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Sustainability. Getting back to basics.

Sustainability has been around for a lot longer than people think. In fact it has been a building practice since the very early days of Australia’s colonisation.

Sustainability has been around for a lot longer than people think. In fact it has been a building practice since the very early days of Australia’s colonisation.
The colonial homestead at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta is a wonderful testament to the importance of a verandah, breezeways, and how important it was for architecture to work with the environment.

New settlers quickly discovered that building a European or British style of architecture was not going to suit the Australian climate. In time features like verandahs and shutters were added to minimise the impact of heat and create cooler interiors. The verandah became a space where people liked to gather and eventually even dine or at least “take tea”. The colonial homestead at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta is a wonderful testament to the importance of a verandah, breezeways, and how important it was for architecture to work with the environment.

In the early days of settlement, the position of one’s home on the land and the placement of windows and doors were often carefully thought out and deliberate decisions. Shutters were a popular addition to further regulate the internal comfort of
the home.

Even the blend of indoor/outdoor living spaces was featured in early Australian homes. “Filling in” or partitioning off part of a verandah space with trellises, louvres, blinds and foliage helped to control the incoming light and air and provided additional living space. The sophisticated term for this today is the alfresco room but this somewhat fluid transition of interior to exterior is certainly not a new concept.

Water conservation was also a focus for the early settlers. Simplistic water tanks were built to hydrate crops and even brick drainage systems like that of the Historic Rouse Hill House and Farm were clever attempts to capture, save and direct water
to where it was most needed.

As society and urban development grew so did the fascination with the aesthetic appeal of a home rather than how it functions and works with the environment. In fact during the early part of the twentieth century, the questions of environmental appropriateness were only addressed in regards to creating comfort.

In 2003, basic thermal insulation standards were incorporated into the Building Code of Australia and in 2004 , the NSW Government introduced the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) which made energy and water efficiencies a requirement for all new homes in the Sydney local government areas and as of July 2007 all residential developments in NSW fall under the scheme. Energy efficiencies are achieved through passive heating and cooling strategies, the use of energy efficient appliances and fittings and improved insulation products. Water savings are made through the installation of rainwater tanks, the reticulation of that water to bathroom and garden use and water efficient fittings and appliances.

It would seem we have come full circle and modern home designs focus on functionality as much as style and aesthetics. A combination of both passive and active sustainability measures are encouraged and often complement one another. Smart landscaping choices, for example planting hardy shrubs like succulents, can mean less work for your watering system and this in turn is good for your wallet!

Various research reports suggest that our environment is increasingly under pressure.

Household energy use contributes about 9.5 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.*

Sustainability has always been part of Australian building history. It’s just more important now than it ever has been!

If you are interested in seeing how Australia’s early generations tackled some of these issues, visit the ‘Built for the Bush’ exhibition at Rouse Hill House and Farm - 356 Annangrove Rd Rouse Hill. (Open weekends 10.30–3.30)

For more information on modern means of sustainability, visit us at Home Option Gallery: 22B Brookhollow Ave Norwest Business Park Baulkham Hills.

*PW Newton and S N Tucker, Hybrid buildings: pathways for greenhouse gas mitigation in the housing sector, Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, 2009, p22.