glitzier replied to your post: Things I am learning about housing architects that differs from IT architects

ha ha ha…house architect as in one that constructs actual houses one lives in?

Indeed. I have now contacted 7 different architects who all “specialise” in “sustainable, eco-friendly and passive home design” with a very detailed brief I have written up — containing everything from philosophy, to technologies, reference images and a base floor plan to start from. All seven have through one excuse or another run away from the project. It’s not a “wish list” or “unrealistic” project. It’s one I can do myself, so I know this. I just need someone who can a> make it pretty and b> make it to code.

I think that it’s the fact that I want an autonomous, passive, eco home that scares them — it’s not just about adding 5 star energy appliances and using recycled bricks.

gizo replied to your post:  

I’m really quite shocked and saddened that you’re finding this hard. We should be living in a time when what you are trying to do is closer to the norm, and help is readily accessible. Damn.

As am I. I have sent out the brief to four new firms last night to see what response I get, but you are right, it shouldn’t be this hard.

The biggest roadblocks are not just that the things I am asking for are not readily designed for or integrated into current homes (although I should stress “in Australia”) but that for some strange reason, everyone feels that a home that is designed to be eco friendly, sustainable, passive and autonomous should somehow cost 4 to 8 times as much as any other home.  Which, quite frankly, is insane.

So, what am I asking for? A level of sustainability that I believe should be the norm — as extracted from my brief: Where plausible, in keeping with the design philosophy that materials should match the character of the site and help the house blend into the landscape:

  • A preference for the building to utilise materials that are locally sourced, recycled, available cheaply or even free (e.g. onsite mud for rammed earth or mud bricks)
  • Appropriate technology and materials suitable for owner building are preferred, especially in light of ongoing maintenance
  • High insulative external walls able to achieve a > 6 star rating preferred.
  • High performance (double glazed) windows are preferred
  • Low toxicity materials are preferred
  • Low environmental impact materials are preferred
  • High thermal performance with relatively low embodied energy materials should be given priority
  • Rainforest or old-growth timbers are not preferred. However, recycled sources of those materials may be considered if they fall in any of the above categories.
  • Low environmental impact materials are preferred – materials should be high thermal performance, relatively low embodied energy.
  • The house should be designed to limit site impact & damage.
  • The house shall be designed using passive thermal design principles, including assessment of sun angles, cross ventilation, insulation, building sealing and thermal mass
  • Walls, floors and ceilings shall be thermally insulated to exceed the minimum required by the Building Code of Australia. We anticipate insulation to at least R5 to roofs/ceilings, R2.0 to walls and calculated slab base/edge insulation as required to achieve at least a 6 to 7 star energy rating.
  • High performance double or triple glazing to doors & windows should be investigated. Light is important. Access to natural light inside the house should be maintained. Artistic and technological solutions such as Light Shelves, stained glass or multi-glazed windows should also be considered. 
  • Walls, windows and doors shall be well sealed to minimise air leakage.
  • North-facing glazing shall be maximised where appropriate.

The house shall be independent for power, gas, water supply, water heating and waste treatment. Initiatives include:

  • An off-grid type electrical system shall be provided, utilising any mixture of wind, harvested biogas, microhydro and especially solar concentrated CHP sources.
  • Blackwater treatment shall be performed on site, possibly using an (an)aerobic biodigester gas system, worm farm composting system or a dual linked system outputting the digestant from the biodigester into the worm composter.
  • Kitchen to have a wood-fired combination oven/stove, possibly with water-jacket and/or air-jacket for both water and air heating
  • Kitchen shall be fitted with an ‘insinkerator’ type waste disposal unit, macerating organic waste for the biogas treatment and/or worm farm compost system.
  • Active low-energy heating and cooling systems (including geothermal heat pumps, biomass, wood fuelling, passive/active solar, etc) should be investigated.
  • Passive heating & cooling systems (including convective/cross ventilation,trombe walls, subsidence towers, heat pumpssolar heaters, etc) should be investigated.
  • Roof water shall be captured for potable use
  • Electrical fittings can be a mix of 12v and 240v systems. In fact, a 12v system with inverters as required is considered acceptable.
  • Light fittings shall generally be higher efficiency types unless instructed otherwise, with compact fluorescent or LED generally used in preference to incandescent or halogen.
  • Higher water efficiency plumbing and fittings meeting a minimum of 3-star WELS shall be specified in preference.

Even though I know that most (if not all) of these things have been available since the 1970s (heck, some even as early as the 1800s) it seems near impossible to find someone willing to go outside the now “standard” modern design that basically relies on a grid connected range of services to make up the shortfall of the design of the home.

I shall, however, continue to endure!



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