WINDOWFARMS DIY: A step-by-step guide

A friend of mine has got me quite excited about windowfarming. You could say the idea is growing on me. I live in a flat with a poor excuse for a balcony and has these 'shiny' white tiles which I don't wish to get covered in soil. A windowfarm seems like the ideal alternative in such cases to introduce some greenery that is both clean and self-sustainable!

This particular 'windowfarms DIY guide' grows three plants and costs less than R300 to put together. The full DIY guide “How to make your own window farm” can also be downloaded at windowfarms.com

Windowfarm DIY - Materials Needed:

  • Windowfarms DIY Guide (image: www.fastcodesign.com)Water
  • 3 x Net Cups
  • Large cable ties
  • String or fishing line
  • 1 x 5 litre water bottle
  • Nail, screw or eyehook
  • 3 x 1.5 litre water bottles
  • 2 x tube / pump adapters
  • 3 x tree bark starter cubes
  • Duct tape, paint or thick fabric
  • 1 x bottle of hydroponic plant nutrients
  • 5 litres Hydrotron expanded clay pellets
  • 1 x two-way air pump (for 100 litre fish tank)
  • 3 x plants with all dirt removed from roots (or use seeds)

The 12-step program to building your own window farm:

STEP 1: Gather all the tools and ingredients you will need to make your own windowfarm. You will also need things like a permanent marker or felt-tipped pen and a sharp knife.

Windowfarms DIY 1STEP 2: Using the cap of one of the 1.5 litre water bottles, trace circles on on the bottom-centre of each 1.5 litre water bottle and cut them into holes.

STEP 3: Now we need to create a space for each plant. Trace and cut large holes on the bottom part of each 1.5 litre bottle as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 2STEP 4: Next we need to create an entrance in the 5 litre water bottle for the pumping tubes. Use the cap from this bottle to trace and cut a circle in the top shoulder of the 5 litre bottle.

STEP 5: We now need to cover the 1.5 litre bottles so that the plant roots don't photosynthesize. You can either use fabric paint to do this, or simply wrap them with thick tape. Cover two thirds of all three bottles as illustrated.

Windowfarms DIY 4STEP 6: Once wrapped up we need to stack the three 1.5 litre bottles by inserting the tops of the bottles into the holes cut in the bottoms as illustrated. Attach the bottle stack to the rod and air lift tube using cable ties.

STEP 7: Next we need to connect the pump to the air lift tube. Make two small insertions for the needle tips up from the bottom of the air lift tube. Place holes on opposite sides of the air lift tube so that the pipes do not overlap.

Windowfarms DIY 5STEP 8: Cut the adapter tubes and pump tubes to the appropriate lengths. Sleeve half of the adapter tube over the end of the pump tube as illustrated. Using tape, wrap the air pump needles until the threading is covered and sleeve those into the open end of the adapter tubes. Insert the needles into the air lift tube and secure these to the rod using cable ties.

Note: Make sure the mouth of the air lift tube is pointing straight down – flush with the rod. Ideally you want the whole tube to remain as straight and vertical as possible. Insert the rod with the tubing into the 5 litre base bottle. Make sure the mouth of the last plant-holding 1.5. litre bottle of the stack feeds into the mouth of the 5 litre base bottle.

Windowfarms DIY 6STEP 9: Bend the top of the air lift tube and insert it into the top of the first plant-holding bottle – forming a “U” shape inside the bottle, with the end of the tube pointing down. Attach the air tubes to the pump. Full the 5 litre base bottle with water to test your pump. Water should spurt out the air lift tube into the top plant-holding bottle and begin draining down through the other bottles. If everything is working, you can then add plant nutrient into the reservoir (5 litre bottle).

STEP 10: Place your plants into net cups and cover with clay pellets. You can either completely shake out the roots (to prevent dirt entering the system and clogging the pipes) or you can start your plants from seed by placing these in compost sponges.

Note: If you decide to start from seed, run your system without plant nutrients for the first week. If you start with adult plants, leave the lights off for the first few days. This will help the roots grow better and will help the plants recover from 'transplant shock.'

STEP 11: Place each plant of choice into the large openings of the 1.5 litre plant-holder bottles. Switch on your pump and viola! Adjust each bottle so that the plants are facing the light source from your window.

Windowfarms DIY Guide

Important Note: Take caution not to place your windowfarm too close to an electrical outlet. Loop your cords before plugging them in to prevent water from flowing along them towards the outlet.

STEPS 12 (OPTIONAL):

  • If there is not enough natural light for your windowfarm, check out windowfarms.com for ideas.
  • If you are worried about your windowfarm tipping, attach the rod to your windowsill with a nail and string.
  • There is also an option of creating a silencer for your windowfarm if the noise of the air pump is too much. Refer to the website for more.

I hope you found this Windowfarms DIY Guide helpful.

Happy eco-farming!

