Sustainable Timber Use - “Can’t See the Wood from the Trees” Webinar
This webinar explored the use of timber in buildings. The main message was that FSC Certified timber (Forest Stewardship Council Certified) is the best timber to specify, other certified timbers aren’t guaranteed to be working to best practice in regards to the health of forests or the animals that live in the forest. Mixing timbers up and being open to not using a single species also helps with general health of forests and forest regeneration. What is imperative are the environmental product declarations of the timber products that are specified in buildings. These are becoming more widely available.
Timbers to avoid are European Pine, CCA treated timbers.
There is an argument that CLT uses timber in an inefficient manner especially if transported from Europe. Using mass timber for insulation is a waste.
Timbers that are good to use include (in no particular order):
a. Radiata pine
b. Shining Gum is a fast growing timber
c. E0 timber in lieu of CCA treated timbers
d. Timber sourced from thinning of forests is a much more sensitive approach to timber harvesting
e. Investigate Parallel Strand Lumber, which is a CSIRO invention but produced now in the USA
f. Urban Timber: timber sourced from urban areas and milled with portable sawmill at the location of the tree. Trees sourced from arborists, council clean ups or post storms. The portable sawmill (Lucas Mill)
g. See Ceres Fairwood
When using timber
1. Build small and lean, quality not quantity
2. Recycled timber is best
3. Source fast growing timbers from plantations
4. Mixed plantations are also a good way of maintaining the health of the environment
Sustainability Summit 2022 – Notes:
Current climate emergency and general climate failure
Global temperatures will increase
Decarbonization needs to occur urgently and there is a need for rapid emissions reduction
There needs to be a general understanding of the risk now posed by the climate and a recognition that buildings now need to engage with the future
The Chancery Lane Project (TCLP) – A worldwide collaboration of the legal profession
7 Star rating will have a 1 to 100 rating, with the rating of 60 being the minimum standard
7 Star rating will take into consideration annual energy use of all appliances including a/c, lighting, hot water systems, swimming pool/pump energy use offset against onsite pv power generation
To achieve energy efficiency need to optimize orientation, low embodied energy material selection, appropriate specification of windows, framing, glazing and glass size.
Moving beyond NCC building envelope, thermal bridging, air tightness and ventilation understanding
Moving beyond NCC indoor air quality including the understanding of mould and condensation needs to be considered
Moving beyond NCC what needs to occur is on site testing of building efficiency
Visualization of the roof space beyond water collection, and see other opportunities including power generation, pv cells shade roofs and produce power
Visualization of buildings beyond a 10 years future and an understanding of having a maintenance strategy for building longevity
Importance of Material Data including EPD’s, Declare Labels
Opportunity of using collective data – ie Green Star Building Product Portal (6 months away), AIA Product Portal, EPIC Database
Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council
Use of nature based materials
There is now an increased risk of natural disasters.
There is value in resilient buildings
Buildings need to have an adaptive capacity
The insurance industry will drive resilience in buildings. ie more resilient buildings will be cheaper to insure
There is a need to design out waste in the construction process
Build to last and at the design stage there is a need to have end of life strategies
Reuse existing buildings
Long life loose fit.
Repurpose existing building materials into new buildings
Need to partner with builders who are committed and who understand need for circular economy and the reduction of waste and recycling
Have a building team who are aware of their responsibility in the process of circularity and are accountable
Engage recycling companies who are accountable
Design to reduce and for disassembly
There is a business opportunity to move away from single use mindset for buildings
Use fixings whereby buildings can be easily deconstructed in the future
Buildings and spaces are ultimately about people
Ensuring quality of public life
At a residential level how are social outcomes in private buildings expressed and then quantified
Design flexibility of spaces and think beyond the next 10 years.
What and where will the occupants be beyond 10 years from now. Think 30 – 50 years. Who will be the occupant
Design with the idea of change.
Social and Affordable Housing
Affordable housing can be achieved with smaller footprints and more efficient designs, including using materials without added surface – ie no superfluous materials
If you don’t need it – take it out
Design more with less
Build for longevity
Rethink items that are in a brief – how can these things be programmed in efficiently
Design for low operational costs to ensure living in a house is ultimately more affordable.
Cost savings through shared spaces
BDA Design Principles
1 Passive Design
Passive design takes advantage of the local climate to maintain a
comfortable temperature within the house.
significantly reduce or even eliminate need for supplementary
heating and cooling which accounts for 40% of energy usage in the average Australian
maximise access to passive solar heating and cross ventilation. This can be
achieved by having a well-insulated building along an east west axis, with
north facing windows to allow passive solar gain during colder periods and
shaded to block this during hotter periods.
is calculated by determining how many days of the year the house
will need to be cooled to maintain thermal comfort. This is done by calculating
the thermal neutrality* of each location and matching it against the places
average max temperatures to determine when to shade of the internal areas is
required and when to allow sunlight to penetrate in the colder periods.
neutrality is the zone where we are most
comfortable and changes throughout the year. In the colder months, 20 degrees
feels a lot warner than it does in the warmer months.
solar heating is achieved
by orientating the living areas to the north and specifying glazing that allows
solar energy to penetrate and heat the thermal mass within the house. This
creates a greenhouse effect that warms the house in Winter.
mass is the extent of a material to
absorb and store heat energy. Solar radiation that penetrates the north facing
windows when heating is required is trapped by the greenhouse effect.
