Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fast forward six years!

I’ve left this blog behind, but occasionally I still get people contacting me for information or advice.

After spending hundreds of hours researching and thinking about environmentally sensitive design, construction and fit-out for our house, once we were moved in and relatively settled, I felt lost without a building project. While I was undoubtedly doing good and worthwhile work as a writer, I felt despondent at the idea of continuing along that path for several more decades. I wanted to use a different part of my brain and to think in different ways. Moreover, after decades of social change activism and environmentalism, I wanted to learn about, explore and contribute to new ways to design, construct, live in and interact with the built environment generally – and housing specifically.

And so it was that, at age 43, I enrolled in a building design course, to train for a totally new career. I how have a new skill set, an Advanced Diploma in Building Design (Architectural) and a whole lot of knowledge and ideas! I’m increasingly specialising in more-sustainable building materials and products, but designing is still a joy and an inspiration.

Today I’m launching Future Focused: a new business that brings together my research skills and my passion for design and environmental and social justice. I have experienced the joy of achieving a high quality, environmentally responsible home after lots of hard work; but I’ve also spoken with many people who feel absolutely daunted by the whole shebang. From hereon, I’ll be helping those people, by selecting, shopping for and advising on building products that don’t cost the earth. 

Please pop over to check out my new website at  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Hmm, so I haven't posted for more than six months. Too much to do, so little time. 

Part of what I've been up to in the last few months has been planning for our permablitz - see And it actually happened! A huge crew of wonderful people came and transformed our grassy wilderness into landscaped paths and irrigated no dig gardens. Miraculous. I'm not given to using the word awesome (don't get me started!), but I think I used it about six times on Sunday.

Anyway, I wanted to upload a pile of photos, and it suddenly occurred to me that I could do it here. I'll try to follow up with a post on the garden design and the thinking behind it, but am still too tired from the weekend to write much tonight.

These pics are of our back yard. I need to take another of the outcome with the morning sun, but this will do for now. The front was also transformed, but with such speed (or so it seemed to me) that I missed getting any action photos. I will get out there in the morning some time this week and take some photos of that too. It looks equally amazing.

Hope you like the pics. 


Monday, April 25, 2011

Money, money, money

We are pretty close to our final payment, and as a few people have been asking me, I thought I'd post briefly about money. We're still fiddling with our spreadsheet of costs, so the absolute final cost is yet to be confirmed, but roughly speaking, we've paid about $2,500 per m2 for a house of approximately 160m2 of usable floor space (i.e. not including the voids and the crawl spaces upstairs on the south).

That price includes everything but the land: design, fees, permits, all materials and the build itself.  Not bad for a bloody beautiful house in this day and age. I will ultimately post the spreadsheet, and try to quantify some of the variables, such as the reverse brick veneer.

In other eco-financial-domestic news, we're about to install 18 grid connected solar panels, which will actually save us a small amount of money every year. It would save us even more if we didn't already have 100% green power.

And finally, we're yet to install thermometers and temperature logs, but the house is performing really well. I imagine most readers in Melbourne will have a heater on by now. We have no heater at all, and (at 9:15 at night) Rodney is in a t-shirt. I'm quite comfortable here downstairs in a t-shirt and medium weight cotton knit top, but will need to take off my top layer when I go upstairs as it's considerably warmer up there.

Since the cold descended, it's been around 19 degrees in the living room when we get up at 6:30am.

Of course, we're yet to see how we go with several days of low sunlight in a row. That - and the 35 degree plus days - will be the big test. I'm starting to feel optimistic that we might not need a heating system. The oven pumps out a fair amount of heat, so maybe we'll just resort to more oven baked meals in the dead of winter! :)



Okay, so they aren't brilliant, and we still have shit everywhere, but people have been asking to see what we've built, so here you go. Inside is still too much of a mess to show you!

In case you are starting to get Block Envy, note that our friends will be building on that patch of dirt next door. There will be 4.5m between us (enough for sun to penetrate our lower windows in winter) and we'll share the backyard.


This is the northern face of our house. Winter sun will stream in. The wide eaves shade us in summer.

This is our street face.

This is our house viewed from the back of the block next door.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We're in!

Where have I been, I hear some of you ask? Well, actually, I've been moving into my 9 star home!!! Hip, hip, hooray.

I will write in more detail later but this is just a quick update of highs and lows:

I love my carpet. It is magnificent. If you can stretch your budget to Valieris, do. Every time I walk on it, I feel happy.

