Fancy a Look Around My New (Sustainable) Home?

Fancy a Look Around My New (Sustainable) Home?

In case you missed the news, we’ve finally moved into our new home, and oh, it feels good! We have solar panels and solar hot water, a rainwater tank, solar passive design that means no air-con required even in our 40°C+ summers, and a veggie garden pre-planted with vegetables. We’re two minutes from the train station and there’s a newly opened bulk store within walking distance.

Plus we’re in the heart of a vibrant and engaged community and we can’t wait to join in!

I thought it might be fun to show you round, to explain some of the sustainability features and how they work and to highlight why we are so excited about our new home. Welcome to the tour!

Just to give you some background, my husband and I live in the city. Whilst we’d love to move to the country some day, buy a block of land and be completely self-sufficient, we don’t have the skills (yet) to do this. Not even close! Plus our work, friends and community are all based in this city and we’re not ready to leave.

We don’t have the money to buy a big block of our own within the city, and we don’t have the funds or know-how to renovate a doer-upper (is that even a word?). What we dreamed of was an apartment with solar panels that didn’t require additional heating or cooling, close proximity to amenities, space to grow our own food and a community feel. We’ve found it in this place and we feel really lucky.

There are 3 building on the site, with 7 homes in total. This is the back view of our building – there are 3 units in this one. There are 3 solar hot water systems and 3 solar PV systems on the roof – one for each of us.  The communal veggie garden sits at the back of our building : )

Solar Panels and Solar Hot Water Sustainable Home Green Swing
Solar hot water and solar panels, plus a communal veggie garden.

The veggie beds have to be my favourite part of the whole development and I cannot wait to start growing my own food. Luckily some seedlings were planted before we moved in meaning there is already food to harvest. The beds are second-hand and there is some leftover metal from the roof to make more if we decide we need them (I’ve already decided we do!).

The wooden boxes mark the boundary and have fruit trees in them. They are made from old pallet tanks / IBCs, which are basically huge square plastic drums for transporting bulk liquids. They’ve been cut in half and clad in scrap wood.

Communal Veggie Garden Sustainable House Green Swing
Garden beds in full swing, and plenty of space to add a few more ; )
Upcycled IBC Tank Sustainable House Permaculture Green Swing
An old pallet tank cut in half and clad in scrap wood to made a planter. The three planters all contain citrus trees. Pleased to report too that my compost bin had already been dug in!

This side of the building faces the sun, so normally rooms facing this way get ridiculously hot. In addition to double glazing and glass tinting, all the windows and doors have been fitted with solar pergolas. That’s what the big metal frames with slats above the windows and doors are.

When the sun is high in the sky in summer, the pergola blocks the sun from entering through the glass and heating the inside. In winter when the sun is lower, the sun’s rays can pass through the slats and warm the house inside. Despite seeming like a simple and obvious solution for keeping the heat out (or in), very few houses in Perth are fitted with these. They have huge air conditioning units instead.

How Does a Solar Pergola Work Sustainable House Green Swing
The sun is hitting the pergola and casting a shadow on the outside of the building, rather than heating the inside. The bottom right image is the inside of the building: were the pergola not in place, the sun would be heating the floor where the shadows are. These pergolas are fixed but if they were adjustable it would be possible to eliminate any direct sunlight from entering.

This is the central area where the three buildings meet. All the entrances come off this central space (the 3 upstairs units are all accessed by the stairway) – a deliberate design feature so people are encouraged to speak to their neighbours and create community!

The wooden box in the left of the picture is a degassed old fridge (clad in wood) which is the communal worm farm. Plus all the pavers are recycled.

I’m not a huge fan of the lawn. My first idea was to turn it into a chicken coop. Now I’m thinking I’ll just dig up the grass and grow food! However, as my husband points out, we are 1 unit out of 7, and we can’t just tear it all out before everyone moves in. Democracy and all that. They might want to keep it.

