Vicky is a professional Carbon Manager, and she bought a lovely 1948 house in Manifold Heights. Step by step she implemented a series of simple projects, and took it from a 2 star energy rated home to 4.5 stars.
As an energy efficiency professional, Vicky spends her days researching products, hanging out with engineers, and helping Geelong businesses to cut their energy costs. She's also part of a new community group that's working to get community owned renewables projects up and running in Geelong. Who better to give us some tips on tightening up our energy consumption??
We visited Vicky to find out what she'd done in her own home, and to get the goss on what to think about, what to buy and who to talk to when doing an energy retrofit on an existing home.
Tell us about your home Vicky
It’s a 1948 house and I chose it because it faces north out the back. I like the old Geelong style houses and I wanted brick veneer because I knew that it was a better bet for ease of sustainability. Like many old houses, the laundry, old water system and range were located in the best NW corner of the house. So I did a renovation and took all of that out.
I had the structural work done to open up the whole area from the lounge and dining area through to the kitchen. