Sustainable House Day: our favourites

Blackwall Reach house
Blackwall Reach house

From tiny homes and clever conversions to renovations in progress and the latest in sustainable technologies, this Sunday’s Sustainable House Day has a raft of reasons to get out of your house and into someone else’s. Following are some of our picks.

One of the homes that caught The Fifth Estate’s eye is Blackwall Reach Parade in Bicton WA, just out of Fremantle.

Designed and built by custom builder Lomma Homes, the six bedroom, seven bathroom home operates as almost energy neutral.

Designer and company director Paul Lomma says it was previously a display home the company built to educate the market on just what a large sustainable home could look like and to educate clients to pick from “the better end” in terms of sustainability inclusions.

sustainable house day 2017 interior of house

Blackwall Reach Parade in Bicton WA

“Part of being a good and responsible designer is to make sure there’s a good outcome,” he says.

There are clients that are not at all interested in sustainability elements, he says, because “they think we’re trying to upsell them on something”.

However, some initiatives – such as good design that utilises orientation and passive heating, cooling and ventilation – can “cost nothing”.

Most clients understand the value proposition, though, Lomma says he finds it “troubling” when people would prefer to spend on a shiny kitchen benchtop than a better quality of windows.

“The fabric of the house is the important bit, because that never changes.”

“You can change the tapware down the line if you want to, but you’re not going to rip the windows out and replace them.”

There are also parts of a home where it is impossible to reach in to retrofit better insulation.

“The emphasis needs to be on the lifecycle costs of the building,” he says.

“If you invest in a good design – and that’s fundamental – and add the appropriate bits and pieces to make it more energy efficient, it will pay a dividend for the lifetime of the house.

“Sustainable features are cheap, and will give you a return – whereas a shiny tap doesn’t.”

Lomma says that the home open for Sustainable House day had months where there was a utility bill credit, and if there were bills, they were as low as $100 or $200.

Last winter, artificial heating only needed to be used for around six hours in total, and during the summer, artificial cooling for only around 16 hours in total.

The “bits and pieces” that make the home so energy-efficient and sustainable are a redoubtable list, and include many smart home technologies as well as passive elements:

  • A weather station that monitors the external temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, rain, sun position and ambient light – information that is used to manage the rest of the home’s devices
  • Blinds are all electronic and controlled via the weather station and also manually – they open and close to let in or block out the sun depending on the temperature or season.
  • Auto opening windows that close when it rains, and also open and close to regulate the internal temperature
  • Insulation panels imported from Europe to create a continuous membrane to the entire building fabric. Floors, walls and roof are sealed to window and door openings
  • Multi point locks and seals to every door and window to prevent air leakage
  • Thermally broken aluminium double glazed windows and doors with high spec argon filled glazing units; the external glass is an active glass that self cleans, with a permanent pyrolytic titanium oxide coating on the outside of the glass; the internal glass is low emission
  • Building method to remove thermal bridges –  so there is always a separation of the internal and external building fabric so heat cannot transfer across; includes larger than normal brick cavities to allow greater insulation and greater air separation
  • Earth pipes – buried pipes to allow fresh filtered air to enter the home and be cooled by the earth around the pipes; they work in concert with extraction fan that removes hot air from the top of the home; this creates negative pressure that draws the cool air in. The system is  thermostatically controlled and the weather station ensures that the humidity levels are suitable.  The inlet for the earth pipe is in a garden area that is walled on the west north and east so it always shaded, lush large leafed plants with high evaporative effect
  • Underground rain water storage (12,000litres), used to top up the pool
  • Bore water plumbed to hydronic coils to remove heat from the uppermost balcony floor can also  be used to remove heat from the geothermal air-conditioning system
  • The design of the home itself and its orientation is such that one side of the home shades the other from the summer sun- it has calculated overhangs to permit winter sun and omit summer sun
  • Low water usage misting systems spray ultra fine mist of water that flash evaporates and reduces temperature by approximately 10-12 degrees – these are located in all outdoor areas and in front of large glazed openings
  • Window washers that also have an evaporative effect and reduce temperature. – similar to misting system but low pressure low to water usage
  • The airconditioning will only run after the natural cooling of the earth pipes has run for a period of time.
  • The lighting control system allows occupants to set the percentage of lumens at which the lights run and that is the percentage of power used (regular dimmers reduce light level but use the same power)
  • All lighting is LED
  • Floors can all be heated and cooled hydronically –  that means the heat or coolth can be stored as opposed to heating and cooling the air, where the energy is quickly lost; essentially, the thermal mass of the building helps regulate the temperature and store the energy
  • The orientation of the home has basically all windows to the north so we can maximise winter sun.
  • Outdoor screens and blinds regulate the amount of solar penetration and breeze paths
  • Solar powered pool and pond pumps
  • Solar array on the roof to provide power for the home
  • Battery storage for solar
  • Recirculating hot water so water is not wasted waiting for the hot to get there —hot on demand at each tap also saves energy required to heat water in a pipe that never gets used
  • Heat pump airconditioning that can move heat within the home- and is able to recover that heat and use it to heat water for heating the pool
  • Double insulated garage doors
  • Under floor insulation
  • Roof garden for insulation and evaporative effect for upper floor outdoor living area

