Sustainable House Day

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 Sustainable House Day – Wangaratta
Sunday 7 September 2014

Sustainable House Day - Wangaratta 2014 Venues


Retrofitting is taken to the extreme when all but the slab remains from the old. In the case of this Glenrowan property fire was the cause. The way was created for a new design and one which had much greater energy efficiency. The slab and some of the embedded plumbing could be salvaged. The new structure was built with a modest budget but a strong view to future savings in household running costs.  The designer of the new home made a fundamental change by extending the slab so the main living areas get all the benefit of the winter sun.

Inside the main living area is open plan combining the kitchen, dining and lounge rooms. Features to keep the area warm in winter and cool in summer abound. All the windows are double glazed and in winter the sun penetrates well into the room providing warmth. Some of this heat energy is absorbed into the floor tiles and internal walls built of concrete bricks for thermal mass. A small wood burning heater supplements this passive heating when required. An added bonus is the hotplate on top for a warm kettle or soup, slow cooked meals and a small oven for baking.

In the summer the elevation of the sun in the sky and the extended eaves mean that the interior is shaded. External shade cloth blinds and some strategically planted trees add to the summer shading. East and west facing windows allow for cross flow ventilation in the warmer weather and especially overnight when the floor tiles cool. Ceiling fans lowered from the high ceiling assist in keeping people cool in summer. This total living area can be zoned so that climate control can be directed at the living area only.

Down lights have been largely avoided in the lighting plan and compact fluorescent bulbs in pendant fittings light the area. Each is separately switched to avoid unnecessary lighting. The three most important features of this area are orientation and design to use the sun effectively, double glazing and insulation.  Externally the house has 4 kW of PV cells which generate more electricity than the house uses. Hot water is generated by a heat pump unit which collects heat from the air and uses it to heat water. It is like a refrigerator in reverse. Heat pumps can be about 400% efficient meaning that they transfer four times as much energy into the water as the energy they use to run the pump.

Rendered polystyrene was used for the external walls and provides a high level of insulation.

When purchased, the block consisted of the slab, a dysfunctional cement tank, and the residue of an abandoned property after fire. After removal of all the rubbish it contained, relining the tank and installing a cover, it is now the main water storage. The dam was sited in a low lying area to provide habit for native wildlife. Garden water is supplied from the Hamilton Park communal dams.  The garden was started from scratch. The priority was to set up a vegetable garden. Excess bricks from the house internal walls were used as garden bed edging. Organic principles include composting, green manure, no dig and no chemicals. The fruit are located in the large chook yard. Torn newspaper is placed under the roosts then the manure enriched newspaper is spread on the vegy garden or composted.

Existing native grasses (Weeping grass, Kangaroo grass, Wallaby grass, Red grass and Poas) have been encouraged because of their relatively low growth rate for long term reduction of mowing and fire fuel reduction. Garden plantings around the house mainly (but not exclusively) consist of local native species to survive the wet winter and hot dry summers with minimal watering. Use of local native species also attracts birds, lizards and frogs.  Management is an ongoing process. For example, recently the beautiful fig tree situated near the vegy garden had to be removed as its roots had found their way into several garden beds compromising the growth of many vegetables. In the garden, any plants that dominate by removing light or moisture from others have been removed as have those that don’t survive the seasonal extremes. These are gradually being replaced with local native species.

Rural Wangaratta

This house was built two years ago and is designed specifically for this site, it is a north facing solar passive house with special attention paid to cross ventilation, spectacular views and disabled living. The frame is wood with insulation in all external walls and radial sawn timber and colourbond cladding.

 The flooring is a polished concrete waffle pod slab which also acts as a thermal sink to regulate diurnal temperatures. The second thermal regulator is a solid brick wall behind the combustion fire in the main living space.

All windows are double glazed and designed to catch the cool evening breeze in summer. A pergola provides shade along the entire north side with no windows on the west and a ‘mud room’ which acts as a buffer to the rest of house all year round.