Maybe I’ll start by planting food around the edge…

Centre Courtyard Sustainable Home Green Swing
I love the central space, but it feels very new and sterile at the moment. Looking forward to bring it to life!

In rather exciting news, there is a communal bike shed! We no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom – hurrah!

Bicycle Storage Shed Sustainable Home Green Swing
Bike storage in action!
Bicycle Storage Shed Spare Racks Sustainable Home Green Swing
When not in use, the bike racks fold against the wall.

Rainwater tanks sound fantastic in a city that is so short of water it already uses two desalination plants to supply 40% of its water, and will be drinking treated sewage as of 2016. But red tape means it’s not quite as good as it should be. The units, which have a joint roof, are legally not allowed to use rainwater for anything other than the washing machine and toilet.

Ironic really, that we can’t drink rainwater for health reasons, yet drinking treated sewage is acceptable. Still, better than nothing. That’s why the tanks are smaller than you might expect – along with the fact that water is actually really cheap (it costs $1.50 for 1000 litres), meaning there is little incentive to plumb in rainwater unless you really care about sustainability.

Rainwater Tank 3000L Green Swing
A 3000l rainwater tank. Water in Perth costs $1.50 for 1000 litres, so it would cost just $4.50 to fill this from the tap. Madness!

This is the front of the house. The double garage that you see is actually a shared garage – each unit has one garage space and shares the garage with others. There are electricity points in each garage for the time when electric cars are the norm.

Front of Sustainable House Green Swing
This double garage is shared between two flats. There are more spaces for bike parking than car parking!

That’s the tour of the outside finished, so here’s a quick rundown of some of the sustainability features on the inside. Once we’ve settled in I hope to show you round the inside properly but until then, here’s some glimpses ; )

This is the floor in most of our unit – polished concrete. It’s a very sustainable flooring, great for helping to maintain the temperature and as homes are built on concrete slabs, it makes use of what is already there.

Polished Concrete Sustainable Home Green Swing
Polished concrete flooring. The cracked surface adds to the charm.

There’s no air-con in our home – insulation, double glazing, good thermal mass and correct orientation means we shouldn’t need it. There are ceiling fans to circulate the air.

Ceiling Fans Sustainable Home Green Swing
The ceiling fans have two modes – cooling in summer and heating in winter. You just need to flick a switch, apparently. I didn’t know that ceiling fan heating was a “thing”, so I’m interested to try this out!

I’ve had gas cooktops for many years, and I remember how terrible electric cooktops used to be. You’d lower the temperature of the hob, and your saucepan would continue to boil itself dry and burn your dinner because the hob didn’t realise you meant reduce the temperature NOW, not in about 15 minutes time.

Now we have solar power it doesn’t make sense to have gas too, and so we have electric hobs again – but induction ones.

Electric induction cooktops are a far cry from those dodgy electric hotplates. I’m in awe. I did not realise it was possible for a kettle to boil so quickly!

Not to mention they are easy to clean (always a bonus). I’m a convert.

Induction Hob Sustainable Home Green Swing
Convection hobs are a million light years ahead of those old electric cooktops. They’re faster and more energy efficient.

Finally I have to show you our toilet (yes, the toilet) because it has a sink built into the cistern. When you press the flush (there is a dual flush button either side of the tap) the water that ultimately fills the cistern runs into the sink so you can wash your hands.

You’d be amazed at how much water is needed to fill a cistern.

I’ll tell you. An old style toilet needs 12 litres. This one uses either 4.5 litres or 3 litres depending on which button you press. There is enough time to flush, walk over to the main (laundry) sink, remember that the toilet has a sink on top which is pouring water out of the tap and you’re meant to be washing your hands with this one, wander back, realise you left the soap over on the side, walk over to pick it up, return to the toilet-flush sink, wash your hands, dry your hands, return the soap and marvel that the water still continues to flow.

The reflex in me wants to grab a container to collect the water that’s gushing out of the tap…except it doesn’t work like that, obviously – it’s filling the tank!

