Image: Aaron Poupard

Architect Howard Raggatt of Ashton Raggatt McDougall is no stranger to shocking people, most notably with Storey Hall at RMIT in Melbourne. Now there’s a water tank building doing the rounds. Here’s why he did it and why it’s a good thing.

A muscly-looking Melbourne home is an ode to both form and function, as its plastic façade is made almost entirely of water tanks.

Owners Ian Kronborg and Anne Howard were keen to collect their own water and with limited space on their Port Melbourne block, they planned to store water tanks underground.

But upon inspection of the site, they found lots of sand and a very high water table.

“We found lots of sea shells underneath,” Dr Kronborg said.

“It was nice, but not structurally helpful.”

Their architect Howard Raggatt of Ashton Raggatt McDougall came up with an unusual idea: build the water tanks into the structure of the home.

Aside from the practical reasons for doing this, Mr Raggatt said he had a particular love for the “sophisticated form” of 2000-litre PVC tanks.

“We’re a little obsessed by them as much for their look as for their reality,” Mr Raggatt said.

ARM even have a couple of water tanks in their office kitchen in Melbourne’s CBD that do not hold water, but purely serve as an aesthetic feature.

Image: Aaron Poupard
Image: Aaron Poupard

Most of the 20 tanks at the Port Melbourne home store water, which the owners use for toilet flushing and watering a vegetable garden and plants growing vertically on the façade of the building.

Despite all the tanks, The H House, as the owners affectionately call it, still receives water from the grid.

Dr Kronborg said regulations against using stored water for drinking prevented him from having a totally self-sufficient water supply.

The home also has solar panels, a solar-heated hot water service, insulation, double glazed windows and is built mostly with low-impact, recyclable materials.

This includes the water tanks, which Mr Raggatt described as “terrifyingly permanent”.

“They are fully recyclable, just scrunch them up and use them again,” he said.

“But unfortunately they’re going to last forever.”

Howard Raggatt
Howard Raggatt

Apart from solar, the home relies on grid electricity but Dr Kronborg hopes to be off grid in three to four years.

“If the Tesla batteries come through at the prices they’re talking about, I’ll be able to do it in 12 to 18 months,” he said.

Dr Kronborg and Dr Howard have long been passionate about building sustainably and won the Water Smart House of Australia award several years ago for their holiday home in Anglesea.

Dr Kronborg said it was not economically rational to go off grid but it was about doing the right thing for the environment and becoming independent of energy companies.

“Long term we have to develop more self-sufficient methods in our community,” Dr Kronborg said.

“Because I’m relatively affluent, I can afford to push that and do that.”

When the couple built The H House they wanted to run the electricity wires underground because they thought it would look better. Their electricity company quoted $80,000, so they didn’t do it.

During the building phase, Dr Kronborg said he had difficulty understanding sustainability rating systems because they didn’t seem to “connect with reality”.

“They seemed to have a bunch of features but it wasn’t whether they all worked together, it was just a bunch of boxes you had to tick,” Dr Kronborg said.

Mr Raggatt said the home had a NatHERS rating of 5.7 stars.

With a “heavy duty” lift running through the home and enough solar panels to be “symbolic”, the building design was “never an attempt to be off grid”, he said.

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  1. The water tanks probably aren’t made from PVC – more likely to be high density polyethylene (HDPE)…

  2. NATHERS only measures the energy required for heating and cooling the building. It does not measure water saving or reduction in pollution to the stormwater system or energy generated by solar panels or landscaping or bike parking or recycling.

  3. H Division? This house takes a simplistic idea of what is sustainable. A low thermal effeciency as mentioned correctly in the above comment mixed with a building fabric really not designed to survive over time. Is this what Architects of this day consider sustainable?

  4. This is an interesting architectural response and I like that it is bringing greater attention to rainwater re-use. It is a shame it can’t go off grid in terms of water use and understandable.

    I have a concern with the energy performance aspect of the building however, 5.7 Star NATHERS? is that even meeting minimum standards? It should be made clearer that NatHERS is a star rating scale from 0 to 10 stars. 6 stars is minimum compliance for new class 1 buildings. 10 Stars is effectively zero heating and cooling demand.

    It is a problem with the industry and leads to market confusion as NABERS and Green Star use a 0 to 6 Star scale.

    If this building is 5.7 Star NatHERS, it is no better than anything else in terms of heating and cooling demand per sqm so shouldn’t be heralded as an exemplar sustainable building.