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.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Anita Mcpher­son pho­tos Rob Lacey Pho­tog­ra­phy/ Emma Hil­lier

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”. >>

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