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An 8.4 Star Home In Australia’s Most Sustainable Housing Development

Sustainable Homes

New housing estates in regional Australia aren’t typically synonymous with sustainable design, but if you ask Luke Middleton of EME Design, there’s no reason they can’t be.

Strait House is one of many new homes in the recently developed The Cape housing estate in Cape Paterson — a small coastal village in South Gippsland about 90 minutes from Melbourne. The house not only meets the sustainable housing requirements (7.5 stars) of the estate set by the developer, but exceeds them to achieve a 8.4 NatHERS star rating!

The unique challenges of the site (being located on the highest and steepest block in the estate and next to a car park) were embraced as opportunities, resulting in a harmonious relationship between the owners and the landscape, and minimal environmental impact. 

27th May, 2022

Strategically placed ribbon windows in the kitchen remove the neighbouring northern carpark from view. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

Aesthetically, the home draws on the casualness of traditional Australian beach houses. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

‘What I’ve done is lifted the view above the cars so that the owners get this panoramic horizon view over the rooftops of the houses in the distance,’ director of EME Design, Luke Middleton explains. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

‘It’s a little bit like Japanese architecture — it’s about what you don’t see that’s clever,’ says Luke. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

The property features a 10,000 litre underground rainwater tank plumbed to the toilets and the garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

Materials in the build are durable and sustainably sourced. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

The serene palette of sage, blue and forest green is echoed in the bedroom. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

For the board and batten cladding, Luke used raw, locally grown, radial-sawn silvertop ash. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

The property is one of many new homes in the recently developed The Cape housing estate in Cape Paterson — a small coastal village in South Gippsland about 90 minutes from Melbourne. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

The happy clients Richard and Kate with their impressive 8.4 NatHERS-rated home!  Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

The home resides in South Gippsland’s ‘The Cape’ (dubbed Australia’s most sustainable housing development). Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Belle Bright Project

Amelia Barnes
Friday 27th May 2022

‘What we’ve done is bridge the gap between super sustainable architecture and beautiful architecture.’ Styling – Belle Bright Project

Designing a home to high sustainability standards can be difficult for some practices, yet for EME Design, this was the easiest part of designing Strait House.

Located in South Gippsland’s The Cape (dubbed ‘Australia’s most sustainable housing development’) all properties in the new housing estate require a minimum 7.5 stars, which EME Design effortlessly exceeded in this project to achieve an 8.4 NatHERS rating. ‘I’ve been designing to 7.5 stars for about 15 years, and most of our homes have been 8 stars for the past 10 years,’ says Luke Middleton, director of EME Design.

This is not to say designing Strait House was without its challenges. EME Design with Martin Builders were tasked with creating a beautiful home on the steepest, highest block across the entire estate, while also obscuring a north-facing car park next door.

‘We love uncovering and finding the atypical design response. Most people would say do a north-living space that opens up to the north with a deck, but this client didn’t want that because they had this carpark to the north,’ says Luke. ‘The interesting thing about this project was that it required rethinking the rule book. The clients as a couple didn’t like the summer sun, they wanted a bit of winter sun, and they didn’t want to be too exposed.’ 

Luke spent hours on site devising an alternate floor plan with strategically placed ribbon windows removing the northern car park from view, without entirely blocking natural light. ‘What I’ve done is lifted the view above the cars so that the owners get this panoramic horizon view over the rooftops of the houses in the distance,’ Luke explains. ‘It’s a little bit like Japanese architecture — it’s about what you don’t see that’s clever.’

Outdoor decks/entrances to the south-west and south-east provide additional living space to suit the time of year, while offering views of the Bass Strait coastline (the main reason the clients bought the block) and the garage’s green roof designed by Greenly. Additional landscaping surrounding the home is by The Sustainable Landscape Company.

Aesthetically the home draws on the casualness of traditional Australian beach houses, and even slightly askew hay bale stacks that Luke admits to being frequently ‘fascinated’ by. ‘The angled columns might have come from that fascination with those, and I love that utilitarian nature of farm architecture — that poetry of rustic materials naturally patina-ing in the landscape,’ he says.  

The layout of Strait House points to the importance of site-specific design that considers every angle of a project and the unique desires of the clients. ‘This home is very counterintuitive, but that’s what we love about design. You shouldn’t just come with preconceived ideas, you should always be evolving based on the site,’ says Luke. ‘What we’ve done is bridge the gap between super sustainable architecture and beautiful architecture.’ 

Strait House’s sustainable design credentials can be credited to its passive design principles that prioritise airtightness, thermal insulation, appropriate windows, ventilation, and minimal thermal bridges. The property also features a 7.3kW battery-ready solar PV system (installed on the roof designed for optimum solar generation with a steep 34 degree north face) and a 10,000 litre underground rainwater tank plumbed to toilets and the garden. Materials are durable and sustainably sourced, such as the raw, locally grown, radial-sawn silvertop ash board and batten cladding.

When asked why every new Australian house is not built to these same sustainability standards, Luke says this largely comes down to a lack of education about the benefits. ‘It’s healthier for you and the planet — it’s as simple as that,’ he says. 

Luke also says designing a sustainable home from the ground up is just as cost effective as a traditional house. ‘If you get the fundamentals right from the concept, it doesn’t cost more — I can say that for a fact…It just needs to be in the DNA of a project.’

Strait House and the overall development at The Cape shows the myriad benefits of sustainable design. As well as featuring energy efficient homes, nearly 100 bird species have taken up residence in the growing, environmentally conscious neighbourhood. 

This story is part of our Sustainable Homes series, 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.

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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