Building a project home

The Sustainable Mandurah Home is the first example in WA of a project home specifically designed along passive design principles.  For more information visit the home or Ultimate Homes.

If you are interested in a different project home most builders and project home companies will customise their designs to suit your needs. If the home is not already built, ask an experienced architect or professional designer to suggest ways of improving standard designs and to negotiate any price variations with the builder. Changes can often be made at little or no extra cost and a professional will speak ‘builder’s language’. Low cost plan adjustments can include:

  • Changing the orientation and location on the land to take advantage of north sun, breezes or privacy
  • Changing the windows
  • Mirroring/flipping the plan
  • Adding a window to a room for cross-ventilation
  • Adding extra insulation
  • Increasing the size of the eaves for better shading

Building a villa or unit

Living in a villa or unit can be a great experience or can be really uncomfortable. You need to think carefully about your design. Look for living areas that receive a mix of sun and shade appropriate to the climate. Avoid large, west-facing windows that can turn any unit into an oven.

Look at the structure of the building and ask about its insulation and sound-proofing qualities. Check the appliances, taps and showerheads. Are they energy and water efficient? Remember your hot water system can use around 30% of the energy in your home, so check its efficiency and age. Your living costs can be markedly reduced if your fittings conserve water and energy.

Look for somewhere outside to dry clothes naturally. Is there a suitable mix of private and community space? It is often better to sacrifice private space for better communal facilities such as gardens and barbecue areas. Good units will also provide recycling facilities and safe bike storage.

If an attractive unit is missing some of these features find out if it can be easily adapted. Ask for professional advice and find out if the body corporate rules allow for the necessary alterations.

The proximity of the unit to shops and amenities, work and public transport is important. A good location will improve your lifestyle and reduce your transport costs.

 Buying an existing home

When looking at existing homes, seeking professional advice about renovating or extending before you buy can save you a lot of money later. Often it is better to buy a smaller, less expensive house in the right location with orientation to suit the climate, then modify it to suit your needs as your budget and needs dictate.

Some of the things to look for when buying:

  • Does the plan really suit your lifestyle?
  • Can it be adapted to suit your needs now and in the future?
  • Will the design work in this climate?
  • Is northerly solar access achievable or desirable?
  • Could your neighbour extend their home or sub-divide and build out your solar access or your breezeway
  • Are cooling breezes and shade more important?
  • Do large glass areas of glass face east or west and can these windows be shaded?
  • How much will the required changes cost?
  • Will cooling summer breezes reach the main living areas?
  • Do neighbouring buildings and vegetation overshadow your house?
  • Will overshadowing change in the future. (How large will that tree grow)?
  • Is there insulation; if so, how much, and can more be added?
  • What heating and cooling appliances exist? Are they adequate? Are they efficient?
  • Are the building materials and appliances durable and low maintenance?
  • Have any toxic materials been used either inside or outside?
  • Does the home have an environmentally friendly and safe termite treatment system?

Weigh all the costs on your list against the alternative homes in your price range. The best solution will soon become clear.