The Victorian families putting sustainability first and living off the grid

[Excerpt from Herald Sun Weekend]

Story by Erin Delahunty & photography by Rob Leeson

Lisa Booth says she and husband Steve are “very serious about leaving the planet in better shape than they found it”. The sleek four-bedroom, solar-powered house they built for their blended family of six near Kyabram, 200km north of Melbourne, is the bricks-and-mortar proof.

On 8ha previously used as a sand mine, the self-designed, shearing shed-inspired house took six months to build using local builders Leigh Huggard and Glenn Cooper, lots of recycled materials and buckets of elbow grease. It was nearly five years in the planning.

The house isn’t connected to coal-fired electricity, relying instead on 8kW of solar panels mounted on a modest shed and 26kWh of saltwater batteries, which store power to use when the sun doesn’t shine. A generator for “absolute back-up” is planned, but the family hasn’t needed it since moving in a few months ago.

Sitting atop a small hill and surrounded by trees, the 28sq pavilion-style home has two interconnected pods and incorporates the best of passive, sustainable design, namely clever orientation, double glazing, cross-ventilation, thermal mass principles, strategic shading and even a biofuel heater. The small heater burns a bucket of corn or wheat a day to deliver a “slow, constant heat”. There are rainwater tanks for water.

The family, which includes Lisa’s kids Bodhi, 14, and Charlee, 13, Steve’s son Xan, 12, and “blended baby” Jedda, 5, has bottled gas for cooking, a back-up gas heater and hot water, though they hope to use solar for hot water in the future.The Booths don’t even have a landline, accessing mobile broadband for phone and internet service.
It’s every bit the “super-sustainable home that reflects the simple, honest lifestyle” the family craves, Booth says.

Booth, who has agricultural science and education qualifications and a background in community and agricultural sustainability projects, says the family certainly aren’t “tree-hugging, tie-dye-wearing hippies who have given up mainstream comforts to live some kind of utopian existence”. They have ceiling fans, a dishwasher, TV, evaporative cooling — all the mod-cons of a new build.

“We love sustainability, but we also love living our comfy, modern existence. We don’t believe you have to trade one for the other,” she says.

“What we are is your everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety family of six who made the financial and ethical decision to build our home off grid. Yes, it fits nicely with our values, but let’s be real: we have not changed our way of living one bit.

“An important reason for building this house was to showcase that anyone can do it. I want other mums and dads out there to know that it doesn’t take any extra funds or special skills to achieve a beautiful, functional, sustainable home.

“If we can do this, anybody can; I genuinely believe that. We had a budget, a real family budget, and stuck to it. We did every single unskilled task you can do. It’s no million-dollar property, that’s for sure.”

Lisa says they definitely aren’t “tree huggers”, their lifestyle is about sustainability 

Booth, who shares her life on Facebook and Instagram as @bookenblend, says the couple cut their teeth renovating a 100-year-old farmhouse, Bullara, also in the Kyabram region, using green principles. And while they had planned for that to be their “forever house”, the limitations of adapting an old property frustrated Booth, a confessed “sustainability nut”, who worked as a home energy assessor before becoming a teacher.

So, when she and Steve bought a block that had sat unused and unloved for nearly a decade — but “was just our block, we knew it when we first looked at it” — she didn’t even bother to check how much it would cost to get connected to the grid. And so her next project began.

Booth got out the graph paper and sketched her “dream sustainable blended-family home”. While her draft was translated into drawings by a local building designer, it remained virtually unchanged. It exists in reclaimed timber and bricks, Zincalume steel, concrete, steel and lots of double-glazed glass.

The house is steeped in Booth’s deeply held sustainability spirit

The house is made from reclaimed timber and bricks

“It was always about building an off-the-grid house, but it had to make sense aesthetically, environmentally and financially,” she says. That meant tracking down timber fruit boxes, which were disassembled for use as a feature wall and kitchen splashback and just happened to feature family names on them; getting a massive barn door built out of Victorian ash floorboards reclaimed from the local school; and stumbling across wooden posts once part of the Williamstown wharf slipway to use as carport posts.

The house is steeped in Booth’s deeply held sustainability spirit.

“One day, we hope sustainable design principles become mainstream, so when you walk into a building company — be it a project home, local custom builder or a high-flying architectural firm — the very first discussion you have is how to make best use of your land to build a high-functioning, low energy-guzzling home.”


The family believe you can have a modern, comfy existence while still living in a sustainable way 


 

 

 

 

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