When Laura and Jono Metcalfe got the opportunity to build a new home in a tree-lined cul-de-sac of Chatswood, they knew it had to embrace nature at every turn.
‘It feels like you’re miles away from metropolitan Sydney when you’re really just a 20-minute train trip away,’ Jono says. ‘We were keen to achieve more with less, so we asked for a modest home that showcased natural, locally-sourced materials and achieved quality of space through volume and natural light rather than through square metres.’
The result is their light-filled three-bedroom house designed by Trias architects. With a square floorplan expertly weaved around established trees, an angled roof that mimics the natural slope of the site, the peaceful house also hides a series of thoughtful sustainable features that help eliminate the need for things like air-conditioning! Here’s how the efficient 129-square-metres house came to life, in just 10 months.
Why did you decide to take a sustainable approach to the build?
Sustainability was part of our initial brief when we approached Trias. We’re aware that building can be a wasteful process and we were keen to minimise our environmental impact as much as possible — both through consideration of the design, materials and through investment in sustainable technologies.
What were some of the challenges did you face? Were there any unexpected surprises?
We were incredibly lucky to be able to work with the most incredible architects, Trias and builder, Arc. They made the design and build process seamless and stress-free. We had no prior experience of renovations or builds, and having watched a few Grand Designs episodes, we expected the worst — running out of money, enormous delays and strained relationships. Instead, we experienced a collaborative and considered design process that made us feel heard and involved at every stage, and an efficient, problem-free build characterised by transparency, excellent planning, and thoughtfulness.
Tell us about the sustainable elements of your new home?
The small footprint home is oriented to capture light and warmth at ideal times of day across the year, and it features double-glazed windows throughout, timber screens and a shade cloth for shading, a 7.7kw solar system, 10,000L water tanks that run to toilets, laundry and garden. It’s also all-electric, with hot water supplied via an electric air-sourced heat pump, and we have an electric induction stove.
What are the main materials have you used for the build?
Recycled timbers are used for the doors and windows; timber cladding is a locally-sourced Australian hardwood; concrete and sandstone floor for thermal mass to help stabilise temperatures; and fibre cement sheeting for cladding in sections of the home. This is both a very robust cladding material, and reflects the gumtree greys of the surrounding gums.
Did the inclusion of sustainable materials/elements impact the budget for the build at all?
We decided early on to invest in sustainable elements in our home. For some decisions, this was a cost-saving. For example, the decision to have a concrete floor rather than a timber floor was an overall saving. Similarly, the fibre cement sheeting is a relatively affordable cladding option. For other decisions, this was an intentional investment. For example, the recycled hardwood windows and doors, the Australian hardwood timber cladding and sandstone flooring. There are more affordable window, door, cladding and flooring options but these elements come together not just to offer sustainability but solidity and value to the home.
Were there any sustainable elements you wanted to include but couldn’t?
We hoped, and still plan to, install a solar battery. We were able to set up the required cabling to prepare for installation but found the price of the batteries a little prohibitive when we got to it towards the end of the build.
What do you love most about this home now?
Whenever we’re asked how we’d describe the home, we always say it’s peaceful. It sits quietly on the land, it’s beautifully temperate at all times of year, it’s flooded with natural light and soaring ceilings and warmth imbues its materials and spaces.
Having now lived in the home for a while, how does it compare to living in a home without these sustainable features?
It’s night and day. Beyond the cost-savings, it’s amazing to have the house do all the work (and so efficiently) without having to think about artificial and expensive solutions such as air-conditioning and heating. We love that we’re minimising our impact on the environment and using just what we need.
What’s been an important lesson you’ve learnt during this process?
We didn’t realise the efficacy and impact that consideration of orientation, window placement, double glazing and cross-ventilation would have in terms of maintaining a steady temperature in the home. Visitors often ask where the air-conditioning vents are because the home does such a good job of staying cool in summer and warm in winter. That good design is critical! We couldn’t have done any of this without our architects and our amazing builder. All that this house achieves and embodies is thanks to their creativity and expertise.
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