Sept 15, 2017: Sustainable House Day This Sunday.

170915 SHD

For the fourth year in a row, the Greeny Flat will be open once again for Sustainable House Day on Sunday, September 17th from 10am to 4pm. Since I’m still in Montana, I won’t be able to help but three of my wonderful family have volunteered to be there to show people around and answer questions.

Naturally, all readers of this Newsletter are invited to come and visit and, for anyone who feels like making a day of it, there will also be at least two other homes open in our area on the day as well. One is a straw-bale house in Exeter and the other a super-insulated house in Renwick (although this is not showing on the SHD website right now so may have been withdrawn). The ‘Illawarra Flame House’ at the University of Wollongong will certainly be open although it’s a bit further away. If you’re really keen there are a total of 21 houses within 100km of the Greeny Flat and if you live in another part of Australia there are likely to be homes open near you too. Just visit the SHD Website, register and log-in then you’ll be able to search for homes near you.

This is an excellent opportunity to see some very different approaches to making homes more sustainable. Using straw bales is a way to build a well-insulated house with natural and local materials. The Renwick house, a.k.a. ‘The Esky House’ relies on very high levels of insulation and extremely good air-sealing (along with true Heat Recovery Ventilation) to reduce the heating and cooling requirements down to almost nothing. This is a very valid approach, especially for sites that do not have good solar access. The ‘Illawarra Flame House’ was the winner of a very prestigious international competition for energy efficient and sustainable design called the Solar Decathlon. The 200 or so homes that will be open for Sustainable House Day will showcase a wide variety of approaches, techniques, materials, systems and ideas for making your own home more sustainable.

So What Makes the Greeny Flat ‘Sustainable’?

As I have written many times, the Greeny Flat is not truly ‘sustainable’… nor are any of the other homes that will be open to visitors on Sustainable House Day. In fact almost nothing we do in a modern, ‘developed’ economy like Australia (or the US or Europe) is actually sustainable at all. But there are things that make these homes MORE sustainable than most and this is a good opportunity to recap the main things that make the Greeny Flat more sustainable.

  1. It is small. The average new home in NSW is now 248sqm. At 57sqm the Greeny Flat is a quarter of that size which means it requires far fewer resources to build, operate and maintain.
  2. It is energy positive. The Greeny Flat uses Passive Solar Design and Solar Hot Water to help reduce its energy needs to a minimum so that a small, 3kW solar photovoltaic system produces more than twice as much energy as we use. Some of that extra energy is now used to charge our Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle so that much of our local driving can be done emission-free using our own renewable energy.
  3. Location, location, location. The location of the Greeny Flat close to everything we need including shops, schools, libraries, markets, parks, bushland, bike trails and a train station means that we are able to drive much less than most people. We can walk or ride our bikes to most things and when we do need to drive it’s usually not very far. This dramatically reduces our carbon footprint for transportation and is good for our health as well.
  4. It is low maintenance. The Greeny Flat is very easy to clean and maintain and it is built from very durable materials that will last a long time without requiring refinishing or replacing. This means that, over its lifetime, it will use fewer resources than most houses.
  5. It is recyclable. The Greeny Flat is built in such a way that it can be almost completely taken apart with a screw driver so, if the time ever comes to take it down, all of the materials can be salvaged and either rebuilt, reused or recycled. The concrete floor slab would be the most difficult part to deal with but even that could be crushed and used for road base.
  6. It is water efficient. All of the fixtures and fittings in the house along with the landscaping are designed to use very little water. We catch rain off the roof and, whenever there is water in the tank, we run the whole house using harvested rainwater. Over the last four years we have used less than half as much town water as tank water and much less water than most houses.
  7. It is adaptable. The Greeny Flat is designed to be elderly-friendly and easily adaptable to the needs of a person with reduced mobility. It has wide doorways, few steps, lever handles on doors and taps and provision for grab rails in the bathroom. This means it can serve the needs of a wider range of people for longer without requiring expensive and resource consuming modifications.

There are lots more little things like reclaimed doors and sinks, solar air heaters, etc but the other big thing that makes the Greeny Flat more sustainable is the way we choose to operate and live in it. For example, because we don’t have a heating or cooling system in the house, if it gets a bit chilly we just put on a jumper instead of turning on a heater. In winter, during the day, we open the insulating blinds to let the sun shine in and heat the concrete slab. Then at night we close the blinds to keep the heat in and let the slab warm the house. In summer, during the day we close all the windows and blinds in order to keep the heat out. At night we open both the windows and blinds to let the night breezes remove any hot air and cool the slab. There are lots of conscious choices we make every day to use less energy, water and other resources. It certainly helps to have a small, well-designed, ‘sustainable’ house but it’s the choices we make that probably have more benefit in terms of reducing our footprint.

I hope you enjoy Sustainable House Day and let me know what you think of the Greeny Flat or any of the other homes you visit on Sunday.

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