Off the shelf
After building their own home from locally sourced materials and using a simple design, Jane and Owen have packaged up their approach for others in their close-knit Tasmanian community.
Building a new home that’s environmentally sound is a challenge. There’s much research to be done: products to assess, decisions to be made, standards to meet. It’s tough work – possibly more so than constructing a home that isn’t quite so planet friendly. But what if you could leave all the environmental research and decision making to the designer/builder? What if you could just ask for an extensively researched, environmentally sound, locally sourced, well-designed, beautiful-to-look-at home – and get all that without having to do the legwork? Wouldn’t that make building green more attractive, perhaps even to people with less environmental concern? It’s just this kind of package that NEAThouse is offering in Tasmania.
“NEAT stands for New, Environmental, Affordable and Tasmanian,” explains Owen Thomson, who runs NEAThouse with his wife Jane out of Hobart. Owen and Jane, both with previous careers as professional musicians, design and build complete environmental home packages. These exceptional houses – with high energy star energy ratings – are all about sourcing locally and sustainably. They’re also about creating a healthy, aesthetically lovely home environment, both indoors and out.
“Our approach and philosophy are very much holistic,” says Owen. “We build houses that are sustainable from an environmental viewpoint, but we also want to make having an environmental home accessible for people in an economic sense.” With their NEATbox display house they also demonstrate how good all of this can look.
This compact house, set in the beach village of Dodges Ferry near Hobart, is a 104-square-metre, three-bedroom home with a study, expansive deck and carport, built in a simple ‘box’ format to passive solar principles. The home is super-insulated, giving it an 8.1 Star energy rating, and uses recycled, local and sustainably sourced materials, including insulation of largely recycled glasswool, plantation pine framing and cypress pine cladding. The home comes with a stylish Ecoply kitchen, a spacious family bathroom, low-VOC finishes, and harvests all its own water off the wide skillion roof. White vertical boards on the interior walls give the home a beachy feel, and a modular Ecoply feature wall in the living area adds honey-coloured warmth.
As well as being so well insulated, the NEATbox is double-glazed throughout, with a thermal break frame. On a cool spring day as Jane and Owen show the house off to visitors there’s no heating on, and yet the north-oriented, sun-soaked living area feels warm. The house smells deliciously of timber as soon as the front door opens. Surprisingly, the base price tag for a little, but spacious, NEAT design is under $173,000, with costs increasing with size.
Not far away in the same beach-side community, lawyer Tori Hodgman owns a larger NEAThouse, set higher off the ground amongst the native bush, with expansive beach views. Tori looked at many new houses before settling on Jane and Owen’s design. “It was the first new-build house that I’d ever walked into that felt like a home,” she says. “I think because it’s largely built of recycled timbers, it has its own personality. You can tell that this house has been built with a lot of love.”
Although Tori bought the house for its design above all, the environmental side of it also appealed to her. “I particularly liked that the building materials were locally sourced. When I bought things for the house, it inspired me to source locally as well.” Tori also enjoys her home’s energy efficiency. “I’ve been here for two years, and I have just two panel heaters which I haven’t put on more than a few times, just for half an hour on winter evenings,” she says. “My winter power bills are $100 a month, compared to $1200 a quarter in my old house. It’s opened my eyes to the value of really good insulation.”
Tori’s house is popular with her friends, many of whom have asked if Jane and Owen will consider building on the mainland, however these buildings are being built only in Tasmania for now. “We’ve had lots of enquiries asking us to build on the mainland, and although we’re not focusing on that in the immediate future, it’s definitely at the back of our minds,” says Jane.
Meanwhile, things are getting busy in Tasmania for NEAThouse. The company won the HIA 2016 Australian Greensmart display house award, and interest in NEAThouse is booming. “We have put a lot of time into researching sustainability. It’s a complex notion. So hopefully people can come and see this house, and take in the whole concept, without having to do all the groundwork themselves,” says Owen.
“Or, they can buy a house like this simply because they like it,” adds Jane.