Tag Archives: Organic

Are all sustainable homes the same? (The past, present and future of green buildings.)

This post continues on our the theme of what a sustainable home is – and are they all the same? We’ll take a quick look at past, the present, and where we are (or should be!) headed in the future with regards to green buildings. Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions about environmental design. We recently began a series of posts covering the WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW of sustainable design. 

renovations new homes green building central victoria

 

 

 

I recently wrote about “What is a sustainable house?” which looked at a definition, and listed ten characteristics that I believe constitute a truly sustainable home. But today I want to address how I view that “environmentally friendly” homes have changed in recent times.

I grew up in the bushy Eltham-area (in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne), which at the time was well-known as an artistic community, who were environmentally conscious with many mud brick homes amongst the trees. Local legend Alistair Knox was a designer, environmentalist, builder, landscape-architect and the arguably the ‘father’ of the alternative natural building movement. From the 1950s to the 1980s, and he designed and built countless earth buildings – for a full list see here!  So I was introduced to this “organic architecture” early on, to these homes made from natural materials of earth and timber, with large windows to connect to the native landscape, and a focus on a wood-fire hearth as the literal heart of the home.

So back then, then the emphasis was about what the house was made from. A focus on locally sourced, organic, natural materials (and living in a more connected way with the natural environment). 

This low-tech approach was (and is) also seen in the owner-builder alternative housing movement, in permaculture, in earth-ships, and also many primitive and vernacular buildings from around the world.

Mudbrick home Eltham Victoria

Environmental Design: the natural way
“Living in the Environment” by Alistair Knox 1975

 

Today, the focus is more about how the house performs. This is much more of a high-tech approach to the energy-efficiency of the building and its services.

There us so much talk about thermal dynamics and heating coefficients, or megajoules / kilowatt-hours / CO2 emissions and zero-carbon / R-values / ten-star rating / consumption per annum… numbers, statistics, technical jargon…

“Autonomous” homes (or those ‘off-the-grid’) of course need to understand all of this to meet their energy and water needs. These days though, many people seem to focus on these high-tech ‘add-ons’ to make their homes greener – instead of ensuring the building fabric is right first, or perhaps even looking more broadly at how sustainable their lifestyles are the choices they make.

To ensure a home “performs” well (which means that it is thermally comfortable with little need for additional mechanical heating/cooling) it is imperative that the building envelope is designed correctly. Today, sophisticated energy-rating software such as FirstRate (and international standards such as Passivhaus) focus heavily on science, statistics, and rigid criteria to get proven results for new buildings.

Unfortunately,  at times the ’embodied’ energy used to make manufacture/process/transport  some high-tech products/materials (e.g. metal or petroleum-derived plastic products or harmful chemical components/finishes) can outweigh the amount of energy that will actually be saved during the performance of the building…and can be toxic to our health, not to mention the earth. This can be a complicated mathematical equation to evaluate over the life of a building, with many factors and variables to be considered, so it can become even more confusing!

Solar Hot Water PV Photovoltaic Solar Power Energy

Green buildings: High-tech solutions
Solar Hot Water and Photovoltaics on Michael Mobbs’ roof in “Sustainable House” 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the first approach is a bit too hippy, and the second too nerdy…can we do BOTH?

YES! Both approaches are crucial for our future buildings to be more sustainable. And encouragingly, this does seem to be happening…

On the one hand, our souls crave the connection to nature, but we should also embrace new technologies which are making innovative breakthroughs all the time, which can improve our buildings and our lives.

On the other, if we continue our over-consumption and greedy ways, and think technology will save us, we are mistaken. It is only when we start thinking of the life-cycle of our built environment in the same ways as the natural environment that we will start to have truly sustainable buildings. 

As always, it is important to remember that sustainable design is NOT an aesthetic or a style, but a philosophical and theoretical approach to how the building is composed.  Please stay tuned to read more about the who, what, when, where, why, and of course we’ll get to the how of sustainable design.

