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HANDY MAC: Country savvy

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Mrs Mac and I go away for the weekend and discover that rural communities can be ingenious

Mrs Mac and I needed a break and to escape the stresses of the building industry, so last weekend we went to Greyton. Despite having lived in South Africa for 52 years, I had never been there and what a pleasant weekend it was.

It was great to be back in a small town – memories of Clanwilliam came flooding back. The best part was seeing old buildings, especially the Moravian Mission in neighbouring Genadendal; well worth a visit.

Alongside it are replicas of Khoisan dwellings, another example of skilful building from years ago. We in the city often forget there are sometimes easy, cheap ways to repair items.

For example, if we see a collapsing wall, our first instinct is to knock it down and begin again, but not so in Greyton. Many properties have long boundary walls which appear to be unstable and it was interesting to see the use of buttresses to keep them upright. No visit to a country town is complete without going to a farmers’ market and it was there that we met Kazic Styczynski – an interesting Polish man with an eye for the unusual.

I was impressed by his recycling of washing machine and tumble drier drums into outdoor fireplaces which can also be used as braais (see picture left). He will give you a five-year guarantee.

The downside of our weekend away was that one of my pet hates turned up at our accommodation. Why do hotels, guest houses and the like insist on providing such soft lighting that you can’t see well enough to do anything? It really annoys me.

Low light is especially irritating in the bathroom, if I am in the mood to shave. There was another potential downside to this trip – Mrs Mac had “forgotten” to inform me that the accommodation did not have TV. However, I survived and actually enjoyed reading.

Q and A

Make sure water drains away from your house. Picture: Gabe Rodriguez

Following from last week, when I was chatting about keeping water flowing where it is supposed to, Pete has sent me this question:

Q:We have a terraced garden which slopes toward the house. What can we do to ensure the garden area is properly drained so water does not build up at the bottom of the slope around the walls of the house?

A: You need to cut off the flow of water before it reaches the base of the wall and give it an opportunity to flow away. It is always better to move the water away before it begins to penetrate the retaining walls, causing the discolouration and, eventually, the disintegration of the plaster.

Excavate a trench about 400mm wide behind the wall, down to foundation level, and line the sides and bottom of the trench with Bidim cloth. This is a filter fabric which allows water to penetrate, but not soil and sand. Then put in a layer of 25mm stone about 50mm thick.

Lay a perforated pipe on top of the stone and cover it with more stone to a depth of about 300mm. Cover this with a layer of clean sand, then wrap the bidim over the top of the sand. Fill above the cloth with loose material that will allow water to penetrate.

Water will seep down until it reaches the pipe, which is not perforated at the bottom and drain away to the lowest point of the fall. Obviously, the pipe must be laid at a fall to a place where the water it collects can drain away, always easy on a slope. If sufficient slope is not available, the pipe can drain into a pit which can be pumped out when necessary.


One of my oldest readers – in both senses – is back. Bob never fails to come up with practical solutions for issues that, at times, are a little too technical for me.

Hi Don – re Charles’s invertor/ generator questions. A switch-over from a failed Eskom 220 volt supply to your inverter supply is an easy DIY job. I run my TV, video equipment plus two lamps and an outside light from a 500 watt inverter running off two parallel (bridged) connected 12 volt car batteries.

You can give Charles my number. I’ll advise him on a simple plugover system, a switch-over or an auto-switched system. (The latter two would need electrical savvy.)

To suppress 90% of generator noise, extend and run the exhaust pipe underground for several metres in old piping and terminate it in a gutter downpipe using a T-joint coupling. The fumes will disperse into the air at gutter height. Do not terminate it into wastewater or sewer pipes.

There is a hefty council fine for this and you might end up gassing the neighbours. – Bob. This type of old-fashioned DIY is invaluable. No overly modern technology for Bob, just the care and time to help people.

Tip of the week

Before committing to a purchase, vet the body corporate rules. Picture: Sebastian Herrmann

Many seem to be unhappy about the rules and regulations set up by body corporates in gated communities, sectional title schemes and timeshares. If you are thinking of buying into such a scheme you must have the rules and regulations vetted by a legal expert.

All too often we fall blindly in love with a property only to find out when it is too late that the rules, regulations and costs involved make it a bad choice. In all fairness, the rules and regulations in most instances are well written with the intention of protecting everybody involved; the problem seems to arise in the interpretation of the rules and who is doing the enforcing.

Managing agents can be a cause for concern. Before buying a property which is under the control of one, do a background check. Before buying, you should also ask to meet the homeowners’ committee, especially the chairperson of it.

It is a good idea to check who is insuring what and who is responsible for maintenance. If it is an older complex, find out what reserves they have for maintenance – you don’t want to buy and then get hit with a massive special levy to attend to problems that have been there for years.

*If you have a question for Don, please send it to or SMS only to 0824463859. 


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