Going off grid

Featured in The Herald Sun, House of Wellness.

Words by Sarah Marinos

Steve Booth’s favourite time is at the weekend when he watches the sun rise across the paddocks surrounding his home.

“I’m a postie, so I start work at 3:45 each morning. During the week I don’t get to enjoy the views. But at the weekends…I look over the property and pinch myself that this is our home,” says Steve, 45.

He and his wife Lisa’s four-bedroom home is in the small rural community of Kyvalley about 220km north of Melbourne.

Married for nine years, they live there with their blended family – Bodhi, 17, Charlee, 16, Xan, 15, and Jedda, 8.

While their dream house would look at home in an architectural or design magazine, the fact it is off the grid is the standout feature.

When Steve and Lisa bought the property, which is on the site of a former sand mine, they were determined to build a family home that was sustainable but comfortable.

And they built it for less than the cost of a mass-produced house of similar size.

“We felt it was possible to build a lovely, comfortable home that had very little impact on the world around us,” says Lisa, 44, a high school science teacher with an Agricultural Science degree.

The couple spent two years researching passive design and finding a designer and builders who could help them.

“When you talk about sustainable new homes, they usually fall into one of two categories,” Lisa says.

“They’re expensive architecturally designed masterpieces or they are homes that are quite uncomfortable…we are all about doing more with less.”

All but one room faces north, which heats the home for free on sunny days in winter, and all windows are double-glazed to retain the heat and keep out the cold.

The couple maximised the size and number of windows on the north side, and minimised the amount of glazing on the east and west sides.

“The house is built on a slab that works as a large thermal mass, so it can store and release natural heat,” Steve says.

There is also plenty of allowance for cross-ventilation to cool the house.

Solar panels power the house during the day, and a back-up battery stores excess electricity. Battery power is used at night, but it is an automatic, seamless switch.

“We currently have zero cost for electricity, spend around $1,000 on gas, and buy one tonne of wheat a year for the bio-fuel heater,” Lisa says.

“If you walked into our home, you would have no idea it is not connected to the grid. We have hairdryers, straightening irons, phone chargers, TVs and a dishwasher.”

But the dining table is an old wool-classing table from a Byron Bay shearing shed; the lights hanging over the table are also recycled from an old woolshed.

“The bricks are recycled, and the posts holding up the carport are old wharf timbers from Williamstown,” Lisa says.

“We didn’t want to build a new home that was environmentally friendly and fill it with brand new furniture.”

The once sparse landscape has been planted with native trees, shrubs and grasses.

“We hope our kids take on board what we have done when they build homes,” Lisa says.

“We’re an average family, but we are mindful about the choices we make. We are doing our bit.”

{Steve & Lisa are opening their home ‘The Sandhill’ to the public on Sustainable House Day, September 20 2020}

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