Externally insulated and internally exposed thermal mass absorbs this heat
during the day and releases it slowly into the internal environment in the
cooling Melbourne, Geelong and the Surf
Coast are in a heating climate, however on those few days of the year that
require cooling to maintain thermal comfort, openable windows allow for breezes
to reduce internal temperature. Analysis
of local wind direction determines placement of these operable windows.
your home and using Insulation with no gaps inhibits the warm air
escaping, reducing the cost of heating and assisting to maintain thermal
comfort whilst reducing the cost of heating and cooling.
Each building material has a cost made up of the energy needed to
produce and transport it to the site and;
different levels of performance to aid the maintenance of thermal
selection and how they are combined will improve the thermal comfort reducing
the running costs of supplementary heating and cooling. However we must also
think about the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the production of these
materials and ensure this is kept to a minimum.
Responsible sourcing of materials through local suppliers and use
of salvaged wood products when available or ensure it has transparent labelling
of its sustainable extraction.
Avoid use of materials on the Living Future Institute red list
We aim to source as much of our specified items from Australia. Local products are preferred over products that come from interstate.
What The devices
we use in our daily living and to maintain thermal comfort require the
production of energy to keep them running. The amount of energy required to run
them and where this energy comes from will significantly reduce the production
of greenhouse gases and reduce running costs whilst maintaining thermal
Why In Victoria,
our energy comes from burning coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels that
pollutes the air and causes health problems. This unsustainable production of
energy is contributing to global warming and sea level rise.
Reduce energy and carbon dioxide production through smaller
building footprints and specification of local products that require less
energy to run and photovoltaics that use the nuclear energy of the sun to
capture the energy required to run them.
Designing for future installation of renewable energy systems such
as pre-installing wiring for an electric car.
Provide for energy needs through on-site renewable energy and
storage to maintain supply.
What Fresh drinking water is essential to live and supply must be
managed carefully. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and
rainfall is expected to decline with the rise of global warming. On average,
Australian’s use 100,000 litres of freshwater annually (the highest per capita
in the world). And when we include the
embodied water from our food and products this number sky rockets.
material selection with low embodied water and design that enables
the harvesting of water will significantly reduce the burden on the supply of
freshwater for human consumption and provide security of water supply for use
in gardening. A necessary element for the production of food on site.
of roofing and storage with capacity to harvest and store enough water to
supply 100% of water needs. Average annual rainfall for the location is
calculated, allowing us to determine the size of roofing and storage
requirements necessary to sustain the expected number of inhabitants.
available at location, non-potable water is used for all non-potable uses.
What during design and construction of housing, significant amounts of
material waste are produced. Also, use of material and energy to produce
buildings that don’t incorporate the use of passive design and that are not
durable or adaptable to future re-use is a wasteful use of material and energy.
Why Reducing the waste produced during design and construction will
significantly reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Design and
construction that is durable to the climate conditions and future uses will
reduce the lifecycle cost of the building. Design for deconstruction will allow
material to be recycled at the end of the building’s life.
and specification of material with consideration of durability and
waste on site for recycling
for adaptable re-use of the building.
What Restore or enhance the site and community conditions post
construction and enable food production.
Why Native flora eliminates the need for fertilisers and pesticides
and growing of food for use will significantly reduce the production of
greenhouse gases used to produce and transport food on large scales. It will
encourage the use of the place by local fauna.
and specification of native flora that don’t require petrochemical fertilisers
or pesticides to maintain.
a portion of the site to the growing of food
or increase the density of the site
scale appropriate to the neighbourhood
for occupants to connect with neighbours/community
Health and Happiness
What To provide
places/spaces that enhance the health and happiness of the occupants through material
specification that doesn’t off-gas toxic gases and design that enhances
airflow, access to natural light and to nature.
Why To provide
spaces that don’t adversely affect the health and that promote happiness in the
Design views to outside and daylighting for all occupants.
Design space that promotes cross-ventilation of spaces or utilise
chimney effect to maintain good indoor air quality.
Design that allows occupants to directly influence the air flow
and temperature of the internal environment through direct input or controls.
Provide flexible working options
There is a group within the Australian Institute of Architects that is
initiating a mandate for the building industry to achieve Net Zero Carbon
emissions by 2030. There is a very
positive attitude that this can be achieved as technology is moving rapidly,
and if at the onset design net zero initiatives are in place, then for the
lifetime of ongoing architect designed buildings, a net zero – and even climate
positive built environment can be achieved.