We have solar water heater with a wetback on the wood stove. The locally built woodstove also runs two hydronic heating panels and is an oven in winter. We burn fallen timber collected from the property and we have planted a wood lot for future use. We use rainwater collected and stored in two 53,000L tanks. Water saving features includes low flow taps and showerheads, drip irrigation, twin tub washing machine, modified behaviours.

We have a standalone 4Kw power system and we run a freezer, car fridge, office equipment, refrigerant air conditioner, ceiling fans and spa. The spa is used as a plunge pool in summer and is heated by a wood fired boiler.

We have a passive worm farm waste system – no energy input required. All external and internal doors are 870mm for wheelchair access with the hall 1.2m wide, there are no steps and all taps are lever type for easy access.

Beechworth (self sufficient property)

The video below is an ABC Local production titled 'Canberra to Beechworth – an extreme lifestyle makeover'
The full article and High Definition video from ABC Local is at:

This is seventh year of living on our property, and the first time we have participated in the Wangaratta Sustainable House Day visits.
Our primary objective is to provide an environment where we can survive and thrive despite future scenarios of rapid climate change, possible global financial collapse, and a world without oil.
To do this, we have concentrated on establishing a variety of food-producing areas and then providing the infrastructure to support these areas.  This means providing enough water for current and future needs, using our waste as a resource and not having to rely on outside agencies for disposal, creating ornamental vistas incorporating many varieties of fruits and vegetables, and then providing the storage facilities to ensure that we have a year-round supply of food.
Our home heats water via a solar heater connected to a cast iron stove, which does the bulk of water heating through the winter.
A  4.5 Kw grid-connect PV system allows us to feed excess power back to the grid with the added bonus of a sizeable annual cheque which normally covers our property rates.
All our sewerage and grey water is processed by a worm-based waste management system which converts all organic waste, including lawn clippings, dead animals and cotton shirts into water and worm castings. This can then be reticulated throughout the garden where required.
This year, we purchased an adjoining 5 acres and are developing a rotational, or cell, grazing program.  This entails grazing cattle, sheep, or goats, on one piece of land for a short while before moving them to the next paddock.  The grazed land is then free-ranged by chickens and the cycle is repeated throughout the year.  This system has been shown to improve soil fertility and water retention.
In the quince orchard we free-range over forty chickens where they can provide an organic means of pest reduction, reduce grass growth without mowing, fertilise the fruit trees, and enjoy the shade of the fruit trees during the hot summer months.
We have seven bee hives to facilitate pollination of our crops and to provide enough honey for our personal consumption and to use in the production of jams and apple cider and other value-added produce.
Future projects include the construction of a wood-fired pizza oven and erecting poly tunnels to grow more exotic crops such as coffee.

Vegetable garden in winter
In an environment where global warming is a huge threat to humanity, and where food production will need to increase to feed growing populations, we hope that our property will eventually be a good example of “best practice” in adapting to climate change.


The house was designed specifically for its owner, the architect’s mother. Its main contribution to Sustainable House Day is its demonstration of passive solar design principles and how these influenced the site and house design, including the building section and choice of materials.

The house also demonstrates features which
assist with accessibility, with a view to extending the owner’s capacity to live in the house.

The house uses thermal mass to store and emit warmth in winter. In summer it takes advantage of the diurnal temperature extremes of the region to draw cool air in overnight through strategically placed windows while exhausting hot air through the clerestory and a small window in the loft. Windows are shaded in warm weather. Double glazing is extensive. The house scored highly in its FirstRate assessment more or less on the basis of these attributes and its level of insulation.
Passive Solar Design features
North aspect for garden
North aspect of main living area windows
Shape and size influenced by need
Use of space to minimise passages
Use of space under high roof line
Clerestory windows for light, extra winter warming and summer heat exhaust
Windows at three levels: floor level lets cool air in, mid level for views and upper level to let hot air out

Windows at three levels. Floor level lets cool air in, mid level for views and upper level to let hot air out.

