Retrofit of suburban home wins ArchiTeam sustainability award

The St Kilda home was retrofitted for sustainability during an extension that added an extra bedroom and bathroom.

A key feature of the home is the clever use of materials. Importantly, recycled materials were used to build the retrofit. All of the brickwork was salvaged from the demolition of the rear of the building, while the floors, walls, ceilings and joinery were built from recycled floorboards sourced from a demolished school site nearby.

The upper storey is clad with paling fencing to differentiate the levels and reduce the building’s scale, and planters are added to provide shade and to soften the building.

Rainwater is captured in a 10,000 litre water tank installed under the front yard. This water is used in the laundry, for garden irrigation and for toilet flushing. Solar hot water with a gas booster provides domestic hot water and hot water for the hydronic heating.

Natural ventilation is used in lieu of air conditioning, and a 4.5KWH solar array is installed on the roof.

webb house rear elev

ArchiTeam is celebrating its 21st year, and its annual awards aim to raise the profile of small to medium sized architecture firms and celebrate their contributions to Victoria’s architectural landscape. This year’s award recipients represent a mixture of commercial, residential, unbuilt, sustainability and community projects.

The 2013 ArchiTeam Award winners and entrants can be viewed in an exhibition open to the public from November 20 – December 2 in the No Vacancy Gallery at Melbourne’s QV building.

For more information on the awards or exhibition please contact:

Currumbin Ecovillage receives top award

The Ecovillage, home to 200 people, was presented with the prize by Queensland Chapter President, Shane Thompson.

Mr Thompson said the award recognised the commitment of the Ecovillage to promoting and exercising sustainable living .

“The Ecovillage at Currumbin is one of the great achievements of contemporary Queensland. It remains the benchmark achievement in sustainable community development in Australia – the many experts and researchers from around the world who continue to visit attest to that,” he said.

The award paid tribute to the visionary of the Ecovillage, the late Christoper Walton, who died in a freak accident late last year.

Mr Walton’s partner Kerry Shepherd collected the award, saying she hoped Currumbin would continue to inspire people to live in an environmentally aware way.

“The vision we had for the Ecovillage was to inspire sustainable development within the industry. With this prestigious recognition, and the rationale behind Mr Thompson’s choice, we truly hope that others will continue to make change for the better and create places where people can live more sustainably, with a high quality of life,” she said.

The award is not the first for the Ecovillage, which has been the recipient of over 30 awards, from both national and international bodies.

The Ecovillage is located on a 270-hectare site along the Gold Coast, and has both residential housing and over 20 community facilities. It is completely self-sufficient in its energy use and  has achieved complete autonomy in water and wastewater recycling.

Read our profile of an Ecovillage home, the Tallowood Treehouse

Building bushfire designed homes

Meeting bushfire needs for a bushfire designed home can call on different priorities to the ones we adhere to when designing environmentally responsible homes, writes sustainable architect Emilis Prelgauskas in Your Home. Ultimately, he concludes, meeting the specifications for bushfire resistance can be at odds with some sustainability goals. “Recycled timber often does not meet non-combustion rating requirements, fire resistant paint embodies toxins, steel and other non-combustible components have high embodied energy.”

However, the threat of bushfire is not something to be underestimated and with the right advice, compromises can usually be made to ensure homes built in bushfire-prone areas are as environmentally responsible as possible.

Understanding bushfires

Dr Ian Weir is a WA-based architect and researcher who specialises in designing for bushfire-prone and biodiverse landscapes. He says the first principle home or land owners in these areas need to consider is that, in Australia, living with bush invariably means living with bushfire.

Yet eliminating the bush immediately surrounding your home won’t necessarily eliminate the risk posed to your home by a fire. “Real-world research has shown that most houses actually burn down from embers entering the house, rather than from fire itself. Indeed, one of the very practical ways of increasing your home’s resistance to bushfire is to ensure it is well maintained and does not have gaps (say wider than two millimetres) in the exterior envelope where embers can enter the roof space or interior rooms to then ignite more flammable elements inside your home.”

When it comes to building or rebuilding bushfire designed homes in Australian rural and suburban areas that are bushfire-prone, multiple regulatory and awareness issues confront householders. In addition to navigating through the design and construction requirements set by regulations in the Building Code of Australia and meeting local council and state planning requirements, householders need to understand the common causes of bushfire-related house fires, bushfire prevention measures and community evacuation procedures.

Dr Weir and bushfire design expert and architect Eldon Bottcher say it’s crucial to understand the five mechanisms related to fire – flame, radiant heat, embers, wind and smoke – when thinking about appropriate design and construction solutions. Emergency management and escape issues should also be influential considerations.

“Dealing with bushfire is best done in a multifaceted way, including thinking about the design of the whole of site, including the landscape, layout, the buildings themselves,” says Dr Weir. “Perhaps most importantly, [it’s about] developing appropriate human behaviour or ‘preparedness’.”


Outward reflections, natural pool design

The whole garden is built to mimic natural systems. Ponds are allowed to empty when rain is scarce and to overfill when it is abundant. Frogs and insects are welcome guests in the natural pool and reed bed filtration system.

