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A Sustainable Light-Filled Frankston Home Producing Negative Power Bills

Sustainable Homes

When Robyn and Jonathan Rich started to build their new home with sustainable practices and materials at the forefront, they didn’t think it would turn out as well as it did.

Their small Frankston house, which they designed and built themselves, is not only a delightfully charming home, inside and out, but it has also achieved an impressive 7.9 NatHERS stars. 

Robyn and Jonathan’s efforts to make their home as sustainable as possible have also paid off at the bank, with their energy-efficient house producing negative power bills!

29th April, 2022

Robyn and Jonathan Rich used recycled red bricks to build their new home in Frankston. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Artist Robyn Rich and her husband Jonathan, asset management for Metro Trains. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Most of the couple’s furniture is recycled or made from recycled materials. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The concrete slab floor helps to regulate heat in summer and winter. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Indoor plants feature all throughout the home. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The large ‘steel’ beam in the studio/lounge area is in fact made from timber and plaster and painted green by Robyn! Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Robyn’s art studio is one of the main elements in the warehouse-style home. Rather than being separated from the other rooms, it’s incorporated into the open-plan space and is the first area you walk into when entering the house.  Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The floor-to-wall shelving in Robyn’s art studio is made from recycled timber. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The couple have minimised the amount of windows on the west side of the house in order to reduce heat loss. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Robyn is sustainable in her art practice too. She uses only natural oil paints and vintage tins to store it. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The dining area leads into the spare bedroom, which houses a Murphy-style wall bed so Robyn and Jonathan can use this room for other means year round. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

‘Since moving in, we have both become vegetarians,’ says Robyn. ‘It just seemed natural to continue reducing our impact on the environment.’ Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The Rich’s have a Sanden Eco Heat Pump Hot Water System with a 250 litre tank, which uses only 1kw of the power their 10kw their solar panels produce. ‘We essentially get our hot water free, all year,’ explains Robyn. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Artwork lines the walls throughout the house! Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Jonathan also hand-crafts furniture, which is built using locally sourced recycled timber and made using old hand-tools, seen here in the office. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Robyn’s art is joined by pieces the couple have collected over the years. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The couple’s home sits comfortably around 21 defrees for most of the year within their ‘no bills’ scenario. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Robyn and Jonathan have painted some of the brick walls white, in order to balance out the intensity of the red. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The main bedroom looks out onto the garden and entry to the garage. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The interiors have been kept simple and elegant with white walls and pops of green. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Robyn says their home will continue to grow with them, but their next project is to add more structure to the garden! Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

A prolific grapevine shade at the front, north-facing section of the house provides shade during summer, and allows heat and light to filter through in winter. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

The entrance to the garage from the garden, which has been built – as the rest of the house has – with recycled materials. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

Bea Taylor
Friday 29th April 2022

‘We did a lot of research into materials and technology to make our home as sustainable and enjoyable as possible – we never thought it would be this good.’

When Robyn and Jonathan Rich purchased their ‘quarter-acre delight’ in Frankston 19 years ago, they saw it as an opportunity for longevity.

This wasn’t a build for resale, rather a build to see them into their future living needs. The future of the environment was also front of mind. 

‘It was important to us that our home was all one level and as small – without being too small – as possible,’ explains Robyn. ‘It was also important to incorporate as many sustainable elements as possible. Our main aim is to reduce our impact on the world.’

Rather than renovate the large house already on the block, they rented it out, and started planning a sustainable, custom-built house on the available space behind it. 

Their ‘new’ home – for want of a better term – is ‘new’ only in name. The structure is made almost entirely from recycled materials; red bricks, old decking and panels from the property’s aged shed!

‘The aesthetics of used materials provide a much warmer feeling to the house,’ says Robyn. But more than giving the house a warm ‘vibe’, the bricks and concrete floor slab in fact also facilitate comfortable temperature control in all seasons. 

‘In summer, these materials keep the inside temperature nice and cool, and in winter, the sun warms the slab, which heats the interior,’ explains Robyn. 

Adding to this natural temperature control is a grapevine shade, which blocks sun in summer and allows light and warmth to penetrate in winter. There’s also double glazed uPVC windows throughout and a Zehnder Z350 ComfoAir Heat Recovery Ventilation system with ground loop, providing 24/7 ventilation and heat recovery. 

‘We did a lot of research into materials and technology to make our home as sustainable and enjoyable as possible,’ says Robyn. ‘We never thought it would be this good.’

With two independent 5kw solar systems providing more that four times the power the house uses, Robyn and Jonathan often find themselves with negative power bills, as all their excess electricity is fed back into the grid, earning them money. 

‘Our current cash in bank is about $1800, and this is even running our Nissan Leaf Electric car!’ says Robyn. 

‘We have no power, gas or petrol bills in our house. It’s been so long since we had those that we no longer have any real understanding of what the typical costs of a two-person home of this size costs to run,’ she says.’

Sustainability is central to everything Robyn does – and this extends to her art practice, too. She uses natural oil paints in re-used vintage tins, and aluminum panel offcuts from local sign writers as her canvases. Her studio, which is incorporated into the open-plan house, is the first area you walk into. The rest of the home is filled with her artwork, recycled furniture and plenty of plants. 

‘It’s a home designed for our needs and wants. It has a happy, healthy feel to it – a place to work in, be creative and above all, a place we want to be,’ says Robyn.

This story is part of our series on Sustainable Homes, brought to you in partnership with Bank Australia.

Bank Australia’s Clean Energy Home Loan offers a discounted home loan rate if you buy or build a home that exceeds a 7-star NatHERS rating, or have made ambitious green upgrades in the last 12 months. Find out more here!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net