Designing and building a home is no easy feat, but creating a sustainable house requires thinking sustainably from the beginning and throughout every stage — from design to construction to the operatation of your home
Builder and project manager Cameron Rosen and joint homeowner Daphna Tal have a vision: to be conscious of their surroundings and utilise what the natural world has to offer in every component of their lives. For Cameron, sustainable living is also his work: sustainable design and building. “Sustainability is a key focus we,
as a civilisation, need to embrace right now,” Cameron says.
When a block of land formerly occupied by a school became available in Sydney’s Rose Bay, Cameron knew he had an opportunity. “As a project manager working in the field, I was becoming aware of how the industry was tending to move,” he explains. “This opportunity was a clear field site.”
What came next was the design and construction of four adjoining sustainable homes, built and developed by Australian Living (a company founded by Cameron in 2008), with Cameron leading the team. “I came up with the concept of an eco challenge whereby every homeowner had their own architect and as a team, including myself, had to design a home as eco-friendly as possible — not only an energy-efficient dwelling but also one that minimised the carbon footprint,” he explains. Cameron’s own home, which he shares with Daphna and their three children, scored an impressive eight-star rating for its thermal performance. “I want my next home to score even higher,” he says.
From the day of purchase through to design, construction and now living in the home, Cameron focused on creating a sustainable home — one that would remain sustainable for the duration of its life. “I realised that I had a sense of duty to use this project as an educational tool for the wider industry,” he explains.
Cameron’s aspiration was to build four homes that were premium in their environmental status, and for his own home he choose to employ a number of experts in various specialist fields during the design process so he could produce a highly efficient and sustainable space for his family.
Energy efficiency was a key concern of Cameron’s, and with heating and cooling accounting for approximately 38 per cent of energy consumption in the average household, he knew it played a pivotal part in the design and building process. “The big one is heating and cooling, so I looked at a passive design approach that utilised natural resources to heat the house in winter and cool it in summer,” he explains.
Cameron worked with the architect and a thermal comfort consultant to ensure the design minimised heating and cooling requirements. “We designed a plan where the house was split into three zones,” says Cameron. “In summer, we open the doors between the zones and the cross-ventilation goes through the whole house. In winter, we lock in the warmth by keeping the doors closed.
“The challenge was taking advantage of the northerly aspect. The north sun only hits the front of the house, so we developed the idea of an inner/outer courtyard within the structure, bringing natural light into the southern part of the house. This is the success of the house and why we can perform to an eight-star rating.” This central courtyard is not only a major contributor to the passively designed space, but also a lovely recreational area for the family to enjoy.
The home features four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a free-flowing lounge and dining area, a separate family room, rumpus room, study and laundry. Outside there’s a permaculture garden, a pool and shed.
A greywater system is in place and this water is used to feed the beautiful citrus trees, while the storm water that is collected is used as water supply for the bathrooms and laundry.
As you walk through the dwelling it’s evident that each room maintains a comfortable living temperate. “Every room needs thermal mass,” Cameron says, pointing to the tiled floor in the living area. “In winter, the sun hits the floor all day and the floor emits that energy back into the room. The external walls are reverse masonry, which places the thermal mass on the inside so it’s protected externally by the insulation. Internal thermal mass is the key.”
The clever design and a thermal comfort assessment were just a couple of the vital factors that Cameron considered when working out how to build a highly sustainable home. One of the big differences with this home compared to other homes that are claimed to be “eco”, “green”, “sustainable” or with “zero emissions” is that it was constructed using sustainable building materials, and the embodied impact of such resources is far less than traditional building supplies. “The experience of choosing all the products was really interesting and gave me a great overview of the whole industry,”
he explains. “I looked for evidence through supporting documents and sought out Australian-run companies with a sustainable philosophy. I chose materials and products that came with a high rating and questioned why other comparable materials were not rated before making a final decision.”
Cameron started researching in 2008, built the four homes in 2009 and settled in his new residence with his partner and three children in late 2010. Interior finishes and furnishings were selected by his partner Daphna, a sustainable interior consultant. Daphna has been involved in designing residential interiors for the past nine years and focuses on seeking the most environmentally friendly and sustainable products. Only low-VOC paints were used, and high WELS-rated shower heads, taps and
dual-flush toilets, and a three-kilowatt PV solar system were implemented into the design — it’s a sustainable house in all aspects.
Of course, creating a sustainable house is not the only step to a sustainable life — how we live within a space is another component. “There’s a level of activism in the design,” Cameron explains. “We had an intense cold snap in 2010 and we froze,” he laughs. “We thought we’d made a major mistake but realised that we needed to let the house warm up in instances like this.”
The sustainable organic garden features (greywater and rain) irrigation system-fed citrus trees, lawn, herbs, olive trees, banana trees and passionfruit. The three children are active in maintaining the garden and are therefore learning about sustainability and the environment from a young age.
It’s a success story in every right, and a model house for consumers looking to increase their knowledge about sustainable living and utilise it in their own homes. “This house doesn’t need any energy — I make money from it and that’s how it will be for the rest of its life,” Cameron says. “This is the legacy I’m leaving. If we all knew we could do this in the design phase then we could all leave the right legacy.”