On a missed opportunity

26 11 2014

Maybe it’s my ingrained negativity, maybe it’s something else, but I have this irresistible compulsion to write this article; even though in many ways the house which is the subject of this post would at first glance appear to be a dream home, it just grates with me as a missed opportunity, and one that is growing as I think about it more and more.

My dear other half received an email from a friend who know the people selling this house in the Huon Valley, which is of course where we want to live.  The views are to die for, no doubt about that, and the house is a solar powered 8 star energy efficient one.  So why do I disapprove?  Read on…….

125 Swamp Road, Franklin, Tas 7113

The living space is just 70m².  I could live with that, if it had been cleverly designed.  But it isn’t.  You have to walk through the floorplan1kitchen from the bedroom to the [tiny tiny] bathroom and toilet….. which is flushing!  More about that later….  I really don’t like the kitchen, no space to work, let alone make cheese.  To heat it, they use a wood heater, when they could have had a wood cooker., that probably would save them on firewood in the long term, instead of using gas which we all know will become short soon, especially in Tasmania where all the gas comes from the big island up North….

The owners tell us that they don’t like walking on concrete, and thus have an above ground timber floor….  that almost certainly cost them the two more stars needed to make this the 10 star house it should have been.  Instead, they used this fandangled phase change thermal mass idea, which they put in the roof when it should have gone in the floor…..  sigh….  And what a missed opportunity for an earth bermed house, the site is perfect!

In the video linked below, the owner proudly announces that their 3.7kW solar array has all but ended their power bills.  Really?  Our 3.5kW system produces six to seven times what we need here, so where on Earth does all the power used in this tiny house occupied by just 2 people go…?  This is where the missed opportunities comes in.

First, the flushing toilet; all the waste from this house goes into an award winning Biolytix system.  This one, it appears, works fine, because it’s on steep well drained terrain with about five acres of grass below it to soak it all up, but the fact of the matter is, Biolytix went into receivership way back in January 2011 because nearly all the systems here in Queensland failed.  They cost between $10,000 and $12,000 to put in (probably more in Tasmania, as they came from Qld) and consume 44kWh per year, not a huge amount, but 44kWh more than our system here consumes!  Biolytix was founded by Dean Cameron in Maleny not far from here.  He’d already gone bust before with their Dowmus wet composting toilet arrangement, and you’d think he would have learned the error of his ways the first time.  Mixing water with shit is simply a bad idea, and to prove it, the very first house I designed for Glenda’s uncle and aunt in the Glasshouse Mountains has a Dowmus that still works because…… it has a dry pedestal sitting above it!  It may well be the only one still working, as far as I know.  Biolytix systems also cost some $400 a year in maintenance, at least in Qld.  I have no idea how much this might cost in Tassie.  Conclusion…….  they should have installed a dry composting toilet.

Where is all that solar energy going?  To start with, there is no solar hot water system.  I expect they have a heat pump, though if they have gas for cooking, they may also have a gas HWS.  Either way, it’s another missed opportunity, they could have done what we did and have a wood boosted solar heater and save on loads of PVs….

Then of course there are the two big iMacs in the study, which both use 170W (according to Apple) while our two laptops use a quarter of this consumption.  The conventional fridge in the kitchen would also consume some five times more power than our cool idea, and then there’s the huge TV in the lounge.  Beats me why anyone thinks they need such a large TV in a small lounge room like this house has…..

At 400 grand, it would be the most we could afford, and even then we’d probably have to go into a small debt unless they were prepared to come down….  having bought this admittedly great property – even though it’s steeper than I would like – we would have nothing left to rip out the kitchen and toilet, and switch to standalone power.  In the video, the owner happily states that they still have access to water in blackouts because of their header tank.

I’m almost tempted to describe this as a classic example of Jevons Paradox….

Is there anything I like?  Maybe I’m being overly pedantic;  it’s just that I’m not terribly inclined to move that far only to compromise on my list of essentials.  Going back to what I like, as I’ve already stated, the views are to die for (but they won’t feed you), I love the highland cattle, and the double glazed timber doors I would kill for.  There’s a lot of potential there……  but it would all cost money we simply won’t have.  If it were available as a blank slate, it would be marvellous, though I hate to think how much the driveway cost them….  and we still haven’t sold Mon Abri, though we have some seven parties that are very very interested, but who all have to sell their current abodes to win the race…!  It’s all happening, just in terribly slow motion.





7 responses

26 11 2014

You’re right – very much a missed opportunity. Especially with regard to basic layout and construction issues. It’s almost like their thinking didn’t get beyond the back of the envelope or the sales brochures!
Sam (still at multiple envelope stage)

26 11 2014

TWO iMac’s! Says it all, typical bloody trendies… 😛

It’s like an old retired/ing couple thought, lets go the “tiny house” route (a good start – but then…). And slap a $h!t tonne of panels on the roof so we can deck it out with all the power hungry crap and creature comforts from our old McMansion.

As you say, a missed opportunity.

26 11 2014

Green is such a marketting opportunity. And anyway, who wants the cleaning labour of a non-flush toilet and the hard yakka of a wood stove. Oh yeah, ME! 😉

27 11 2014

Hi Mike
Around here there is a saying about us owner builders. The first home you design and build is the one you should have built for your enemies, the second is the one you should have built for your friends and the third is the one you build for your self. The house in the video is the friend’s house, heading the right way still some way to go. Far too much technology for me as the future will not support the technology. Maybe the technology is the reason for the electricity use. My 2kw system produces lots more than we use and I don’t have full control of electricity use in our home. The problem I see for someone wanting to move to Tassie is that this type of build sees land available for this purpose being taken up by people who don’t really “get it” and councils limit these types of blocks.

27 11 2014

Quite right Don….. I have seen houses on Nth facing land (because that’s precisely whta I’ searching for…) that were totally wrong…… more wasted opportunities. Hardly anyone understands the value of such valuable land….. even architects, most of the time (there are a few exceptions..)

29 11 2014
Mon Abri – For Sale! | Damn the Matrix

[…] Mon Abri is a unique house.  You won’t find anything remotely like it, anywhere.  Because of its resource saving features, we won a Glossy Award for the design way back in 2007.  I like to think it’s also Australia’s most energy efficient house.  Prove me wrong, I’ll cop it on the chin…….  we are very very proud of our effort here…..  and if you need convincing it’s not hard to get it all wrong, even with the best intents, watch this. […]

4 03 2015
Sustainable Greywater | Damn the Matrix

[…] install expensive treatment plants with pumps and storage tanks and complicated plumbing like the Biolytix I mentioned in another post, or devices with names like enviroflo, or ecoflo, or ecosafe or any other number of […]

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