May the roof above us never fall in
And may we good companions beneath it never fall out.

~Irish blessing

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sustainable House Day

While there was little work done around our house over the weekend, there was certainly plenty of inspiration. Sustainable House Day on Sunday opened environmentally conscious houses and gardens to the public across Melbourne and we were lucky enough to have two amazing homes in our neck of the woods to visit. 

The two homes we saw were stylistically very different but both revealed an enormous amount of hard work and commitment to household energy and waste reduction. The first home we visited was a cheerful share-house complete with free-ranging hens, fruit trees and a fantastic edible garden. We were given a tour by a lovely volunteer named Walter who explained the frugal, low consumption philosophies of the owner of the house and the work he had put in to improving the energy footprint of the home and householders.

Bio paints on display in the kitchen.

New doors that reach the floorboards reducing drafty gaps - not sure what their plan is for them but I love the raw timber finish. We have these same 100 year old baltic pine floorboards and they are drafty. Tom filled the bigger gaps in our bedroom with coloured caulk when we first moved in, and we have rugs in most rooms, but in this house the owner crawled underneath and stapled insulation to the underside. An unenviable job but one that would make a huge difference.

Another clever thing they did was relocate their hot water heater from the back of the house to just outside the bathroom, and install an internal thermostat and on/off switch to prevent water heating when they don't need it. 

Somehow I managed to accidentally delete the photo I took of their wonderful garden but it was a veritable food forest designed with consultation from a permaculture expert to maximise space and sun. Both front and back were choc full of edible plants and fruit trees but unfortunately you'll just have to take my word for it, or visit them next year!

The second house we visited was a beautifully renovated Californian Bungalow and we were lucky enough to be given a personal tour by owner Gavin, an inspiring and passionate host who has undertaken much of the work himself to create an innovative, low-comsumptive, stylish and comfortable home for his young family.

Unobtrusive hydronic heating panels in every room are complimented with ceiling fans and wall, roof and underfloor insulation. Like in the first house we saw, Gavin has squeezed under the floor in the old part of the house to staple 75mm polyester bats to the underside of the boards, before taking on the arduous task of removing the weatherboards one by one to insulate the walls. Solar orientation and double glazing in the new extension, with styrofoam insulation under the concrete floor meant despite the cool windy day, the house was incredibly warm and quiet.

A manually openable skylight illuminates the kitchen during the day and can be opened in Summer to cool the room.

LED downlights run off the 1.5kW solar PV system which provides 95% of household energy use. Gavin estimates with the premium feed in tariff, the $3000 system will have paid for itself in 3.5 years.

These upside-down windows are a neat trick Gavin designed to work as a 'thermal chimney', allowing the hot air to exit the top of the room in Summer.

There is plenty more to mention, but I could go on all day. Thanks to the owners who generously opened their homes to us and I look forward to seeing more next year. It really got us thinking about what we need to do with our house. Straight away when we moved in last year we put in ceiling fans, blinds, caulked the floor as I mentioned earlier, and had gas heating installed. There's old insulation in the ceiling but the insulation efforts of the houses we visited really pressed upon us the importance of draft reduction and we have a ways to go in this old house I think.

So yes, it was more thinking and planning than doing over the weekend, although Tom did get a couple of coats of paint on the meatsafe which is to be the cabinet in the ensuite. Scubbed up alright, huh? The colour is Murobond 'marble' - low VOC, plus we're upcycling the meatsafe so we felt pretty good about this one on Sustainable House Day.


  1. Your meat-safe looks great!

  2. Thanks, that was great inspiration. We can't get under our house (and I think we probably don't want to as I suspect a huge damp problem), but I will keep thinking it over. We had hydronic heating in a previous house and it is amazing, well worth the investment. Here is it wood as we have access to lots of dead and fallen trees!

  3. Thanks Lucy - we're proud of it.

    You're welcome Alison :) Wish we had've had the money and foresight to go hydronic here - perhaps in our next house. We've retained the old wood-fire heater in the living room for the occasional crackling fire in winter. Not many fallen trees to be found around here though!