Ahead of Sustainable House Day, being held across the country on 11 September 2016, we’re taking a look at some of the best homes on display.
Two Perth couples are demonstrating a new way of developing medium density housing that combines sustainability with creating a genuine sense of community.
Mark Dowley, Alana Dowley, Helmuth Stockmann and Eugenie Stockmann formed a development company, The Green Swing, that has now completed two projects.
Alana Dowley says that their first project, Genesis, came about because the couples wanted to be able to build sustainable homes together on the same block. One of the homes a straw-bale, the other a reverse brick veneer.
To make it more of a small community, she says, they also added two apartments to the project. These have been sold, and together the four households have a community that works really well, Dowley says.
“We wanted to say to people, this is how you can develop if you develop conscientiously,” she says.
The construction materials included seven cubic metres of timber salvaged from a home being demolished in East Fremantle, including floorboards, joists, beams, doors, window frames, skirting boards, rafters and wall studs. The team also salvaged light fittings, roofing tin, pavers, nails, fencing and tiles from this and other properties.
Josh Byrne & Associates did a landscaping plan, which includes a community garden on adjacent public land that is a drainage area.
The homes and apartments have NatHERS ratings of 8-10 stars, and passive solar design was used. Solar PV and electric-boosted solar hot water have been installed.
Dowley says people have been sceptical about the lack of airconditioning in the homes.
“It is possible,” she says.
She says her home stays mostly between 18 degrees and 28 degrees, even on a blistering 40-degree Perth scorcher.
The level of thermal comfort and very low power bills are proof the group’s original aims are working.
Improving building practices
Following construction of the homes, Eugenie Stockmann had someone come through with a thermal imaging camera to assess performance. The report showed that there were gaps in the insulation installation, which the homeowners had to rectify.
Dowley says the builder, Gary Wright of Right Homes, was informed of the results, and asked to improve practices as he commenced on the group’s second project, The Siding. He was also asked to improve waste management and recycling practices to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill from construction.
Dowley says Wright has an ethos around sustainability and a record of awards for achieving good outcomes, including HIA and MBA awards for Genesis.
“He is conscious of [building] performance and quality,” she says. Being given the feedback was something he took on board, she says, as a chance to do better.
Dowley says he was rewarded for making the added effort on The Siding with further awards, including three HIA WA GreenSmart Awards this month in the categories of residential development, energy efficiency and water efficiency.
The project also won him WA MBA Excellence in Construction Awards for Waste Management and Energy Efficiency this year.
“Others in the industry have taken that on as an example,” Dowley says.
“[He] is breaking new ground. And the reward is there in being acknowledged for doing something exceptional.”
Take two with The Siding
Located on the same street, The Siding comprises three buildings, with two townhouses and five apartments, including an apartment with a self-contained studio attached to it.
The strata complex also has extensive green open space and a community vegetable garden, as well as private garden spaces.
The sustainability achievements include NatHERS ratings ranging from 9-10 stars, and an eTool Gold lifecycle assessment outcome for operational and embodied carbon.
Each dwelling has a solar PV system and solar hot water. LED lighting has been used throughout, and energy monitors installed. All the windows have double glazing, and no air conditioning has been installed.
Rainwater collection and storage is in place, with the townhouses plumbed to use rainwater in place of scheme water for all taps and fixtures. The apartments are plumbed to use rainwater for toilet flushing and laundry. The garden is irrigated by bore water.
Sid Thoo as architect
The architect on the project was eco-architect and Curtin University lecturer Sid Thoo. He says the project was designed with families in mind, and that preserving maximum open space was made a priority in the planning.
Typically, he says, a developer would put a building in the middle of the site and parking around it. However, The Green Swing team wanted the separate buildings so there could be more open green space, even if it added to the cost of the build. The planning even enabled the development to retain one of the mature trees on the site for canopy and shade.
“Sustainability was integrated from the outset,” Thoo says.
He thinks the “perfect storm is brewing” in terms of creating developments that can deliver density and affordability while still being liveable for families.
Dowley says the aim with the second project was to create another community that can be reproduced elsewhere, and is handed over to residents with all the rules for the strata body in place.
The mix of dwellings was a deliberate design choice.
“If you want to have diversity of occupants, you have got to have a mix of dwellings,” Dowley says.
To date, two of the apartments have sold, two are leased and three dwellings, including the two townhouses, are on the market. The project will be opening some of the dwellings to the public for Sustainable House Day this weekend.
Dowley says the market in Perth is currently depressed, so the developers are being patient and waiting for the right buyers at the right value. She says people who have bought in have done so not only as an investment, but also buying into the ethos.
The group has decided to put the townhouses on the market as rentals for the time being. The remaining vacant apartment, the flexible ground-floor with universal access, is being held onto until the right person appears.
The ultimate goal, she says, is to have owner-occupiers in all the dwellings, so people have a long-term investment in the community.
“It is not our intention to be long-term landlords.”
Plans to become “serial offenders”
Green Swing is now looking to do another development, she says. However, it will need to wait until the capital invested in The Siding is released through sales.
“We have our website, we have our structure. Our intent is to become serial offenders in this market,” she says.
The types of projects they are considering for next time include retrofitting an existing building, and affordable housing.