March 16, 2018: More Sustainable Subdivisions

A while ago I was asked by a friend who had just bought a block of land in the prestigious ‘Retford Park’ subdivision in Bowral, to help him design an energy efficient home to build on the property. I was dismayed and disgusted to discover that the ‘Design Guidelines’ for this subdivision actually made it impossible to build a good Passive Solar house or even to have an effective solar power system in many cases. One of the guidelines stated that ‘solar panels could not be visible from the street’. So, if you bought a block with the street to the north you would have to put the solar panels on the south side of the roof which really doesn’t work too well. Another ‘guideline’ stated that there had to be a verandah at least 2.7m wide along at least 50% of the street side of the house. This means that, if the street is to the north, the verandah would block at least half of your winter sun. Yet another one stated that the living area of the house had to ‘address the street’. In other words, if the street was to the south, you would have to put the living area on the south side of the house which goes against one of the basic principles of Passive Solar Design which is to have the rooms that you use during the day on the sunny side of the house where they can take advantage of the natural light and the warmth in winter from the sun streaming in. There were lots more of these ‘guidelines’ that, put together, made it impossible to build an effective Passive Solar and energy efficient house. After I explained all this to my friend he ended up selling his block and buying somewhere else.

Personally, I was outraged that the developer was allowed to impose these kinds of restrictions on the property owners. It seems to me that our local and state regulations should be preventing this from happening and should, in fact, be requiring people to build more energy efficient and sustainable homes. I mean, isn’t that what BASIX is for???

For those readers not from NSW, BASIX stands for ‘Building Sustainability Index’. It is compulsory for any new residential building in NSW to achieve a minimum score in order to pass BASIX before building approval will be granted. But, as I adamantly pointed out in our Newsletter way back in March 2014… BASIX IS A JOKE! You only have to look at the thousands of new homes springing up in awful subdivisions all up and down the east coast of NSW to find proof that BASIX is completely failing to make our homes more sustainable.

A typical new subdivision in NSW with massive houses built inches apart and covered with dark tile roofs. No open space, no thought given to solar access, or ventilation or orientation or energy efficiency. (Image source: 7News)

A typical new subdivision in NSW with massive houses built inches apart and covered with dark tile roofs. No open space, no thought given to solar access, or ventilation or orientation or energy efficiency. (Image source: 7News)

The most depressing thing for me about the photo above is that every home in that subdivision has passed BASIX and yet there isn’t a ‘sustainable’ thing about any of them. For the last couple of years I’ve been thinking that maybe I should try to get together with a developer to do a subdivision where all of the ‘Design Guidelines’ are aimed at requiring the owners to build Passive Solar and energy efficient homes.

Fast forward to today…. Cintia and I just got home from a very pleasant evening out which included a delicious desert at the Bowral Brasserie. We met and got to chatting with the owner, John Durst, and I was delighted to hear that he has actually developed his own subdivision called Khancoban Alpine Estate and written a set of Design Guidelines aimed at requiring all homes in the development to utilise Passive Solar Design principles and to preserve good solar access, not just to their own property but to their neighbour’s homes as well. John has even gone so far as to show charts towards the end of these Design Guidelines that demonstrate how the energy savings gained from building an energy efficient house can reduce the time required to pay off a mortgage by as much as 9 years!

I would like to congratulate John for taking the initiative to encourage more sustainable development in his estate. Khancoban is high up in the Alpine region of NSW so, by Australian standards, it has a pretty harsh climate where building an energy efficient home has the potential to make a huge difference to the comfort and costs associated with living there.

The tagline of the Khancoban Alpine Estate website is ‘Affordable Paradise’ and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the prices of the lots as well as the commitment to energy efficiency. As you can see from their pricelist, the available lots range from $39,500 up to $60,000 for between 555 and 1002 sqm. Considering that an equivalent sized property in our area would be priced anywhere from $400,000 to $800,000 their prices look very reasonable to me. I’m also impressed with the unwritten idea that ‘affordability’ means more than just the price of the property… it also means that the house on it should be built in such a way that it is energy efficient and cost effective to heat, cool, keep comfortable and to operate.

I would like to add that I have no affiliation with John or with Khancoban Alpine Estate. I just met him tonight and I’m impressed with what he’s trying to do. As far as I’m concerned every subdivision should be built to this sort of standard.

Well done John.

(p.s. the Creme Brulee was sensational!)

Photo from the Khancoban Alpine Estate website.

Photo from the Khancoban Alpine Estate website.

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