Apr 6, 2024: Open for Sustainable House Day

This is just a quick update to let you know that the Greeny Flat will be open again for Sustainable House Day on April 21st.

Here is the link to the listing on the Sustainable House Day website.


SHD are doing thing a bit differently this year and you have to book a time for a tour and pay a small fee to help them with the cost of putting on the event. At the bottom of the listing page you will find the section where you can book a time for a tour if you’re interested.

Hope to see you then.

Apr 1, 2022: These floods are no joke

In our last Newsletter I made the suggestion that we shouldn’t be building homes in flood plains, especially as the evidence mounts that climate change is bringing more extreme weather events combined with the ongoing threat of rising sea levels. But it seems the NSW government disagrees.

Image source: Herald Sun

Prior to making his losing bid to become Premier of New South Wales, Rob Stokes, as Minister for Planning had put forward a set of ‘Planning Principles’ which aimed to ‘emphasise sustainable development (particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation, and enhanced resilience), place-based thinking, integration of infrastructure, affordable housing, the conservation and management of natural resources, and early and sustained engagement with Aboriginal people‘. That all sounds like pretty sensible stuff to me, especially the part about climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience as we watch Lismore and other towns in the north of the state go under water for the second time in a month. But, according to this article, the new ‘Minister for Homes’, Anthony Roberts, has scrapped those Planning Principles under pressure from the Premier, Dominic Perotet, to ‘deliver more homes’. So be prepared to see thousands more unsustainable and energy-inefficient homes sprouting up in a flood plain near you because, apparently, that’s the only way we can deliver enough homes to meet the demand.

But, if the predictions are correct and if climate change brings more extreme flooding in the future, be prepared to see a lot of those homes go under water. Also be prepared for tax-payers to be asked to foot the bill for the clean up because insurance companies probably won’t be covering them. In a really tragic way, this may well solve the problem of housing affordability. If insurance companies refuse to cover homes in flood or bushfire prone areas, no-body will want to buy them so prices will fall through the floor in those areas. That could mean that the less wealthy members of our society, those who won’t be able to afford to buy or build homes in safe and insurable places, will have no choice but to live in the danger zones with no insurance. This is a disaster in the making and that’s not even accounting for the potential for sea levels to rise.

According to this article from propertyupdate.com.au there is already $25billion worth of property ‘exposed to high coastal risk’. Of course a lot of that ‘waterfront’ property is at the very high-value end of the housing market in the most sort-after locations. But that could change very quickly if those homes also become uninsurable.

Getting back to our last Newsletter, a lot of people seem to agree with me that we shouldn’t be building in flood plains but others thought I was being uncharitable to the people who have been devastated by the recent floods.

So, in the interests of fairness, here is the response I received from long-time reader, Doug, who owns a place in Lismore that was damaged in the recent floods…

I wanted to put forward another view. It is all very well to restrict new development on floodplains, but decisions made on existing information is usually considered best practice. In my case, we were right on the edge of the old flood area, so were allowed to build with 400 freeboard. We built 900 above old maximum flood height. This was considered a bit of an overkill! Unfortunately our flood was 2.5M above old maximum flood height.

Much of Lismore is old timber frame building that survive floods fairly well. Unfortunately, due to the depth of water
some buildings are physically damaged. I feel some houses will be resumed, but most repaired. There are some
that will move but most are held by work & family. Personally, I feel the probability of another 1:1000 yr flood is low but who knows? Global warming means for every degree the atmosphere holds 7% more water.

Lismore is definitely a Disaster area. All our Industrial area was built at 13M, so every business went under. Huge cost in jobs, resources, & infrastructure. Apparently Scomo is here to help, but it is probably too little, too late for many. The other issue is that if towns such as Lismore move out of the floodplain, it will take over valuable farmland, affecting food supplies.

What I feel is needed:
-National Compensation insurance (so people can insure at affordablt prices. (Much like NZ)
-Work to slow flooding by increased vegetation barriers around creeks & rivers, as well as possibly a diversion channel around Lismore. Lismore is at the Confluence of 2 rivers, at a natural pinch. That is why this flood was ultra high. Having 1M of rain in a few weeks, with the last 500mm in about 3 weeks caused this horrific flood. Sydneys rain is nothing comparitively.

