A team of nine South African students and young professionals won a Cape Town competition to create a zero-carbon home, just ahead of Earth Day on April 22.
Experts say the house design, which incorporates solar power, passive cooling, rainwater harvesting and a food garden, could help reduce the nation's carbon footprint.
The first My Clean Green Home — a local building and design competition — challenged designers to build a house that produces no carbon emissions, with a budget of $12,000.
Sharne Bloem is the architect for the winning team, Mahali, which means "place" in Swahili.
"It's a good way to bring what we believe, what we studied, to the general public," Bloem said. "And actually, to share this with the city of Cape Town and the festival and to educate people more about net-zero carbon buildings."
The team built the house from recycled steel containers and pallets. Despite the small size — just 70 square meters — the house's quality surprised members of the public like Louis Farrow, who were invited to view the winning entry.
"Being green is always expensive. So, it can't be rolled out to everybody. But if this is sustainably, economically viable ... [it makes] lots of sense," Farrow said.
Cape Town authorities say buildings consume 38% of the city's energy and generate 58% of its carbon emissions. They aim to have all new city buildings carbon neutral by 2030.
Mary Haw of Cape Town Sustainable Energy Markets Department says the idea is to inspire people.
"People can take elements from this home and bring to their own houses if they can think about what a house might be," Haw said.
Net zero means emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.
Georgina Smit of the Green Building Council of South Africa says the concept should not be limited to Cape Town.
"My Clean Green Home project could definitely be applied nationally. It is an example about a project that is net zero. You can go and see it; it's been built with materials that we already have available and actually it's possible," Smit said.
For years, South Africa has suffered rolling power cuts that leave people without electricity for hours at a time. Green building experts say the country's power problems could, ironically, help drive more South Africans to net-zero buildings.