This can be done in a number of ways.
Design to passive design principles. If
designers use the understanding of the environment and climate to its advantage
and design buildings that work with the environment then ongoing energy usage
can be reduced. These are simple basic principles that all designers should
understand and be able to implement.
Increase the efficiency of the building envelope
and reduce air leakage and thermal bridges. This means using more efficient
windows / doors, sealing the building fabric to ensure air movement from inside to outside is
reduced and designing a building fabric with optimum thermal performance.
Use only electric services. Do not install any gas
appliances or mechanical equipment. Installing gas appliances now means an ongoing future
use of gas for the lifetime of that building.
Install solar cells or connect to renewable
power. The electricity grid is de-carbonizing rapidly and it is being said that
with the way the power industry is moving, with the rapid development of
technology and with the spread of rooftop solar the grid move towards being
de-carbonized by 2030
These simple ideas can make an impact on the future of the
built environment’s carbon emissions.
Additional to the above and even though accounting and
number crunching is important, it seems that a fundamental change in the way we
approach our built environment is necessary. There needs to be a cultural shift
in the way we live in Australia in order to drastically reduce emissions. This
along with an intent for affordable housing for younger generations, may be a
way forward to a low / zero carbon future. The cultural shift may be in the way
we imagine the built environment, moving away from building as pure commodity
and move towards building as shelter and connection to nature.
Mass produced housing seems to move towards keeping nature
out and plasticizing and sanitizing the way we live. If we can imagine life as
being engaged with nature, it may be a bit messier and more like camping, where
if it is cold, we put on more clothes, and if we are hot, we keep in the shade
and do less. We may need to be physically more active with our environment, and
then we are putting less resources into things like perfect indoor climate
On the side - there was a podcast recently that discussed
how a shift towards objects being consumed less and valued more, may be a move
towards having less, repairing and maintaining what we already have and therefore “making” becomes the point of engagement – rather than buying as the point of engagement.
Low Energy Construction Approaches
Previous journal posts have discussed Carbon Zero buildings
and the three European systems that aim to produce low energy buildings. These
systems include the French Effinergie System, the Swiss Minergy System and the
German Passive House System.
Other building approaches worth mentioning include “Zero
Energy Buildings” which are buildings
that do not use more energy than they generate and “Energy Plus Houses” that
put “emphasis on the production of more energy per year then they consume”.
“The Living Building Challenge” is an interesting building system.
It again has a scientific approach to energy use, but views this within the
full life of a building including to end of life of the building. There is also
a non-tangible poetic and humane side of the Living Building Challenge, that
incorporates social justice issues, with a biophilic design approach. The
“Living Building Challenge” is a wholistic utopian vision of building that
offers hope in the built environment for a Carbon Positive future. There are
very few fully certified “Living Buildings”, due to the complexity of the
process, but the approaches offer a utopian vision of what an ideal future energy
positive building can be.
Biophilic design is something that is also interesting from
a poetic point of view. Biophilic means love of nature. “”Biophilia”
is an innate affinity of life or living systems. The term was first used by
Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all
that is alive and vital.” (Wikipedia) Therefore in architecture and design it
can be used passively or quite consciously. I would say that without knowing,
our design for along time has had a connection with Biophilia. We love the use
of timber and expressing the natural grain and warmth of timber. We use natural
finishes and materials, as they are healthy and not toxic to human health. Our approach
to planning homes is with the intent of providing easy connections between the
interior with the exterior, where the outdoor landscape (whether at ground or
at sky level) is an extension of the interior of a building.
With all these different approaches in mind, how do we
approach the process of designing new homes or alterations to existing homes
with a sustainable zero carbon future in mind.
There are so many considerations that it may seem overwhelming, and sometimes
conflicting information can make it difficult to make decisions. We think ultimately it is simple to design
and build comfortable, liveable and beautiful homes that are able to align with
the natural environment. We believe that buildings can easily be designed with
very low energy usage, and if energy is being used, that the energy is sourced
without producing carbon. We know that recycled
materials can have a beautiful timeless quality and that they are also the best
way to reduce more emissions. We believe that building materials and products
should be kept as much in their natural state as possible, and local handmade products,
or local manufactured products should be sourced where ever possible (it seems
that one of the upsides of Covid has been the move towards an increase in local
manufacturing, as suppliers seek local products to fulfill demand). What seems
to us to be most important is that as technology changes and as understanding of
the climate develops we need to be quick to adapt our knowledge and approach to
the design and construction of buildings. It is at once a daunting, but also an
We have been investigating differing approaches to low
energy buildings, to see if there is a system that can help inform our design
process to produce beautiful liveable buildings that contribute to a Carbon
Positive Environment. In doing so we have had to delve into quite technical
aspects of building science, but by navigating this we are also being linked to
experts who can analyse and inform us of how our buildings can perform.
