In ‘Rainwater’ Category

ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 138 editorial: Looking up – what’s on your roof?

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WHEN it comes to sustainable building, there’s a lot of material to cover, so we’re making our way around the building process, bit by bit. Having previously looked at ‘what’s in a wall’ (in ReNew 132), this time we’re hitting the roof.


We delve into the various roofing materials and their sustainability, along with the importance of roof pitch, insulation and colour to a house’s thermal performance. We also look at green roofs, with great resources for finding out more on this home/urban cooling option (with a lovely leafy example featuring on our cover).

With 1.5 million roofs in Australia also housing solar panels, it could be argued that our roofs (and communities) are leading the way in a renewable transition for Australia. But that’s not been without its naysayers and challenges, so ATA expert Andrew Reddaway tackles the issues and solutions needed for a successful shift to 100% renewables. It’s a must-read to correct misconceptions about how renewables work with the grid, particularly given the recent blackout in South Australia and discussions around the closure of Hazelwood.

As well as roofs, we also consider windows—or at least ways to shade them. With a warmer than average summer on the cards, it’s a good time to make sure your home will cope as well as possible in the heat. Keeping the sun off your windows is an important first step, but it’s not always as simple as putting up a blind. In our external shading buyers guide, we look at how to get it right: which windows to shade, how much shade, what materials to use and should shades be fixed, adjustable or even removable to avoid excluding the sun when you need it.

Gardens also provide a cooling benefit, and vertical gardens are a way to get greenery in places where that might not otherwise be feasible. Gardening in pots can be tricky though, so we feature two successful examples, with the message from both being to experiment to get the right plants, and that automatic watering is a must. The other message is that the owners love having herbs and greenery right at the back door!

We hope our article on reusing building materials in the garden will inspire you to find ways to source preloved bricks, concrete tiles or other materials to use for both practical and creative purposes in the garden. The author has been working with high school students to build a permaculture garden from mostly reused materials—and we get to benefit from their ingenuity and enthusiasm with some great examples to copy at home.

Of course, there’s much more besides: an EV owner’s insights into charging, including the knotty issue of kerbside charging for those without driveways, DIY wicking beds using a waste product, an introduction to timber finishes, islands leading the way in sustainability, DIY pressed earth bricks, and much more! We wish you a happy and safe holiday season and look forward to hearing from you in the new year.

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor

ATA CEO’s Report

IT HAS been a whirlwind past few months, with major shifts in global politics like the recent election of Donald Trump as US president and the Brexit vote causing great uncertainty in the area of climate policy.

Thankfully there was a firm commitment from the countries attending the Marrakech Climate Change Conference in November to show the world that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is underway, and the constructive spirit of multilateral cooperation on climate change continues.

While the Australian Government announced ratification of the treaty at Marrakech, it is still unclear how at a federal level we will achieve our carbon reduction commitments. Several states and territories including the ACT, Vic, SA, Qld and NSW are taking the lead, setting more ambitious targets and other mechanisms to combat emissions.

So much uncertainty and change once again highlights the role the community needs to take in not only advocating for effective government policy but getting on with the job. And we need to make sure everyone in the community comes along on the journey.

There is no better example of practical sustainability than community renewable energy. There are now more than 80 community energy groups and 50 projects up and running across Australia. In February 2017, these groups will be gathering in Melbourne for the second Community Energy Congress to share information, develop skills, foster new networks, celebrate success and plan for action. The ATA is proudly one of the organisers of the conference and we look forward to seeing you there. For more information, go to

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 138 from the ATA webshop.

ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 137 editorial: Solar and storage, at home and abroad

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IT’S a challenging time for consumers sorting out what’s what in the rapidly evolving world of energy storage. New products are coming onto the market every other day, or at least being announced, so what’s true yesterday may not hold true tomorrow.


That being said, we at ReNew are never ones to shy away from a challenge. We aim to get behind the hype and help with the nitty gritty details you need to make a decision. So this issue we take a look at what you need to consider when going off-grid or installing a hybrid system with grid-connected storage. We look at the battery technologies on the market and the inverters that drive the way such systems are installed. Along with new and cheaper battery systems, inverters are evolving at such a rate that the traditional divisions between off-grid and grid-interactive are breaking down—with new hybrid inverters and control software providing many ways to optimise usage and storage of your solar energy.

Three out of four of our case studies combine off-grid or hybrid systems with an electric vehicle, an encouraging trend, which we also put under the spotlight in an EV market update. Our householders’ stories also show that one of the biggest wins from installing solar+storage is that it really focuses attention on how much energy you use, and when.

One of the owners in a mini-grid trial in Mooroolbark is a case in point: being given monitoring tools and energy efficiency information has already changed their behaviour, only a month or so after their system was installed. And they get to share their energy (and knowledge) with their neighbours. Small-scale energy sharing is a bit of a focus this issue too—just what are the benefits of the mini-grids and virtual power plants that are all over the news just now?

Given all the buzz about energy storage, it’s not surprising that course providers are tipping that’s where skills will be needed. Our renewable energy courses guide is a must-read if you’re considering a career in this area.

On another note, our reader challenges always bring home the engaged community that makes ReNew what it is. In our recent photo competition, we were overwhelmed by the responses, both in number and quality, illustrating the many ways that ReNew readers interact with that somewhat overused word ‘sustainability’: from carefully thought-through transport options to renewable energy systems to communities sharing skills, food and more. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include all the entries in the magazine, but we hope to bring you more in the future.

Two decades on, this issue also brings you the 79th Pears Report, an integral part of ReNew—people often note it’s the first thing they read each issue. For the many fans, we’ve now collected 75 columns into an eBook, with support from RMIT’s sustainability fund, and launching in October. Enjoy!

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor


ATA CEO’s Report

WHEN I started at the ATA many years ago, one of the first people I was told to meet was Alan Pears. As many of you know, Alan has been a leading light in energy efficiency and climate change policy over many years.

Currently a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, Alan has been an important contributor to the development of Australia’s sustainable energy and energy efficiency policies, programs and projects since the late 1970s, and a passionate climate response advocate since the late 80s.

His expertise is regularly called upon by governments and agencies, businesses, community organisations and the media; variously as consultant, mentor, award judge, advisor, reviewer and commentator. His achievements in this arena have been acknowledged with numerous industry awards and, in 2009, with his appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia.

We are very excited at the ATA to be launching The Pears Report eCollection: Reflections on Two Decades of Energy and Climate Policy in Australia—75 Articles from ReNew Magazine, 1997–2016 at the All Energy Expo in October. The collection brings together the detailed, accurate and thoughtful insights from The Pears Report columns in ReNew, along with a new and substantial series of articles by Alan discussing the major topics and themes.

Alan has been a great mentor and advisor to many of us, generous with providing his time and expertise especially to not-for-profit organisations like the ATA. We are proud to be able to acknowledge Alan’s invaluable contribution to energy market reform and a better Australia.

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 137 from the ATA webshop.

ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 136 editorial: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Homegrown design and tech

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Cheering on Australian-made research and production in this issue has proved something of a conversation starter. Everyone has a favourite product or company, or an opinion on what we’re doing well or not so well. But the ‘we’ has stumped me at times: against a backdrop of stalled climate policy and the way the on-again, off-again support for renewables has affected the industry, it can be hard to speak proudly of that ‘we’.


Yet there is a story to be told of innovation (an overused word perhaps!) in Australia that is slightly different from the one we often hear. The stories of lost commercialisation opportunities and industry heading overseas are certainly one strand, but there’s also a (very ReNew) story of DIY activists getting a renewables industry started in Australia, of researchers leading the world in solar cell design—with the Australian-invented PERC cell now featuring on about half of new solar cell production lines—and of a fast-growing community energy sector taking on the unique challenges of the Australian energy market, making projects work, then advocating for change to make them work better. And, of course, of architects slowly, slowly bringing sustainability into the mainstream of building design. Sustainability is another overused word, but it’s been exciting finding these stories of research, investment, production and development.

It’s not all about energy or household systems. One of the best stories comes from Bruce Pascoe, based on the research for his book Dark Emu. The oldest grain grinding stone in the world has been found in Australia, evidence of breadmaking 12,000 years before the Egyptians. As Bruce asks, why don’t “our hearts fill with wonder and pride” in such innovation?

There’s much beyond our Australian-made theme. Building with strawbales is one, with guidance on the workshops that can help, and case studies on people who love their houses ‘built of straw’. We look at the important issue of keeping textiles out of landfill, and we also cover ways to reconnect with nature in the city. A reader tests whether battery-powered leaf blowers can compete with petrol ones (many may think that the job could be done with a broom, but the author suggests otherwise), and we look at what to consider to ensure you buy or build the most efficient computer possible. With gaming PCs using up to 350 watts just for the graphics card(s), it’s particularly important information for parents of young gamers!

Many households are about to lose their higher feed-in tariffs, so we (via the ATA, ReNew’s publisher) look at what solar customers should do. Finally, our buyers guide this issue is on eco-paints. It’s a good news story with many sustainable changes in the industry since our last buyers guide in ReNew 107, including a new scheme for recycling paints. It’s a packed issue, enjoy!

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor


ATA CEO’s Report

THE Australian-made green innovations in this issue of ReNew are a great testament to home-grown ingenuity. The ATA has been fostering sustainable technology since 1980, when a group of enthusiasts concerned about fossil fuels and pollution came together to form our organisation. Their can-do, practical approach has been at the heart of the ATA ever since.

The ATA has had many Australian firsts including owning a community wind turbine at Breamlea in Victoria, national sustainability education tours with our energy-mobile and Australia’s first trial of greywater systems in response to growing interest in water saving during the millennium drought. We also led the way in making it easier for home solar systems to be connected to the grid by actively lobbying for consistent agreements and financial incentives. The now 1.5 million households in Australia with rooftop solar have benefitted from the ATA’s pioneering work.

And the innovations continue: we played a key role in the installation of a 36 kilowatt solar system at the Kurrawang Aboriginal Christian Community near Kalgoorlie in WA. The project showed how you can be creative with community energy and impact investment for community and environmental benefits. Thanks go to ATA member Robin Gardner, who was instrumental in the success of the project.

ATA members were also instrumental in developing and assembling the new Village Lighting Scheme solar system that will be installed this year on hundreds of homes in East Timor as part of the Google Impact Challenge grant. Special thanks to Alan Hutchinson and Patrick Eijsvogel for their huge effort on the new system design, and the many volunteers involved. In recognition of our work in East Timor, the ATA recently won a United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award!

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 136 from the ATA webshop.

ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 135 editorial: Water inside and out

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In Sophie Thomson’s Adelaide Hills garden, indigenous plants that survived under a ‘no watering’ scheme for several years have struggled this year, with some dying. In Victoria, we’re seeing reservoir levels dropping, street trees struggling and many gardeners dismayed over just how dry the soil is. It’s a similar story in many parts of Australia, with the tinder-dry bush causing devastating fires such as those in the Tassie wilderness.


If we don’t want to abandon our gardens, critical as they are in providing shelter, cooling and habitat, as well as food, what do we do? In this issue, we explore some of the approaches that can help gardens thrive with efficient and effective use of water.

