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Sustainable House Day: meet the trend setters and zero-heroes

Djildjit, White Gum Valley Estate

Open the doors to the future of housing this Sunday to discover how designers, builders and home owners are increasingly turning to Passive House design and low-carbon, non-toxic materials to create home-sweet-homes.


From new co-housing builds and commercial building reincarnations through to zero-carbon homes and deep-green residential renovations, Sustainable House Day is your chance to get up close and personal with inspiring, innovative and enviable properties.

Organised by Renew, a national, not-for-profit organisation that advocates sustainable living, it is being held on 15 September, with more than 250 properties across Australia open on the day.

Renew chief executive Donna Luckman tells The Fifth Estate that this year has the largest number of properties opening their doors in the event’s 17-year history.

South Australia and the ACT, in particular, are “kicking above their weight” in terms of the number of registered addresses, she says, perhaps because they experience extreme climates, with cold winters and baking hot summers. 

Passive House (PH) approaches coupled with attention to natural ventilation are proving a popular trend in these kinds of climates, she says.

“More and more homes are moving to Passive House standards.”

Other trends include a shift away from home gas connections, and net-zero energy for operation. Having gone the all-electric route, many homes are adding solar PV with or without battery storage, to deliver zero energy bills and sometimes even receiving cash back from their energy retailer.

Electric vehicles are also appearing in more Sustainable House driveways, and earth building construction approaches including rammed earth, straw bale and Hempcrete are making a strong showing.

“Everyone wants a home that is well-designed, healthy, and runs efficiently in an age of high energy bills,” Luckman says.

“Sustainable House Day allows Australians to see real homes that have achieved this, and get unbiased advice on how to make their homes more comfortable and cheaper to run.”

NSW highlights

In Sydney, visitors can check out the city’s first PH-certified home, Thornleigh House, designed by Envirotecture and built by Red Cedar Constructions. As an added bonus, you can also see a blower door test in action at 10am and 11am and find out why this test is one many in the industry have been pushing for as a best-practice standard to demonstrate building quality and air tightness.

The home was has built with low-carbon, non-toxic materials. No concrete was used, with screw piles used for footings and a timber frame used instead of steel.

You could check out PH delivered at scale and drop into The Fern, believed to be the first PH-certified apartments in Australia.

Other properties include Mirvac’s Marrick & Co, a One Planet Living development in the heart of Sydney; a CLT PH property under construction at Balgowlah, permaculture gardens, community centres, tiny homes, straw bale homes, hemp crete homes and eco-granny flats.

Queensland – from eco-ventures to a Tardis

In Queensland, visitors can check out an inner-city home that packs so much into its 90 square metre footprint it’s been nicknamed the Tardis. Designed by a mechanical engineer who is also an environmentally sustainable designer and computer scientist, it occupies a site that was once unserviceable.

Green innovations used in the property include: phase-change materials for insulation; heat exchange ventilation; passive solar design; a solar and battery combo with real-time energy monitoring; extensive use of recycled and reclaimed materials including old telephone poles as flooring; zero VOC paints throughout; linoleum from linseed in wet areas; solar hot water that even heats towel rails; and a hand basin that drains its grey water into a toilet cistern for flushing.

Wild Mountains Environment Education Centre, QLD

Or head to Rathdowney and explore the Wild Mountains Environment Education Centre. Bookings are a must for this one, with activities including a tour of all the various buildings such as eco-glamping accommodation, private homes including straw bale and all-timber dwellings.

A main hall at the centre showcases building for challenging climate and site conditions. Reclaimed materials, including 130-year old Oregon trusses from a former Arnott’s biscuit factory, are a key feature, along with locally sourced hardwood poles, recycled windows, local hardwood cladding, salvaged pine internal cladding and an internal plasterboard lining with recycled content.

The amenities building showcases solar hot water, composting toilets and grey water treatment that incorporates worms as part of the process. Vegetable beds, composting and the use of recycled Tetrapaks for plant propagation are also on show.

Meet the makers in Melbourne

HIP V. HYPE is opening up its Barkly Street Collective building for visitors to explore and is offering an opportunity to speak with some of the shared workspace’s project partners, including smart energy systems provider Sonnen, landscape architects Josh Byrne & Associates, local window manufacturer Binq and kitchen manufacturers Cantilever Interiors.