European construction policies are moving more actively
towards promoting the theories of very low energy building. European energy
policies and the European active energy reducing construction systems seem to
be more advanced than the rest of the world. Saying this many countries are
adopting and manipulating these systems to suit their different climates.
There are three European systems: The French Effinergie
System, the Swiss Minergy System and the German Passive House System. Each
system produces standards for high performance buildings with very low energy
requirements with the intent of having zero emissions.
“Passive house uses
passive solar design, superinsulation, advanced window technology,
airtightness, ventilation, low energy appliance and light choice. Passive house
buildings are zero heating buildings, ie they are comfortable without the need
to heat.” The German Passive House certification is based on a test after
construction. Many countries are seeing the advantage of the Passive House system,
and in Brussels they actually have it as part of their mandatory building code
for all new buildings.
The French Effinergie System is similar and also requires a test
after construction. The French system takes into account the varied climate
zones within France. The system promotes low energy consumption and takes into
account the energy consumption of heating and hot water systems, appliances for
ventilation and heating, lighting and air-conditioning. Again air tightness and
high thermal efficiency are integral to the process.
The Swiss “Minergy recommends the construction of compact,
well-insulated and air-tight buildings in order to attain good energy
consumption standards. The buildings must be fitted with an automatic
air-renewal system with heat recovery. A fee is charged for certification.” From
what I can glean the Swiss system takes into account thermal mass and thermal
gain, whereas the German system does so to a lesser degree. The Swiss system is
based on planning and as I understand there is no post construction testing.
These standards are all about optimum occupant comfort
without high energy consumption. So, they are not about austerity or
deprivation, which I think the idea of sustainability can imply. There is an extra cost in construction with
the implementation of these systems due to the higher value building materials
and required degree of care in construction, but there is a reduction in
ongoing energy costs, with the creation of a more comfortable built
environment. All systems include a heat recovery unit, which is a mechanical
system that cleans and moves air around a building.
These systems are of high value and have many lessons to
offer to the Australian Building Industry. I am wary of the additional embodied
energy required for these systems especially if using imported high efficiency
windows and the heat recovery units, which are typically not used in Australian
buildings. Somehow an understanding of the impact of the embodied energy of
these items in regards to the life energy use of a building would help in
providing a full vision of the energy use of these buildings.
Being Carbon Neutral
The question is how many trees do I need to plant to be carbon neutral. Can I do this myself without paying a third party
to do this on my behalf? If I can do it myself how much land do I need?
Instantly I find out that the area of the house is
essential to working out your carbon impact. So building a smaller house per household member is important to keeping your carbon output low. The
house we are building for ourselves will have an area that is heated –
including general living areas, bathrooms, bedrooms. There will also be an area that doesn’t need
to be heated such as a garage space and a studio space. The studio space will
contain a ceiling fan for summer and a wood fireplace for winter. The wood
fireplace was purchased for our previous house but we decided it wasn’t
appropriate. We think it will suit our new studio space. This will require a
separate carbon offset compensation.
The area of the house that will need to be heated with a
form of mechanical heating (most likely air water heat pump hydronic heating)
is 194m2 – which is nominally less than 50m2 per person – this is under the
current 89m2 average size of building. The studio space is 26m2.
Doing this research there are a number of alternative
European systems that offer energy efficiency. There is the German Passive
House. There is also the French Effinergie and Swiss Minergie that are all
certifiable systems based on thermal tightness and passive solar design for low
energy consumption buildings. Passive House, Effinergie and Minergie rely on a
mechanical ventilation system for moving air around a building to push
naturally warm air into cold areas in winter and naturally cool air in warm
areas in summer.
In order to stop climate change the
maximum amount of CO2 produced by each person per annum is 0.600 tonne (600 kg
of CO2 per year) according to “My Climate” (Swiss). An Australian website
“Particle” says that in Australia we need to reduce our carbon to below 2 tonne (2000kg of CO2 per
year) (this seems a lot compared to the Swiss prediction).
Carbon Neutrality is the ability
to produce the same amount of carbon saving as carbon usage.