Sophie Thomson issues a challenge to rethink our gardens into watering zones, with most of the garden given to ‘no water’ and ‘low water’ plants — think local indigenous planting and choosing plants appropriate to the site and conditions. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the higher water usage plants altogether, such as vegies; instead, we look at more efficient ways to water, including drip irrigation — potentially regulated according to temperature and rainfall — and wicking beds, where the water is delivered to the plant roots and wicks up to where it’s needed. We’ve previously covered rainwater and greywater use in detail (see ReNew 125 and 130) so this time we shift attention to using stormwater via rain gardens, a way to reduce polluted runoff into our rivers and water the vegies at the same time. We also visit Melliodora, the Australian permaculture co-founder’s property in Victoria, and find out how permaculture principles meld with water efficiency.

In the tropics and subtropics, the problem is slightly different — coping with deluges in summer and relatively dry winters. Two northern Australian gardening experts give advice on what to plant and ways to use water effectively in these regions.

It’s not all about gardens. We also look at where households can save water, inside and out, and compare water usage around Australia. Our mini guide is on waterless toilets, definitely worth considering as a water- and pollution-saving measure.

Our main buyers guide is on heating. We often get queries about hydronic heating, so we’ve updated our guide to include both reverse-cycle air conditioners and hydronic.

And amidst all the talk about batteries and going off-grid, we take a look at what’s available in all-in-one battery systems, and where the market is heading. We also examine the sustainability benefits of solar and solar + battery systems. If you’ve ever wondered just how much effect your solar system can have on the grid—can it really affect the output of a coal-fired power station?—this article is for you.

Plus there’s lots more: a DIY on double glazing, a mini hydronic system, reviews of 10 water-saving books, where wind farms are heading and the Pears Report on how different the approaches to energy policy can be.

As we head into a disturbingly hot start to autumn, an election year and post the Paris climate talks, we welcome your feedback and input. We hope this year we can see action on climate change rather than just words.

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor


ATA CEO’s Report

The year 2015 ended with an historic agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to limit global warming below 2°C. As a signatory to the agreement, Australia is now part of the push for a net zero emissions world.

At the ATA we are at the forefront of advocating for, encouraging and advising on sustainable technology and practices in Australian homes and communities to make a big impact on reducing carbon emissions. We are continuously researching and investigating new and emerging technology for a more sustainable future.

As an example of putting knowledge into action, we were very excited to team up with the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) to install an off-grid solar system at the Oriners ranger base in far north Queensland. We have been admirers of CAT’s work installing solar systems in remote Indigenous communities for many years and have profiled some of their work in ReNew previously. After funding cuts to their Bushlight program, the ATA was more than happy to work with CAT to trial a project reducing the costs of installing a system, with ATA members volunteering skills and labour.

A big thankyou to David Tolliday, John Dickie, Olivia Laskowski and CAT’s Andre Grant for their work and dedication on a successful first project. We look forward to collaborating again in our goal for a net zero-emissions world.

Donna Luckman

You can purchase ReNew 135 from the ATA webshop.


Drop by drop: Measuring it out

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Robyn Deed talks to Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson about her measured approach to watering in Adelaide’s challenging dry climate.

Sophie Thomson is not a fan of hand watering, in general: “No one does it deeply enough—often you’d need to stand there with the hose on each plant for 20 minutes to do it properly.” She sees many trees and shrubs in water stress due to hand watering. “Hand watering can work well for pot plants and vegies, but not for the general garden.”


More water, less often

To get the required level of watering for trees and shrubs, she’s a fan of low-pressure sprinklers (for example, Lo-Flo an Australian invention, WaterMark approved), which produce big drops rather than mist, or drip irrigation systems that can be turned on for the required period. The watering system might need to be on two hours once a fortnight to get the deep good soak the plants need—more water, less often is the mantra.

But how do you know how much water is needed? Sophie advises that the best way is to look at what you’re doing now and adjust from that. “Start by watering as you normally do and then dig down next to the plant to see how deep the water has gone; it will often be just a couple of centimetres, but trees and shrubs need the water at their root zone, 20 to 30 cm down.” Adjust the watering time and volume to do this and so encourage strong deep roots.

Read your plants

“You also need to read your plants,” Sophie says. Watering needs will vary depending on such things as rainfall, heat, humidity, soil type and root competition. You can “read” the leaves, for example, as these are a plant’s ‘air conditioning’ system. With citrus, you can feel the leaf on a hot day and, if it isn’t cool to touch, then the plant is too dry; the leaves should also be vibrant and shiny. With vegies, it’s slightly different—”We need to acknowledge that many soft, tender vegies are being grown outside of their climate zone, so we need to accept a bit of wilt in the heat, so long as they pick up overnight and when watered.”

Read the full article in ReNew 135.

Chris's off-grid wind and solar system powers his home and electric vehicle.

Off-grid wind and solar

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It’s a windy place near Canberra, and Chris Kelman is taking good advantage of that! He describes the evolution of his impressive off-grid wind and solar system — and the avid meter-watching that goes with it.

In a quest to demonstrate the possibility of living a fossil-fuel-free life, I have now made a couple of attempts at setting up my house to run on ‘home-grown’ energy.


My first project, back in 1987, used home-made solar hot water panels, a ‘massive’ 90 watts of PV plus a 1 kW Dunlite wind generator (pictured on the cover of Soft Technology 32–33, October 1989; Soft Technology was the original name of ReNew). At this stage, renewable energy technology was in its infancy and everything was DIY, including building an 18 m tripod tower for the turbine (overcoming a fear of heights was a personal fringe benefit). On this basic system I did manage to run lights, computer, TV and stereo, but there were thin times, of course.

These days, home energy systems are more like Lego — you just plug and play. So with a move back to the bush near Canberra a few years ago, I decided to do it all again, but this time with sufficient capacity to run a standard 230 V AC all-electric house, workshop, water pumps—and an electric vehicle.
The house I purchased had been set up pretty well as a passive-solar home, though it was connected to the grid at the time. It has a north-facing aspect, good insulation and a lot of (double-glazed) windows allowing winter sun to maintain a cosy slate floor. The result is a very stable environment for most of the year.

