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Sustainable House Day: Affordable meets sustainable for Tassie builders

NEAThouse. Image: Natalie Mendham
NEAThouse. Image: Natalie Mendham

Ahead of Sustainable House Day on 11 September 2016, we’re taking a look at some of the best homes on display.

Coming across negative experiences as a builder in Tasmania led to a new business approach for NEAThouse founders Jane Tallon and Owen Thomson. It’s one where sustainability is central, and affordability is the name of the game.

Tallon says she and Thomson, her husband, came into building around eight years ago after careers as professional musicians and university-based music teachers. She says that the majority of people only wanted the cheapest home they could get, and in the competitive quoting environment, it was difficult to put quality into projects.

“We thought, how do we control this and be able to work with the people we want to work with?” she says.

They also asked themselves what materials they wanted to work with. The pair decided locally sourced timber and healthy products and finishes (sourced locally as much as possible) would be the priority.

The outcome was the launch of “new, environmental, affordable and Tasmanian” homes – NEAThouse – about three-and-a-half years ago.

Since launching they have completed eight houses, and currently have a project home on the market. Tallon says the books are also full into next year with commissions.

“As the [business] took shape, we found the people coming to us were very like-minded,” she says.

The home designs use passive design principles, and achieve energy ratings of between 7-9 star NatHERS depending on the site.

“We have a great relationship with our energy rater,” Tallon says.

NEAThouse interior. Image Natalie Mendham

NEAThouse interior. Image Natalie Mendham

She says he gives them advice during the early stages of planning and design on simple measures such as adjusting window placement that don’t add to the cost of the house but improve performance.

Even picking the part of the site a house is built on can influence the rating, she says.

Tallon says there is a need to be very careful when choosing timber to make sure the source is sustainable, and the company has a trusted local timber dealer it works with.

The external cladding is Cypress macrocarpa sourced from reclaimed timber. Many of these trees come from windbreaks, and would otherwise not be used. She says people also alert them when they know of a macrocarpa being removed, and the company alerts its timber dealer to go and reclaim it.

The framing for the homes is plantation pine grown in Tasmania, and the flooring is plantation oak, also locally grown.

“We tend to use a limited range of materials to keep control of things,” Tallon says.

“The [macrocarpa] timber cladding is beautiful, local and durable – and it’s reclaimed. It’s not even plantation grown.”

She says that the company is not offering solar as an option on its houses as it is concerned about the carbon miles involved in importing the panels.

The computer modelling for energy ratings, she says, doesn’t capture a lot of the sustainability aspects in the houses.

The base price, from just under $128,000 for a one bedroom home to a four bedroom from around $245,000, includes appliances the company has researched for both energy efficiency and local manufacture. The oven and range, for example, are Westinghouse, because it is the only brand that has the performance standard and is Australian-made, Tallon says.

“It’s also the little things. We use stainless steel hardware for the doors, and that is Australian-made. We also want to restrict the use of chrome because the chroming process is so toxic.”

The finishes on walls and floors are all VOC-free, all the plantation-grown ply for cabinetry is super E0 low-formaldehyde, and the benchtops are also an eco product. Lighting is LED throughout, and all windows have double-glazing.

The design of the homes includes sliding cavity internal doors that be used to zone off areas – including the front door – so warmth does not escape.

The homes have a breathable wrap to ensure airtightness, however they are not including mechanical ventilation systems. Tallon says they do explain to buyers about air changes and the need to ventilate a sealed home, but so far their buyers are all prepared to open windows rather than add the system to the build cost.

Checking on one of the earlier homes has revealed there has been no condensation build-up, she says.

Insulation is a big part of the performance. The battens for the inner walls are placed out from the cladding to create an insulating air cell.

Researching insulation by asking plasterers about the performance of different brands, she says they decided on an Australian-made batt insulation that has a 50-plus year life warranty.

She says the batts are tucked into “every corner and crevice”. This includes not only the external walls and roof, but also under the floor, and in the internal walls, which benefits both thermal performance and acoustic performance.

The company’s current 8.1 star NatHERS display home, NEATBox, is a finalist in the national HIA GreenSmart Awards in the display house and water efficiency categories. It is also opening for the public on Sustainable House Day this weekend.

The homes are completed without the installation of either heating or cooling, she says.

“We advise people to live in their [home] first and see how it works.

“Most people are not used to an energy-efficient home.”

Tallon says that some occupants are finding that even in mid-winter they don’t need to use heating.

Comments

3 Responses to “Sustainable House Day: Affordable meets sustainable for Tassie builders”

  • Willow says:

    Hi Ronnie,

    Further to Jane Tallon’s response, she did say in our interview that some buyers are looking to add solar energy or solar hot water themselves. In Tasmania overall, however, solar is proving slow to take off compared to the mainland.

    There are a few factors at play – the degree to which a roof and site enables effective solar PV generation, and also the carbon argument is different to the mainland, as Tasmania has mainly renewable hydro power. Generally, by focusing on orientation for passive solar benefits, a builder can also make it more possible for solar to work.

    In terms of focusing on local and Australian products, to the best of our knowledge, there is no Australian manufacturer of solar panels that is not using imported parts such as imported solar cells and wafers. There are companies undertaking assembly here, and some components may be locally manufactured, but the whole package still includes imported elements.

  • Jane Tallon says:

    Hi Ronnie,
    Thanks for your comment. The context in which this comment appeared in the article doesn’t really reflect our views. Just to clarify, we don’t include solar as a ‘standard’ inclusion in our houses – our priority is very much on efficient design, material selection, insulation and healthy finishes. Our houses are very considered and we proudly try to source products as locally as possible. To be very clear, however, we definitely, definitely support the use of solar and other renewable technologies and wholeheartedly support our clients when they choose to include them in their NEAThouse. Hope this clears it up!
    Kind regards, Jane

  • Ronnie Nichols B.Sc. UNSW says:

    Really disappointed to read the comment about Solar – do you mean imported from mainland Aus – there are solar panel manufacturers in Australia in need of our support – no wonder Martin Green has been struggling to get Australian solar up and running! This business is NEAT but I’m not interested until you inform yourselves better about incorporating solar technologies.

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