Our picks elsewhere around the country

In Adelaide, homes on show include both new and older homes that have installed sustainability technologies that qualify for the City of Adelaide’s Sustainability Incentives Scheme.

Lord mayor of Adelaide, Dr Martin Haese, said he would encourage anyone thinking about what they can do to make their home more comfortable and energy-efficient should visit one of the open day houses.

“The scheme provides incentives for residents and businesses of up to $5000 to install renewable energy generation and storage, electric vehicle charging stations and energy efficiency devices,” said Martin.

“Council has already approved 30 applications for energy (battery) storage within the city, delivering 272.49 kWh installed capacity.”

One of the homes on show operating with a battery-connected PV system is an 1880’s Terrace house owned by John Ruciak.

A recent renovation of the house, including refurbishing its 1970s extension, has optimised cross flow ventilation and passive solar design benefits.

Insulation was retrofitted to the ceiling, and ceiling fans installed to purge summer heat. Low e glazing reduces summer heat penetration.

As well as the PV, the home has a solar hot water system and wood-fired wetback system.

Lighting is a low energy Phillips Hue system, and natural light levels are boosted by skylights.

In Sydney

Some of the homes open in Sydney will be familiar to regular The Fifth Estate readers. They include Michael Mobbs Sustainable House, and the ground-breaking Stucco Cooperative communal solar installation.

You can learn about and taste permaculture at Moss House in Denistone, and check out a backyard biogas system at Newington.

Also worth checking out is Envirotecture’s handiwork at Sustainability Hub in Chatswood, where an old federation style semi-detached cottage has been given a new life as a carbon neutral office space.

Features incorporated as part of a budget renovation include double-glazed windows, a 2.1 kW solar PV system and reused materials from the original building including doors, frames, windows, architraves, desks and bricks.

There will be tours of the building and the community garden, and if you have renovation plans, the chance to get some ideas and feedback from a local architect and Willoughby City Council‘s building survey.

For fans of prefab and tiny, the Foldback Pavilion prototype is an interesting example. Designed by architect Mathhew Dynon for MODE homes, all the elements are prefabricated in a factory, folded down for delivery and then folded out again once the building reaches its site.

It takes all of a few hours for two people to fold out the package, which includes double-glazing and high-spec insulation. The prototype has an energy rating of 8 Stars.

Cape Patterson opens the doors

The Cape Paterson eco-village will have five display homes open for visiting, including the 10 Star Home by Sociable Weaver designed in collaboration with Clare Cousins Architects.

In the Melbourne area, check out a range of renovations and new builds including Sunstone, one of the few buildings in the world to be certified as Passive House Plus. A traditional style home on stumps, the energy and thermal performance was delivered through the use of an airtight membrane to wrap the structure.

Repurposing with class

What do you do with a swimming pool you hardly ever use? If you are the owners of Garden Room House in Newfarm, Brisbane? You turn it into a hydronic heating and cooling system that works virtually cost-free.

The renovation work, carried out by the owners and a team of friends, also included building a garden, pond, and a revamped rear interior of the home that brings in more natural light and ventilation.

The renovations added only 12 square metres to the size of the home. During the deconstruction of the back of the home, as many materials as possible were salvaged for re-use. Decking became battens, glass pool fencing became a balustrade, hardwood framing became a dining deck, cladding used as formwork became insulation for a concrete wall, and off-cuts the build became the base of a dining table.

  • To find out what Sustainable Houses are open near you go here.

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