My love affair with soft furnishings extends to our Luxaflex blinds. They look absolutely superb and function like a dream. We went for blockout blinds in the bedrooms and opaque on all other windows.

I feel less happy about the boxes. There are still too many unpacked, mostly because we are still waiting on our studio floor covering. I believe it is coming ... but when?

The house is performing amazingly well in terms of heating and cooling, although I do regret not installing a solar panel attached to a tiny little motor attached to the windows so that we could open and close them at a touch of a button. I dare say that we will get used to managing the ventilation, but Melbourne's unpredictable weather does make it trying. I thought our enormous eaves would stop the rain coming through the windows, but it turns out I was wrong. Thankfully I worked this out after a light shower, rather than a rainstorm.

The light and sunbeams are a continuing source of delight to us all. And they do seem to be working from a passive solar perspective. Even after cool nights (14 degrees), we are waking up to a house that's about 19 degrees. I'm looking forward to seeing how we go after a few consecutive days of cold weather and no sun. But I'm in no rush ... I love March's warm glow.

All of our paint colour choices have been vindicated. They look great, especially against the wooden frames. I can't believe I was planning to have white window frames! It turned out the red of our bathroom really would have been better with a darker undercoat (as suggested by the painters but rejected by the paint shop). So the painters are a bit pissed off. I hope they will forgive me by the time I ask them to work on the next project (which is hopefully the house next door).

BTW, it seems that low VOC does not necessarily mean no fumes at all. The house was quite chemical-stinky for the first three weeks or so, but now it's starting to settle down. But for the record, I think the smell was mostly from the kitchen and the carpet, not the paint.

Our concrete floor feels great: silky smooth and not at all cold. But it's not looking that crash hot. We've had repeated attempts from the floor guys to fix it, and now it seems that we might end up with them coming back to grind it back again and reapply the sealant. I really hope we don't end up with more aggregate exposed, it's quite subtle now and looks really nice in that regard.

The bathroom tiles look fantastic, although much darker than I expected. The tiler did a really lovely job and I am so glad I took our project manager's advice not to cut them down. There's this idea that you shouldn't use big tiles in a small bathroom, but it sooo works in ours.

And finally, our lights! They are really lovely. I think I'd like to make a plan to retrofit them for LED globes over time, but compact fluros are working pretty well in most of them. The exception is the CF downlights, which are perfect for the kitchen, but a bit white for the one place in the living space that we used them. I think we still need some lamps. :)

When we unpack, I will take photos and post them. In the meantime, I know I owe some of you emails (Lindy & Marie). Our internet was down for weeks with the move (AAPT sux, for the record), so I'm only just catching up on emails.

I'm going to need to decide when to wrap up this blog, now that the place is actually built. But I do still have a few outstanding topics, and this is fun, so I'm not quite ready to stop. I'll be back when a few more boxes are unpacked (i.e. when the upstairs flooring is in)!!

Friday, December 17, 2010


It's costing us more to carpet two bedrooms than it cost my parents to carpet their lounge, dining, and three bedrooms! Please excuse me if I'm starting to sound a little obsessed about the almighty dollar, but our spreadsheet of costs is looking a little red, and I'm not talking in terms of my politics (though they do match nicely).

Our plan vis carpet was to spend more on "something nice", by which I basically meant just any old wool carpet that we liked the look of. I know carpet has a bad rap in terms of allergies, but I really wanted a few soft floors! (Having read up on this, I now know that is contested - see links from carpet institute below).

I had also read of indoor air quality specialists saying that carpets are bad in terms of VOCs (see this for example), but Jeremy at Positive Footprints wasn't aware of any low VOC carpet products, only low VOC underlay. (BTW Ours is Bridgestone Airstep)

Then somehow I found Velieris. Definitely the most gorgeous and luxurious carpet I've ever had the pleasure to stand on. It's made mostly from Alpaca wool, and it's undyed and untreated. So no anti-microbial agents, no insecticides, etc etc. Lovely natural colours too.

Unfortunately, all this comes at a price goes well beyond our price range.

As a compromise, we settled on their 'budget' product, Willaura, which is still costing us $360 a broadloom metre ($100 m/2). It's also undyed and untreated, but comprises a mix of 60% wool, 20% alpaca and 20% synthetic. Meets Green Star low voc standards. It's not quite as lovely underfoot as the Alpaca, but it's still pretty nice and, costwise, it is only a bit more than what we were thinking of paying for just plain old wool.

