This blog post is by our own Natalie Isaacs, CEO & Founder of 1 Million Women and mother of four.

A lot of what we need to know to buy, and especially to build more sustainable homes can be very technical and requires advice from the experts – architects and green-savvy builders.

But there’s also lots of commonsense things that we can look after ourselves, if we just think it through and take the best opportunities. I’m sure that, like me, our 1 Million Women members will have many of their own experiences and learnings to share with one another.

When our family bought our current home on Sydney’s upper northern beaches over two decades ago we were thinking mostly about the external environment around us, the extraordinary beaches, waterways and national parks, and not so much about the environmental performance of the house itself.

When we did a major renovation to accommodate a growing family 10 years ago that had changed, and we had sustainability of the home environment firmly in our sights and made some good calls:

  • Gas-boosted solar hot water to replace an old electric system, funded in part by Renewable Energy Certificates
  • No air-conditioning – a deliberate decision aided by ocean breezes most days, even at the height of summer, which goes to the benefits of living near the coast
  • Extra insulation in the roof and walls, helping save energy and reduce noise from the main road within 50m
  • Large decks from and back, allowing us to make the best of sun and shade across all seasons
  • Keeping all of our good shade trees, which make us feel like we live amidst the foliage even on a small suburban block with neighbours close by either side
  • A handy spot on one of the decks for the twin worm farms
  • Good natural light through most of the home

Our Worm Farn

But with the benefit of hindsight we made some mistakes at both of the crucial points in the ownership of our home, when we first bought it and when we renovated, including:

  • The shade trees we love are a mixed blessing, because they are concentrated to the north of the house and knock out the potential of our rooftop for solar PV
  • Now that we’ve discovered the joys of home food gardening, we don’t have enough space for it, and the small area we converted from a cubby house (reusing the timber) to a garden bed doesn’t get as much sun as it needs
  • Indoor air quality would have been better if we’d used low VOC paints, although on the bright side timber floors throughout mean no carpets with their sometimes toxic glues
  • Installing halogen downlights was a very bad call, with their quite high energy use and heat output, so they’ll need to be replaced progressively with much lower energy use LEDs

Maybe one day we’ll get to buy or build the sustainability dream home. We’ll know a lot more about what to look for than we did back in 1992. If that day comes, then I hope we’ll get it right.

I’d love to hear from members about your experiences with buying, building and renovating homes. It’s easy to be part of the BUILD element of SAVE, just by sharing your stories. If you have a story or experience to share, please post it here in the comments.

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