Talina-Edwards-Architecture-Signature

Are all sustainable houses the same? What do you think? What sort of sustainable home do you dream about living in? Does your heart lean more toward the warmth of timber and the texture of stone…or does your head get excited by the latest specs of photovoltaic panels? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)

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“You are what you eat”

A wise woman told me the other week ‘that to become the most beautiful and empowered version of ourselves, we need to first and foremost nourish ourselves with life-giving food (food that keeps us vibrant, energetic and provides us with mental clarity to do the things we need to do), with a focus on healthy living and well-being.’ This inspiring woman was Kemi Nekvapil of Kemi’s Raw Kitchen and  Raw Beauty Queen, who spoke at the Big Hearted Business Conference I attended in Melbourne.

Kemi’s words really resonated with me, as I too have a passion for healthy living and well-being. It has been quite the food-journey for me in my adult years… A predominantly Vegetarian diet (with some fish), Lactose-Intolerance, then finding out I had Coeliac Disease so a Gluten-free existence too, then experiencing Gestational-Diabetes during my second pregnancy in 2011 led me to abstain from sugar which then became a fructose-free diet too (see Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” and also David Gillespie’s “Sweet Poison“). I’ve had help along the way from my gorgeous Ayurveda naturopath, Vicki at Ayurasa, and I’ve done a lot of my own research along the way.

David Gillespie's "Sweet Poison" - a very interesting read

David Gillespie’s “Sweet Poison” – a very interesting read

Sarah Wilson's "I Quit Sugar" 8-week plan - highly recommended to help kick your sugar-addiction once and for all

Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” 8-week plan – highly recommended to help kick your sugar-addiction once and for all

I often get asked, “So, what CAN you eat?!” It’s simple really. I stick with mainly vegetables (and some fruit), wholefoods including rice, quinoa, lentils and other legumes (chickpeas, mung beans, kidney beans etc), nuts, eggs, some fish and cheese. I drink water, herbal teas (especially Rooibos!), organic decaffeinated coffee, sparkling mineral water with lemon, and occasionally alcohol. It is about going back to basics, staying away from nasty additives and minimising processed foods (I’d love to avoid them altogether, but who has the time to ALWAYS make their own gluten-free bread/crackers/pasta etc?!) And yes I LOVE food, so I’m always looking for new and interesting recipes… thanks to the amazing resource that is the internet there are plenty to choose from! I’ve also learnt how to adapt recipes from my cookbook collection. Some of my current online faves are Lee Holme’s Supercharged Foods , Leanne Vogel’s Healthful Pursuit and also Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar Cookbook who all share similar philosophies on health and well-being… AND they also have great CAKE recipes! Yes its true, there are MANY recipes out there for ‘sweet treats’ that are still gluten-free and sugar-free, and super delicious! Since kicking the sugar-habit, I no longer crave sugar like I used to, so sweets are a much rarer occurrence now, but its nice to know that there are still options out there in times of need!

I’ve recently started getting an Organic Fruit & Vegetable Box delivered here to Ballarat from Captains Creek Organics which is reasonably local, just near Daylesford. They also deliver to Melbourne if you’re interested in checking them out. The large box is AMAZING value, at $30, and it is packed full of delicious organic seasonal produce. They can do this price because they cut out the middle-man, and deliver direct. You can’t even buy the same amount of conventional produce at a big chain supermarket for the same price, and this is ORGANIC and picked fresh from the farm the day its delivered! One day I’d love our vegie patch to provide us with most of our meal’s ingredients, but until then, these boxes are awesome!

Box of organic goodness from Captains Creek Organics

Box of organic goodness from Captains Creek Organics

There were 8 different vegies in this healthy dinner I made - yummo!

There were 8 different vegies in this healthy dinner I made – yummo!

So, I hope I’m already well on my way to becoming the “most beautiful and empowered version” of myself thank to this first step, which is nourishing myself with good energy through good food choices. Kemi reminds us to ask ‘Will I feel good after I eat that?’ and you know what, these days my answer is a big YES! If I ever slip-up, or make a bad choice, then I sure do pay for it, so I’ve learnt that its just not worth it.

For me to live a sustainable healthy life, it starts with sustainable healthy food choices, after all, we are what we eat!