Energy production—phase 1
In phase one of my new project,in 2012, I installed 3 kW of PV with a Sunny Island off-grid inverter and 40 kWh of VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. Initially, hedging my bets, I configured it as a grid-connected system, with the grid acting as a backup ‘generator’ when required.

After a few months I realised that I rarely needed to use the grid and, as I owned a small antiquated petrol generator from my previous project, I decided it was time to cut the umbilical cord. This turned out to be a rather amusing process. My local energy provider didn’t seem to have an appropriate form for ‘removal of service’ and was bemused about why I would ask them to take the meters away. It was all a bit much for them. Even after the process was completed, I would still occasionally discover lost-looking meter readers around the back of the house!

The weather in this region is well known for its reliable solar insolation, apart from some lean months in mid-winter. Fortunately we are well supplied with wind power as well, as indicated by the Capital wind farm only a few kilometres away.

To confirm the wind resource, I set up a Davis weather station on a 12 m mast at my proposed turbine site and undertook a six-month wind survey. The results from this were compared with historical records from the area and a good correlation was found. This was enough evidence to convince me that wind power backup, particularly to cover the lean winter months, was the best option for my system.

Read the full article about Chris’s impressive off-grid setup in ReNew 134.

Three options of hot water plumbing: gas-boosted solar, full gas and solar only.

Farming Renewably: Reaping the benefits

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One person/farm can make a difference: David Hamilton describes how his farm’s sustainable conversion cut carbon, benefited the landscape and turned a profit.


I’ve read many inspiring articles in ReNew from individuals trying to live more sustainably and lessen their impact on the planet. This article takes a slightly different approach–a rural perspective–to demonstrate that it can be commercially viable to run a farming enterprise using systems that are truly renewable, whether that’s for water, electricity, housing, food, livestock, pasture or wildlife.

Our journey to sustainable farming began in 1993, when my wife Roberta and I purchased a 60-acre property in the south-west of WA with the twin objectives of restoring the degraded land and becoming as self-reliant as possible. The land included pasture that was totally lifeless and neglected, along with a dam, two winter streams, old gravel pits and two areas of magnificent remnant native forest. We wanted to be independent for water, electricity and as much of our food as was practical. Withe fewer bills to pay, we could work fewer hours off the farm–which was very appealing.

As a registered nurse with no farming experience, I was on a vertical learnign curve. Luckily, Roberta has a dairy farming background and, with her accounting experience, is a wizard at making a dollar go a long way.

When we began, we were both working full-time. We spent the first two years establishing a gravity-fed water supply, preparing the hosue and shed sites, and fencing the property, including to protect remnant bush from planned livestock. We also planted over a thousand native trees and shrubs, plus a few ‘feral’ trees for their air conditioning and fire-retardant properties.

Read the full article in ReNew 132.



World-leading technology: Water harvest

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Smart design is leading the way in solving the problem of water shortages and pollution in our impermeable cityscapes. By Robyn Deed.

Tucked away in the back streets of East Melbourne is a world-leading project, patent pending. There’s not much to see—there’s a nature strip planted with wetland grasses in the middle of Darling Street, and an intriguing-looking steelwork shed in the park across the road. If you peered into the shed, you might see a poster that describes what’s going on. But most likely you’d walk on by, perhaps remarking that the grasses are thriving or the trees in the park look healthy. Which is exactly what’s intended.
What’s hidden beneath the bed of grasses is an innovative system for stormwater treatment and harvesting. With four years of research behind it, this City of Melbourne initiative uses existing technologies—water storage tanks, a natural biofiltration ‘rain garden’ and filters—but combines them in a smart way . The result is a system that’s more robust than other systems, takes up a tenth of the space and costs less to both install and maintain.

The problem


The system aims to solve two problems: contaminated stormwater flowing into our waterways and the shortage of water for irrigation in our warming climate.

Contaminated stormwater is a major problem in our impermeable cityscapes. In a natural landscape about 15% of rainwater runs off into waterways, with the remaining 85% soaking into the soil. In a built-up area that gets flipped: about 85% is now entering our waterways.

Ralf Pfleiderer from the City of Melbourne says it’s getting worse. “We’re improving our road surfaces but making them less permeable in the process, concreting over the bluestone gutters and replacing asphalt with bluestone over concrete,” he says.
The water running off the streets into nearby rivers is contaminated by lots of things: by ‘gross pollutants’ (larger things such as plastic bags, other litter and leaves); by silts and sands washed out of the soil; and by oils from cars contributing toxic heavy metals.

The extent of water runoff into our waterways, combined with the extended drought and water restrictions, means that water for irrigation is at a premium. Many of our urban trees are struggling. Even after a recent year of good rain, soil moisture levels haven’t returned to normal. So, as well as treating the water to remove pollutants, this project provides a source of water that can be harvested for irrigation.

The solution

Central to the system is the separation of stormwater capture from treatment. Other gravity-feed systems use rain gardens for both capture and treatment: the water from road gutters runs directly, by gravity, into the rain garden as it rains. This means the rain garden has to be below the level of the road—a design and safety issue in an urban streetscape (imagine a garden bed below the level of the road). In addition, the rain garden has to be much larger to enable it to capture and treat all the stormwater as it’s flowing.

What the Darling Street system does instead is to first capture the stormwater into a large (300 kL) underground tank, which allows the water to be slowly filtered through the garden bed after the rain event has passed. Using this approach, the system is able to treat the water from a 37 hectare catchment area—this would normally require 1200 m2 of rain garden, but this system needs just 120 m2 to do the same job. In addition, it’s able to supply 21 million litres of water annually (or 18 Olympic swimming pools) for irrigation.