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GBCSA: Creating a sustainable future brick by brick

THE Green Building Council of South Africa is an independent, non-profit organisation which aims to ensure that all commercial buildings are built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way. The goal is to ensure that all South Africans can work and live in healthy, efficient and productive environments.

The GBCSA was formed in 2007 and is a full member of the World Green Building Council. The official certification of green buildings in South Africa falls under the Green Star SA Rating System. The GBCSA released a really great explainer video at the end of 2011, which explains everything in animated detail:

The Green Building Council of South Africa
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMNslIsmb9w[/youtube]

A “green building” is classified as a building which is energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible.

"It incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and occupants. Building green is an opportunity to use resources efficiently and address climate change while creating healthier and more productive environments for people to live and work in" - www.gbcsa.org.za

In practice, this encompasses the use of design, materials and technology to reduce energy and resource consumption with the aim of creating improved human and natural environments. Specefic green building measures include: (taken from www.gbcsa.org.za)

  • The use of renewable energy sources;
  • Water-efficient plumbing fittings and water harvesting;
  • The use of energy-efficient air-conditioning and lighting;
  • The use of environmentally friendly, non-toxic materials;
  • The reduction of waste, and the use of recycled materials;
  • Sensitivity with regard to the impact of the development on the environment; and,
  • Careful building design to reduce heat loads, maximise natural light and promote the circulation of fresh air.

To achieve certification, building owners submit documentation to the Green Building Council of South Africa. Submissions are assessed and a score is given. Certification is awarded for 4-Star, 5-Star or 6-Star Green Star SA ratings. The South African rating tool is based on the Australian Green Star system.

"The rating system sets out a "menu" of all the green measures that can be incorporated into a building to make it green. Points are awarded to a building according to which measures have been incorporated, and, after appropriate weighting, a total score is arrived at, which determines the rating" - www.gbcsa.org.za

A great example of a 6-Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa is the Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC). It is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere.

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SSIC: The super energy efficient SSIC building

THE Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC) is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere. It houses techies who are working on solutions for the future in the fields of construction, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and wet services. The SSIC is the first 6 Star Green Star SA accredited building in South Africa.

The aesthetic principle was to create a harmonious and seamless integration between the physical building and the surrounding landscape. The SSIC is a sustainable living building envisaged as a functioning showcase for innovative techniques and design.

The Greenest Building in the Southern Hemisphere

Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre (SSIC)

The SSIC is said to be the greenest building in the southern hemisphere and houses techies who are working on solutions for the future (image: http://www.glh.co.za)

The design has a narrow floor plate surrounding a central open air courtyard with a rainwater pond and wetland. The building maximises the use of daylight using performance glass and motorised blinds.

Fresh air is cooled via a gabion or thermal rock store constructed below the building before it is released into the office space through vents. This functions as a natural air-conditioner. A solar absorption chiller provides radiant cooling or warming through water pumped through a thermally activated slab. The chiller also provides cooled air to the office space, so no water-based heat rejection systems are used.

SSICInstalled on the roof are 292 photovoltaic panels delivering 230kWh of solar energy to the building – twice the amount of energy required. The balance is fed back into the Vodacom campus, creating a zero-rated energy building. Motion light detection sensors are used to minimise energy use.

For efficient water consumption, grey water is treated through the constructed wetland and then reused for irrigation and toilet flushing. Rainwater (harvested from the roof) is stored in the pond in the courtyard and in tanks below the building.

The structural elements of the building have been constructed using material excavated from the building site. The structural columns are a combination of steel and eucalyptus gumpoles while the roof structure is an exposed timber beam system. The structural elements are designed for disassembly and 90% of all the steel used has an average post-consumer recycled content of 60%.

The Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre and its landscaped garden is a great example of green and sustainable living. It also illustrates how big corporations such as Vodacom can operate in such an eco-friendly manner. The SSIC will be open to visitors and demonstrates the innovative techniques and systems utilised to create a low energy and sustainable construction solution.

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HEAT PUMPS: Hair today, gone tomorrow

Since I was a child I’ve had this fantasy of dressing up in a medieval suit of armour and having an all-out sword fight with someone also clad in medieval metal. The only problem is that people were a lot shorter 1 000 years ago.

The human race has evolved to be a lot taller than our flail-wielding ancestors. Squeezing oneself into a genuine suit of knight’s armour would be near impossible now — especially if you’re a beer drinker. This may make one wonder if we are still evolving today.

Most evolutionary biologists would argue that if we haven’t stopped evolving, our evolution has at least slowed down to a glacial pace. The main argument is that we have created and adapted our urban environments to best suit our current shape and form.

We have taken to sitting down a lot — whether behind a desk, on a sofa or in a car seat. When it’s too cold we take comfort behind our walls and cover ourselves with blankets. And now that things are heating up, we may blast air conditioners to keep comfortable. Human evolution doesn’t stand a chance.