Also in Melbourne, get the inside intel on the Victorian Residential Energy Efficiency Scorecard (REES) at Ian’s House. This 1950s weatherboard cottage with some 1970s add-ons gave its owners a freezing first winter, before they set off down the path of improving its performance.

A REES assessment was undertaken in 2019 that showed the value of upgrades and outlined further practical and economical changes that could be undertaken to deliver excellent energy-efficiency and improved comfort.

A REES assessor will be on-site to talk about how the REES process works and explain what a report looks like and how any home can use REES as way to map out a pathway to lower bills and enhanced liveability.

Doing more with less in Tasmania

There are a number of interesting homes in the island state, including the Apple Crate Shack in Flowerpot, just over 40km south of Hobart.

Designed by AKA Architects, the aim was to minimise the materials impact and operational energy. Passive solar design combined with energy-efficient appliances and heat pump heating, along with solar PV means the home is operating with minimal energy bills.

The budget was equally tiny – a mere $103,000. Recycled and reclaimed materials were used extensively, including appliances, basins and sinks, bricks, glass, paving, Colorbond roof sheets and a second-hand electric hot water cylinder. All the home’s timber cladding was milled on site from trees that had to be felled to make way for the house.

Orientation combined with large eaves blocks summer sun while allowing winter sun to warm the home’s interior, and an internal brick wall constructed from hand-cleaned bricks salvaged from three different sites adds thermal mass. The insulated polished concrete slab also stores heat from winter sun and radiates it back into the home for free night-time warmth. 

Other features of the house include the use of universal design principles to ensure it is accessible for people with vision-impairment or limited mobility, including wheelchair users, and design and finishes suitable for Bushfire Attack Level 19, where ember attack of ignition of debris is a risk.

Zero Carbon in South Australia

In Adelaide, check out what a future zero-carbon residential future might look like at the Zero carbon House by TS4 Living. Supported by the South Australian government, this project home shows that skimping on carbon doesn’t mean missing out on amenity and liveability.

Zero Carbon House, SA

The project aimed to reduce both embodied carbon and operational carbon emissions through strategies including careful materials selection, improved building envelope insulation, including double-glazed windows, and strategic shading for thermal control in summer, and the incorporation of green walls with deciduous species.

The home cost $350,000 to build, which included technology such as solar PV, heat pump hot water, full home energy monitoring, a bioethanol fireplace, ceiling fans and an indirect evaporative cooling system. The design also includes elements for accessibility, including wheelchair access and design for people with vision-impairment.

Recycled materials feature strongly such as recycled aggregate, recycled concrete, recycled stone, recycled glass in the insulation and recycled sleepers for garden landscaping.

Occupants are expected to save around $3,500 a year on energy bills.

Carbon monitoring is also a feature of the home, both during construction and its predicted operational life of at least 75 years.  Current calculations show the home is likely to be carbon neutral for both its embodied carbon and operational carbon by 2045.

Best of the West

There’s a massive number of properties to check out in and around Perth, including the state’s first PH-Plus certified property at North Beach, where you can also chat with members of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association and take a sticky beak at a Mitsubishi Imiev.

Djildjit, WA

Several properties are open in the award-winning White Gum Valley estate, including the recently-completed Djildjit, designed by Richard Hammond and built by Ecovision.

Just a few of the noteworthy features of the two strata-titled apartments on the site are: NatHERS ratings of over 7 Stars; Platinum eTool rating; ground floor walls constructed from stabilised rammed earth (SRE) comprised of 50/50 recycled construction and demolition waste and limestone; alternative water systems; 3-in-1 shared heat-pump system for water, space heating and cooling; solar PV; EV charging; and smart controls that enable the homes to function as a “thermal battery”. There will also be a Tesla Model S on display from 10am to 12pm.

In Fremantle, there’s a very unusual building to visit, the Hougoumont Hotel. It is both a preservation of a heritage building, and an extension constructed with repurposed shipping containers to create more guest bedrooms. Using the shipping containers shrank the project footprint enormously due to the reduced quantity of materials required.

  • Check out all the properties opening for Sustainable House Day and plan your visits here

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