A Sustainable Home Near Sydney Boasts Chicken Coops, Vertical Gardens, and More
"Homeowners often quit at the first sign of complexity or budget escalation when building a self-sustaining home," says Clinton Cole, principal of CplusC Architectural Workshop, a design-build firm based in Sydney, Australia. But Geoff Carroll and Julie Young are different. To them, growing vegetables or tracking daily energy consumption aren’t chores to be outsourced. They’re part of living an environmentally responsible lifestyle. Both have senior positions at an Australian data analytics software company that helps clients confront the challenges of hyper-urbanization and climate change. With Cole as their architect, they wanted to create a home that reflects their work in sustainability.
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But their building, a 1980s terrace house in the inner suburb of Alexandria, suffered from poor thermal performance and a distinct lack of outdoor space. Cole’s first recommendation to Geoff and Julie was to tear it down and start fresh. Once demolition was done, he suggested a few critical ideas, including reducing the number of bedrooms from four to two, carving out an internal courtyard, putting the staircase at the front of the building rather than in its former location at the back, and converting the carport at the rear of the property into a permaculture garden.
The new green spaces serve both aesthetic and practical purposes. The garden at the base of the half-cylinder glass and timber-battened staircase introduces plants into the warm tones of the interior. Likewise, says Cole, "The insertion of the courtyard meant we could pull apart the solid mass of the traditional terrace house, so that light and air are able to circulate."
The courtyard’s full-height, vertically retractable doors operate via a rack-and-pinion crank that is designed to support more than 1,000 pounds with the assistance of a dangling concrete counterweight. A rain chain passing through the concrete weight channels rainfall into an underground tank, where it is stored for use in the laundry, toilet, and garden.
"We spend about ten minutes each morning with the chickens and fish and about an hour a week in the garden, mostly harvesting produce." Geoff Carroll, resident
The rear garden features an aquaponics system for fish harvesting, a wicking bed to help with drought resistance, a compost system, a vegetable garden, and chicken coops. "It’s a very intensive environment, inspired by our interest in permaculture," says Geoff. "Our garden feeds us, we feed the chickens our scraps, and they give us eggs plus fertilizer for the garden. In a similar way, the fish deposit nitrogen in our pond, which feeds the bacteria on the clay beads in our vertical garden, which feed the plants that filter the water in a continuous cycle."
The home is also remarkably energy efficient. Using an evacuated glass tube solar system for hot water and a 1.5Kw photo-voltaic array for electricity, it produces, on average, more power than it consumes.
While the home is hooked up to the city sewer and water and electricity mains, Julie and Geoff depend little on outside sources for necessities. But one wonders: How hard is their household to maintain? "A well-designed system largely looks after itself," Geoff replies. "The sustainability systems save us time and effort."