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HANDY MAC: Old, but it’s good

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The greener materials and methods used for building in the past could come back into vogue

Mrs Mac has pulled another rabbit out of the hat and this column is being written from Kersefontein Guest Farm in Hopefield, which has been in the Melck family since 1770.

The original dwelling was built in 1744. We are being royally entertained and dined by Julian Melck, who is a larger-thanlife character. Mrs Mac has ensured we are again sans TV and wi-fi and this time has confiscated my cellphone. I have not seen it for 24 hours, a record for me, but her therapy is working.

It is interesting being on such an old farm as much renovation is work needed. It reinforces what I was discussing with a heritage architect the other day. We are doing the initial repair work on a guest house in Rosebank which has been damaged by fire.

We need to look at soft construction methods, such as unbaked bricks and lime mortar, instead of modern hard ones, like concrete, when repairing old buildings. Picture: Supplied

The architect has declared the site must be cement free, and all works must be carried out with lime-based mortars. This is a first for us, so my staff are going to have to learn old-fashioned techniques which will be a challenge.

In basic terms, the architect is saying you can’t repair old soft construction (unbaked bricks and lime mortar) with modern hard materials, such as cement, as the building will not be able to breathe. I will look into this as the architect was also telling me countries like Australia are starting to look at older, greener methods for new builds.

Q and A

Good day Don… Last week, you suggested a look at Gumtree for rolls of insulation for ceilings. Two types popped up: glass wool and Isotherm. I have also seen adverts for a product that is sprayed into the celling/roof area. What is the difference and which is preferable? We are in an old house with a claytiled roof and no plastic liner. What about the mess of burglar alarm wires in the roof area when the contractors lay or apply this insulation?

A: I think you must be confusing me with someone else, as I don’t recall advising anyone to look on Gumtree. However, it is still an interesting question. 

Every product out there is good – some are just better for certain situations – and I have been taken to task before for favouring one over the other. Of the roll-out types, Isotherm seems to be popular and comes in various thickness.

The glass fibre products can cause skin irritation in some people. If you have a ceiling void full of wires, a spray application will be easier to install and is less likely to cause damage.

This method also makes it much easier to get into awkward areas as it can be sprayed from any angle, and is great if the ceiling is very close to the roof covering. I am sure soon it will be compulsory to have your ceiling void insulated as part of any new build.

This will obviously mean better and easier solutions will be found. The only thing I would warn about is installing “foil” insulation under certain roof coverings where there is going to be a lot of air movement, as it is no fun being woken up at night by vibrating insulation. It is not easy to ensure it is properly secured.

Tip of the week

Overhead showerheads are best so no crouching is required. Picture: Supplied

Along with dimly lit rooms, dodgy showers are one of my pet hates – and I have yet to find the perfect shower. The shower stall at Kersefontein Guest Farm, where I stayed at the weekend, was big enough for at least three people.

The shower heads, were all extended from the wall and thus overhead, giving you the impression of being in a rain forest. I don’t think I have ever had a better shower from a washing point of view but to compensate for the volumes of water (it is borehole, before I get accused of wasting) the floor had been laid at such a fall or slope it was virtually impossible to stand, which somewhat spoilt the effect.

My tips for a good shower:

  • If you don’t have enough space, don’t build a small shower. 
  • Make sure the shower head is high enough, so noone ends up crouching. Overhead is by far the best.
  • Don’t accept a finished shower floor that does not have the correct fall to an easily accessible outlet.
  • Get a comfortable floor finish. Pebbles look great, but are hard on the feet.


Light from phones and computers can affect sleep. Picture: Supplied

Last week, I was talking about the effects of different types of lighting on your health. I am going to write more about this in up-coming columns, but an early report back is that the removal of TV and cellphone by Mrs Mac has meant an amazing two nights’ sleep.

I also caught something on the radio during the week about how the effects of certain lighting and screens can mess up your sleeping patterns, so definitely more on this subject to come.


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