Eco Home Tour : Robinia House

I had the pleasure of joining the Eco Home tour held by the Sustainable Communities Program (Mitchell & Strathbogie Shires) on the weekend. Among the three homes we were invited to enter and see, the above home, “Robinia”, was one of the most stunning.

The owner and designer of the home, Julianne, stated that her main objective was to prove you could build an environmentally sustainable house using a conventional floor plan and building techniques. Apparently, she wanted an open plan design that utilised Feng Shui principles whilst having an effective and efficient passive solar energy design.

“The house achieved an energy rating score of 31 points based on the floor plan, construction details, orientation and climate. Not sure what this means in the scheme of things as a 5 star rating is equivalent to 16 points.”

A North oriented home, it has polished concrete floors together with solid brick internal partition walls to provide heatsinks and reduce indoor temperature fluctuations. The building is clad in three materials. The reverse brick veneer construction on the western, eastern and northern elevations is finished in an Australian hardwood (Silvertop Ash weatherboard) with (tested and meeting the high ignition threshold requirements set out for bushfire resisting timbers) that was harvested from sustainably managed forests.  The rest of the construction is insulated double cavity brick, using recycled bricks. The Garage/Shed/Guest house is constructed from colorbond steel and clad with the Ash on the Western side to carry the aesthetic narrative across. 

The issue of seasonally adjusted shade for the heatsink (concrete slab) was solved by the clever use of a louver pergola over the northern verandah. The louvres were simply window shutters placed into the verandah which permits the owner to adjust the angle based on the seasons. When we visited, the autumn sun was shining through and heating the floor slab. The house was a very comfortable 17without the use of any additional heating.

The european “tilt and turn” design windows are made from red ironbark sourced frommanaged forests that do not use clear felling methods. They are argon gas filled double-glazed glass. The Windows have rubber seals to provide additional insulation and eliminate drafts. A conscious effort was made to ensure no windows were on any of the western walls. The main entry door, like the windows, is also made from red iron bark.  It is a solid fire resistant door and features double glazed toughened glass inserts.  

The house is passively cooled in summer by vents in the slab connected via ducting, buried 800mm below the 400mm slab. Two periscopes located along the exterior of the southern most wall are the primary air intakes for the system.  The air is cooled naturally as it makes its way through the ducting under the slab in response to hot air in the house exiting through adjustable ceiling vents. Additional heating in winter is achieved by the hydronic radiator heaters throughout the house. They are heated via  a solid fuel boiler that doubles as an extremely attractive fireplace. 

Julianne was very kind to offer a fact sheet, inclusive of supplier details, to us, and I have scanned them and attached them below as a PDF. I hope they and the hastily taken snaps are useful to you as well.

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5 thoughts on “Eco Home Tour : Robinia House

  1. The passive cooling system sounds very interesting. Are any of these ideas making their way into your house?

  2. Very much so! Some were already on their way, others are a matter of discussion. Sometimes the ideas are wonderful, but are just not practical for the location. For example, the idea of a trombe wall is wondrous, but reality dictates that the temperatures in the area are unlikely to ever require one if the rest of the home is designed for passive solar. Due to the massive bluestone understory on the land, the options for passive cooling may need to be altered to meet the profile of the land, but there are so many ways and means to meet this (such as geothermal sinks, piping via water tanks, etc) that it’s simply a matter of design.

  3. Do you know if it was also built within ‘conventional’ costs?Also, our friends recently renovated and included hydronic heating, which gives a wonderfully subtle warmth to the rooms. I like it a lot.

  4. Actually, yes. The home is a total of 24 imperial squares, and while exact costs weren’t given, the final tally (including the $10k spent on building the full "road construction" driveway) seemed to be somewhere between $440k and $480k. So, that equates to approximately $2000/sqm which is, I have discovered, quite reasonable for a bespoke home that is fitted with luxury items, in a difficult location (i.e. the country!) and not to mention all the extra bespoke work that was done. To put some perspective on this – an "average" home (i.e. standard home with standard finishes) is approximately classed at $1700/sqm … so, it was not that much more. I assume that if one did not go for the "rolls royce" doors and windows and chose standard counters rather than custom etched Caesar stone, that a fair few points would drop off that price. I should also mention that she did do a lot of the research and negotiated most of the individual material procurement — so some level of "how much is your time worth?" costing need to be added to that formula.

  5. Thanks for the follow-up, I’m seriously looking forward to your project – you are really paying attention to this…..Thanks for sharing… 🙂

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