One of our projects this year is building a sustainable home that has been on the cards for 5 years now. Our guiding principles for this project was to create an energy efficient, low impact and future proofed home that would cater for our changing needs.
This has been a fantastic learning experience, developing my understanding on how we can leverage the natural environment through orientation, airflow, use of plants and the types of materials we can use to create a sustainable home.
Minimising waste to landfill during the construction process is also a key focus of the project. This is well supported through our local shire Transfer Station that has introduced many new recycling streams diverting waste from landfill. Recycling is still not the answer and we need to minimise this also but we are finding that through good planning we can reduce what goes to the Transfer Station.
Our new home is set on 1.3 acres and has a large deep dam. The aim is to create a haven for us, extended family and friends and the local fauna, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. We will grow lots of food so most plants we are using are either edible or drought tolerant.
We’ve addressed the 3 key guiding principles in the following ways.
The design from the start was driven by the outcome to produce a home that is energy efficient. To achieve this we have incorporated the following:
- Orientation – ability to capture the north facing sun in winter through double glazed windows
- Heat bank wall – an internal stone wall will harness the north winter sun in the main living area
- Thermal mass – floors on the north facing side of building are concrete again to harness winter sun
- Green roof – will provide additional insulation in main living area, filtrate storm water before entering the dam and increase biodiversity
- Insulation – loads of it under floor, in the walls and ceiling
- Cross & stack ventilation – window placement and fans to harness breezes
- No gas – a 5kw solar system will power the house.
I spent many sleepless nights on this one and in the end had to give myself license to compromise at times so I could get some rest! This aspect took into consideration:
- Choosing building materials with low embodied energy e.g. recycled timbers
- Minimizing our footprint on landscape by limiting excavation, planting lots of trees and aiming to be carbon neutral
- Managing waste onsite through composting, bulk buying, preserving food and having space to store it.
The design of the home always looked to the future. I often used the analogy that when the zombie apocalypse happens, our home will provide shelter, food and water for many! The types of future proofing we included are:
- Energy generation – be able to convert solar system to battery storage and get off the grid
- Water capture and conservation – via the dam, water tanks and effective water usage habits
- Spaces – designed home to enable dual occupancy
- Guttering – much wider than standard box guttering to manage future extreme rainfall predicted due to climate change
- Electric car – designed the garage to ensure we can just plug in the car and let it charge free from the sun.
As we progress with the project, I see where I have not quite got it right but have to chalk it up to learning that I can share with others choosing to live more sustainably. Some key pitfalls to be aware of if you are heading down this track are:
- Sloping land is beautiful but the cost to build is high which led to some compromises on the project that impacted my guiding principles
- Seeking more ‘sustainability’ expertise in the beginning to avoid going back to the drawing board on design which cost more money
- Not getting all the key professions into a room together at the beginning of the process to workshop the outcomes we were after to deal with the likely issues as a group rather than individually during the process.
All in all it has been a wonderful experience so far and I feel very lucky to be working with the wonderful local folk who are helping to bring this dream alive.