Architect David Vernon's The Blue House

More than 150 sustainable homes across the country will be open to the public this Sunday and next Sunday for the annual Sustainable House Day.

The days promotes engagement with homeowners and the sharing of ideas on how best to incorporate renewable energy, recycling and other sustainable practices into the home. Now in its 13th year, the program has since 2001 had over 1000 homes open their doors to 100,000 Australians.

Architect David Vernon of 14 Robert Street, Elwood in Victoria, is opening his sustainable home to the public this year.

“A contemporary home must utilise all that our environment offers; a low warming sun in winter, cooling shade and sea breezes in summer, while allowing for fresh air, conservation of water, minimisation of energy use and the responsible use of material,” Mr Vernon says.

Featured homes open across the country:

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The Blue House
14 Robert Street, Elwood VIC
Open 7 September

A new house completed in late 2012 located in Elwood, for a family with two young children.

The house has been conceived around a main living space, a single big room on the ground floor with open glazed areas to the front outdoor garden and deck, framed by a steel pergola and sliding timber slat screen for privacy and sun shading.

The first floor contains three bedrooms with the main bedroom to the front separated by a bathroom, which features a raised roof and highlight louvre windows, the so called “green lantern”, which also provides private natural light and acts as a thermal ventilation stack during the warmer summer months.

This house has a compact footprint that allows for greater landscaping and thus reduces stormwater runoff. The design also carefully considers orientation for sunlight and ventilation. Winter sun warms the solid internal floor and walls whilst in summer with additional retractable shading remains cool assisted further with cross ventilation throughout.

One Of A Kind Apartments
43 Stockdale Street, Dickson, ACT
Open 7 September

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The One of a Kind Apartments is an inner-city eco-development that sits harmoniously within its neighbourhood and the environment. The seven modest but artistically finished apartments provide diverse accomodation while meeting the highest standards of comfort. The passive solar design and alignment, aluminium/PVC double-glazing and heavily insulated Hebel Panel walls help most apartments achieve EER 8.0.

The Corcon podium slab in the basement carpark has reduced the concrete required by 30 per cent while allowing for greater spans. Hebel Panel further reduces the amount of concrete and embodied energy while producing energy efficiencies. The concrete blocks at the base of the walls consist of 40 per cent recycled glass and all fill and aggregate throughout the development is recycled crushed concrete.

LED lighting and energy saving appliances are used throughout the development. Plantation bamboo flooring is used for most floor covering and much concrete is left polished and unadorned. Recycled Australian hardwoods are used for the stairs and the landings as well as the balcony screens. Repurposed corrugated iron roofing, some dating back to 1860, is used throughout the development for upper storey cladding, blade walls and waste enclosure.

A native xeriscape garden and deep straw mulch throughout the development reduces the requirement for water while providing a bountiful habitat for native birds and fauna. All stormwater is captured in an underground reservoir that drip-feeds all courtyards and gardens. A greenhouse provides warmth in the cold months while providing an ideal environment for an aquaponics system producing fruit and vegetables.

Karsakis House
128a Rosebery St, Bedford WA
Open 14 September

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Designed to reference a love for rustic warehouse apartments and efficient layouts of workers cottages while exploring an alternative to what would ordinarily be expected of a dwelling in Perth, this 140 square metre home, which is sited on a 320 sq m subdivided rear block in Bedford, has been carefully crafted to have an efficient layout, optimise passive solar orientation and utilise as many recycled materials throughout its construction as possible.

The major aim of the construction of the home was to minimise the overall embodied energy while adding character and warmth to the interiors.

The majority of recycled elements were sourced from salvage yards and private sellers including all windows and doors (internal and external) structural columns and feature beams, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, sinks, basins, tiles, floorboards, skirtings and light fittings.

The outcome is a 3 x 1.5 with minimised hallways and a large open living area. Volume has been created through increased ceiling heights and the clever placement of large recycled jarrah windows. Paneco, a Structural Insulated Panel System has been utilised for the main structure of the home which has a high insulation value, whilst internally the honed concrete floor and recycled brick feature wall act as a thermal heat sink.

The home also contains a grey water system, heat pump / solar hot water system and has large industrial style fans to cool the home in summer rather than air conditioning, which also add to its warehouse appeal.

The Inside Out House
70 May Court, Humpty Doo, Darwin, NT
Open 14 September

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The Inside-Out house is located in the rural area of Humpty Do, Darwin, and is perfect for those who love the outdoors and tropical living.

A dividing outdoor walkway zones sleeping and living appropriately to provide privacy and ensure maximum cross ventilation is achieved with louvered windows in each part of the house. A separate layered roof structure enables hot air can easily escape along with ventilated mesh eaves. The house is orientated so the sun hits the smallest part of the house to minimise heat exposure and ultimately reduce your air-conditioning bills.

The property also features  a black water treatment system called an Aqua Nova, which irrigates the entire garden on a dripper system. It also features a solar hot water system and lightweight construction so that it cools down quickly. A semi elevated design is cost effective and ensures adequate airflow and access under the house.

