Here’s a eco home building guide I wish I’d had before I started on The ImPossible House. Hopefully these steps will save you time, money and stress in your own build. I’m including information about how not to get conned by “sustainability experts”, what type of experts you need and how to quickly identify if the expert is the right person for the job as these are the things that have cost me the most money and caused the most headaches!
a. Explain exactly what you mean by living sustainably. Do you mean going off grid completely or something else? This is important because it helps your planner, architect and other people involved in the project understand exactly what is required of them. It also means that the final product will align with what you, the client, actually want. (No tears or arguments at the conclusion of the project.)
b. You can use the requirements in my factsheet as a starting point for deciding what you might want.
c. Make sure your goals are understood and agreed to by your team (solar expert, planner, architect, builder, designer, water expert etc.). Ask each contractor to include your objectives in any contract that you sign.
It was a HUGE oversight of mine to not gather this information up front. Not establishing my water, energy, recycling and harvesting requirements prior to engaging with the architect and planner led to significant costs.
If you are going off grid for water and energy, talk to the solar and water recycling experts BEFORE you start talking to your architect and planner. In my case, I learned the hard way that going off grid requires a lot of space! (it seems so obvious now!). It’s this information that the architect and planner need before they can start helping you with the building envelope.
Once you’ve figured out which sustainability features you require, ask your architect to design the building around your off-grid solution. If sustainability is a secondary goal or you aren’t making changes to the building, then this obviously doesn’t apply.
If sustainability IS your primary objective, engage your experts in this order:
Make sure they all know what each other is proposing. The solutions need to work together! There will be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between all the project team members, but in my opinion it is better to fit the house design around your living requirements than the other way around.
There are lots and lots of planners, architects, solar installers and sustainability experts out there touting their services. Not all of them will appreciate your goals or help you do things that are out of the ordinary. So make sure you define your goals prior to engaging them and communicate them clearly from the outset.
In general you want the type of people who say “that sounds difficult, but let me think about it”, instead of “no that won’t work, it’s impossible” or “that will be too expensive”. I think most of the time when people say these things they are trying to sell you the cookie-cutter solution and save themselves time. You don’t want these people! You want creative people who are passionate about sustainability, and importantly, will be there to support you if any part of their solution goes wrong further down the track.
I think it’s fair to say that we will all get ripped off at some stage during our lifetime, and on big projects like renovations there’s scope to lose a lot of money. So here are my tips to avoid being conned:
1. The water solution will be your most difficult solution. To help decide which way to go, ask your water expert to show you worked examples to understand:
2. When determining your solar system get your off-grid solar specialist to:
3. Materials to be used in the renovation
Work with your planner and architect to develop the design of the building so it’s within all relevant controls. This is where the architect and the planner need to work together to fit all the off-grid and solar passive stuff into your space (in my case a very small space!) while also keeping the council happy. Having the planner and architect work together means that you are more likely to have your plans approved as the planner will understand the Council’s decision making process and will be able to guide your architect.
Make sure you submit a “pre Development Application”. Going straight to a DA might mean you get knocked back and that costs money! At the pre DA they will assess the project and more than likely require you to come back and make changes. Once you get the thumbs up from the pre DA, you can lodge the DA proposal with Council;. I am very lucky that I live in the Inner West Council area and my council is committed to reducing carbon emissions to zero. In which case, the council has been very supportive of my sustainability goals. We have recently submitted the second pre DA and are very hopeful that we get mostly ticks and not too many crosses so we can move to the next stage. Stay tuned… more to come!
Council approval and then going through the construction certificate stage and then actual construction. I don’t have much to say about this step yet as I’m still at the pre DA stage!