Toilet Cistern with Integrated Basin Combined Pics Sustainable Home Green Swing
When you flush, the water that fills the tank first flows through the tap so you can wash your hands with the water.

That’s the tour complete – I hope you found it interesting! I’m looking forward to sharing how our new community develops and what the gardens are looking like this time next year – and all the learning and insights I have along the way. I’m sure there will be many!

Now I want to hear from you! What do you think of my new home? What are your favourite features? Do you have any ideas you’d like to share about what we should do with the space? What would you do if you moved in?! Is it the kind of development you could move into, and if not, why not? Anything else you’d like to add? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

45 Responses to Fancy a Look Around My New (Sustainable) Home?

  1. Looks absolutely amazing!!!! What a gem of a home you two have got. We dream of having solar but the cost plus switching our appliances/heating from gas to electric is too much. Looking forward to hearing more about your home. I love the worm farm :)

    • Thank you Erin! Do you own your own place? For some reason I thought you rented! Most people in Perth only have gas cookers and gas hot water – no-one has heating! (Except chew-through-electricity-like-it’s-going-out-of-fashion plug in heaters. And Perth gets surprisingly cold in the winter.)I imagine having to change all that round would be a real expense. Still, solar gets cheaper all the time so maybe one day soon : )

      You’ll have to come and visit! We have space ; )

  2. What a great find. Keep us posted on the veggie patch. I’ve had mine for 2 years and success is intermittent. I’d love some extra tips!

  3. Wow, it is fantastic ! I love the toilet sink as well ! But aren’t you allowed to use the rainwater to water the garden ?! Vegies need a lot of water, especially during our hot summers in Perth, I can tell you. You should double the amount of water tanks to use it for growing food !

    • Thanks Isabelle! The toilet is such a hit! Yes, we are allowed to use rainwater in the garden – I meant we aren’t allowed to drink it, brush our teeth with it, do the dishes with it and other normal household uses. I’m no sure how practical using the rainwater will be in the garden – after all, when it’s full it’s been raining, and it’s going to empty pretty quick in our dry summers! We do have bore water for the garden, and mulch – as you can see in the pics. I would love to put a bigger tank in someday but I’m not going to replace a new tank – plus there’s plenty of other things I’d rather spend my money on!

  4. What a fantastic place!! I too love the toilet sink and want one now. I’ve not seen any sustainable homes like that here in the UK. I love how well thought out it is, encouraging community as well as sustainability. I’m very envious of your raised beds too. I currently have a pile of old pallets which I’m going to start this weekend to turn into some raised beds for my garden (although hubby isn’t keen)!
    Can’t wait to hear how you get on with it all. :)

    • Thank you! I’m positive there are some sustainable homes in the UK, I’ve seen a couple of articles about them but so long ago I couldn’t tell you where. But I’m sure if you look hard enough you will find some!

      I’m very excited about the raised beds. Pallet bed making sounds fun – let me know how you get on! (And share a pic if you can!)

  5. Too cool! I love all of the thoughtful details – the bike rack, the low energy and water devices. And so glad you are collecting rainwater! This is totally a dream home. Can’t wait to read more about how you’re settling in and what you’ve been liking!

  6. Incredible! Thank you for the tour – can’t wait to see more. When my husband and I finally buy a place (real estate market is really “hot” where we live so it’s been hard to find anything) I hope to install many eco-friendly features. And that toilet is amazing! I hope I can find a toilet like yours in the States!!

    • Thanks Meredith – I assure you there will be more to come! I hope you’re able to find a place soon.

      I’m amazed how much everyone loves the toilet! Our ex-local library and community space had them installed, plus other community venue has them so I guess I’m just used to them… I didn’t realise they were so uncommon. America has everything so you must be able to find them. Australia – and especially Perth – is always the last place to get anything! ; )

    • Thanks Sandy. You may not have heard of them because they are actually called ‘pergolas’ and not pagodas – when my husband came home he laughed and said that pagodas are those Chinese structures and not the same thing at all. I will be changing the spelling of the article shortly – more people will find out what they are if I call them the right thing in the first place!