Therefore, the question is how
much carbon is captured with the planting of one tree? The question is complex
as the older the tree, the more carbon is captured. So in theory if your energy
use is static, then the trees that are planted will each year absorb more
carbon. The amount of trees that are then planted are then reduced until the
equilibrium for that household is achieved. If more trees are planted then in
theory you go into a climate positive position. An idea / theory then is to
produce a landscaping schedule that works out the carbon absorption of the
trees for that site, and the large trees are balanced with the smaller tress to
produce a climate positive property. This is a theory to understand in real terms
what it means to be climate positive, trees can keep being planted to greatly
Some various quotes from the
internet of interest:
Tree species that “grow quickly
and live long are ideal carbon sinks”
“A carbon planting is a deliberate
planting of vegetation for the purpose of sequestering carbon”
“A young tree is still small and
converts less, but as the tree grows bigger it
also absorbs more CO2. A young tree absorbs about 5900
gram CO2 per year, while a 10 year old tree absorbs almost
22.000 gram per year. By taking these numbers we can calculate the
average CO2 that is absorbed by a tree during his lifetime”
“We used carbonfootprint.com to find
how many tonnes of CO2 each trip would generate. Trees for Life
calculates 6 trees offset 1 tonne of CO2. So 1 Tree
= 0.16 tonnes CO2. We then divided carbon figure by 0.16 to
get the total number of trees.”
“A sweeping study of forests around the world
finds that the older the tree, the greater its
potential to store carbon and slow climate change. The 38 researchers from 15
countries found that 97 percent of trees from more than 400
species studied grew more quickly as they aged, thus absorbing
We are currently designing our own house. This process is
making us think deeply about the way we engage with buildings, and is making us
more aware, at this point in time, of the need that our expectations of housing
needs to be redefined. Housing is linked to our dreams and aspirations. Part of
those aspirations are dictated by social expectations and desire. What is
essential in creating a sustainable design practice is to maintain the ability
to reach those expectations and fulfil those desires for clients at the same
time as creating buildings that are more in line with current reduced energy usage
requirements. As our own clients we are looking
to achieve this as best practice, at the same time as working efficiently
within a budget, and with the expectations of architects building our own
Ultimately building sustainably isn’t that hard. The goals
are to reduce the operation impact of buildings, reduce the embodied energy of
buildings and most significantly reduce the scale of buildings. By reducing
scale both the operational impact and embodied energy can be simply reduced. Overly
large houses are a big problem in Australia (Australian House sizes are one of the
largest in the world), but with good design a building doesn’t need to be
overly large. We are currently renting a house in a housing estate. It has been
eye opening, as insiders rather than as onlookers. We are shocked by the
endless cookie cutter McMansions that are constructed to minimum construction standards.
Houses that don’t even include sisilation in the roof, which is of minimum
cost, but has impact on the overall energy efficiency and longevity of a house.
I wonder about the life cycle of these houses that are built in the estates, and
how in the future they will be renovated? Access to good housing is essential to
all, but offering very large, cheaply constructed and poorly designed houses is
an offence to the built environment but also a liability to the future. Saying that there are households and smaller building companies that are making an effort to reduce their energy impact, and they should be commended for not conforming.
Another issue we wish to deal with is reducing the embodied
energy of a building as this is a hidden major source of stored energy in a
house. Material choice is therefore essential in reducing the embodied energy
of a building. For example, reducing the amount of Portland Cement Concrete and
reducing the amount steelwork in a building will reduce embodied energy. Using sustainably
sourced timber or recycled materials will also reduce embodied energy.
In other jobs in the past, we have also looked at reducing manufactured
items within the house, and had the carpenters on site make items that can be
easily substituted, such as door handles, coat hooks, towel rails and other
metal fabricated items. This is a very
simple way of reducing embodied energy.
We always also try and specify local or Australian made products. Reducing the use
of imported products reduces material miles. We are always investigating where
materials are made, and there are many beautifully made products made locally.
We have found beautiful tapware and bathware made in Victoria, handmade fabrics
made locally, light fittings made in Australia. We are also investigating locally
made appliances (these are limited).
One of the biggest issues we need to contend with is window size,
location and quality. Quality windows that are air tight are essential to designing
houses that will use the outdoor climate to its advantage. Maximizing North
facing glass, minimizing South facing glass, and having the correct type
of external cover to East and West facing glass is essential to the way buildings
operate. We are also told that the colour of the window frame also effects the
energy efficiency of a dwelling. Balancing the correct window size to the floor
area with the beauty of visual access to the outside and the sky is a delicate
matter. We love big windows, and feel liberated inside when we have the visual
access to outside, but it will be a challenge to get that balance right.
Healthy natural materials also contribute to the health of
the environment. Chromed taps and the use of Hexavalent Chromium on Hot dip Galvanised
steel are to be avoided as these finishes are toxic to the environment and
human health. We have used many natural finishes including natural oils and
natural paints in the past, and we will endeavour to explore the use of these
in the construction of our home.
The next step is to explore net zero calculations and how
this achieved, investigating air tightness and the advantages of passive house and how this system is being adapted to our climate, waste reduction during construction and during a buildings life, and the active and smart use of low emissions technology.
