What did we think should go into a sustainable home design? Dreams about building something ‘different’ often seem to start with a wish list of ideas, culled from many and varied sources. In our case, it was snippets from TV shows, newspaper articles, conversations with friends, stumbling across interesting websites, personal views on the subject … At this early stage, we weren’t considering practicalities, costs, benefits or any of the factors which should go into making important design decisions.
So, what did we wish for?
Easy ideas (Captain Obvious)
Our new house would be single storey. This would be a significant change from our current circumstances. Our current double storey house does a good job of fitting lots of livable space into a small footprint. However, as the years go by and the knees age, it comes at a cost to personal convenience. Rumour has it that our bodies have peaked in their ability to easily handle regular trips up and down sets of stairs. Also, as one friend kindly pointed out, “How are they going to get the stretcher down those stairs if you keel over with a heart attack?”
Thinking along the same lines of aging bodies, the bathroom wouldn’t be graced with a bath. The days of elegantly arising from a bath have long gone. Actually, nobody can remember the last time we used the bath at our place. It’s time to limit the options to a walk-in & walk-out shower. Besides, there seems to be such a lot of water goes into the bath tub (and then down the drain).
Our house would only need two bedrooms with a study. Sorry, kids. You’re not moving back if you are between accommodation options. There won’t be enough room for permanent guests. However, having an extra bedroom, plus a study area that can, at a pinch, be used for extra sleeping space would provide a comfortable arrangement for visitors who stayed over.
Create an open space for the kitchen/dining and entertainment area. This would be the heart of the house – the place where everyone in the house would come together to prepare and share food as well as entertain and be entertained. It would be spacious and welcoming. We want this area to be naturally cool in summer and warm in winter. No separate formal dining or lounge rooms required. In our experience, we would rarely use these rooms as visitors prefer to join us in the open plan kitchen area.
Just plain good ideas
The garden would be large enough for spaces to grow some veggies and a few fruit trees. There should be plants that supported the native birds and encouraged them to visit the garden. Large shrubs and trees would provide shade for the house in summer. An outdoor entertaining area would take advantage of this green space so we could spend time outside (eg BBQ).
Passive design features looked essential – correct orientation of the dwelling, thermal mass, double glazed windows, shade, insulation, natural air ventilation, careful thought into sizing and location of windows, … There seemed to a smorgasbord of design options that could be considered. Let’s throw a bunch of them at a wall and see which ones stick!
Light filled rooms are high on the wish list. Create a connection with the landscaping by having big double-glazed windows that don’t need curtains. We want to be able to be inside the house and enjoying the scenery at all times of the year. It should be like having a living painting in the background of our daily lives.
Water conservation would be essential with large tanks used to store rainwater used for non-potable water services (eg toilets, laundry, garden). What about the grey-water that we produced? What would be the best way of maximising reuse of this water on our property, rather than letting it go to the sewage system?
Let’s have a geothermal heating/cooling system! How great would that be? Get energy from the earth around the house and cut loose from more common energy sources.
Build the walls out of a material called hempcrete. Just the name calls out for further investigation. What’s the story with a building material made out of water, hemp and lime? If that wasn’t different enough, what about a compressed straw bale house?
Going off-grid with electricity seems to be an idea whose time has come. It’s all very well having solar panels but, when the grid goes down, the inverter trips so no electricity. Could we move from being an embedded generator to an independent generator?
Flowing water cools the nearby area doesn’t it? Could we have some sort of grey water treatment system that involved streams of water flowing past the house and cooling the interior? Not only would we have the gentle, soothing sound of trickling water, we’d also have cool air in summer.
What happens next?
The more we investigated, the more ideas we came across and the more sources we found. There is so much food for thought out there.
We’re going to use our wish list as input to the design process, along with our guiding principles.
Time to start some serious research. Stay tuned to see what happens.
Of course, do let us know if you have something on your green home wish list that you’d love to see investigated. Now is an excellent time for your best wild and crazy notion to be tossed into the mix for consideration.