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2023-12-22 2:05 pm
A sustainable house in the process of being built

Meet the couple living in one of the country’s greenest homes

March 4, 2024
September 27, 2022

Bank Australia customers Howard and Libby Elston have built an energy-efficient, all-electric, award-winning house so comfortable they never want to leave. We find out how they designed their beautiful ‘green’ home.

What makes a smart house? Is it decking it out with voice-activated appliances, so you can tell your AI-driven devices to turn on the heater before you get home from work? Or is it a home designed to catch enough of the sun’s rays to negate the need for heating at all?

When Howard and Libby’s adult children moved out of home, they decided to build three ‘smart’ homes on a block of land in Ringwood East. They’d already retrofitted their five-bedroom Blackburn home to make it as energy efficient as they could, but realised they could build a much more sustainable home if they started again from scratch. “It was a bit of a passion project,” Libby, a Bank Australia customer, explains, “to see just what we could do and how good we could make it.”

Howard and Libby stand together behind a lemon tree

The couple engaged the services of David Coates, a builder who has a passion for sustainable building, with one caveat: to build an all-electric home that consumes as little energy as possible. “We’ve done it by making it really well insulated and using passive solar design, so facing north to get the sun in,” Libby says. “That gives us lots of light and, because the sun is lower in the sky in winter, it comes all the way into the back room, heats the concrete slab – or thermal mass – and keeps us pretty warm.”

The house has been built with wide eaves and high windows, which keep out the summer sun, allows cross-ventilation, and means Howard and Libby have virtually eliminated the need for an air-conditioning unit. “We work with the house by going ‘We’ve had a few hot days so let’s open up the high windows, vent the hot air that’s risen to the top, and get a bit of cross ventilation to cool the house down’,” Libby says. “Then in the morning, we close the windows and we’re set again for a hot day.”

Everything that’s gone into Libby and Howard’s green home has been carefully considered. They’ve opted for local products rather than overseas imports. They’ve tried to use recycled – and recyclable – products as much as possible. Locally produced timbercrete blocks (a blend of sawmill waste, cement and sand) were used in place of bricks. They’ve even used the timber and steel from the block’s original property as cladding. All three homes have solar cells on the roof, as well as a battery, and are all set up to charge electric vehicles.

The interior of the kitchen

Last year, Libby and Howard’s home won three awards in the Sustainable Building Awards, taking home the gongs for Single Dwelling (New) and Smart Buildings Ideas while David Coates won in the Emerging Architect/Designer category. “We were just pleased to have got on the short list,” Howard says, “and then the awards just kept rolling! Even the presenter said ‘Well, somebody’s had a good night’.”

The selection committee later remarked that Libby and Howard’s home ‘ticked all the boxes’ of a sustainable build. The houses were even built using solar energy, with all tools on site powered with an off-grid power system.

Libby and Howard borrowed money from their bank for the purchase, but ran into problems when they needed to subdivide the property. “They were only used to very standard arrangements,” Libby recalls. “We needed a bank that believed in what we were doing and willing to support us with that.”

The exterior of a green home

Libby remembers hearing an ad for Bank Australia on the radio, and made the call. “They were the natural fit for us. They care about who they’re lending money to and what they’re lending it for,” Libby says. “We didn’t have to convince them of why this was so important to us. They understood what we were doing and helped us with financing the project.”

“We felt we were members of a team that had a common goal,” Howard says, adding that he and Libby were so impressed that they have since moved all of their personal banking to Bank Australia. “The key thing is finding somebody that aligns with your philosophy. Bank Australia is setting a really good example of what you can achieve in that area.”

The interior of a green house

The couple loves their new home, to the point they never want to leave. “It’s actually hard to go away on holidays, because you know you’re not going to be as comfortable as you are at home,” Libby laughs. “We thought we were doing something that would be better than your standard house, but it’s not until you’re actually living in it that you realise how comfortable and energy efficient it is.”

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