It is interesting to compare Darwin when Gough was PM: They had resources & management there within 24 hours. Scomo has taken 2 weeks to even announce help (abt 200 Army & eqpt already here, but not enough yet). The overall size of the disaster is similar to Cyclone Tracy.

Feel free to edit this & put it out please. Lismore is in real trouble. Consider the damage from a flood where 12M is a Major flood (that will just top the wall) but this one was 14.5M : THAT is an incredible amount of water! All our sub-stations were flooded, causing huge damage. It might take 3 months to fully power the Industrial area. As an example, there is a picture of a washing machine caught in power wires!

Regards, Doug

Mar 4, 2022: Disasters of Our Own Design

What did we expect? (Source: Australian Defence Force)

While I have great sympathy for all of the people who have been devastated by the recent floods and by the fires before that, there’s a hard-edged part of me that wants to ask, “What did you expect?”

Here in Australia we continue to build more and more homes in flood plains and in (or close to) bushland. And then we seem shocked and appalled when some of those homes disappear under water or burn to the ground.

We should not have been building there in the first place!

Natural habitats around the world are disappearing at truly alarming rates and hundreds, probably thousands of other species are facing extinction. How about we leave the remaining natural ecosystems for them? And floodplains typically have the best soil and water, making them the best places to grow food. I made a typo a second ago and wrote ‘foodplains’ instead of ‘floodplains’. But maybe that’s what we should start calling them. Then we might think twice about building houses all over them.

I know we’ve been content to import a lot of our food for about the last fifty years. But the recent supply chain disruptions have made it clear that, if we want to be resilient as a nation (and as local communities), we have to head back towards providing for our own needs right here. And that means, among many other things, preserving our best agricultural land for when we need it.

In any case we might not have a choice. Before too long I think insurance companies are going to stop insuring homes in areas at risk of flood, fire and sea-level rise. And governments are going to have to stop allowing more of them to be built. Even the Liberal Party are starting to openly accept that climate change is forcing our hand (as this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald shows)

‘Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Andrew Hall said data gathered since 2015 showed 2 to 3 per cent of homes are now in frequent flood zones and 15 per cent were susceptible to flood.’

Australians need to have an honest conversation about where and how people build homes. The taxpayer and the ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge, catastrophic damage events.’

‘Mr Hall said the increasing financial toll of fires, floods, cyclones and hail was evidence of the changing climate.’

I can see how we could potentially legislate away from floods, fires and sea-level rise but how on earth can we deal with cyclones and hail events? I guess we have to build stronger homes as well.

And perhaps we’ll start valuing bushland as natural habitat, floodplains as prime agricultural land and stop building in either one of them.

Hilariously, it’s a bloke who was appointed by Scott Morrison, the Coal-Man, who is telling us all to ‘Face reality’.

I notice there’s no mention in the article of the fact that the Liberal Party has been denying climate change for decades which has added to a culture, across all levels of government, of ignoring the possible effects of extreme weather events and allowing development in so many places that should have been left alone.

In any case, it’s about time we woke up and started changing the way we have been doing things. And that means BOTH preparing for the effects of climate change AND doing our best to limit those effects by minimising our carbon emissions and other unsustainable practices.

And, while we’re at it, it’s about time we started taking responsibility for our own decisions. If you build in the bush or in a flood plain, don’t complain if your house burns down or floats away.

I have dear friends who were burned out in 2019 and, to their everlasting credit, despite severe PTSD and financial stress, have rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their lives through sheer grit, hard work and determination. And they have rebuilt in such a way that their home and business are MUCH better protected and less likely to burn again when the next fire comes through… which it will… and probably worse than the last one.

We’ve been warned.

Nov 12, 2021: Free Zoom Screening of ‘Now’ Movie on Sunday

In our Newsletter back in February this year I wrote about the release of a movie called ‘Now’. It is a full-length documentary conceived, produced and presented by Ryan M. (and his Mum, Tina). I can’t publish his last name because, at the time Ryan started making the film he was only ten years old (now he’s 12).

As I wrote back in February…

‘The fact that he and Tina have been working on this for 18 months and have now seen it through to completion speaks volumes about their commitment and passion. As I wrote to Ryan back in November 2019…

‘Ryan, I’ll be very interested to see where life takes you. I really admire that fact that, at 10 years old, you are willing to put your time, effort and skills into doing something about the problems you see in the world. Good on you.’