Fortunately, evolution is technology’s best trait. Air conditioners have become more efficient and eco-friendly and can now be used to heat and cool a building thanks to a variety called a heat pump. Heat Pump Systems are typically used to pull heat from the air or ground into a building to raise the temperature, but can also be put into reverse to cool a building.

How heat pumps work

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of air-source heat pumps. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of an air-source heat pump. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Heat pumps operate in a very similar manner to standard heating and air-conditioning units but without the need to install separate systems. They are also far more efficient than their ancestors as they do not burn fuel to condition the air but rather transfer it from one place to another. Heat pumps can also be used to heat swimming pools and can even fire up a hot tub.

I’m proud to inform that heat pumps are widely available in South Africa. A couple of good places to start perusing these are www.itssolar.co.za and www.heatpumpssouthafrica.co.za By providing your name, contact details­ and nearest city, a heat pump specialist will contact you within 24 hours. Prices for domestic heat pumps range from R10 000 to R15 000.

Heat pumps should of course be used in conjunction with other energy-saving techniques. Using fluorescent light bulbs and turning appliances off when not in use are the obvious ones, but it is also a great time to utilise the spring sunshine. Phantom loads are the less obvious energy drainers. When something like a cellphone charger is plugged into a live socket, but not into a cellphone, this actually drains more energy than would be used if a phone was charging.

So let’s all do our bit this sunny season to help the planet fend off global warming by being energy savvy and by using green devices such as heat pumps. I really don’t want to have hairy grandchildren.

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ENERGY FROM COMPOST: The Jean Pain Method

I WAS thrilled to hear that the world’s first fully solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, successfully completed its first international flight last week. The Swiss solar powered aircraft flew for a full 13 hours from Payerne to Brussels without using a single drop of fuel. Granted that the aircraft is slow moving (with a top speed of around 50 km/h), Solar Impulse represents an astonishing feat of engineering and shows just how much can be achieved with renewable technology. Gizmag.com suggests that we may even look back on this period as a “Wright brothers moment” in the history of aviation.

According to Gizmag: “A rough calculation tells us that a Boeing 747 would have used around 7 570 litres of fuel to make the same trip. Of course it’s not much of a comparison when you consider that a commercial airliner can carry hundreds of people, but one can’t help but think that the seeds of a new era are being sewn. Solar Impulse is powered by 4x10 horsepower electric engines, the Wright brothers had 12 horsepower at their disposal when they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.”

We should not neglect these significant moments in history. It brings to mind the ecological work done by a Frenchman who died in 1981. My attention was drawn to this great innovator by a contact living in Russia who happened across a video made by some permaculture students living in New Zealand. Ah, the joys of Facebook!

Jean Pain (1930-1981) was a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist who developed a compost-based bio-energy system that produced 100% of his energy needs. It can be argued that he was a genius ahead of his time, as three decades later we continue to develop efficient bio-energy systems with new technologies that are as efficient. Pain’s work is certainly worth celebrating, so I wish to offer this as a tribute to the great man.

The Jean Pain Method

The Jean Pain Method

"This power plant supplies all a rural household’s energy needs. It is a mound of tiny brushwood pieces (three metres high and six across). This compost mound is made of tree limbs and pulverized underbrush. The 50 ton compost is in a steel tank with a capacity of four cubic metres. It is three-fourths full of the same compost, which has first been steeped in water for two months. The tank is hemetically sealed, but is connected by a tubing of 24 truck tyre inner tubes, banked near by a reservoir for the methane gas produced as the compost ferments" — www.daenvis.org

The method of creating usable energy from composting materials has come to be known as the Jean Pain Method. By distilling methane, Pain was able to run an electricity generator, fuel his truck and power all his electric appliances. Pain lived on a 241-hectare timber farm, so had free access to the raw materials needed to produce energy.

Pain essentially constructed a compost power plant (of his own design) using brushwood and pulverized underbrush, which supplied 100% of his and his wife’s household energy needs. Pain estimated that 10 kilos of brushwood would supply the gas equivalent of a liter of petrol.

Jean PainPain spent considerable attention developing prototypes of machines required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs; one of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair, according to Wikipedia.

When compost decomposes or ferments it produces heat. By burying 200 metres of pipe within a large compost mound, Pain was able to heat four litres of water a minute to 60 degrees Celsius. A sizeable compost heap continues to ferment for 18 months, after which the installation is dismantled, the humus is used to mulch and fertilise soils, and a new compost system is erected.

Jean Pain’s methane generator took 90 days to produce 500 cubic metres of gas. However, this is enough to power two ovens and three burner stoves for a full year. Pain’s methane-fueled combustion also powered a generator which produced 100 watt-hours of electricity every hour. Pain was also able to store this current in an accumulative battery, which could be used to power lights.

The Jean Pain Method is an amazingly simple and incredibly inexpensive system of extracting both energy and fertiliser from plant life. Pain worked within the balance of nature to become truly self sufficient. May history honour his memory.

Sources:
www.daenvis.org
www.wikipedia.org
www.navitron.org.uk
www.motherearthnews.com

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