Julian’s House
8b Seventh Ave, St Peters, SA
Open 7 and 14 September

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Maximising energy and water self-sufficiency were key drivers in the design of the houses, followed by reducing the total embodied energy in the construction and manufacture of the materials achieved by efficient space planning. The overlapping energy and resource saving measures designed into these dwellings range from fully passive to active systems. The houses were also treated as a prototype for the architect-owner to test out some of the sustainable systems and theories for his sustainable architecture practice.

Only after minimising the need for extra energy through design were active systems considered and so far the house has not only had a very low energy and water use day to day, the water savings and energy surplus have amplified its efficiency.

The sustainable initiatives continue externally with integration of deciduous vines for shading on the pergola and a green wall to affect local micro climate. Much of the landscaping to the rear is sub-surface irrigated by grey water produced internally, ornamental plantings are water wise species and there is a significant portion given over to food production. All roof space including garage is utilised for rainwater harvest into a 13,600L underground tank with the water being plumbed for use throughout the house.

The project recently received a Commendation in the Sustainable Architecture category of the Australian Institute of Architects state chapter awards, and won the Adelaide Review People’s Choice award for New Housing.

Sue & Michael’s House
1 Woodland Street, Coogee, Randwick, NSW
Open 7 September

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This home is a new four bedroom sustainable home, built three years ago for a family of two adults and three primary school aged children.

The couple were involved in every aspect of the design and construction of the home, and researched extensively (for years beforehand and throughout construction) to incorporate as many environmentally sustainable features as possible, using good quality materials with a view to longevity.

While it is largely exposed to the south and west, it takes every measure to make it a passive solar home.

Key features include:

  • high thermal mass to keep cool in summer and retain heat in winter
  • solar underfloor hydronic heating & domestic hot water
  • good insulation everywhere, and draught elimination (in winter)
  • double glazing with low e treatment
  • no air conditioning – cooling achieved by appropriate shading, ventilation and ceiling fans
  • composite or thermally broken windows and door frames (for glazed doors)
  • 3kW PV array
  • 38kL (approx) rainwater tank which supplies all house and garden hose water aside from kitchen sink (supplemented during dry spells by mains water)
  • low-flow taps, toilets, showers, and water-efficient appliances
  • greywater reed bed to enable recycling of greywater onto vegetable garden and lawn via underground irrigation
  • sustainably sourced timber throughout house and garden
  • every appliance chosen with a view to longevity and minimal power use
  • minimal waste to landfill due to composting, recycling and backyard chickens (shared with friends at another residence)
  • natural, freshwater swimming pool, which uses no regular pool chemicals, and minimal power to filter water – providing a haven for local wildlife and supporting biodiversity
  • indigenous native garden at home and along verge adjacent to home, supporting local wildlife corridor; along with herb, vegetable beds and fruit trees, plus lawn for kids to play, all maintained organically
  • community compost bins maintained for self, extended local family, friends and neighbours
  • E0 or wood joinery
  • low VOC carpets, paints, glues
  • high recycled content in many building materials, eg, floor tiles, concrete, bricks/blocks, reed bed filtration materials in swimming pool and grey water system
  • HDPE water pipes (minimal PVC)
  • exterior is painted/clad/roofed in light, sun-reflective colours
  • recently added a pergola on which we will grow deciduous vines to allow winter sun, and provide summer shade to exposed verandah


Torquil’s House
856 Huon Rd, Fern Tree, TAS
Open 14 September

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Starting as a one-room stone cottage in 1990, this house was added to in three stages. Part architect designed and part owner designed and built, this house is very much of its time.

Large east facing windows means it is a morning house when it comes to heating. Heat loss through large expanses of glass has been reduced through retrofitting both Perspex secondary glazing and glazing film on the larger windows.

With concrete floors and stone walls there is thermal mass to spare, making the house comfortable to live in for up to nine months in the year, but difficult to heat in winter. Two-thirds of the external stone walls have been insulated on the inside. There is one circuit of electric floor heating in the dining area (now subsidised by solar PV) and in the evenings a 17kW wood heater in the living area, which is close off with curtains.

The rest of the house is unheated. The owners have realised that with many late 20th century houses (high ceilings and glass walls), it is better to heat the people rather than attempt to heat the building.

Esther’s House
56A Thorn Street, Ipswich, QLD
Open 7 September

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This is a new residential architect designed urban build with two bedrooms and two bathroom, with open plan living.

There is a northern orientation maximised for solar design, with an internal recycled brick wall highlighted in winter with natural warmth from the clerestory louvres that are also used to vent hot air in summer.

Indoor-outdoor living is the theme, with the kitchen opening onto a recycled timber deck underneath an ancient mango tree. Lawn has all been replaced with landscaping using primarily local native species and kitchen friendly vegetable beds irrigated by a Gator Pro grey water diversion system.

Internal heating and cooling is boosted by a wood fired radiant heater, reversible ceiling fans and breeze harvesting. Other standard features include whole house rainwater supply, a 4.2kW grid connect solar system, low-VOC paints and finishes, room designs for future adaptions, recycled doors and furniture.

See more houses.