Ryan has already sold enough copies of the film to cover expenses and is donating all profits to climate change relief efforts. He has even set up a website at nowisthemovie.weebly.com where you can read more about it, watch the official trailer (which I have added below) and purchase the movie in various forms if you’re interested. You can support a young fella who has made a huge effort to do something positive in the world, help him donate money to good causes and maybe pick up some tips for how to make your own little part of the world a better place.

Well now you have the opportunity to see the movie for free on Zoom on Sunday, November 14th at 4pm.

Just click the following link to register for a ticket (I assume that the zoom link will be sent to anyone who can’t attend in person although they don’t make that clear).


It’s well worth watching and here is the trailer to whet your appetite…

Nov 5, 2021: The Times They Are A-Changing

I’ve been working on, and advocating for, energy efficient and sustainable buildings, developments, communities and lifestyles for about 35 years now. For most of that time I’ve felt like I’ve been beating my head against a wall. But, finally, just in the last six months, it feels like something has shifted and the wall is starting to crumble. I guess if enough people beat their heads against a wall for long enough it will eventually give way and now we have both Rupert Murdoch AND the “Coal Man”, Scott Morrison talking about the need to take action to protect against climate change… what is the world coming to??? It’s senses???

Here is a link to an encouraging article from the ABC about how easy and cost-effective it can be to make an existing house energy positive.

Image source: abc.net.au ‘Insulation can reduce energy costs far more effectively than solar panels.(Getty: Monty Rakusen)’

And here are some nice quotes from the article

Having a net-zero house always seemed so impossible — it seemed that we’d have to make big lifestyle sacrifices

‘Their house’s energy needs are now effectively “net zero”…The transition has cost them about $12,000 and this is entirely offset by the savings from a discounted interest rate on their home loan.’

‘In the south-west Melbourne suburb of Altona North, Mirvac is building a “net-zero energy” housing estate named The Fabric… The fully electric homes here have a minimum 7-star energy rating, at least 3.8kW rooftop solar, and battery storage…. And demand is high: all the homes from the first stage have been sold, and the next stages have been brought forward ahead of schedule…I would think that this would become a standard offering within the very near future.’

People told me there would be no demand for energy-efficient homes and now we have 40 lots left and 13,000 people interested

‘They’re requiring zero-energy houses for new residential dwellings across the EU’ 

There are also calls for a national retrofit program, similar to the EU’s “renovation wave strategy”, which aims to improve the energy performance of tens of millions of existing buildings by 2030.

There’s mounting evidence that, in most of Australia at least, it is easy and cost-effective to make both existing and new homes energy positive. We have done it here with both the Greeny Flat and the old fibro cottage next door, and the time is fast approaching when every home in the country is comfortable and healthy and produces more energy than it uses.

The times they are a-changing… bring it on!

Oct 14, 2021: Sustainable House Day is Back… virtually

Interview with Geraldine Doogue airs Saturday

Today I had the honour of being interviewed by award-winning journalist, Geraldine Doogue, for a piece she is doing about the Glascow Climate Summit. Apparently it will air on ABC Radio National on Saturday morning at around 7:40am (Sydney time) for anyone who can be bothered getting up. It should also be available as a podcast soon after it airs (I’ll post the link when I have it).

Sustainable House Day 2021

Image Source: sustainablehouseday.com

Sunday October 17th is Sustainable House Day (SHD) for this year.

The Greeny Flat has been part of SHD since 2014 and this year we have two entries, The Greeny Flat and our Fibro Cottage Deep Energy Retrofit project.

Due to Covid restrictions SHD will be an entirely online event this year. And I actually think that’s great because we can all get to see video tours of homes all over the country that we wouldn’t be able to get to for an open house. There are over a hundred homes on display on the SHD website. (In order to view them I think you have to create an online account but it is free and easy to do so). Most of them have a video tour along with a lot of detailed written information. There is a ton of good stuff here for anyone interested in building sustainable homes and communities. You can even submit questions to the home owners themselves.

Here are links to the listings for THE GREENY FLAT and the FIBRO COTTAGE DEEP ENERGY RETROFIT (although you might need to be signed in to the SHD website for these links to work).