Deciduous vine pergola shades north-east, north and north-west facing windows in warmer months.
Double Glazing
Minimal glazing to east, west and south
Curtains and other window coverings reduce heat loss
Doors can isolate main living area
Floor tiles on concrete slab for thermal mass
Internal brick wall for thermal mass
Ceiling fans to most rooms
Walls and roof are insulated. R-rating walls: 1.5, ceiling: 4.5
Hydronic heating (individual rooms can be isolated)
Structural provision made for retrofitting of solar hot water and/or PVcells on north facing roof
No quartz halogen down lights. Pendant fluorescent lights to high ceilings (predating the general availability of LED light fittings)
Lounge space has a cosy feel due to its lower ceilings

Accessibility features
No steps from outdoors to indoors, nor in change of floor surface.
Door openings accommodate wheelchairs
Bathroom for disabled: No step: single plane floor drainage, grab rails and generous space for maneuvering
Electronic operation of difficult to reach low and clerestory windows
Lever handles to hinged doors
Photo by fotohaus
Completed 2010
Architect: Dianne Peacock, Subplot
Builder: L + KL Adamo Building & Construction Pty Ltd Wangaratta
Structural engineer: Keith Long and Associates Pty Ltd
Heating and Cooling: Outlook Alternatives, Wangaratta
Cabinet Maker: J&T Joinery Pty Ltd, Wangaratta
Building surveyor: City of Wangaratta

Accessibility and longevity of use of the home
As the owner did not intend to move again, the house needed to cater for the eventuality of disability and frailty. This was considered both a social and physical design issue. Having visitors was very important here. Grandchildren and others are encouraged to visit through the provision of diverse and flexible accommodation: a guest bedroom, a bed in the study, a loft above the bathroom, an alcove, and for the grey nomads, a parking bay behind the shed offering power, water and WC: facilities which double as garden infrastructure and second toilet. With only one dedicated guest room, the house avoids feeling too big for the lone occupant.
The plan allows free movement through wide openings and a hierarchy of circuits through the house and site. There are no steps from outdoors to indoors, nor in change of floor surface. In the event of being bedridden, a northerly garden aspect and a range of outlooks from the bed through the house and outdoors offer contact with wider environment. 
Photo by fotohaus
The bathroom floor slopes gently to a strip grate along its far wall. Its single, gentle plane of fall provides greater stability to the legs of portable disability aids than that of a single point floor waste.
The otherwise flat floor plane is offset by variety in ceiling height throughout the house. This in turn accommodates ceiling storage spaces and the loft accessed by family and visitors.
Not so long ago the house site was pasture on the edge of town while the owner lived among orchards and farmland further out. Both owner and the land have made a change from farmland to rural suburbia. The design of the house attempts to mediate this move and in the process take a fresh look at the potential of the rural suburban block.

A mini expo showcasing local businesses for sustainable building and retrofitting was one of the locations to visit on Sustainable House day.
Once had been inspired by the open house features, a range of local sustainable businesses was available in a one-stop-shop, with ideas for retrofits, new technologies and advice.
Local businesses present were able to give advice on solar PV, solar power storage, efficient hot water, lighting, energy efficient pool pumps and pool heating and building and renovating design.
The expo was held at the HP Barr Eco Living Centre in Wangaratta, a community centre which has already been retrofitted and signed with sustainable features. Tea, coffee and light refreshments will also be available for visitors on the day.

Park Lane Nursery
95 Park Lane, Wangaratta

Park Lane Nursery stocks a full range of plants, both native and exotic, for Wangaratta and surrounding areas.  

Plants can be provide shade to your house in the summer and let the sunlight and warmth enter in winter.  Low water use plants are also an option for an all year round garden.  How about making your garden be your greengrocer by timely purchase of vegetable seedlings and seeds.  Copy what you may have seen at some of the open houses.

Sustainable building is not only for homes.  Halls, meeting places, places of work and businesses can all operate on less energy and resources with careful planning.  See for yourself at Park Lane.  Park Lane Nursery's main meeting building has been designed sustainably, taking into account a north facing aspect, clerestory windows, cross flow ventilation and plenty of insulation.  Displays of local school children's art work will be shown in the building with the focus of sustainable living and sustainable house design


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