From Melton we headed into Merrimu - to visit Peter & Natasha's strawbale home. Perfect timing! Peter had just begun his house tour so we eagerly joined the group. It cost about $150K to build the 21 square house, including drafting, engineering plans and application fees. After 2 years of building, the family moved in with a provisional COO this March and are still finishing off some areas. Peter was very upfront about mentioning that they could have saved considerable funds and time if they'd done a few things different - isn't hindsight a beautiful thing?
Walking into the house gave me such a feeling of calm. The gently undulating walls create such a cosy, grounded space that you just don't get in a typical home these days. As we were shown through the house we learned that the louvre windows - which most people remember as draughty old things- seal 100% and are a product called Comfort Plus Glass. Two 6mm sheets of glass are toughened by a plastic sheet in the centre.
Peter and Natasha utilised some ideas from a book called Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander - such as having 2 light sources for each room where possible and the addition of the zen window in the studio. They scoured eBay for lots of reusable items - such as the kitchen, all doors, bathroom vanity and lots of other things. Their double sinks in the kitchen and laundry are drained to grey water and black water which will be useful once the irrigation is set up outside. Speaking of irrigation - their 22,000 litre rainwater tank has been full ever since it was hooked up.
Their solar hot water is an evacuated system, which takes no more than 30 minutes of sunshine to reach the day's requirements, and their wood fire has a wet back that can link to the solar system during winter and cloudy days. The composting toilets (Nature-Loo) were another interesting sustainable feature.
It was really interesting to see the west wing of the house, in various stages of completion - the bathroom and one of the bedrooms had only one or two coats of render on in some areas. Inside their WIR, the back wall was painted with Bio Paint, which was important to the couple as they didn't want the off-gassing from normal paints to affect their little son. When I asked about hanging pictures on the walls, Peter said they had considered running a length of timber along the inside frame of the house, before rendering but they'll probably hang the invisible picture cord from the wooden frame at the tops of the walls.
Some things are yet to be finished, including laying the recycled Tasmanaian Oak over their chipboard floors, and working out if/how to finish the rooms with skirting boards etc. They have begun lining their ceilings with calico, but are still working out how to hide the staples. Being quite new, the walls do shed some loose sand but Peter said this would stop over time, and is thinking about using a clear mineral silicate product to further seal the walls.
At the end of the tour we were so excited that we called Trav's folks to see if they'd come down and have a look - so we got to tour the house twice! It will be so exciting to see their progress as they continue to work on the house, all their photos and information can be found here.
On the way home we took a detour down Maidstone street in Altona to see some strawbale workers cottages that are still standing after being built in 1940 - you could easily miss them as you drive past - they look like any other cement rendered places along the same stretch, but they stand there as testament to the strength and endurance of strawbale building.
Thank you to both families for so generously opening your houses up on Sustainable House Day so the rest of us could learn a thing or two!