I’ve been having a look at some of the other homes (another thing I wasn’t able to do when it was an open house event) and here is a link to my favourite so far – HARMONY HOUSE (the video for this one is well worth a look).

There is also a whole day’s worth of free online sessions. Click this link to the view the SHD SESSION PROGRAM

I will be a panelist for the Owner Building session at 11am in case your interested. Personally, I’ll be watching the next session at 12pm about Creating Sustainable Communities because a) I’m interested and b) the panel includes Jo Theirfelder from Witchcliffe Ecovillage.

Witchcliffe Ecovillage – possibly the most sustainable housing development ever

If you have about forty minutes to spare I HIGHLY recommend that you watch the following video about the Witchcliffe Ecovillage. If you’re interested in sustainability it will blow your mind what they are doing. It’s what every housing development should be (but none are)…. truly inspiring!

Sep 24, 2021: Two Years In the Cottage

It’s now been two years since we installed the 5kW solar power system on the retrofitted cottage next to the Greeny Flat. We used an Enphase micro-inverter system which gives us excellent monitoring or both the production from the panels (it even tells us how much each individual panel has produced on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime basis) and our energy consumption in the house. I highly recommend the Enphase system. It maximises the production from our panels and gives us the information we need to make the most efficient use of the power they produce.

With VERY Positive Results!

As you will see from the screenshot below, over the last two years we have managed to export almost three times as much power to the grid (11.0MWh) as we have imported from the grid (4.1MWh). The system has produced a total of 13.1MWh and we have consumed less than half that… only 6.2MWh.

MWh means ‘mega-watt hour’. One MWh is 1000kWh. kWh is what we get charged for by our electricity retailer (or what we get paid for if we are exporting to the grid).

One of our primary goals for this project was to take an old fibre-cottage and make it energy positive. So we are delighted to know that we are producing more than twice as much power as we are using and have been doing so consistently for two years now.


Back in our February Newsletter I wrote about how much I hated ‘Packer’s Pecker’… the Crown Sydney Tower. I even went so far as to say it was a new contender for the worst building in Sydney (neck and neck with the Blues Point Tower). So you can imagine my delight when I read the headline this morning that this shocker of a monstrosity has just won an award for best skyscraper in the world.

Image Source: ftnnews.com

According to this article from Archinect, ‘The top ten skyscrapers in the world have been announced as part of the annual Emporis Skyscraper Awards, with One Barangaroo in Sydney, Australia taking the top spot.

Apparently ‘The Emporis Skyscraper Award was selected by an international jury of architectural experts‘…

Well this just proves what I’ve been saying for years… architectural experts are idiots! And they clearly don’t give a damn about climate change or design that is appropriate to place, climate or context. The Crown Sydney Tower is a disgusting affront to Sydney and to any efforts the rest of us might be making to try to reduce our carbon emissions. James Packer might just as well have built an 890 foot-tall model of his middle finger, proudly saluting the people of Australia and shouting ‘SCREW YOU’ from its lofty rooftop.

I would have enjoyed that a lot more.

Solar-powered Electric Campervan

I just want one of these.

The Stella Vita, solar-powered electric campervan from the University of Technology in Eindhoven (Source: New Atlas)- Click here to read the article

Jun 25, 2021: Cheap and Simple EV

I got drive my first Tesla yesterday and all I can say is… WOW!!!

My good friend Noel who owns and runs the Merchant of Welby Antique shop put his name on the waiting list for a Model 3 over a year ago and finally picked it up yesterday morning.

Noel's new Tesla Model 3

Noel’s new Tesla Model 3

Needless to say, Noel’s pretty happy with it and he must really trust me, because he let me have a drive when he got it home. There are lots and lots of professional reviews of the Model 3 on the internet so I won’t bore you with too much detail. Suffice to say that the acceleration and handling are extraordinary, the interior is clean and crisp and unlike any car I’ve been in before and it’s a real pleasure to drive. Some of the reviews I’ve seen call it ‘the best car ever made’ and I can easily see why.

BUT… it did cost nearly $70,000.

Noel is of Scottish descent so I was surprised that he was capable of opening his wallet that far. I am mostly of English descent but I think I might the bigger miser. In the video below you’ll see the Electric Car that I would buy if it were to become available in Australia.

