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I'm reminded of the words by the songstress Dido when I think of the South African lifestyle. Let me explain.

For most of us, who think of ourselves as the average South African, it would be normal to build a house with brick and mortar and some roof tiles or corrugated iron, depending on budget and design preference. And that's exactly how most houses are constructed. It's also probably the most wasteful way to build and inconvenient way to live.

This style of construction is not well suited to sparing resources nor keeping heat in during winter and out during summer. And unless you reside outside the borders of this country you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Who of you have not sat in a South African house in the dead of winter with some device that quite inefficiently turns electricity into heat. Most heaters use a minimum of 2 kW (kiloWatt) of electricity, which is not ideal, as it is in fact a lot of electricity; and then the comparatively little amount of heat generated is not even retained in the room not to mention the house.

Some houses in our country have a small amount of insulation, installed in the ceiling, which helps. But it is not the majority of homes and it is also inadequate. As heat rises like most of us know it is logically the first place to start insulating, but Europeans would chuckle at the fact that the average temperature in our homes are lower than in theirs during winter times.

A Passive Home, to be discussed in another article; has an average temperature of 21 ºC (Celsius) inside during winter in North Europe with temperatures outside as low as -15 ºC. It's all down to insulation and following a well thought out approach to heating instead of a symptomatic one.

The thing that is annoying is that our winter is mild compared to those in the north european countries, yet we are the ones who are much less comfortable. Some argue that we are a hot country and do not need to insulate etc. Others say our winter is so short it really isn't worth doing any more than what we currently do. To these arguments I have to wonder where these people live when it's cold here? Because yes, our winter is mild compared to a north european one and is comparatively short, but does that mean we should shiver for 3 months of the year while complaining a LOT about the cold?

Have you noticed how many people do that between May and September? There's good reason for it, it's cold during those months and it's unpleasant to be in a cold space, period.

But there's more, because that's just one side of the coin. Many of us complain about the summer too! Because once again our houses are like thermal sieves, they hardly stop heat from leaving or entering. So this means often uncomfortably high temperatures in summer as well, once again you would probably only find airconditioning in high-end homes, it certainly isn't that common. And even if you have an airconditioner it uses huge amounts of electricity depending on how it's put to use and how often.

All this comes down to the question: where is the sense in all this? Isn't it time that we follow a more practical approach to designing and constructing our homes? Does it not make sense to spend less on heating and cooling while at the same time being more comfortable in both winter and summer? I believe that time has come.