We bought our little block in Preston about four years ago, and our friend Fiona bought the block next door. We're planning to share a backyard and chooks and vegie gardens, and probably dinner once every couple of weeks. Fiona is yet to decide her approach to building, but she will definitely be building a small house.
Rodney and I have been actively involved in a great range of enviromental activism over several decades. So it made sense that we would try to walk the talk when it came to building our home. We spent ages thinking, reading and plotting about sustainable house design. We lusted over the designs of several well known architects, and checked and rechecked our budget.
Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we simply could not afford an architect designed home. Luckily, we came across a small design and build company called Positive Footprints. We met with them several times and contracted them to design the house, with a view to also building it.
The brief we gave PF was very comprehensive. This was our value statement:
We want to promote a culture of living sustainably, with an emphasis on cooperative, ethical and environmentally responsible purchasing, building and consumption. We are committed to sustainable, cooperative on-site food production, emphasising the value of living in harmony with the rest of the natural world and especially our local ecosystem and seasons. We want to live in an imaginative and ecologically sustainable building that can accommodate our family's changing physical and social needs over the years.
Further, we said:
We would like to minimise our ecological footprint by using passive solar design and resources that are low in embodied energy and renewable wherever possible. A six star energy rating is our absolute minimum, and we are hoping that we can do better than this.
We are interested in ensuring that we use materials that:
- are as least toxic as possible and cause the least harm to occupants and workers
- are locally sourced
- have low embodied energy and embodied water
- are recycled / reclaimed materials (we recognise that recycled timbers might be beyond our budget; we are very interested in using other second hand building materials)
- are low maintenance, durable and long-lasting.
We want to live in a home that is modern, organic and uncluttered. We like clean lines and minimum fuss. Texture is good, but not to the extent that it collects dust and cat hair! We are naturally messy, so Spartan or minimalist is not for us (although we do hope that with enough room and storage, we will become less messy!).
We (especially Elizabeth) have no interest in the folksy aesthetic and rough building traditionally associated with environmentally sustainable housing (we say 'no!' to the Eltham mud brick look). We equally dislike the flimsiness and superficiality of the conventional 'project home'. Aesthetically, Elizabeth is most drawn towards homes where organic and industrial can overlap, for example, where timber and metal are used together (often to be found in warehouse conversions). Rodney can't describe what he likes, but he'll know it when he sees it. We desire easy transitions between spaces, a sense of open-ness and spaciousness.
Ultimately, as I will discuss over coming weeks and months, we have ticked most of our boxes, but with a number of biggish compromises along the way.
In my next post, I'll describe the house and (hopefully) post the floor plans and elevations. Then I'll move on to the build itself. We should have a roof by next week!