A former minerals explorer turned developer is proud that each home he and his team builds is more sustainable than the last. With a new luxury home called Vanquish in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower, this has culminated in a Passive House certified home that was offered to market for between $3 million and $4 million.

Vanquish, a speculatively built Passive House at Auchenflower in Brisbane has stirred a lot of interest since it came to the market with a sale price of between $3 million and $4 million.

Its sustainability features clearly intrigued, but so too the luxury positioning of the house.

Developer Harley Weston of Solaire says luxury is an important aspect of the property.

 “The sustainable elements of these properties are expensive and, until we can convince people to pay five to 10 per cent more for their homes to be sustainable, we have to build premium houses in premium locations that can absorb the cost.”

Passive House consultant on the project John Moynihan of Ecolateral says sustainability is important to the luxury.

“If you’re paying for a premium product you want an unequivocal level of enjoyment from being in it – that’s what Passive House brings to the home.

“It’s quiet, it’s well ventilated, while maintaining a comfortable humidity and temperature and no allergens because the air is filtered down to a few microns.”

Surfaces are natural stone, low VOC painted finishes and New Zealand wool carpet. The tiles and porcelain benchtops are zero waste, manufactured with 60 per cent recycled water and 40 per cent recycled material. Even the tapware throughout the house is zero-waste Sussex brass.

Among the features are carbon reduced concrete, FSC and PEFC certified timbers, low VOC carpets and paint, carbon positive timber-based Weathertex cladding for the building fabric, and high-performance, thermally-broken windows and doors. Even excess Gyprock is recycled back into a soil conditioner that is used for food production just West of Brisbane.

The rooftop solar array is managed by a Control 4 management system coupled to an Australian made Redback energy three-phase, 10kW hybrid inverter and battery system.

The inverter and storage was about 40 per cent cheaper than the Tesla Powerwalls and paired 5kW inverters that Solaire has used in its previous projects.

Another innovation is a “green switch” that shuts down stand-by appliances when the occupants go out but leaves power on to DC variable speed, solar optimised pool pump, dishwasher, fridge, washer and dryer that can run while you are out.

Water heating is by an innovative air-source heat pump, developed with Stiebel Eltron, that incorporates a heating element. On sunny days, excess solar power super-heats the hot water supply to act as an energy sink, before exporting to the grid.

There is a pool that functions off-grid for days at a time and an overall Net Zero grid power consumption.

Even the electricity used to build the house was sustainable – sourced via an arrangement with the owner of La Fleur, next door, an earlier Solaire development.

Harley Weston says Solaire has been a sustainable developer from its first project at 85 Agnes Street, also in Auchenflower – a classic Queenslander that opens out into a modern rear extension – that sold for $1.9m in December 2017.

“I used to work in mineral exploration where I was able to witness the carbon cycle in person. It brought home how important it is to bring carbon dioxide emissions under control.”

Weston teamed with project manager James McElhenny and builder Paul McElhenny to do something about his convictions.

“I saw people spending their lives paying off expensive, poorly built and poorly performing houses. They were being sold pigs with lipstick, and that wasn’t fair. We knew we could do better,” Weston says.

“We could see that the industry was heading towards Net Zero so we thought we would get ahead of the pack. Every house we’ve developed has been more sustainable than the last, with Vanquish achieving Passive House certification.”

Every house has also been a test platform for sustainable technologies and techniques that Solaire can use on future projects, with the aim of increasing performance while reducing cost.

The challenge

Moynihan said that converting architect Joe Adsett’s original design to Passive House was a challenge.

The property has the typical high glass to wall ratio (R value around 0.8 to R value of about 2.5) that you would expect of a luxury Brisbane house with views from each floor, and standard thickness timber frame walls required the highest performing membranes and insulation.

“But the final result is great because we have this stylish, comfortable, sustainable, low-energy building that’s desirable for a broad range of buyers – not just those attracted by sustainability.

Another project by Solaire’s is next door,La Fleur. It is of a similar size, orientation, build standard and uses passive design, but without being certified Passive House.

The juxtaposition of the houses has inspired a research proposal by the University of Queensland Centre for Energy Data Innovation to compare energy performance, air quality and comfort levels of both houses.

Other Solaire projects include Bellevue in Paddington, a Queenslander renovated beyond recognition, with sustainable features that earned it the title of “Brisbane’s most socially responsible home” by the Courier Mail sold for $2.36m in December 2018.

Cheval, at Ascot, an arts and crafts Queenslander on the outside and best described as looking like the Guggenheim Museum inside, renovated with sustainable materials, solar and battery storage system and underground pool water storage tanks under its tennis court, was sold as a house and land package with an undisclosed price believed to be around $7m.

La Fleur, was sold for $2.935m in 2018 and may be quietly on the market again, following the interest in Vanquish, for a price between $3m and $4m.

This story first appeared in The Fifth Estate’s Flick the Switch ebook, an industry guide to achieving Net Zero and all-electric buildings. Read it here.

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