We are starting a journal, so what we will write is what we
are currently thinking about and working through as an architectural practice
that is focussed on sustainable building practices. We will also discuss
current design ideas we have and ideas that we have heard about from different
The main question for us is how do we as a practice, operate
as sustainably as possible, and how do the buildings that we design also
operate as sustainably as possible. This is not only about designing building
that have a reduced energy expenditure, but also using the natural climatic conditions
around a building so that the occupants have the advantage and enjoyment of their
building working with the natural environment. For example, using natural
daylight, natural ventilation, passive heating and cooling. Understanding insulation,
building leaks and thermal mass. Having reduced
reliance on mechanical forms of heating and cooling so that the air we breathe
is clean and the climate we experience is seasonal. Other influences are making
buildings as healthy as possible so that we use a reduced number of
petrochemicals, and specifying natural products or raw materials that are long
wearing, and that age beautifully. Other ideas are building smaller, so that reduced materials are used, using recycled
or upcycled materials, or repairing building for reuse. Using local or hand
made products to reduce embodied energy. These are some of a number of strategies
that we employ to build sustainably.
We find that having these core values and beliefs not only invigorates
our design process but also informs a visual style that is nature based.
We are also beginning to design ourselves a new house and as
part of the process we will revisit a house we built for ourselves in Jan Juc.
This will happen in subsequent posts. We will also discuss the process of the
design of our new house at 13th Beach.
The ultimate goal is to be Carbon Neutral.
So, what is carbon neutral. What does this mean in real
terms – not just theory or paying someone else money to plant trees to
compensate for our carbon emissions. How do we reduce our carbon footprint enough
to plant trees ourselves and therefore take the responsibility (or even just
have the understanding) of our carbon usage?
The disadvantage of the whole sustainable movement is the
guilt associated with it, and the stress associated with thinking that our lives
impact the environment. By understanding our actions at a base level, it may
empower our actions. Living sustainably is almost like being on a life diet.
Where we feel that we can’t live freely without the impact of what we do. In
fact once the diet is understood, and rationalized, then maybe the diet doesn’t
feel so bad, it actually feels really good to be engaged with the environment,
and living within the environment, rather than being isolated from it.
Understanding how to go carbon neutral is something that we
have been exploring. We are told that we can provide information to a company
(or number of companies) who can take our office or home information break it
down and then charge us a fee for planting trees to offset our Carbon usage.
I am interested in understanding what this actually means.
What am I doing within my life and with our office business life that is
producing carbon? How can we reduce this, and then if we do what are we doing
that produces carbon, and what do I need to do to offset the carbon I am producing
by my daily tasks? I like the idea of actually understanding the base line of
my actions and then through my own activity – like planting trees – I can take
responsibility. It is also about the process of understanding what we do, what
is the effect, how can I slowly change my habits, and evolve to a more carbon neutral
On the side - one thing I heard today was that if you are
hot or cold you aren’t kitted out right – ie if it is cold put on a jumper and
wear warm footwear, if it is hot wear less. It is a bit of a simplistic view
but worth a thought.
More about being carbon neutral in our next post….
Sunrise Torquay Beach March 2021
Taking photos today at a house we recently finished. It is good to see owners take possession of their new homes.
The Mount Buffalo Cafe - a classic lodge building
Photos from our recent trip to Tasmania from Lake Pedder. The lodge is the original lodge built in the 1970’s, and still retains it’s original utilitarian features.
The landscape of Lake Pedder is a contrast of beauty and devastation.
We were specifying lights recently and thought that lighting manufacturers have adapted very quickly to the regulations requiring greater lighting efficiencies. A few years ago it was difficult to achieve wattage limitations, now it is straight forward.
For soft ambient lighting these handmade glass feature pendants are a favourite of ours.
A site is ideally viewed as a total integrated element inseparable from a building. In a codependant relationship a building and landscape can work as an entire space for habitation. Rather than viewing a site as a singular plane where a building, as an object, is placed, a site can be viewed as a series of ecosystems dependent on orientation, views, topographies, vegetation and external influences. A building ideally interacts with its landscape and engages with its aspects in such a way that responds to the natural breezes, sun angles, rainfall etc. Rather than breaking up the site in broad strokes such as street frontage, rear aspect, a landscape and building can be designed together as a series of spaces that co-exist, relate to and invigorate each other.
A landscape is constantly being reinterpreted independently by the elements. A building is constantly being reinterpreted through use, by its inhabitants. The garden is the place to experience the elements, and a building can be a place to experience and understand the elements in comfort and shelter
The garden is an independent space that changes with time. It can be re-interpreted and redefined, and with time has a life of its own. A building also changes with time from within - as the occupants grow and change and it’s use is re-interpreted and re-defined. Built form can be used to define and give character to the broader landscape, as much as a landscape can add meaning to a built form. Our buildings aim to explore the relationship with garden and the broader landscape and ultimately aim to invigorate and inspire the everyday experience.