      Thanks for taking a look – and if you’re ever in the area I’ll give you a proper tour ; )

  7. So awesome that you have a garden! I just harvested my first spinach of the season. It’s so nice to grow (some of) your own food. Although I love the technical details of the project, it wouldn’t for me because what if the community itself doesn’t work? What if no one likes the idea of having chickens and conflicts arise over this and other values of you and others? Living in a community would be too much for me at this point. When at home, I just want to have me time and not socialize with others.

    • I love the garden Annemieke – I am so excited about all the strawberry plant runners and the size of all the cucumbers (which seem to be growing an inch every day). It’s so much fun and makes my heart sing!

      That’s so interesting what you say about the community part. Although it’s community-oriented, it’s a regular development (called a strata plan here) and every unit has designated private outside space. Then the extra spaces are communal. So it would be possible to shut yourself off and grow food on your balcony – but why would you want to? I love the idea that neighbours can look after the garden whilst we are away, or we can borrow from one another (I’ve already borrowed a frying pan and an onion, and we swapped coffee pots with the neighbours temporarily as they have some hob issues). I love that!

      If no-one likes the idea of having chickens I’ll figure something else out. I think you wouldn’t move in if you didn’t like the idea of speaking to your neighbours at least, but there’s no requirement to get involved if you don’t want to. At the moment there are 2 units occupied (out of 7) so it will be interesting to see how it changes. But community and connecting with others is such an important part of finding happiness – so I’m looking forward to it!

  8. Yay you’re in, and what a wonderful place it is! It’s brilliant that you’ll be able to avoid air con altogether. I love that the planter boxes were recycled and that the developers were clever enough to hold onto the left over roofing for new boxes. Your garden is likely to be a success, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet here’s my post on all the things NOT to do..! http://reducereuserecycle.me/2016/02/27/how-many-mistakes-can-you-make-with-a-planter-box/

    • Thanks Rachel – yay indeed! You know, it was so cold the other day I actually put a jumper on, and it was 40 degrees outside! I just hope it’s warm in the winter!

      I read your blog post – great tips, thanks! It’s nice having the garden right outside rather than having to traipse to a car park space… our compost bin was set up like that in our last place and it is definitely less motivating to go there. Now it’s reversed… the compost bin is right here and the worm farm is, oh, meters away! …and the poor worms are being rather neglected : /

  9. I can see you being very happy in your new home, and no neighbors to complain because you have plants on your balcony any more. :-) I love the awning over the door. I hate awnings here because they block the sun all year round and would love one like yours. I’ve seen those toilets before, they are advertised often for tiny houses where space is small and think they would be great but can understand your feeling of watching the water running. That would take some getting used to.

    • I love looking at all the plants growing outside the windows Lois! It makes me very happy : ) I am surprised how few people have seen / heard of those toilets! They would make sense for a tiny home. If you have big hands there’s also the issue of washing them without spraying water everywhere. There’s quite a few things to get used to with them it seems ; )

  10. Hi Lindsay. It looks great. How were the units financed? It doesn’t sound like a typical developer-led arrangement. Is it a typical strata arrangement or more cooperative? Also, what general area in Perth are the units? They look like a great model for encouraging good quality infill :) (I’m researching this topic so particularly interested in what people are achieving!)

    • Thanks Johanna. They are just regular strata plan units. It doesn’t sound like a typical developer-led arrangement, but it should be! That is what the guys at the Green Swing are trying to achieve… show other developers that it’s possible to create infill that isn’t all driveway and paving and hot houses, but that you can create open space and build places that people want to live whilst still having multiple dwellings on a regular block. They are very visionary, I think! The units are in Lathlain which is just next to Victoria Park, fairly close to the CBD.

