By Bettina Deda
After the devastating 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, Australia, a concerned mother wanted to live closer to her daughter in the fire-ravaged town of Kinglake, north of Melbourne. She decided to build there and knew what she wanted: a sustainable house robust enough to withstand a bushfire should tragedy strike the area again. The resulting home combines the sustainability and beauty of rammed-earth construction with lightweight BlueScope Colorbond-clad walls, and is designed to be energy-efficient and comfortable through the seasons.

Houzz at a Glance

  • Location: Kinglake, Australia
  • Size: 1,614 square feet (150 square meters)
  • That's interesting: The home won the Master Builders Association of Victoria's 2012 Excellence in Housing Award for the best custom home in its price range.

The client asked Eco Sustainable Homes to design a two-bedroom house with a main bathroom and an en suite; an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area with as much natural light as possible; an outdoor living space; and a carport. The client also loves the natural feel of rammed earth and wanted to marry its earthy textures and tones with metal inside and out.

She wanted a low-maintenance home that would become a special place that stayed in the family. She also wanted the design to capture the beautiful views on her property and to be comfortable in all seasons with minimal heating and cooling.

The site is in a bushfire-prone location (BAL 40 verging on Flame Zone, the highest attack levels). This influenced both the design of the home and the materials needed to build it. BAL is determined by a number of factors, including the types of vegetation that surround the property, the distance between the vegetation and the building, and the property's slope.

"With weeks of research into materials and meetings with manufacturers of products to meet the new Flame Zone regulations, we discovered that, at the time, there was little in the marketplace that could reach the BAL 40 or FZ regulations. And the roofing systems were also cost-prohibitive," Lyn Carter of Eco Sustainable Homes says. "We needed to redesign the home to fit the project into the budget."

Many new builds in Kinglake were dealing with the risk by clearing their land. Clearing was not an option with this client, who was keen to maintain the natural environment. The designer hired an arborist to decide which trees were dead or dying and mark them for clearing to help open up the canopy and reduce subsequent bushfire danger.

The final design of the property included curved parapet walls, as well as a courtyard created by the radiant-heat-shield walls. These walls protect the home from an approaching fire, provide an area sheltered from cold southerly winds in winter and add value to the home.

Wildfire Protection Features:

  • Courtyard rammed-earth radiant-heat-shield walls
  • Parapet rammed-earth walls to deflect radiant heat
  • Earth berm to be planted with fire-retardant plants
  • Ridgeless roof utilizing self-curving Zincalume corrugated sheet roofing
  • Management of the landscape to reduce fuel in the event of a bushfire

At the entry hall is one of the house's two antique Chinese doors. The homeowner dislikes conventional doors and asked the designers to ensure that the only doors visible from her living area were her two imported Chinese doors. They are about 9 feet high and hinged with stainless steel commercial hinges.

"She even brought them to the site inspection for us to see," Carter says. "She also wanted us to visit her existing home to understand her taste and style preferences, and to see the furniture and special items she would be bringing to her new home. We had to ensure the room spaces would accommodate her favorite furniture, including her two lounge suites, for example."

Concrete polished floor: Concrete Resurfacing Systems(Credit: Eco Sustainable Homes)

The homeowner had a clear picture of the design direction and colors she wanted in her home. She chose all the furnishings and color schemes, including the wood dining set in the open-plan living space. The cream-colored Colorbond corrugated iron ceiling in the main living area provides an interesting texture and never needs repainting. The 12-inch-thick rammed-earth walls need no internal maintenance either.

Bar stools: Organic Modernism(Credit: Eco Sustainable Homes)

In the kitchen, the homeowner chose red gum wood cabinetry with stainless steel countertops. The U-shaped counter creates an extra table for enjoying a meal or coffee.

The cool-toned stainless steel counters, backsplash and appliances contrast with the warm wood of the cabinets.

From the living area, the second Chinese door leads into the master bedroom. The Rylock windows are thermally improved and double-paned and have a low-E coating, which reduces heat flow by making the window less transparent to parts of the solar spectrum. A low-E coating can reject unwanted infrared heat from the sun in summer and retain it during the winter.

The en suite bathroom radiates warmth in the earthy color scheme that dominates the home. Strips of colorful mosaic tiles behind the simple wood vanity add some fun to the space.

The custom-made vanity in the main bathroom was made by the homeowner's son. The door leads to the laundry room.

Sustainable Features:

  • Solar-passive design, including correct northerly orientation
  • Excellent cross-flow ventilation
  • Thermally improved aluminum, double-paned, low-E, argon-gas-filled windows
  • Biolytic waste-treatment system
  • Rainwater storage tank
  • Supplementary bore water supply
  • Pergolas for natural summer shade and winter sun
  • High internal thermal mass
  • Ceiling fans
  • Compact fluorescent low-wattage lights
  • Heavy section posts reclaimed from local fire-damaged trees
  • Timber harvested from certified sustainable forest
  • Low embodied energy of earth walls

Designer-builder: Eco Sustainable Homes
Rammed-earth contractor: Rammed Earth Enterprises
Cabinetmaker: Yarra Valley Cabinet Makers

Related reading:

Contemporary Dining Sets to Fit Your Color Scheme
Browse More Kitchen Design Ideas
Stunning Mosaics to Line the Bathroom

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