Rain garden as filter

The rain garden itself is a natural biofiltration system, made of sand and grasses. Most of the filtering is performed by the bacteria coating the sand particles and plant roots—a natural biofilm, not by added bacteria. The plant stems help to break the surface tension and so maintain the flow of water through the filtering sand. They look great, too. Brendan Condon from Biofilta, one of the companies involved in the system’s research and design, says that the plants in the Darling Street rain garden are already fully mature whereas ones planted at the same time in a typical gravity-feed rain garden would still be establishing.

The system has been robustly designed to avoid many of the problems that plague other rain garden systems. Although rain gardens are good at filtering out contaminants, they get clogged by litter, sediment and silts, requiring expensive manual maintenance. To avoid this issue, before capturing the water into the holding tank, there are two filters applied to the water—a gross pollutant trap, to remove leaves and litter, and a sedimentation chamber, to settle out a lot of the silts. Both these filters fill up too, of course, but they’re easier to maintain as they can be vacuumed clean mechanically, rather than manually.

The cleaned water is either stored in a reuse tank (also beneath the ground) for irrigation use, or returned to the stormwater drains as cleaned stormwater—much better for our waterways than the original polluted stormwater. The final step is a UV filter to ensure that any residual bacteria are killed.

Harvesting the water

Come summer, the system will switch to using water from the reuse tank for irrigation as needed. Irrigation could also be applied in winter, but Ralf Pfleiderer says that this is something for down the track. In winter the water needs to be applied below the surface as the surface layer is often already wet, leading to run off. But irrigation is still needed in winter: beneath the surface the soil moisture remains low, after so many years of drought.

Unlike gravity-feed systems, this system does require electricity to pump the water through the rain garden for filtering. But Ralf notes the pumps run just two hours out of 24, under low load, with a total electricity cost of about $200/year, offset using carbon credits.

Future water supply?

The most significant current application is to clean stormwater, thus reducing pollution in our waterways. When used for irrigation, such systems can also help keep parks and street plantings healthy, and so help alleviate the heat island effect in cities as our climate warms. Brendan Condon notes that he’s been involved with installing similar systems for apartments to provide irrigation for their gardens.

Looking further ahead, Ralf speculates that such systems could become part of a decentralised water storage approach. We could be using harvested stormwater on our gardens, and in our toilets and washing machines, while our reservoirs are used purely for drinking water.

Stormwater could even cover all our water needs. Melbourne currently uses 400 GL of water a year, compared to available stormwater of about 463 GL. We only use around 10 GL of that at the moment, so at the very least stormwater could be a much bigger part of our future water supply.

If we can switch to thinking of reservoirs as just one part of our storage system, rather than the full system—as super-sized rainwater tanks in effect—maybe we can start to reduce our dependence on them.

The system was researched and developed by Biofilta and Cardno, in conjunction with the City of Melbourne. A patent for the BiofiltaTM bioretention system has been applied for.

More info:


Josh’s 10 Star video series

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Gardening Australia TV presenter and sustainability expert Josh Byrne has just released the second video series about his 10 Star home, built last year in the suburb of Hilton in Perth.

ReNew featured Josh’s new house and garden in issue 125. Read the article here.


The new video series is part of the open source content on the Josh’s House website, with all the plans, fact sheets, photos and data associated with the build of Josh’s 10 Star home home available for free on the website.

The focus of this series is on the performance of his newly-built high performance home, designed using conventional building materials and construction methods that can be easily replicated by industry and the community.

Episode 13 looks at the impressive stats around the home’s thermal efficiency, electricity use, generation and water use, one year after moving in. Episode 14 looks at the garden, in particular the nature play spaces for kids, with more videos to be released over the coming weeks.

The design and technologies incorporated in Josh’s 10 Star home have resulted in a saving of around $2600 on annual utility bills. Water use has been reduced by a whopping 92% and the house is operationally carbon positive, in that it offsets more carbon than it produces.

For more information and inspiration go to


Remote pumping buyers guide

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Moving water is a requirement on nearly every remote and rural property. We take a look at the different types of pumping systems and what pumps are available.


On many rural properties, pumping water is critical, whether it be for watering stock, irrigating crops or providing potable water for household use. Mains power may not be available on the property or the pump may be far removed from the house, so these pumps often require an alternative energy source, such as solar panels or wind power.

For both rural and non-rural off-grid properties, off-grid pumps are also often used for circulating water, for example in a remote-coupled solar hot water system.

These pumping requirements may also be critical to the operation of a farm business. Such off-grid pumps thus need to be reliable, easy to maintain, long-lived and cost-effective.

So what are some of the features of pumps that need to be considered? Firstly, different tasks require different pumps: for example, the pump for drawing water from a well or bore will be different from a pump to circulate water through a hot water system. Secondly, the amount of water and the height it needs to be pumped to (the ‘head’) also vary from site to site, and the pump needs to cater for these requirements.

To meet these variations in pumping requirements, there are many different types of pump on the market. These include the well-known windmill-powered bore pumps, solar bore pumps, reticulation pumps and pressure pumps. There are also numerous types in each of these categories, adding to the confusion in choosing a pump.

This guide looks at pumps designed to be powered from renewable energy sources—solar, wind and water. It includes DC electric pumps as well as pumps directly driven by wind or water power.

To read the pumping guide in full (PDF format), click here

127 cool-climate build

Cool-climate build

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Designing a house to be as energy efficient as possible is one thing; actually achieving this can be another task altogether. Meg Warren and Fraser Rowe describe their building challenges and eventual rewards.