Cheap, simple, practical, does the job…. you wouldn’t take it on a long trip but for running around town… I like it!

p.s. If you like beautiful Australian antiques and would like to support someone who has made major efforts to make his business more sustainable then I highly recommend a visit to the Merchant of Welby (and I didn’t even have to promise to give him a plug in order to get a drive of his Tesla!).

May 14, 2021: 3D Printed Earth Home

We’ve written before about various 3D-printed homes. The technology shows a lot of promise for reducing cost and construction times but, until now, most of the projects we’ve seen used extruded cement-based materials for the structure. The problem with cement. of course, are the high levels of carbon emissions and embodied energy required to make it, plus the fact that it can be very difficult to properly insulate a cement structure.

This article from New Atlas describes a new project in Italy where a beautiful home has been 3D-printed using locally-sourced earth materials. The printing took 200 hours and the natural materials give it a very low embodied energy.

The organic forms of the Tecla 3D-Printed Eco-home (Source: New Atlas)

The lovely, organic forms of the Tecla 3D-Printed Eco-home (Source: New Atlas)

The shape might seem outlandish and fanciful but it actually makes a lot of sense. The use of domed shapes with ribbed walls mean that they are able to create a very stable structure without the need for any other supporting materials (like steel or timber). In standard construction it is very time-consuming and expensive to build organic shapes out of straight, square materials (just look at the cost of anything designed by Frank Gehry as an example). However with 3D-printing it’s a great deal easier. You simply create a computer model of the structure and the printer does the rest with the added advantage that there are no offcuts, waste or scrap.

My first thought when I saw the article was, “that won’t have any insulation”. But according to the article…

The TECLA design incorporates thermo-insulation, ventilation and water collection within the single structure. The dome shape of the dwelling is an effective way to enclose the building without the need for support structures during the construction process. Furthermore, the design can be optimized to balance thermal mass, insulation and ventilation according to different and unique locations and climate conditions.

That all sounds pretty good (although I wouldn’t want to be sitting under one of those big sky windows in an Australian summer) which leaves me with one major concern… if this structure is made entirely out of earth and it has no roof overhang to protect the walls, what’s to stop it simply washing away when it rains?

I guess time will tell whether this technology gains a foothold in the notoriously slow-to-change construction industry. But if someone comes up with a system that produces a durable, well-insulated structure that can be built quickly at low-cost with low embodied energy and a very small carbon footprint then I think it might give the brick-veneerials a run for their money.

Feb 26, 2021: Doing Something About It

Quite a while ago I was asked by a ten-year-old young man named Ryan if he could interview me for a movie he was making about climate change and what to do about it. Of course I said yes so he came to the Greeny Flat with his mum, Tina, and a well-prepared list of questions about passive solar design, energy efficiency, electric cars, etc. Tina shot the footage while Ryan asked the questions and I did my best to answer them. Then off they went.

Fast forward to yesterday, a year-and-a-half later, when I received a letter from Ryan and Tina thanking me for my contribution and including a free copy of the movie called ‘Now’. So Cintia and I sat down to watch it last night and, I have to say, we really enjoyed it. It includes a lot of useful information about practical steps that we can all take to reduce our carbon footprint and live more sustainably. As the brain-child of a ten-year-old it is very impressive. He does an excellent job of presenting and interviewing various people (including Craig Reucassel of ‘War on Waste’ fame) and providing useful information about practical steps we can all take, plus he makes it entertaining and fun to watch. The fact that he and Tina have been working on this for 18 months and have now seen it through to completion speaks volumes about their commitment and passion. As I wrote to Ryan back in November 2019…

‘Ryan, I’ll be very interested to see where life takes you. I really admire that fact that, at 10 years old, you are willing to put your time, effort and skills into doing something about the problems you see in the world. Good on you.’

Ryan has already sold enough copies of the film to cover expenses and is donating all profits to climate change relief efforts. He has even set up a website at nowisthemovie.weebly.com where you can read more about it, watch the official trailer (which I have added below) and purchase the movie in various forms if you’re interested. You can support a young fella who has made a huge effort to do something positive in the world, help him donate money to good causes and maybe pick up some tips for how to make your own little part of the world a better place.