One family in Mollongghip is hoping to change the housing norm.
They have a vision all builders and architects will follow sustainable building practices.
Michael Robinson and Jo Taylor designed and built their house so their family can ‘tread lightly’ – reducing their environmental impact while maximising comfort.
The couple and their three young girls live off-grid on a 20 acre property on the edge of the Wombat State Forest in Mollingghip. They have named it Lille Skov, meaning ‘little forest’ in Danish.
The household is completely self-sufficient, powered by an 11kW PV system with battery storage, water harvesting and storage for all water requirements and wood heating.
Other sustainable design elements help them live in comfort, including northern orientation to maximise sun exposure, air lock entry to prevent heat loss and gain, a thick 200 mm of insulation and double glazed windows.
Mr Robinson said building sustainable houses “just makes sense” and reassured those interested that it was “completely doable”.
More than 250 people visited Lille Skov for inspiration during Sustainable House Day on September 16.
“I get inspired by the number of people who come out because they are all keen as mustard to be told that they can do what they have dreamed of doing,” Mr Robinson said.
“Or they just need a little reassurance that what they want to do, someone has been able to achieve it before - that it’s doable and he is telling me ‘it is not that hard’.”
Mr Robinson and Ms Taylor have always dreamed of living in the bush, but their previous home in Collingwood was a far cry from their country living vision. Lille Skov was a long time coming.
The couple bought the bush block in Mollingghip in 2009, then spent the next four years getting planning approval and then waiting a year and a half for the build.
“It was going to cost $140,000 to connect to the grid so we knew right from the start it was going to be an off-grid place,” Mr Robinson said.
They worked with BREAZE consultants to determine their predicted usage and installed a solar and battery system to cater for the future electricity needs of a family with three teenage girls.
But Mr Robinson said the family’s electricity usage was much lower than at their home in Collingwood, after ditching the heater, sandwich press, microwave, kettle and installing LED lighting and low energy appliances.
“We don’t notice we are off the grid,” Ms Taylor said.
“It has certainly been nice to have no power bills for a year.”
SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT
Fuel for the fireplace and wood stove is sourced from the property as part of the family’s sustainable forest management plan. They live on a part of the forest that was old logging land.
Mr Robinson said the forest had been replanted too densely after it was last logged 40 years ago, meaning many trees were unhealthy and growth had stunted.
He said they were working with a woodcutter in Daylesford who was passionate about sustainable forestry to remove some trees and return the forest to a healthy habitat for wildlife and wildflowers.
“A lot of people are down on logging. This is not plantation, but it can be made healthy, beautiful and a much better habitat for wildlife and the plants that are supposed to grow here, but can’t grow here because there is not enough light and the soil is being wrecked because there are so many trees,” he said.
“The idea is to live on the land quietly but to make a difference in a positive way.”
FUTURE OF HOUSING
For Mr Robinson, sustainable housing ‘just makes sense’. And he says sustainable design elements and features can be accessible and affordable to all.
“It is not just the fact we are off the grid and not using fossil fuels, it is the fact it is still warm in here and we haven’t had a fire in two days,” he said.
It is not just the fact we are off the grid and not using fossil fuels, it is the fact it is still warm in here and we haven’t had a fire in two days.Michael Robinson
“The windows are thicker and there is nearly three times as much insulation as a new house built in a Ballarat estate. The windows are facing the right way and the sun comes through and heats the concrete floor. It doesn’t have any under floor heating because it doesn't need it and there is no active cooling in the house because it doesn’t need it.
“It is that kind of thought that is the easy part that makes a huge difference. Something as simple as insulating properly makes your home more comfortable and you are not using power for heating and cooling.”
Mr Robinson said he believes changing thought in housing design will need to be consumer rather than business driven.
“All architects and builders should be sustainable architects and builders, but they’re not,” he said.
“The building industry is set up in opposition to sustainable building practice. Houses are built and designed to be built cheaply and quickly using preset measurements and materials that are dictated by suppliers. You want a new house, most of the time you don’t have an option to go from a 90 mm stud wall to a 140 mm stud wall, that’s how they come. You get R2.0 rated batts to insulate your house because that brings it up to regulation. Ours are R6.4, just because we thought about building it differently.
“There are so few businesses thinking about building differently, but if they came out here on Sustainable House Day and saw 250 people come through here who want a different way to build their house, maybe then they will start thinking about it.”
Mr Robinson said he understood they were fortunate to be able to afford to build their house to preferred specifications – the batteries cost $22,000 alone and all up the sustainable features are estimated to cost $40,000. The total cost of the home was $650,000.
But he said there were ways to small make changes that could make a big difference without adding extra cost.
“I think consumers are starting to say ‘hey we know there is a different way’. At this point in time I think it is for those of us who are lucky enough to be able to afford to make it the way we want to. But there are ways to do it for the same amount of money you will spend on a volume built house done out in Lucas for example,” he said.
“Make small changes and save a lot. It’s simple things like orientation, more insulation and thicker windows.”
Ms Taylor said a lack of regulatory incentive was contributing to business reluctance to change.
“The six star standard doesn’t take into consideration passive heating and cooling. It doesn’t take into consideration solar. Insulation R2.4 in Ballarat is ridiculous, but they get away with it,” Mr Robinson said.
BREAZE, Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions, offers support to help people install solar power and solar hot water through professional consultants.
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