OUR quest to build a new sustainable home began about four years ago when we purchased vacant land in cool-climate Beechworth in north-east Victoria. We wanted a sizeable block, big enough for rainwater tanks and a small edible garden, but also walking distance from shops, cafes and work. But our most important criterion was solar access. We found just such a block with the added bonus of a well-grown oak to the west, offering summer shade. The real estate agent seemed not to notice these attributes: to them the block was just a problem to sell due to its odd shape and no services.


Shifting from a rural property of 18 acres to an urban block of less than 1000 m2 brought a number of challenges. Our design was limited by council regulations, fences and boundaries, as well as a high, dense hedge on our neighbour’s property to the east.

Design phase

To help us achieve a truly energy-efficient design we engaged building designer Tracey Toohey whom we’d worked with on our previous owner-built rammed-earth house.

Tracey asked us to rate three areas to indicate our level of commitment to sustainability in the build. The first rated our desire for energy efficiency against overall cost. The second, and more difficult for us, assessed the compromise between sustainable materials and efficiency, and the third, between sustainable materials and cost. This interesting exercise helped us clarify our goals.

We worked intensively with Tracey for months, honing the design. Thought went into the glazing type and size to balance it with the floor area, together with the placement, type and amount of internal thermal mass, creation of airlocks, height of ceilings and all the other dimensions that impact on the energy rating. We also allowed for wider than usual walls to fit in more insulating layers beyond the standard 90 mm bulk insulation. Attention was given to the need for summer shading, rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling.

Read the full article in ReNew 127.


Josh’s house and garden

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Behind 10 Star Josh’s House is a productive, water smart and shade-giving garden—and you can find the plans online, writes Jacinta Cleary.


As a keen gardener in a dry spot like Perth, water has always been important to ABC’s Gardening Australia presenter Josh Byrne. “From my late teens on we’ve always had water saving measures in place, and as a food gardener I’m always trying to come up with better watering systems.” There was no doubt then that ‘Josh’s House’ would be a water smart home.

Josh’s House is the name of his ambitious building project in the Fremantle suburb of Hilton. Josh, an environmental scientist, runs a landscape and environmental design business while juggling a media career and a young family. As if not busy enough, he embarked on a “long-held dream” to build his own environmentally sustainable home and documented every step via the open-source Josh’s House website, full of house and landscaping plans, fact sheets and videos to inspire anyone to build an energy and water saving home.

The two dwellings have been built in just six and a half months, with construction finishing in May. The project comprises two 10 Star homes on an 1160 m2 block, with one for his family and another for his sister-in-law. As tends to be Josh’s way, there have been no delays creating a common productive garden around the homes, with an impressive water harvesting and recycling set up.

Water cycle

“All in all we will use less than a third of the typical Perth water scheme consumption while maintaining a beautiful and productive shady garden,” says Josh. To do this, he’s designed an integrated water system around what he calls his “water priorities”, with rainwater capture and use at the top of his list, followed by greywater and bore water. One water source feeds into another helping to keep as much water as possible for reuse or infiltration within the property.

Rainwater tanks and beyond

With rainwater collection a priority, an efficient rainwater system has been installed. Each home has a wet system rainwater tank, where the collection pipes run underground to connect multiple downpipes from different gutters. This makes the most of the 200m² roof space available on each home. An underground diversion valve is fitted so that water that sits in the pipes for too long, possibly becoming stagnant, can be flushed into an underground soakwell to seep into the surrounding soil.

Josh estimates mains water backup will be needed just a few months of the year. His house has a 20,000 litre poly rainwater tank and the other has a 12,000 litre tank, both plumbed to all areas inside and some parts of the garden. The first rain of the season that might contain roof debris and dirt is also flushed into the soakwell, and drinking, cooking and bathing water is filtered through sediment and carbon filters.

The rainwater plan goes beyond just tanks. “You’ve got to think of the whole property as a catchment to make the most of rainwater. It doesn’t have to all go into a tank, you can include swales and rain gardens,” says Josh. Along similar lines to the soakwell, rainwater from the carport and front verandah downpipes goes into a native damp land soak feature, similar to a drain wrapped in geotextile fabric. This water infiltrates the soil and helps to recharge the groundwater, while creating a zone for water loving plants such as native rushes and sedges.

Read the full article in ReNew 125


A rainwater tank buyers guide

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A rainwater tank is one of the best ways to become more water self-sufficient, but which tank is right for your home? Lance Turner looks at the options.

Rainwater tanks come in almost any size, shape and colour you can imagine, with a variety of materials to suit different preferences or usage requirements. So what should you look for when buying a tank?


The first decision you have to make is where the tank will be located. Where you place the tank will determine its size and shape, and possibly even its colour if it needs to blend into the surrounding vegetation or dwelling walls. A large yard offers a number of options. You could place it next to the house or shed, or even under the house.

You also need to consider how the water will get from the roof into the tank, as well as overflow piping. However, there are a number of different systems for plumbing a tank to a home’s gutters that allow a tank to be situated some distance from the home, so this should probably not be an overriding consideration.

Tank materials

The six most common rainwater tank materials are concrete, fibreglass, plastic (usually polyethylene, often just called ‘poly’, or PVC, used in flexible bladder tanks), Aquaplate Colorbond (thin sheet steel with a colour coating on the outside and a waterproof coating on the inside), galvanised steel and stainless steel. Each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at a few of those.


A water tank can be a considerable expense, even after a rebate, so you want it to last as long as possible. The expected lifetime of any tank should be at least 20 years, and indeed, many tanks come with a 20 or even 25 year warranty. However, a number of factors will determine just how long the tank actually lasts, and that includes water quality, maintenance and positioning of the tank.

For example, plastic tanks are relatively immune to damage from salty water, so if your tank is regularly topped up from a bore or dam, then a plastic tank might be the best solution. However, if your tank only needs to hold rainwater, then any tank material should be suitable.

