fireplace or a fancy, vent-less one, ventilation is a potentially dangerous issue; traditional fireplaces that aren’t correctly ventilated can smoke badly, while gas fireplaces left burning for hours at a time can lead to high humidity and cause mould. And, of course, if you have a chimney, you’ll need to ensure that birds and other small animals don’t nest in there and cause problems.

The price tag:

Prices can vary wildly on this one. Many old houses have beautiful traditional hearths that require nothing more than to have a new fire built of an evening. If you’re having a fireplace newly installed, however, you could pay anywhere from around R4500 to upwards of R35 000 for a freestanding unit, and more for an old school, built-in type of fireplace.

What lies beneath

Next on our list is under floor heating – an excellent option if you’re in the process of building your house and have not yet installed your flooring, and still a great option even if you’re retrofitting it, because heating a room from the floor up is highly effective.

The good:

The best thing about under floor heating is the fact that it is pretty much invisible once installed, so there is no compromise on either the amount of space available for living in, or the appearance of your home. And since you now have a choice between electric and hydronic (liquid heating/cooling) systems, load shedding and power cuts need not be a concern when deciding on this solution for your home.

The bad:

Electric systems are still subject to the typical issues that plague our beloved country in regard to power supply – not to mention the rising cost of electricity! Also, it doesn’t help that the electricity capacity being allocated to new developments is lower, so you’re far more likely to have to endure the cold when load shedding strikes.

The price tag:

The cost of installation and running of your under floor system will vary depending on whether you opt for a DIY installation, the size of the room/s to be heated and the day-to-day usage of the system. It will also depend on whether your system is electric or hydronic, and in the case of the latter, how the water is heated.

Electric dreams

As we have seen, there is a host of home heating solutions to select from. However, electric heaters remain one of the most commonly used options in South Africa.

The good:

One of the best qualities of an electric heater is that it starts to warm a space almost instantly when switched on, and most units are small and portable, allowing the user to set it up and enjoy its warmth just about anywhere.

Fixed air conditioning units, in turn, although not portable, are highly effective and an attractive option all year round, since they can also be used to cool the home in summer. Modern units are also very sleek and stylish, and can blend beautifully into the aesthetics of just about any home.

The bad:

The supply-demand woes that plague our power utility are, of course, the biggest detractor from the value of electric heating systems. Then there’s also the fact that they tend to dry out the air, which plays a significant role in the stuffy noses, dry skin and other winter niggles we all experience.

The price tag:

Small radiant bar heaters and fan heaters are available on the market for under R200, with other options like panel heaters, oil fin units averaging at around R650. A compact, free standing air conditioning unit will set you back anywhere from R1500 to R25 000, while fixed units start from around R2800 and can cost up to R30 000.

The jury’s out

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which option is best suited to your needs and your budget, so we would recommend thoroughly researching all your options before settling on any particular one.

Ideally, the heating and cooling of a home forms part of the planning before the house is built, so that the installation of systems is part of the building and finishing process. But if you’re renovating an existing property, it’s also a great time to consider adding items like fireplaces or under floor heating. Either way, we can help you to source the best quality products from reputable suppliers and installers, ensuring that you’re not left in the cold when it comes to keeping comfortable in your home all year round.

  • The Content Copywriter

There are few things more exciting than the prospect of building your dream house; planning each room and space in minute detail and selecting the colours, textures, features and fittings to create your picture-perfect home.

However, there is a great deal more involved than just choosing light fixtures and floor tiles, and when it comes to a project of such scope, getting it right the first time is imperative.

One of the most important parts of the process is the selection of the builder who will execute your plans and translate your postulate on paper into solid reality. Of course, there are a great many highly qualified and experienced builders in the market to choose from, many of whom can offer very competitive rates and schedules. So, how should you go about selecting the right team for your job?

Here are a few things to keep in mind when making this very important decision:

Know your type

Aside from being someone with whom you are able to communicate openly and comfortably, your builder should be experienced and knowledgeable in the specific style and type of building that you are looking for. It’s one thing to renovate or restore an historic building, and another entirely to build a state-of-the-art contemporary home from the foundations up.

It’s not all about the money

While you would certainly not be remiss to look for the best possible pricing for your project, it is extremely important to ensure that when you accept a quote, you know exactly what it covers. Compare several quotes from different builders and you should get a rough idea of how much you’ll be spending on the project. A quote that is significantly lower than most, most likely contains a few mistakes or is not as comprehensive, and may end up costing you far more in the longer term - not to mention the potential disputes that could arise.

Be a cunning linguist

Don’t let terminology get in the way of your understanding exactly what you’re agreeing to and paying for. Industry jargon can be confusing, and may cause unnecessary disagreements later on, if not cleared up at the outset. Don’t be afraid to ask your builder exactly what the terms in his quotes, bills of quantity and contracts mean; these documents are there for the benefit of all the parties concerned. There really is no such thing as a “stupid” question.

Homework will make your home work

If ever there was a time to take your time and carefully consider every option, it’s when you’re preparing to undertake a building project. Before you select your contractor, be sure to research each candidate thoroughly. Speak to previous clients; ask them about their experiences with the builder they used. Did they complete the work according to the stipulated schedule? Were they professional and easy to deal with? If it’s possible, arrange to see some of their past projects. Most people are more than willing to share their experiences and if most of the people a particular contractor has worked for in the past are happy, you’ll know that you can reasonably expect the same.

Accreditation where it’s due

Finally, be sure to check that your builder is registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) before you enter into any contracts. This is a legal requirement that not only ensures that your project is built within the parameters of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, but also that your house is covered by a five-year warranty against any major structural defects, starting from the date of occupation.

In addition to these, there are, of course, many other factors to consider as you embark on your home building journey, and to the uninitiated it may seem a large and daunting challenge. That is why we offer a comprehensive, end-to-end service to our clients. We manage the entire project from beginning to end, drawing on our extensive experience in various styles of building and working closely with a carefully selected set of partners on your behalf. Contact us to find out more or request a quote.

© 2018 Average Instinctive Design.