FOCUS ON FAMILY LIVING
The O’connor family, including Andrea, Alice, Lucy, Pippa and Patrick, have combined principles of energy efficiency with their appreciation for the beauty of natural materials, to create their ideal family home.
The O’connor family, including Andrea, Alice, Lucy, Pippa and Patrick, have combined principles of energy efficiency with their appreciation for the beauty of natural materials, to create their ideal family home in Wangaratta.
LIGHT floods into the expansive, open plan living area of the O’connor family’s home, located on the northern outskirts of Wangaratta. It’s not a surprise – the house was built consciously to capture the sun’s rays and make the most of the beautiful aspect, overlooking a glistening swimming against the backdrop of seemingly endless neighbouring farmland.
Andrea and Patrick O’connor bought the one acre block in late 2012. Before then, the family were living in an old home in Wangaratta’s Templeton Street, having recently returned to Andrea’s home town from Manchester in the United Kingdom, where Patrick is from and where they were based.
The couple were initially leaning towards buying an old house and renovating it, until they went to see a sustainable, rammed earth property in Beechworth. It was owned by a couple who were in the process of building a home designed by Tracey Toohey, who specialises in designing energy efficient and sustainable houses, which was being built by Ovens and King Builders. Once they saw that Beechworth property, their minds were made up. “That’s when we knew we wanted to build,” said Andrea. “We found our block of land and engaged Tracey – we wanted something that was energy efficient and sustainable, oriented towards the north, and used lots of natural materials and textures.”
The 28 square home has insulated rammed earth walls and expansive polished concrete floors with beautiful, naturally-coloured river stone rolled through it. It has a golden glow, the thoughtfully chosen lighting and white interior walls complementing and enhancing the rich colours of the natural timbers used throughout, making them striking features of the property. Andrea said the windows were strategically placed, understanding that while the desire may be to go overboard with glass and rely on double glazing, their true impact on the energy efficiency of the house needed to be considered.
“Tracey really knows her stuff when it comes to windows,” she said.
“She was conscious of making sure we got the northern sun and didn’t get too much western sun, which would make the house hot in summer.”
The house itself is all about being a family friendly and liveable home for Andrea, Patrick and their three children, 11 year old Alice, 10 year old Lucy and seven year old Pippa. It is divided into two separate zones, with a wing leading off a spacious entrance that includes the children’s bedrooms, a study, separate lounge and laundry which can be entirely closed off from the rest of the house. It’s something which the couple feels will come in handy when the children grow up and move on. “It works so well and it’s so easy to keep tidy,” said Andrea. “We’re not neat freaks – the girls still dump their school bags when they walk in, but now they can do it in the study at the back door where they come in.”
Andrea said Ovens and King Builders Lachie Gales “was fabulous” in the way he worked with the designer to help solve construction challenges, such as the inclusion of triangular windows which follow the roofline in the living area, even before he had been engaged to build the house itself. She said his involvement and enthusiasm for the project made it a “no brainer” that he would be the one to take it on. One of the special qualities of the unique property is its balance, having achieved a rustic but contemporary feel, which is in part due to the judicious use of feature timbers that help give it the “wow” factor.
“When we went through the design process we knew we wanted beams, we wanted to use rammed earth and we wanted timber – and we didn’t want it to be all the same,” said Andrea.
“And the energy rating is 6.6 which is good considering the size of the house.” >>
Andrea said energy efficiency was always at the forefront of the couples’ mind. As a science teacher, she has a natural interest in the subject and has found herself taking on the responsibility for sustainability initiatives in a number of different schools over the years. “We’re pretty environmentally aware,” she said. “We’re very aware of our carbon footprint and we wanted to try and accommodate that in this build. Sometimes being energy efficient requires you to use materials like concrete which have a high carbon footprint, however, thermally they’re fantastic. We have hydronic heating in the floor so once the slab heats up, it just holds the heat, so we’re not using as much energy in that respect. It’s a bit of a balancing act.”
The list of energy efficient and sustainable design features used in the build is impressive, beginning with first making sure the home was ideally positioned on the block. Along with the insulated concrete slab and rammed earth exterior, are double glazed windows, recycled jarrah beams and ironbark posts, and hydronic heating in the slab connected to a high efficiency condensing boiler. There is also ducted, evaporative air conditioning, board and batten wall cladding made from radially-sawn silvertop ash and cross flow ventilation from having windows and doors on the north and south sides. While the O’connors have town water, they elected to catch rainwater in a 22,000 litre tank which meets their needs, while five kilowatt solar panels certainly help when having the swimming pool pump running all the time.
The house only took nine months to build, although the planning process prior took twice as long, which Andrea explains was mostly due to designer’s care and attention to detail. She said by being thorough from the start, there were only very minor changes and decisions to be made during the construction phase.
“Tracey is a perfectionist and was very particular – which then meant our build had no problems or unexpected surprises during the construction process,” she said.
“Her plans are very clear and accurate when it comes to specifications which also helped with the quoting process.”
“Lachie was good too when it came to trying to minimise the cost – he allowed us to manage some of the small jobs ourselves directly with the tradesmen, which helped with our budget.”
Andrea said she had a pretty good idea of what she wanted the house to look like, but the hardest part was imagining some of the materials in situ.
“Our timber cladding is very unusual – not many people use board and batten so we didn’t really know how it would look,” she said.
“It looks so good but it was a bit of a risk I suppose – I was worried it would look too rustic – but it doesn’t”. >>