Where do we live?
When we learn of someone’s profession, we assume that they apply their expert knowledge to their own life without compromise. We expect the hairdresser to always have luscious locks, we think the dietician only prepares nutritious and delicious meals, and we figure the mechanic has the smoothest running car on the road. We also realise that these assumptions can often be amusingly untrue.
So, what of us? Where do the architects and scientists of Light House live, and how has our expert knowledge affected these decisions?
Jenny, our director and scientist -- plus her partner, kids and dog -- have just moved into their challenging modular-designed home. It packs a four bedroom, two bathroom home into just 150m². On a small 405m² block, with very difficult narrow northern orientation to the street, it still achieves an EER of 8.2 stars!
In addition to smart solar passive design, it also features some new technologies including: BioPCM phase change material in the ceiling; Cupolex recycled plastic dome slab system, teamed up with a Ventis sub-flow system which takes warm air from the roof space and pumps it into the air void under the slab; Lunos energy recovery ventilation for when the house is closed up over winter; humidity sensing exhaust fans and far-infrared heater panels in the bathrooms (the only heating in the house). Now that’s what we call practicing what you preach!
Jeremy, our most frugal (and arguably most sustainable) team member, lives in a 90m² inner-north, rented sharehouse that isn’t worthy of a description far beyond 'tent'. To combat the thermal issues posed by a tent-like house, Jeremy and his housemates have: constructed a ‘sleep out’ (an open outdoor room) to retire to on hot summer evenings, battened out the lounge room ceiling to create a space to install insulation, and developed a winter routine of covering windows with perspex or bubble wrap to create a double-glazed effect.
Their home is known for its ever changing art installations… if you drive past you might notice the totem pole erected in the front garden, the half-chair-half-old-lady sculpture that sits in their lounge room window, a single red high-heel shoe sitting on a swing, or a Christmas tree of stacked chairs.
If you were to visit Keith, our resident jack-of-all-trades, you’d find him completing his self-designed, self-built, family-home extension. Instead of building out, he cleverly popped an extension on top of his three beddy brick veneer home to create an energy efficient, space efficient and highly enjoyable home for his family of five humans and one dog. Even though the extension has added 88m² to the original 99m² home, his electricity bills have generally been a third of what they were before, due to thorough insulating and close attention to draught sealing. (Keith and Jenny are looking forward to their family home's going into electricity bill/comfort level competition this winter!)
Sarah recently purchased a traditional 90s, slab on ground, 3 beddie, 116m² brick veneer house. After almost a year of house hunting, she and her partner stumbled across a place with amazingly ideal orientation; with no east or west windows and large northern glazing. They spent around $9,000 draft sealing, installing pump-in wall insulation and fixing gaps in ceiling insulation, putting in ceiling fans, having snug fitting roman blinds installed, and replacing the hot water system with an ‘on-par-with-solar’ heat pump. She’s pleased to say that they haven’t yet turned on their air-conditioning this summer, and their winter quarter energy bill was only $275.
She and her partner are also very proud of their super new raised vegie garden which you can see in the second image below. The first image shows the northern side of Sarah's home - the small trees are decidiuous and provide shade and transpirational cooling over summer, while letting in loads of sunshine and free heat over winter.
Duncan also recently bought a home with his partner – a cleverly sought out 72m² attached single level townhouse that faces north and makes up for its small yard by backing onto parkland. They installed similar energy efficiency measures to Sarah, but have also been slaving away converting their open carport into a practical translucent storage space, and landscaping/reconfiguring the entry to provide an attractive introduction to the home that also contributes to the street-scape of the neighbourhood.
Rachel and her partner currently rent an 82m² north facing two-storey townhouse. The local shops are close enough to walk to and their home features many creative little things they’ve repurposed or made themselves. The difficulty with renting is that permanent changes/alterations need owner-approval, which often doesn’t get granted. However, there are some fantastic, temporary or portable solutions that you can implement to improve the performance of your home while you’re renting.
For example, Rachel has increased the potted greenery on their eastern face to help shade some of the windows in summer and provide some natural evaporative cooling as the plants transpire moisture into the air.
Joel owns a 90m² northern-oriented two-storey townhouse and has retrofitted cost-effective energy measures (there’s a theme here!). He and his partner have completed several DIY projects to improve their home, including custom joinery pieces and extensive gardening. (Their lovely dog Zef loves posing for photos in her deluxe 'new' pad!)
Joel has also recently purchased a rural block near Braidwood with the hopes of one day owner-building a small energy efficient home to live self-sufficiently and host friends and family by the river.
How do we compare?
Even though we vary in terms of ownership, age and family status, we all prioritise having a smaller footprint -- all of our homes are compact and cost-effectively energy-efficient. We like to think of them as little houses with big ideas.
Our average floor area per individual occupant is just 43m². The average new Australian home size is 195m² (+35m² garage), with an average number of occupants of 2.6 => that's 75m² per person in your average new Aussie home!
But it’s not just about size; each of us is aware of operating our home in response to sun angles and temperature – we are all 'solar-active' and ‘sail our ships’ to suit the conditions. We all appreciate spaces that deliver us light, warmth, connection to the outdoors, and provide inviting areas to help our relationships and friendships thrive. We each know that our houses aren’t just 'a collection of rooms’ but a setting that greatly influences our quality of life, and buildings that contribute to our broader community and social responsibilities.