“We wanted areas that would really slow people down and connect them back with the environment,” he says.

In Melbourne’s beachside suburb of East Brighton, house and garden have evolved together to create the Liquidambar home. Deciduous plants shade the house in summer, ponds help to cool breezes before they enter the building and windows look onto small waterfalls and secret garden spaces.

The perfect fit between the landscape and house of this suburban new build is the result of a collaboration between architect, owner and landscape designer. Zen Architects had the garden in mind from the outset, ensuring each inside space had its own relationship with an outside one. The owners also wanted to keep and feature a liquidambar, a tree renowned for its spectacular autumn foliage, growing at the back of the block and a tulip tree at the front.

“Working with Zen Architects and the owner from such an early stage in the design process got such a great outcome – it’s my favourite way to work,” says sustainable landscape designer Phillip Johnson.

He began by building a vertical garden, growing Australian natives in the northern courtyard. Dry-loving plants grow at the top of the wall and plants adapted to moisture grow at the bottom. Underneath the wall sits a small billabong fed by the water and nutrients from above. Philip says a reason he loves the billabong is that the water level rises and falls depending on how much rain there has been.

When it rains water runs through the backyard ponds before overflowing into an underground 30,000-litre tank. Most of the materials in the garden are permeable so that water either soaks in or is collected, taking the pressure off local stormwater drains. Rainwater is plumbed to all toilets, the laundry and reticulated through the veggie garden. It’s also used in the green wall and the natural swimming pool.

High-performing windows

Windows are possibly the most complex elements in a home, says Tracey Gramlick, executive director of the Australian Window Association (AWA). Windows are connection points between our inside and outside worlds; and importantly, they let in natural light, heat and fresh air.

Choosing energy efficient windows will make your home more comfortable, can reduce energy costs and help to create a brighter, cleaner and healthier home environment. Windows expert Dr Peter Lyons, of Peter Lyons & Associates, says that at a time when modern materials enable us to create efficient buildings, the spotlight has shifted to windows as “the weak link”. Windows can have an enormous effect on heating and cooling a house. The AWA estimates up to 40 per cent of a home’s heating energy can be lost through windows and up to 87 per cent of its heat gained through them. Choosing high-performing windows and placing them appropriately can reduce energy costs significantly and improve thermal comfort. The art is in knowing how different windows, whether you choose double glazing, low-e-coated single-glazed units, timber or aluminium frames, will interact with the design of your home.

There are a large range of window systems available in Australia, from single to double-glazed and triple-glazed units with aluminium, timber, uPVC, composite and other frames, argon gas fills, low-e coatings and more. If you know the basics of the heating and cooling impacts of windows, rely on rating systems and experts to guide your decision and weigh up price and visual amenity, you can find a window system to suit and keep your home performing effectively.


One of the first things to know about windows is that their performance doesn’t depend solely on the number of glazing layers (such as double glazing), but also on whether the glass is tinted or coated, plus the type of frame, climate and the window’s orientation. On top of these considerations, a home’s comfort level will be influenced by design factors such as how much glazing it has, whether it is shaded, how much heat can be captured by thermal mass and whether heat can be vented out when necessary.


For homeowners, the Window Energy Rating Scheme (WERS) is a good starting point on windows that might best meet your needs.


Climate and orientation are vital when determining the performance of windows in your home. The Building Code of Australia simplifies Australia’s climate zones to just eight, but home energy rating schemes currently divide Australia into 69 different zones, and this is soon to be increased to 80. As well, the impact of a window on a house’s annual energy load depends on its orientation, as well as factors such as thermal mass.




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Gardening in the dry

Seven rivers flow into the ACT, winding through the grasslands and woodlands around Canberra. The Cotter Dam catches some of this water and keeps it, along with three other major dams, for Canberrans to quench their thirst and water their gardens. Water will never abound in the relatively dry ACT so  water wise gardens makes sense as you are working with what you have.

A showcase garden at the new Canberra Arboretum has been created to inspire and educate people about gardening with minimal water. Commissioned by the government-owned ACTEW Water, the Canberra Discovery Garden was created as a community-driven water wise garden.

Matt Friend works in community engagement and education at ACTEW Water and was involved in the garden through its design and build stages. He says one of the company’s priorities is to encourage Canberra residents to use less water in their gardens, as this is the single biggest usage of water in the ACT. He adds that it’s an easier task than getting everyone to take shorter showers.

A community group of horticulturists and passionate public and industry representatives worked on the garden’s design. The group decided what plants and features were important to include and what plants people would like to see.

The garden is divided into three spaces. The first is an area to meet and learn and includes a deck and some rotating, experimental garden beds. The middle space is where people can see what plants can grow in a water wise garden. The last showcases different turf grasses and includes three warm season and three cool season grasses.

Of all the plants in the garden, Matt says the crowd favourite is Acacia cognate, with cultivars called Limelight or Mini Cog. It’s a soft-leaf weeping acacia not typically planted in Canberra but which has been very successful.