So there you go! Mind you, in all my reading on carpets and vocs, I still can't tell really how much to be concerned. For example, whilst this mob are clearly have a vested interest in greenwashing, it doesn't necessarily follow that everything they cite or say is problematic. I like what we've bought, but I don't think I would have been fretting hugely if we'd ended up with regular carpet. Anything has to be an improvement on the vile once-was-umm, beige? carpet that we live with now.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wow, sorry it's been a long time between rants. Rodney went to Perth, then I went down with the flu and a post-flu thing, and since then it's been a crushing load of catching up on paid work and working down the list of everything that has been in the too hard basket.

Apologies in particular to those of you have emailed me and not heard back ... I'll get to you soon, I promise.

So here's an update on the house building highs and lows of the last um, err, couple of months. (Embarrassed grimace)

Firstly, though, a comment on somebody else's blog alerted me to the fact that I mightn't ever really made it explicit that our house is actually under construction. In fact, it's almost finished! We were hoping to be in by the end of the year, but that's looking less likely with each passing day. I might even get to post some photos before the build is over.


Benchtops are officially the number one bane of this house. After the polished benchtops debacle, I thought we had settled on Sadlerstone. Didn't love it, didn't hate it, was happy that it is made here in Melbourne. It looked like it was going to be affordable too ... as far as I could tell, the actual materials were going to set us back a bit under

$2,400 - for kitchen and our downstairs vanity.

The big question, however, was stonemasonry costs. And jeeeeezus! Basically, the quotes we got were both over six grand for materials and labour. For reasons that escape me, Sadlerstone were unable to recommend a stonemason who has actually worked with the product. And the stonemasons who quoted us either weren't interested in having a go (and so submitted grossly inflated quotes), or were going to charge us a hefty premium for working with a new product.

I've always heard that tradies charge a lot more when they're working with something new. I guess we've been lucky to be building with PF, who are willing to try something different if it seems to have environmental benefits.

So anyway, six something was more than we could (or would) pay for benchtops, so at the absolutely eleventh hour (kitchen goes in tomorrow), we are again looking for benchtop quotes - this time for plain old engineered stone.

I did look at another laminate-looking product made of bamboo. Seemed very sustainable, but at a price that would have me working an extra day a week for quite few months (and I have a very good hourly rate!). Just in case you have more money than we do, the product in question is here:


I wrote on tiles in my last post way back when. Lee from Fibonnaci dropped me a line and invited me to come have a look at their tiles. Wow, they are beautiful. They've done a really nice job of getting the size of the aggregate right, which is something I don't really feel Sadlerstone have achieved yet. On the down side, they are made in Iran. I have looked everywhere for Australian made tiles. There are practically none, and absolutely none other than Sadlerstone that came close to being pleasing to look at and touch.

We were very, very close to going with Fibonnaci, and then I looked more closely at the tech specs for the EcoTech tiles from Italy and discovered they are actually porcelain tiles incorporating pre-consumer recycled material, rather than cement and new stone. Thus followed a flurry of emails between Australia and Italy as I tried to make sure I wasn't making a decision based on greenwash. In a sense, I kind of have, because the recycled content in the light tiles we have ultimately chosen is only 10% (the dark tiles have 42% recycled content). But I like the fact that they have developed the technology, and are applying it. And they tick all the other right boxes like closed loop water system, so that's good.

So the tiles are on site, and the tiler should be coming any day now. They're pretty gorgeous, and I'm really happy with our choice.


If benchtops have been the bane of this build, then lights have been my own personal nightmare. I have fretted, stressed, tried to ignore them, tried to pass the buck to the lighting designer, all to no avail. Just when I was in despair, and planning to buy practically everything from Ikea or Beacon lighting, we stumbled across Melbourne Lighting and Design in Kilsyth. Bless them and all who work for them! We went there to look at a light fitting I'd found online, and have ended up getting everything we need.

Most of our lighting choices are fairly inconsequential environmentally (which is to say, they are not sustainable but not gratuitous either), but it is worth mentioning that the lighting consultant convinced us to go for compact fluro downlights instead of halogen. They looked great in the shop, and the light was lovely. Fingers crossed they work out!

We are also getting three of the most beautiful hand painted Italian glass shades for above the centre kitchen bench. We've been lacking a core interior design feature - I think these might be it.


Ooops, for some reason my laptop's clock is stuck on 9:10pm. I thought I was writing really quickly, but it turns out it's actually 9:45 and I've been writing for 40 minutes!

Next post, I'll tell you about some beee-you-ti-ful carpet we've found. But you can only buy it if you're really rich. Which we're not! :(