By Helen and Adrian
From the outset, we wanted a house that was comfortable to live in, light and airy, and one where the garden could be part of the house. That meant big sliding floor to ceiling windows and glass doors, making it easy to open up to the outside, creating living spaces indoors and out. We have lived in the house for 47 years, and little of the design would we change, even with new technologies.
The architect we chose, was clearly one we could work with. He, like us, worked on the principle of environmental sustainability as a guiding principal. Heavy ceiling insulation, and double brick insulated walls, were a priority to cope with the extreme temperatures, winter and summer, experienced in Wangaratta. Keeping the and heat out in summer and letting the sun flood in during the winter were first principles.
To gain the winter sun, north facing windows were essential, especially in living areas. On sunny winter days, as a result, no heating is required. We enjoy the beautiful sunlit areas on those days, frequent in most Wangaratta winters.
But our most important requirement, was to deal with the heat of Wangaratta’s summers. There are, therefore, no west facing windows and only minimal east facing ones. The extensive northern windows are shaded by large eaves to prevent summer sun from hitting them. The southern side of the house is a wall of glass allowing a cool airflow on summer nights, and enabling enjoyment of the aspect of the adjacent Three Mile Creek.
The combination of aspect, design, and insulation means that air-conditioning is scarcely a requirement. On the hottest days in summer, with the house closed up and blinds and curtains drawn, we can keep the temperature approximately eight degrees lower than outside. But on 40 degree days, this was not sufficient.
So we eventually relented and installed a low energy evaporative cooler, which on the hottest summer days, is switched on in late afternoon. With the vast areas of sliding doors and windows, we open up on summer evenings and let the cool night air do the air-conditioning for us. The air-conditioner is then turned off.
We have a hydronic gas fired central heating system which makes the house very comfortable in winter. We can switch the heating off in non-living areas and usually do. Because we have access to a wood supply, a wood burning stove was added several years after we took up residence. This means the central heating system is rarely turned on. There are more efficient and environmentally preferable heating and hot water systems now, than what we installed.
We were among the earliest installers of roof-top solar panels in Wangaratta, and as the price has come down since then, we have extended the system. We pay very little in electricity, partly because we switch on electrical appliances, where feasible, when daytime solar energy is paramount. Delayed timers are helpful and we use them.
Double glazing, a rarity when we built, would also be a consideration if we were designing now, but as a retrofit would be very expensive. However, we think our glass sliding doors and vast window areas are an attribute we would not swap for anyone. Our house is a ‘see through’ one and the aspect of the garden, fringed on the south side by the trees of the adjacent Three Mile Creek gives us a feeling of being in the country rather than in a Wangaratta suburban street. We love our house.