Have you changed your life to live more sustainably, and if so, what has been the key motivator of that change?
Yes we gradually live more sustainably every year as we learn more about it.
My concerns about the world’s resources and pollution began long ago when I read the Club of Rome “Limits of Growth” book, Silent Spring by Rachael Carson and experienced the effects of the early 70’s oil crisis. My wife had similar interest in the subject and belonged to an environmental group at school.
The first house I bought in 1980 was chosen because the living areas faced north. I fitted the highest level of insulation that was available in the roof and changed the garden to be native with little water use. The second house had the same principles applied to it. We reduced energy consumption and the rooms were slightly more comfortable.
I went on my first solar house tour in June 1988 and felt immediately that this was the way people should be living, particularly in a cold place like Canberra. It was difficult to understand why so much energy and water was consumed in housing for no reason and the effect that this was having on our environment.
When I retired from full time work I felt I had the time to research sustainable housing in greater depth with the objective of building a much more comfortable low consumption home and garden, partly to show that it was not difficult to do, partly to save fixed costs and partly just to be more comfortable.
After the house was complete I thought that I should share my knowledge, particularly in ways of improving existing houses, which is when I found SEE Change.
What changes have you made?
After researching sustainable housing I tried to design changes to our existing house but it was so badly oriented, insulated and complicated to alter that I finally decided to start again, building an EER7 house with a 10,000 litre water tank (it was the middle of the drought) providing all of our water needs including drinking water. We then added curtains and external blinds and a pergola to improve our protection from weather extremes and then started on the garden to build a microclimate around the house. The house won an MBA Energy Efficiency Award for Canberra which was very pleasing.
Air leakage in our house is less than half that of a normal Canberra home. The double glazing does not perform as well as hoped because of an air gap of 6mm rather than minimum 12mm and has no argon or low e treatment, but it is still vastly better than single glazing. Inside temperature in a mid winter sunny day can reach 240C, luxury!
Electrical consumption as you can see slowly continues to drop as we find new and better ways to reduce it, such as gradually updating to energy efficient appliances and changing to even lower energy lighting ie LED’s. Photovoltaic cells will eventually be installed to overcome the remaining consumption. We have purchased green electricity since the house was built to offset our greenhouse gases.
We installed hydronic heating which provides excellent zoned heating down to one room. The heating load was 404MJ/m2 for the previous double brick house and is now 180MJ/m2 for the new house. But the winter peak for gas consumption is still higher than I think it could be. Thick curtains and blinds, patching more air leaks, installing internal pelmets have all helped but there is more to do.
In terms of greenhouse gases I was shocked to find how significant petrol was, so we have changed one car to a hybrid and will soon buy a smaller (used) more efficient car to replace the second. This of course also reduces our petrol costs.
We buy local and organic when possible and use composting to recycle the vegetable waste. The garden uses mostly native plants and we have a bird attracting pond, all the paths are porous to allow as much water to soak into the ground as possible. A dry creek bed feeds the pond with water whenever it rains. There is no surface water runoff from the site. We have planted herbs, are starting on berries and have a lemon tree.
How do you feel about the change and how much further do you intend to go?
I feel very content about our change, I don’t feel powerless to do something about the state of things; I am changing and helping other to change. In fact the biggest change has been to our behaviour and decision making. Our decisions now take into account the environmental effect to a much larger extent than before, but we try to achieve outcomes where we do not feel we are suffering or even uncomfortable in the process. If change causes discomfort then it is unsustainable. The changes should bring a gradual improvement to, not reduction in, lifestyle and health.
I think we will continue to change in ways that enhance our lives, improve our health, reduce our consumption and our greenhouse gases; a Zero Energy House is a good goal. My wife would like us to get an electric car at some stage so that is also on the plans (possibly to build). My main objective is to continue to show people that these changes are easy to do, are empowering, don’t have to happen all at once and make a difference to your life.
What has the change given you that you did not expect?
The joy of seeing people tackle projects they would not have contemplated in the past and succeeding.
To what extent has being involved with SEE-Change contributed to this change?
We were changing in any case but there is certainly a lot I have learnt from others in SEE-Change and I am enjoying the community aspect of the group and the projects we involve ourselves in as well as the social aspects of the group of course. We do not take ourselves too seriously; we are philosophical if a particular idea doesn’t work and try another until we are satisfied. SEE-Change helps members feel empowered to change in ways they feel they want to change; they are not dependent on others or on Government. This helps reduce their anxiety about the state of the world and spurs them into action.