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Energy Efficient: Moving With The Times

This Blue Mountains home was designed to integrate seamlessly with the outdoors and to hold a comfortable temperature all year round without the need for air conditioning.

A grand American oak door welcomes you in. Photo By Philippa Enid

Tim and Madelyn, with their daughter Frankie, were ready to move away from city living, so bought a property in the Blue Mountains in 2017. The 1800 m2 block slopes east- west, with high surrounding hedges, creating a secluded private oasis.

The original house was demolished, with minimal disturbance to the land, as it was beyond economical repair. All masonry products, timber, steel and plaster was separated and sent to separate recycling facilities. A new 300 m2 energy-efficient home was built. The design follows the slope of the land, split over three levels.

Knockdown And Rebuild

Tim and Madelyn engaged Diego Villar, of Villar Architect, to create a design they were happy to take through to construction. Knockdown rebuild specialists Split Building, owned by Damir Jurkovic, was their chosen builder for the project. Damir’s philosophy is to build healthy, comfortable and durable homes that will last 100 years. Good materials and workmanship are key to this.

It took a year to complete and they moved in just before Christmas 2020. It was a difficult time to be building, due to Covid-19, but remarkably it all went to schedule.

A Low-level windows overlooking the garden act as a splashback. B The ensuite uses natural stone for vanity and around the shower niche. C The thermal mass of the polished concrete slab helps regulate the temperature. D The flooring is Australian hardwood timber. E The window seat is much loved.

Structural Elements

A crushed sandstone driveway with bluestone retaining walls leads to the house, which is slightly below street level. One of the immediately visible features is the three millimetre-thick Corten steel (weathering steel) on the front façade. Being steel, it is 100 percent recyclable and requires no finishing or ongoing maintenance.

As this faces west, Damir had some concerns about the heat transfer, but found that the ventilated cavity and insulation behind has prevented this from being a problem. The impressive pivoting front door is made of American oak, with the light colour showing up well against the darkening Corten steel.

Rendered brick veneer construction is used on the upper level, with Weathertex cladding for the lower level. Weathertex weatherboards, made from Australian hardwood eucalypt sourced from local new-growth forests, are formaldehyde-free and pre-primed with an acrylic water-based primer. Environmental consultant Ecospecifier has given it a Gold Plus rating.

The grey colour chosen for the acrylic render has blended in well, reflecting various shades of green, blue and grey as the light changes; neighbours have commented that it really complements the mountains. The fine granule size has resulted in a texture that resembles velvet, with very sharp clean edges.

R-1.5 foil-faced insulation was used on the roof, R-3 batts in the ceiling and R-2 acoustic batts in the walls. Aluminium framed thermally broken gas-filled triple glazing is used throughout. The ratio of glazing to floor area is high, so the triple-glazing helped with the energy rating, as it has the same R-value as an insulated brick veneer wall.

The polished concrete slab on the lower level includes small diameter aggregate from a local quarry at Marrangaroo, with in-slab hydronic heating. Adding aggregate reduces the amount of cement used in the  slab, and obtaining it locally reduces the transport requirements.

Wet areas have electric underfloor heating topped with tiles. Australian hardwood spotted gum timber engineered floating flooring was used on the upper level, the stairs and in the library.

There is no air conditioning in the house. Ceiling fans and plenty of natural ventilation suffice for summer cooling, while hydronics deals with the winter heating requirement with in-slab heating and water radiators.

The fire rating is BAL-12 and BAL-29, meaning specific material requirements had to be met, such as the fibre cement sheeting used for the eaves. All openings are screened with stainless steel mesh which has apertures of no more than two millimetres; this changes the look of the windows as it is heavy duty.

However, to allow for the need to escape through a window covered by this mesh, the screen sections open up easily.

The design called for square setting, so no architraves or cornices, which usually ‘hide’ the edges of materials and allow for natural movement. The ceiling lining is also slightly offset, about 10 mm, which allows for movement and creates a shadowline.

Photos By Philippa Enid

Bedroom Level

The large laundry, which can double as a mud room, includes a full size hanging washing line, which is perfect for the unpredictable weather in the mountains.

The bath in the main bathroom is stone; it took eight people to move it into place! Vanity tops are natural stone and each bathroom has a large shower with ceiling-mounted WELS four-star rated rain shower head and a rail-mounted hand shower.

There are three bedrooms. The master bedroom has a full wall of built-in wardrobes and a spacious ensuite, featuring stone around a shower niche and for the vanity top. The second bedroom is a joy for any teenager, with a walk-in robe and window seat overlooking the garden, while the third guest bedroom doubles as a home office. Built-in storage is included extensively, using flush joinery to help it blend in.

Living Zone

The library/music room is a ‘quiet’ room featuring an open fire, with a stone slab hearth, and a large window overlooking the garden alcove. Sliding cavity doors allow for the space to be separated from the open-plan living area if needed.

Instead of a traditional kitchen splashback, low level windows overlook the garden. Benchtops are natural stone, with the grain visible and tactile in places. As with any natural product, including the timber floors and polished concrete slab, it stains relatively easily but fits in with the overall look and feel perfectly.

There is a real sense of indoor-outdoor flow in the house, with plenty of fixed and opening glazing. A small garden alcove to the south is a feature of the passage between the levels and is overlooked from the main bedroom and library, providing a calming green space even while inside.

Large sliding doors from the living area, one an 8.5 metre stacker, open the house up to the outdoor spaces. The hardwood timber deck is surrounded by wide stairs down to the lawn, with a smaller covered area providing a shaded space. The garden is slowly being established, with a meadow grass lawn and a vegie patch.

The home integrates well with the slope.

Essential Services

There is a 9.2 kW PV system, which is currently grid connected but battery ready. Chargers are installed in the garage, ready for a switch to EV cars in the future. Micro inverters on the PV system, with connection to an electronic display system, allow for easy monitoring; if a panel is not performing as expected, it can be easily detected. There is a heat pump for water heating. The house is entirely electric and USB points have been included in all rooms. Large-volume round gutters deal with the high rainfall, charged to a 11,000-litre slimline Kingspan Colorbond water tank.

Benefit Of Hindsight

After a year of living in the house through Covid, the main thing Tim feels they would change about the layout if they had their time over again is to include another workspace, as both he and wife Madelyn both work from home. But future plans include the construction of a small studio in the garden, which will solve this problem.

Madelyn also says she would include a window seat in the library, the same as in the second bedroom. Apart from these small points, they are thrilled with the home, especially with how comfortable it is all year round.

Materials Brick veneer, Weathertex cladding and Corten steel walls. Colorbond roof
Power 9.2 kW grid-connected, solar-ready PV system. EV charging points in garage.
Water Town water plus a 11,000-litre water tank. Water heated with heat pump.
Cooling Cross ventilation and ceiling fans.
Heating Hydronic underfloor heating and wall-mounted radiators. Electric underfloor heating in wet areas. Open fireplace in library, combustion fireplace in living area.


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