The tank’s location can affect the lifetime of the materials. Ideally, the tank should be located in shade if possible, not just to keep the water temperature low and reduce evaporation, but also because some materials are degraded more rapidly by direct sunlight.

Most poly tanks will slowly degrade over time with exposure to the sun, despite having UV inhibitors added to the plastic. Because the plastic is being used to hold water, there are limits to how much UV inhibitor and other chemicals can be added to the polyethylene, so eventually the tanks will suffer some degradation.

Metal tanks come in three common materials. Corrugated galvanised steel tanks have been popular in both rural and urban situations for a long time.

Another steel tank type, Aquaplate, is a derivative of Colorbond steel. It has the colour coating on one side and a waterproof coating designed specifically for tank manufacture on the other. Provided the coating is not damaged during the tank manufacturing process and seams are correctly formed and sealed, the tank should last a great many years.

Stainless steel tanks are known for their durability and strength. They are generally small modular tanks for urban use, but large stainless steel tanks are also available. These are made from corrugated stainless steel that looks much like corrugated iron, just a lot shinier. While stainless steel tanks can be more expensive than other types, they have a number of advantages which we will look at later.

Concrete tanks can be quite durable, but they do tend to sweat if they don’t have a plastic or rubber liner. If you look at a concrete tank that has been around for a while, it is not uncommon to see white powdery ‘salt’ residue on the outside.

Read the full article in ReNew 125

General view400px

Earthwise goes greener

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From overhanging trees to the wrong LEDs, there was plenty to learn retrofitting this Perth community centre, write Graeme Worth and Lucy Simnett.

Earthwise Community Association is located on the site of an old church in the inner-city suburb of Subiaco in Perth. The site, leased from the Uniting Church, is home to an op shop, food centre, community lunches and music sessions, with much of the focus on the extensive permaculture gardens established over many years.


The team at the volunteer-run organisation decided to install equipment and infrastructure for better water and energy use, and with a prime city location, show visitors what is possible in retrofitting an existing building. Educational activities and resources have been developed around the environmental installations including an open day, workshops, information fliers, signage and tours.

The grant application

The project would be expensive and initially time consuming, so the only viable option was to apply for a grant. The grant was submitted to Lotterywest WA and, somewhat to our surprise, funded in its entirety.
We received funding for:

  • Two 1.5kW grid-connect solar arrays for electricity generation
  • A 38,000 litre rainwater tank for sub-surface reticulation in the garden and toilet flushing
  • A heat pump hot water system
  • An education package including signage and funding to run workshops
  • A part-time education officer for 12 months

A number of smaller activities were also funded such as window insulation, an energy efficient fridge and freezer, PowerMate energy meters and LED lighting.

The first step was to employ the Education Officer, whose initial responsibilities were to liaise with and oversee installation contractors and manage the grant finances. We had allowed two days a week, however, for phase two, which involved signage and preparation of educational and workshop material, we should have increased the time to at least three days a week. You live and learn!

The nitty-gritty of equipment installation, performance and problems can be conveniently divided into  water and energy, and tie in well with existing efficient waste management.

Water smart tank

There are a lot of options when it comes to rainwater tanks, so do your homework before you buy. The tank we selected has the following features:

  • 38,572L Highline steel tank with plastic bladder
  • 2.56m high, 4.38m diameter, area 15m²
  • Collects off 148.5m² of roof
  • Wet system (buried pipes) with over 118 metres of stormwater pipe, 40 metres of blueline and seven metres of copper pipe used.

The tank cost $14,680 ($13,000 installed, plus $500 for paving, $600 for gutter cleaning, $300 for first-flush system, $200 for the sand base, $80 aggregate).

The rainwater tank comes with a 70 litre first-flush diverter. We were originally going to collect water from half the roof area, but when installation commenced we figured we’d be mugs not to use the whole roof. This was a great idea, except the first-flush diverter was too small and we had to spend an extra $300 installing three downpipe diverters. While it was obvious to use the collected water on the gardens, we decided to also connect the tank water to the toilets for flushing, thus reducing our mains water use during winter when the tank would fill but the water not used. This, of course, necessitated a lot of additional plumbing. We were caught by imperfect quotations; in this case the quotation was not from a plumber so make sure you are aware of the expertise of people submitting quotes. The original plan to run the plumbing connections beneath the building turned out to be impossible and we had to find at least another $500 to remove and replace 45 metres of brick paving, as well as additional piping.

The subsurface reticulation includes five stations covering approximately 90m² of garden on the west side of the building. Last summer the system was set to run twice a week for 30 minutes on each station, or five hours a week. With these settings water use is 3612 litres per week. One tank of water could run the reticulation for 10 weeks or if rainfall is good, for 26 weeks. Whenever the tank is empty, water supply automatically switches back to mains water.

Retrofitting an old church raised extra complications as it was difficult to access high gutters, there was no floor trapdoor to access the parts of the building that were raised and few detailed building plans could be found.
The final component was a diverter—supplied at cost by the manufacturer Redwater Australia together with a second unit donated and raffled—to send cold water back to the rainwater tank instead of down the sink when the hot water taps are turned on. This unit has worked really well, with just one small hitch when the tank installer accidentally connected the water back to the first-flush system, and not the tank.

Read the full article in ReNew 116
Find out more about Earthwise Community Subiaco

What stops green rentals?

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It’s often a slow slog making investment properties more water and energy efficient. The team at AHURI interviewed over 50 landlords to find out why.

What holds us back when it comes to making rental houses greener? A team of researchers from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute have gone some way to answering this question in a report about the sustainability of Australia’s rental houses. The Environmental Sustainabilty of Australia’s Private Rental Housing Stock interviews landlords, tenants and agents, giving a rare view of what prompts change and what doesn’t when it comes to environmentally-efficient rental properties.