Brunswick 04 House
Works to this Brunswick house are typical of many of the inner city houses in heritage zones that we design. Generally with heritage houses the existing original house is kept intact, thermally upgraded and renovated as required. Opportunity to open up the existing building to the outdoors is also explored, in order to obtain natural light, air and views that would not have been originally there, thus increasing the perceived size and livability of these existing spaces. Retaining, upgrading and adding to existing heritage houses allows for the opportunity to connect with the heritage of a place as well as create individual and unique spaces in a contemporary home. Original features and materials including floors can add character. In this instance we retained the existing Baltic pine floor and used a 100% natural oil finish which gives the timber a very soft natural feel.
With each house we work on, we like to address the sun, to maximize solar access for passive heating and natural daylighting. In this instance we connected a new building to the rear of the existing heritage building - which was to the south of the existing building. The new building was designed to zone the wet areas together and locate a new family area directly adjoining the back garden. In order to maximize solar access, a north facing clerestory window was added to allow to high levels of northern light into the main living space all day, maximize the outdoor space and maintain a closeness to the surrounding garden .
Materials and finishes were carefully chosen to achieve the sustainable outcomes that the client sought, including using a geo-polymer concrete slab for thermal mass and sustainably sourced timber cladding.
The new building is a light filled garden room that transforms an originally internally focused heritage house into a series of contemporary living spaces with alternative room types for varying functions that suit different times of the day.
Geo-polymer Concrete Slab
Brunswick House 04
This fly ash-based geopolymer concrete slab was poured on a job in Brunswick that is now complete. The slab is made from a cement free mix. Instead of cement, fly ash is used. Fly ash can consist of either a by-product of coal burning at a power station or as a by-product of steel production. As long as the fly ash is sustainably sourced using a fly ash based geopolymer concrete can reduce embodied energy of the concrete (ie the CO2 emissions) as well as have the advantage of absorbing recycled industrial waste. This type of material is still considered to be experimental, but once industry catches up to the science it will see a positive reduction in green house gas emissions.
Our clients in this instance were very keen to ensure their house was as sustainable as possible, and requested the use of this material. Our structural engineer approved the material prior to it being specified. The builder commented that the geopolymer mix was a bit stickier than normal concrete, and did take a bit more work to trowel finish. The initial material was quite green in colour, but once it dried it appeared just like a conventional concrete finish. In this instance we included hydronic coils in the slab, and the slab had a polished finish. The final slab was a bit softer than normal concrete, and a Hiperfloor finish wasn’t thought to be possible. We therefore researched the best applied finish for the slab, and with the concrete polisher’s advice chose a water based product. Overall the final polished concrete finish looked great, and our clients were satisfied that their home has achieved their sustainable objectives.
The thermal efficiencies of a house are essential to the physical workings of the house and to the comfort of the occupants. With correct orientation the outlook of a house can provide understanding of how the environment and seasons, specific to that site, work - where the sun rises and sets, where the breezes come from etc.
We have been working in the inner city of Melbourne, designing energy efficient, climate responsive houses since 2004.
Like many inner city families living ethically and sustainably can be difficult if the dwelling is an original heritage house. The owners of the Brunswick House approached us wanting to upgrade their house to current living standards, they wanted to create a vibrant dynamic space for their family to grow into. A house renovation like this comes out of a combination of the owners’ vision and willingness to have a house that can open up, close down, respond to breezes and sun, be thermally efficient and also be a reflection of the owners’ personal beliefs. We not only responded to the owners’ sustainable and environmental objectives, but also the owners’ life perspective, in this instance the playful use of colour and timber were core to the clients’ preferences.
Our approach with the Brunswick House was to keep as much of the original house that was usable and upgrade to current standards. This included cleaning out the existing roof space and installing new bulk insulation, and installing bulk insulation to any opened up accessible walls. The floors were patched, re-sanded and sealed. An internal wall and chimney was removed and a new internal wall added in order for the room sizes to suit their new function. Large robes were added to the new ground floor bedroom. An open bathroom with a Japanese soaker bath and walk in shower was included in this front private zone of the house. The bathroom receives soft dappled natural light and garden views. A European style laundry and large linen cupboard allow for a compact service area with plenty of storage. Efficient storage is essential to living in smaller urban sites and allows for more space to be allocated to the living areas zones.
A central pivot space between the old house and new house separate the two buildings. This central circulation space goes beyond its function by lining the walls with bookshelves, pin boards and allowing space for an upright piano. A small slot window to the north allows for light and ventilation. The owners had a reclaimed pair of lead light windows, which were restored and then double glazed. The lead lights were integrated into a new window that has become a feature of this area. This space, which would essentially be just a corridor, is redefined as a central hub to the house providing a lively space for family activities and expression and a dense amount of storage for books, games, display of photos and family memorabilia.
Adjoining this threshold space is a central courtyard / secondary entry. This space was designed to suit the owners’ brief of creating a cooler courtyard space for outdoor relaxation in the warmer months, a summer outdoor retreat. A timber shade structure defines this space and allows for an ornamental grapevine to adorn it and create a shaded space in the warmer months.
