A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

Architect Stephanie Skyring’s tips for eco-fying your home

 

 

Skyring Architects director Stephanie Skyring was the creative mind behind the stunning Brisbane property I featured on the blog last week (and there some additional photos of the lovely house on this post). Here, she provides her top ten methods to make your home more comfortable, cost effective and environmentally sustainable. 

 

While I can’t claim to have much environmental nous, the below tips are great ways to ensure your home complements your lifestyle, which is instrumental to effective home design. Best of all, they show how you can lock out the cold without turning to the heater – tips I should heed, given my teeth seem to start chattering as soon as the temperature falls below 20 degrees celcius.

 

1. Increase insulation

Have a look in the ceiling and see if there is any insulation.  Look for reflective foil under the roof battens and bulk insulation sitting above the ceiling.  Using bulk insulation with an ‘R value’ of 3.5 or more will make your house naturally more comfortable and cut down your air conditioning costs.

 

Renovators: Install bulk insulation with an ‘R Value’ of 1.5 in any external walls where internal or external wall sheeting is removed to make changes.  Pay particular attention to east and west walls that get direct sun. You will feel the difference.

 

2. Better breezes and sun

Make the most of your home site.  Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west.  If renovating, consider putting in a new window or door on the north or south to provide direct breeze paths through the house and increase your natural ventilation.

 

Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west.

 

3. More shading

Add awnings to your windows – they control the sun and allow you to keep the windows open when it’s raining.  Make sure the awnings are the right size and shape to suit the orientation and still let sun in during winter.  If they are too wide you will have a cold house in winter.  As a rule of thumb, try a 500 millimetre wide overhang. 

 

4. Install ceiling fans

Ceiling fans in bedrooms and living areas provide effective cooling and use very little energy. (HH: I am happy to say I have these at the moment! Although they don’t get a lot of use currently given how freezing it’s been since April.)

 

Design note: Avoid fans with integrated lighting.  The fan prevents the light from washing across the ceiling, making the room quite dark.  For a more architectural effect use wall lights that light up the ceiling to provide a soft wash of light across the room.  Locate them away from the fan. (HH: This is a great tip – light is one of the essential elements of a pretty room.)

 

5. Minimise maintenance

Choose materials and finishes that will require minimal maintenance.  Try coloured bricks and blocks with no finish, or quality environmental paint finishes such as Resene on timber boards or other wall sheeting.  Try lime wash for a long lasting natural finish on block work.

 

Avoid the fashion for timber battens with an oil finish, particularly where they are on the west or east wall, as the oil will have to be reapplied every six to 12 months to keep the timber from ageing.  Avoid very dark paint finishes painted on timber on sunny west or east walls as the dark colour absorbs a lot of heat, causing the timber to expand and contract. This damages the paint finish and ages the timber.

 

 

 

 

 

6. Indoor air quality

Keep your family healthy by selecting interior finishes that don’t emit toxic chemicals.  Toxic chemicals emit a ‘new’ smell; your home shouldn’t smell at all when the building is finished.  Always use water based finishes (avoid solvent based finishes) for paints and floors.

 

Use hard floors like timber, bamboo, linoleum, polished concrete or tiles where possible because they are easier to keep clean.  Use woollen rugs to add softness, improve acoustics and create focus areas.  Rugs improve flexibility, because it’s easy to change a rug to give your house a makeover. 

 

7. High-level glazing and skylights

High-level windows and skylights provide natural light of far greater quality and quantity than windows in the wall.  Install skylights in dark internal rooms to improve the light quality as well as reduce energy costs.  If you are building or renovating, install high-level glazing to the north or south for loads of natural light and a beautiful sky view. (I despise dark rooms – they make me feel depressed and claustrophobic, and they don’t look as good as their lighter equivalents - so I love this tip.)

 

8. Energy efficient water heating

Hot water systems are the largest source of household greenhouse emissions.  If you haven’t already, install a solar hot water system to heat your water for free.  Put the tank on the roof to avoid using energy to pump the water and put the override switch on manual so you can choose when you want to use your electric backup.  Alternatively, consider a heat pump or instantaneous gas as a secondary option. (My own hot water is solar, but unfortunately is an old system that never seems to work well - if the installer had put in a secondary option, I mightn’t feel as aggrieved as I do!)

