Steve Driscoll, left, and Tim Redway

By Tina Perinotto

10 February 2012 – In most display homes the signs say “No photographs”. But at the Landcom eco-living range of display homes built by Clarendon Homes at The Ponds in Sydney’s north-west, photographs are encouraged and rival builders are invited in to learn all they can.

In this highly competitive industry that’s unusual.

But according to Landcom’s director sustainability and policy Steve Driscoll it’s all part of the “ripples in the pond” effect that the state’s land developer is hoping to encourage with its strategy to build eco friendly demonstration homes.

At its latest offering in the, the Net Zero home, which opened to the public last Saturday, sustainability features in the home have been extended to designs that cater for the elderly, disabled, and even people suffering from asthma.

According to Driscoll the strategy is working. The homes (Net Zero is third in the three home series)  have stirred interest both with the public and other builders.

“Our research, our experience is that give people a reason to do things differently, explain why it needs to be done and give them a budget that doesn’t break the bank and they will extend themselves.

“The education is an important part of that.”

The partners ran tours with other builders.

“The whole purpose of the eco-living range it to get the builders to put up a sign and say why these houses are different,” Driscoll says.

Family room, with low bench kitchen shown at rear

Clarendon was happy to do that – to show what they’d done and share the experience such as with reverse brick veneer: what’s the different things you need to do in terms of framing the widows and the doors, for instance; explain what was difficult for them; where they stubbed their toes…”

Driscoll says: “The sign in most display villages say no cameras. We put up signs saying ‘photography welcome.’ And it doesn’t matter if it’s a builder from a big building company or a mum and dad wondering what their next accommodation will be – if some of this finds a way into their plans, that’s great. ”

Already another major builder in Sydney, Metricon Homes, is offering six star packages, says Driscoll. The move may be co-incidental, but it’s a good sign.

And Clarendon itself has leapt on the opportunity to carve out new offerings – six star packages are now available on most of its range and within a few months a seven star package is scheduled to be ready.

Even better is that the company’s suppliers quickly tweaked that sustainability was in demand and started to offer other sustainable products that they had to hand.

Clarendon Homes’ marketing and design manager Tim Redway agrees with Driscoll’s assessment of how fast things have moved and how relatively affordable the additional options are.

Costs for a six star package range from an extra $800 for a single story home which to around $4500 for a two-storey home, mostly for extra insulation and energy efficient glass, he says.

Green concrete added about $400 to the Net Zero display home and some items were cheaper.

“There was a surprising amount of materials available with existing suppliers,” Redway says. “For example green concrete. And it doesn’t cost a lot more to add on.”

Another winner was the termite protection, known as Granitgard, comprising a kind of rubble barrier that termites avoid.

Left to right: Architect Caroline Pidcock who consulted on the eco-living homes; Matthew Napper who helped originate the eco-living concept while with Landcom, now with Stockland, Steve Driscoll

“We used to use the chemical system; lay a pipes around and pump them with chemicals. Now we’ve moved to Granitgard at no extra cost and it’s cheaper for the home owners because they don’t have to top the chemicals up every year.”

Most  of the product assessment was handled by Shaila Divakarla the company’s design sustainability specialist.

Without Dr Divakarla’s input, says Redway, the eco-range would have struggled to become a reality.

So what are Clarendon’s competitors up to?

Clarendon has operations in NSW, Victoria and Queensland and hovers around the top 10 tier volume home builders nationally.

In Queensland and Victoria six star homes are already mandated, however, with differing standards in play. But in NSW Clarendon – and now Metricon- have virtually got the sustainability market to themselves.

With any luck this highly competitive industry may quickly change that.

And that’s just the ripple effect that Landcom hopes will turn to a wave.

Next issue we will publish a joint paper by Dr Divakarla and Steve Driscoll on the experience of building the eco-living range.