      If you want to read more about their work their website is here: http://thegreenswing.net/wordpress/

  11. It’s fantastic, Lindsay! A dream come true! So truly happy for you (and a wee bit envious). Would love a place like this too. But you think Perth is the last place to get things? You should come to Italy! I think we are worlds behind you all. This is truly the the land of slow living. Everything is slow. Why make changes? If it’s worked so far, just carry on. One step of progress is coming to our village though. Mandatory recycling if finally coming in within the next few weeks! Love your garden beds & the toilet. Can’t wait to see inside and hear about your gardening progress!

    • Thanks Sheila! : )

      I assure you though, Perth is the last place to get things. People from Perth love to tell others that it is the most isolated city on Earth! But it’s not slow, either. Sometimes I feel like I’ve teleported back to the 1980s, because it seems like everyone is still obsessed with big houses and fast cars and luxury foods and status. That said, I did live in one of the wealthiest suburbs… our new home in a different suburb does not feel like that at all.

  12. This should be the future of all new developments. I despair when I look at new homes these days that totally fill up the block and then plonk a giant sized air conditioner on the roof. Builders take note – people want to live like this.

  13. My husband and I lived round the corner from the Green Swing until 2014, when we moved to Willetton. We both cycle to work and wanted to keep doing so, but after one of our workplaces moved, unfortunately Vic Park was just too far (1.5hr round trip). Despite that, we were soooo tempted to stay just for one of these beautiful units, and now I can see what we’re missing, I’m super-jealous :) Thanks for sharing — I am now tempted to get one of those toilets for our place in Willetton, because it is an older house without a sink in the toilet room, which is too small to have one placed on the wall.

    • We can relate to that – my husband’s office moved from East Perth (good public transport links) to Kensington (terrible public transport links) and living the wrong side of the river meant a 50min cycle ride or 1hr+ public transport ride each way! Fortunately the Green Swing is very close to Kensington! But if you work every day, losing that much time to travel and traffic isn’t good. If your jobs change maybe you can move back this way ; )

      I think one of these toilets would be ideal for your place!

  14. Beautiful home! I see some features that are pretty popular here in Florida too – rain barrels and solar panels. I’ve never seen the pergolas before, but we do have double- or triple-paned windows here that are not uncommon and significantly reduce the amount of electricity spent on A/C. They also stand up better against hurricanes which is partly why people like them. I’m curious though (and this might sound like a dumb question but bear with me), can you only use the bathroom sink then if you’ve just flushed the toilet? How do you brush your teeth or wash your face?

    • Hi Alice, apologies for not replying sooner but I somehow missed your comment! : / We have double glazing but it is very uncommon in Australia (or Perth at least) and the windows were actually imported from overseas. Most houses here have aluminum frames and single glazing – so boiling in Summer and freezing in Winter.

      No no, it is a great question! We also have a laundry trough / sink in the bathroom. It’s actually law that every house has to have a laundry trough. The crazy thing is, when the plans went through, they were nearly rejected because despite having the over-the-loo sink and the laundry trough (which is white and ceramic and looks like a big basin) it was deemed none were suitable for teeth brushing. They nearly had to add another sink – and it would have been in the shower, as there is nowhere else to put one. Isn’t that ridiculous?! Fortunately (some) common sense prevailed.

  15. Wow wow wow! That’s so cool! I love the toilet! And I want to know how the heating fan works. I want to come visit and try EVERYTHING!! So cool, congratulations!

  16. I like how they’ve approached the problem of the sun’s rays getting into the room and heating it up. It’s so practical. Instead of putting in big, heavy duty A/C’s to lessen the problems impact, why not face the problem directly. Thus, blocking the sun’s rays itself.

    • I love it too…practical but simple. Like all the best things ; ) Yes, it’s good to know that the building has been designed so that it doesn’t need extra heating and cooling (beyond simple fans). If only all houses were built like this! Maybe some day…

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