The authors share their findings with ReNew about what stops action when it comes to rental houses. In this article we focus on comments from investment property owners, while the entire report contains a broader prespective, covering tenants’attitudes, the impact of government and NGO programs and the all important real estate agents.

What stops change
The report found that many private rental investors were receptive to the idea of making minor improvements to their rental dwellings, but recognised that there were currently barriers to undertaking this work. The most common concern was the cost of taking measures to improve the energy and water efficiency of their property. Other barriers included lack of financial incentive, potential for property damage, disinterested tenants, problems with accessing property to undertake audit and installations, problems associated with gaining permission to act in a strata-titled, multi-unit dwelling, the condition of the building, the investor’s personal situation, a lack of awareness of the significance of sustainability issues in rental housing and obstructive local planning regulations.

“To get anybody to do anything at all you’re looking at $70 an hour,” said one participant when discussing the costs involved with making substantial differences to energy and water use. Others said they simply did not have enough money and were unable to take on additional loans.

Another said: “I would like information but if it involves me outlaying money I wouldn’t do it. My circumstances have changed and I can’t spend money on those properties. And anyway, why would I? [It] Doesn’t benefit me…I know that doing nothing is not congruent with my beliefs but it’s my economic reality.”

Investors also expressed concern that the costs of managing a rental property were already high and that they felt that any additional outlay would make this form of investment less attractive.

Read the full article in ReNew 115

The natural pool cleaners

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Using tadpoles to keep your pool clean can provide huge savings on chemical and power use, writes John Hermans.

For the last year our family pool has been home to hundreds of tadpoles, which has benefitted our household and the local environment. Having tadpoles has helped to eliminate energy and chemical use and propagates a multitude of indigenous frogs. An article in ReNew 110 (Easy Swimming Pool Filtration p37) suggests alternative ways to clean your pool with a solar Floatron, resulting in significant energy savings, but consider turning your pool into a frog pond swimming pool and you can also save lots of electricity.


Before the taddies, I used to place a large sheet of black plastic over the surface of the pool each winter to stop any light from entering the water, which then minimised algal growth. This means I don’t need to use chemicals or electricity to pump and filter water. Last spring, when the plastic was removed for the start of the hot season, there were already dozens of tadpoles in the water.

Keep the taddies

When I asked my two children whether or not I should run the filter and add chlorine, the answer was defiantly ‘no’, as they knew this would kill all of the highly desirable tadpoles and the potential to have our own frog breeding pond. As algal growth is most prolific in the summer months, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, but I knew from previous years that as summer warmth and light increases, the concentration of chlorine diminishes and the algal growth soon starts appearing on the pool walls.

Last summer, with lots of taddies chewing away on whatever algae they could find, the water stayed crystal clear and algal growth was not easily visible. We were on an experimental adventure, using native wildlife to reduce our pool chemical and power use to zero and, as a bonus, boost the local frog population to a new high.

As each frog or tadpole species has a different food niche, finding the most suitable frog species to keep your pool clean could be hit and miss. In our case it was Litoria Ewingi (Southern Brown Tree Frog) that found our pool and since that first hatching of a few dozen taddies, their number has grown considerably. At times there were over 100, which is quite sustainable for a water volume of 20 cubic metres receiving filtered sunlight. This species of tree frog is the only one listed in my field guide that breeds all year round, so this is why I have had tadpoles in my pool right through the winter. In a confined vessel such as a pool, there is little to no predation of the taddies, so a high percentage end up metamorphosing into frogs. Once the frogs have formed they hop off to a new life, under leafage, singing and snapping up mosquitoes!

Instead of mechanically filtering the pool water, the taddies filter it and then drop the nutrients to the bottom. So there is still pool cleaning to do, such as vacuuming or siphoning off the organic build-up from the bottom, preferably into your garden, as we do.

When I did use chlorine (before the taddies) I only ever used a minimal amount, but chemical use is always a concern. My first swim preference is the dynamic ocean, then our local river, with its own aquatic life and compost bottom, and last of all a chlorinated pool, no matter how artificially clean it is. But now we are happy to swim with the taddies in our naturally filtered pool.

This article is from ReNew 114.

109 rainwater tanks

Rainwater tank buyers guide

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Find out which rainwater tank works best for your household.

There is a rainwater tank for every purpose these days, with a variety of materials, sizes and designs. So what should you look for when buying a tank?


The first decision you have to make is where the tank will be located. Where you place the tank will determine its size and shape, and possibly even its colour if it needs to blend into the surrounding vegetation or dwelling walls. A large yard offers a number of options. You could place it next to the house or shed, or even under the house.

Tank materials

The six most common rainwater tank materials are concrete, fibreglass, plastic (usually polyethylene), Aquaplate Colorbond, galvanised iron and stainless steel. Each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at a few of those.


A water tank can be a considerable expense, even after a rebate, so you want it to last as long as possible. The expected lifetime of any tank should be at least 20 years, and indeed, many tanks come with a 20 or even 25 year warranty. However, a number of factors will determine just how long the tank actually lasts, and that includes water quality, maintenance, and positioning of the tank.

For example, plastic tanks are relatively immune to damage from salty water, so if your tank is regularly topped up from a bore or dam, then a plastic tank might be the best solution. However, if your tank only needs to hold rainwater, then any tank material should be suitable.

The tank’s location can effect the lifetime of the materials. Ideally, the tank should be located in shade if possible, not just to keep the water temperature low and reduce evaporation, but also because some materials are damaged by direct sunlight.

Most poly tanks will slowly degrade over time with exposure to the sun, despite having UV inhibitors added to the plastic. Because the plastic is being used to hold water, there are limits to how much UV inhibitor and other chemicals can be added to the polyethylene, so eventually the tanks will suffer some degradation.

Read the full article in ReNew 109