 

9. Investigate solar power

Solar power is becoming increasingly affordable.  However, you will need to make sure you have room on the roof for the panels to face north in a location that is not shaded between 10 am and 3 pm.  Make sure you purchase quality solar panels to optimise energy creation.

 

10. Get smart with lighting

Install lighting control devices on your lights to make them more efficient, such as dimmers and movement sensors and timers.  If you have loads of ‘energy eating’ low voltage down lights in your house, investigate some lighting alternatives.  Find a specialist lighting shop and talk to them about lighting and bulb options that are more efficient. There are loads of options to improve the ambiance and lighting quality and save energy.

 

 

 

 

‘Tanderra’, Floating House, Pearl Bay, Mosman

 

This week, I’m taking a look through one of Mosman’s floating houses, and (I think) it’s a real treat. The home is one of three floating houses in Pearl Bay at Mosman, and one of four still extant in Sydney Harbour (the fourth being in Clontarf). It is considered derelict by the Roads Maritime Service Authority (RMS), but there are plans to overhaul it (which the RMS appears to be all for). My friend Marion sent some photos through of its neighbours a few months ago, and I spoke about the potential for floating houses to form a viable solution to housing stress (as well as offering the opportunity to live in a place that is simply amazingly cool). This time, I was able to enter one of the houses myself, and I fell in love a little bit.

 

 

I am thankful to the home’s lovely owner, Maureen Young, who took me through the house’s history. People started building houses on the water in the area during times of economic depression (including the Great Depression) – it was an innovative form of accommodation for those who were left without alternatives. This is unsurprising to me as my grandad’s family, who suffered a riches-to-rags downfall for a brief period after the passing of his grandfather, was relocated from a Strathfield estate to a makeshift place in Sutherland that he and his brother constructed out of a shipping container; the early-to-mid twentieth century saw a range of living arrangements pursued by those who had to think outside the box due to their financial situation. The homes on the water now are those that were permitted by the government to stay (as Mosman Daily has documented).

 

 

The most fantastic aspect of the house is obviously the fact that it’s located on the water (literally). Seriously, have you ever seen anything like it (other than in a tropical resort…or a slum city)? The uniqueness and appeal of this cannot be expressed without standing in the house and feeling its connection with the water. It’s a special, and exclusive, community.

 

 

It was a bit nerve-wracking walking up the wooden plank to the home’s patchy balcony – not because it felt shaky, because it didn’t, but because it looked haphazard. This is part of the house’s immense charm, though – it’s hotch-potch, with layers having been added over the years. The interior has water stains and the window frames have been warped by the salt water. The house slouches on a slant, and the bottom level is half-submerged. It’s currently the size of a one bedroom apartment, although it has a pretty awesome rooftop deck.

 

 

Maureen is confident that government rulings in the ’40s prohibiting further building of floating houses east of the Gladesville Bridge make the homes in Pearl Bay the last of their kind. So, this is it – celebrate them, preserve them, and hopefully we won’t lose them.

 

 

 

724 Sherwood Road, Sherwood

 

Normally, I ‘hunt’ down and photograph the properties featured here myself (it’s a labour-intensive blog!). But this very, very pretty house was sent through to me and I’m extremely excited to feature it. It’s located in Brisbane, a city I haven’t properly visited (but am keen to). Stephanie Skyring, the architect, specialises in sustainable design, and has also shared her top ten tips for environmental sustainability with us – our next post will feature those, so look out for it.

 

 

By way of (short) contextual background, my research has informed me that Sherwood is within ten kilometres of Brisbane’s CBD, borders the Brisbane River and is next to an awesome-sounding suburb called Fig Tree Pocket.

 

The house was a beautiful Queensland character property that needed a contemporary update. Stephanie focused on opening spaces to external areas, making the house seem roomier without having to increase its environmental footprint by extending it. Similarly to Rose Seidler House, large windows are used to bring in light and connect the house with its lush, rainforest-like surroundings. The living room nails the brief – the slanted wood-pannelled ceiling paired with a wallpapered feature inlet and angular glass window pane is, firstly, insanely attractive, and, secondly, completely complementary to the home’s bushland habitat.

