After the bushfires, many people are opting to re-build sustainably.
ANTHONY Smith’s Kinglake home burned down in the Black Saturday fires. “I heard the fire coming,” he says, “and it sounded like hundreds of helicopters droning together in the near distance.
“Once the house started to shake and vibrate with the noise, I thought: ‘I’m out of here’.”
He left, but the home he’d lived in for 24 years was reduced to a few charred stumps. When he set about rebuilding, he decided to do it differently: he wanted a passive solar design, one that would need little power and incur few bills. The home is still under construction, but based on the plans, it will achieve a 9-star energy rating.
Mara Bún, CEO of Green Cross Australia, says personal experiences such as these can propel a wave of change, and not only among those rebuilding from the fires.
“The Black Saturday bushfires captured the hearts and minds of Australians in a deep way, and so we think these stories will inspire people to make changes in their own lives,” she says. “The information on the website about green building is very practical and applicable to everyone in the state.”
The Build It Back Green movement began in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2006. “Now it’s happening all around the world where natural disasters occur and communities want to recover in a sustainable and resilient way,” Ms Bún says.
“The way we rebuild can either refuel the cycle by being very emissions intensive, or it can begin to break the cycle altogether.”
She says the website is a hub of information on low cost, sustainable and resilient building. It includes a guide developed by the Alternative Technology Association, containing tips on green materials and building techniques, together with lists of products and suppliers.
The website also features videos and profiles of people rebuilding from the fires, and details of local events.
“We’re really stressing community participation,” Ms Bún says. “Getting to know your neighbours is a hugely important factor as we confront these threats, especially in Victoria, which has so much risk from climate change.”
Mr Smith, a woodcutter and sawmiller, took time completing the design for his new home. He observed the sun’s path throughout the year before staking the orientation along an east-west axis, with a slight twist towards the sun on winter afternoons. “Kinglake is pretty cold, so I wanted to get maximum sun on the windows during the cooler months,” he says.
He sketched out a three-bedroom house just over 6 metres wide and 28 metres long. “It’s narrow, with a low pitching height,” he says, “so the rooms are very manageable sizes for the sun to warm up.”
The post-and-beam dwelling will have Hebel (Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) block walls and insulated slab floor, with stone paving to provide thermal mass near the north facing, double-glazed windows.
Mr Smith is also using recycled materials wherever he can, including reclaimed timber and bricks from a neighbour’s demolished home. “I felled trees on my block and milled the structural timbers,” he says, “so I’ll have my own floorboards and timber for the roof.”