In 2003 when we moved to our Reservoir home, Ralf and I finally had the opportunity to apply all the knowledge we had gained over many years of study and visits to Sustainable Homes, to create our own sustainable/sensible home.
We wanted a comfortable, practical, resource efficient and beautiful home. With the comfortable, practical and efficient leading the way.
Our home is a small and modest 1950’s double brick, detached house in Reservoir, Melbourne, built to accommodate returning service men from the second world war.
The double brick skin is fantastic because it provides increased thermal mass and hence moderates summer and winter temperatures well. To help keep our house cool in summer we knew that having an extensive garden, through transpiration/evaporation (evaporative cooling) would reduce heat gain.
It is well know that cities are a few degrees warmer due to the Heat Island Effect. The vast quantity of hard paving, thermal mass from buildings and roads, locks in heat during the day and releases the heat at night. The best way to reduce heat loads is to revegetate cities, to increase shade cover from trees and to surround homes with gardens. Ideally we would build homes no taller than trees and apartment blocks no taller than two storeys high. Because shade trees have an enormous role to play in cooling our homes. Without their help, it’s down to the expensive and energy intensive air-conditioning system. Had we gone down the conservative path, and paved around our house, summer days without air con would have been unbearable. Instead by removing vast slabs of concrete, planting trees and insulating our home, we are still air con free and have not had a single sleepless night.
One of the first areas we tackled in gardening our home, was the nature strip. A single tree was there when we arrived. It did well for the first 2 years and then snapped in the wind and died. We replaced it with two Banksias, indigenous shrubs and grasses and to my amazement everything did really well. Now we have a lush green screen to separate us from the road. The nature strip also acts as a wind break, it is aesthetically beautiful and increases the depth of our garden. It shades the pedestrian path and hence shelters us from the extreme summer sun. From our dining area we watch passersby, and the perception is that they are walking through our garden. Our vegetable beds, those close to the nature strip, are wind protected too. The “Plants of the Merri Merri” was our guiding book at the time and the plants selected contribute habitat for birds and butterflies.