 

 

My favourite rooms, though, are the powder room and bathroom. They. Are. Amazing.

 

 

Powder room: I have to note that nothing strikes me as more luxurious than a powder room, and I must have one myself. But I digress. Fish wallpaper (need I go on? This alone seals the deal) and a gilded ornate mirror set off against white cornices, black flooring and an oversized hanging light – decadent, inspired, eccentric.

 

 

Bathroom: you see the wide, white, brick-style tiles (apparently known as ‘metro tiles’, as they resemble those used in the subway)? I love these things. They’re classically stylish but still jump off the wall at you in an edgy way due to their dark borders. Here, they are set off against the silver finishings, tiny green plant (cute! Also essential in adding some colour goodness) and symmetrical lighting to great effect.

 

 

Again, the bedroom has the slanted roof/wallpaper combination that I adore – it makes a room pop without the need for many furnishings (in fact, such a style looks better with a minimalist layout, as is shown here). The fans were employed by Stephanie as an environmentally-friendly way of combating the Queensland heat. The louvre windows are also great at regulating temperature, and they’re a delightful aesthetic addition.

 

Harris Park

 

 

This week doesn’t concentrate on one particular home – instead, I present to you a (dizzying, quite frankly) array (or smattering, if you like) of houses lining the streets of Sydney’s Harris Park. Yes, Harris Park. The wild, wild west. No, it isn’t lame to say that.

 

 

I adore this house. The garden and the splashes of pink and blue on its ornate terrace make it one of the suburb's prettiest cottages.

 

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the west, Harris Park, as I have learnt, has two primary features of significance: it is towered over by Parramatta’s growing CBD (and is walking distance to all that it holds), and it has an amazing collection of heritage homes. It is a sexy colonial paradise. If such a thing exists.  It is kind of a colonial housing/subcontinent mash-up (in 2006, 23.4% of its population had been born in India – to put this in context, 25.9% of its population was Australian-born).

 

 

 

 

For every house kept in beautiful ornamental condition in the suburb, there are probably three that have been left to deteriorate. Notably, these tend to still be lived in – sad in some respects, but I’m intrigued imagining the stories, and I have an eternal appreciation for the character presented by an old house that’s been left untouched.

 

 

Yes, Harris Park has terraces (!).

 

 

Harris Park is different from other suburbs. It is not trendy (yet – it might get there). But if you’re genuinely keen on interesting houses and our architectural heritage, it pays to spread your wings and venture outside of Balmain, Neutral Bay and Surry Hills – Harris Park is an untapped goldmine of architectural goodness. There is also a historic walk that covers a number of preserved heritage properties – including the Historic Houses Trust’s Elizabeth Farm, which I have blogged about previously. So go there. Be surprised. Appreciate an untouched gem. And afterwards you can walk to Max Brenner and hit the yum cha at Parramatta’s Sky Phoenix. Wins all ’round.

 

 

Absolutely gorgeous home in immaculate condition near the railway station.

 

A spectacular homestead.

 

Dinosaurs!

 

I would love to know how the dinosaur motif came to bless this otherwise unassuming structure. I'm guessing it was done at the bidding of a '70s child with cool parents.

 

This house is haunting, particularly as it's lived in. It doesn't take much imagination to picture how perfect it would look spruced up. But it does a fine job of grabbing you now, just as it is.

Old Dairy Farm at Leura

 

 

I couldn’t resist posting about this property located in Leura, an exceptionally pretty town in the Blue Mountains that is much lauded by my favourite magazines. It’s an old dairy farm with a homestead – they appear to have been built around the turn of the century, although I unfortunately can’t find any evidence to support my claims.

 

 

 

 

The property is insanely attractive, in its way – the aged exteriors add an alluring, inescapable charm. Some sandstone appears to be used, and stained glass windows decorate the facade. The rusted roofs give colour and catch the eye, but is also evidence of some degeneration (which I, of course, find appealing). Although lived in, it’s also a bit spooky, particularly in the stark winter cold. In any case, it’s something special – it covers around an acre of land, and offers more than a house alone: the large outhouse is an engineering facility.

 

 

 

 

The force of the property’s character grants it appeal now – if it were tended to by the right hands, it would become a real splendour.