Once entering the back room much of the owners’ vision to create a personalized space is evident. They specifically asked us to use cool colours and “lots of timber”. Dappled light from the north and south exterior vines gives life to the interior which is almost forest like. Concrete floors were used for thermal mass and a one off special mix was designed to create a figured lighter tone at the request of the owner. A double brick boundary wall which was used for added thermal mass, is roughly bagged - this also adds texture to this space.
The owner is an avid gardener with the need for rain water storage and a desire to maximize the size of the garden, a hidden underground tank was installed beneath the garden. Tight urban sites don’t need to be restrictive in terms of how much garden or access to outdoor space a family can enjoy. In fact the under-utilized in-between spaces can add to the vitality of the internal spaces offering solar access, possibilities for ventilation and alternative garden views. The east boundary green tunnel could be a banal side access way and bike storage area, but with the owners use of plants the side access is transformed into a beautiful transition space. External timbers and unfinished steel are used for undercover bike storage and climbing plants add dappled filtered light.
As the architects we found the collaborative approach invigorating and helped us push our design in directions we may not otherwise have investigated. This resulted in a house that not only we believe represents our core philosophies but also the owners.
Upper Plenty House
We designed this reverse brick veneer house around 10 years ago. This photo gives a good idea of how reverse brick veneer construction works and how the bricks, which are located on the inside of the building, add to the thermal mass of the interior, and therefore increasing the thermal efficiency of the building.
In this instance a series of steel structural frames were constructed over a concrete slab. Steel infill framing was then used to create the external cladding frame. Bricks were then laid with a 50mm cavity to the inside skin of the building. Once the bricks were laid there was a significant amount of heat retained even within the unfinished building. External bulk insulation and sarking was then installed. The bulk insulation helps to isolate the thermal mass from the exterior to slow down the cooling or heating up of the bricks from the outside. Finally a hardy low maintenance colorbond corrugated sheet was used as the waterproof skin.
We maximized the north facing glazing to provide ample solar access into the house during the cooler months to warm the polished concrete slab and internal brick veneer walls. The eave overhang provides shading during the warmer months to ensure the interior remains cool.
In summary reverse brick veneer construction is considered to be a sound environmentally sustainable construction practice. As the bricks are located internally they add thermal mass to the building interior which acts to stabilize the indoor air temperature. The bricks can be bagged or rendered or left as face brick. This form of construction works remarkably well to retain warmth in winter and coolth in summer
We completed this alterations and additions project to an existing house in Glen Iris a few years ago. The existing house already had good orientation to the living spaces. We designed a new building containing the sleeping zones with its long orientation to the west. Conscious of having the major orientation to the west we designed a green screen across the face of this wall. A simple galvanized steel and timber structure was fixed to this west facing brick wall to allow greenery to grow up the wall and protect the building from solar radiation and heat penetration in summer. Green walls don’t need to be complex structures that are cost prohibitive. A simple structure can provide the framework for plant growth that is thermally effective and also visually pleasing.
The main sustainable advantage of building a green wall is that it will provide insulation and shading to that wall in summer. In this instance using a green wall along a west facing wall provided some insulation against the low hot western sun in summer. The insulation is provided not only by the physical barrier of the plants, but also by the air gap between the plants and the building. Therefore holding the plants off the building is preferred. We fixed a sustainably sourced Australian species cypress battens to the wall. A galvanised steel mesh was then fixed the battens. Cypress is a class 1 durability timber (above ground) so it is a good timber to use externally as it will have a longer lifespan than just ordinary hardwoods. We typically specify sustainably sourced Australian cypress for some inground and above ground use.
By strategically locating a green wall on a building, it can be used to help insulate and shade a building and act to reduce the heat load on a building. This is a passive sustainable design strategy.
Shoot day at one of our Brunswick Houses.
There is always anticipation and surprise in what the photographer sees.
Great to see our Hawthorn East House feature in new The Rug Collection photos.
Luxico also features our Hawthorn East House as a luxury rental property. Here are some of the photos that appear on their website.
Northcote House 01
The urban produce garden at our Northcote house is set up to produce fruit and vegetables all year round.
Ceres Eco House
A photo from the archives. The Ceres Eco House which we renovated in 2009. We also added a new airlock that opened onto this existing carport with its integrated solar panels and electric car charging facility. It’s great that Ceres Environment Park exists to educate about sustainable living.
Brunswick House 02
This Corten Steel box is a locked storage space for a Cargo Bike
Brunswick House 02:
The living space in this inner city house opens up onto a beautiful garden full of urban produce. The garden is watered via a 6500 litre underground rainwater tank that is hidden beneath the garden.
Brunswick House 02:
This south facing central courtyard was designed to be a shaded and cool outdoor space within this inner city house. It also acts as secondary entry from the side boundary bike storage area.