Top line energy efficiency isn’t just possible; it’s affordable.
NEAR Lexton, in Western Victoria, a small white house looms large on the hill. While governments raise building efficiency standards ever so slowly, John Morgan’s home stands on a different plane.
Inspired by the need to respond rapidly to climate change, the retired schoolteacher and renewable energy installer has designed and built one of Australia’s first 9 Star homes. It needs next to no heating or cooling to stay comfortable.
“I wanted to demonstrate that you could build for a lot less than on the TV shows like World’s Greenest Homes,” Mr Morgan says. “You can get that level of comfort without any high-tech gizmos.”
The neat, two-bedroom house was completed in 2008 for Mr Morgan, his wife Belinda and their cat Millie. The dwelling is small and simple, at just over 100 square metres, including a sunroom and an office, which functions as an entry and air lock. But it doesn’t lack any of the usual conveniences: the washing machine, dishwasher and kitchen appliances, as well as Mr Morgan’s ham radio set up, all run on solar power.
Altogether, it cost about $160,000, including two 20,000-litre water tanks and a 2-kilowatt off-grid solar photovoltaic system.
“This home has no architectural merit,” Mr Morgan admits. “And it was deliberate. I wanted a house that was extremely comfortable and would cost nothing to run.
“I don’t get power or water bills and I don’t have water restrictions. I have a high-flow showerhead. When I have my morning shower the water goes absolutely everywhere and for most of the year it’s heated free of charge by the sun.”
He chose to use reverse brick veneer construction. “It’s a brick house with the bricks inside, not out,” he explains.
The exterior is clad with EcoPly (a non-toxic plywood made from plantation pine). Between the bricks and the cladding there is a 50 millimetre gap, and then reflective foil and batts – making a total insulation value of more than R2.
The ceiling and the slab floor are also highly insulated and the windows are double-glazed. This combination of insulation and thermal mass serves to keep the indoor temperature stable, trapping warmth during winter and protecting against the scorching summer sun.
“It means that in summer, the outside wall doesn’t heat up and stay hot all night,” he says.
The home is well oriented, shaded and draught-proofed, but there are no out-of-reach whiz-bang solutions. “All the books ever written about environmentally sensible design say these things. I’ve just put them all into practice. That’s where the nine stars came from,” he says. For more information about Mr Morgan’s home, there’s a detailed description in ReNew magazine (issue 112).
“My goal was to deal with climate change here to the extent that I can. This is, to all intents and purposes, a zero emissions house,” he says. He sometimes uses a small gas heater, but is planting and tending trees on his property that will more than offset his emissions.
“If anybody else wants to follow this lead they can. Lots of people do it,” he says.
His one indispensable tip is that would-be builders or renovators seek good passive solar design advice ahead of all else. “Talk to someone who knows their facts first. Do it before you write your first cheque.”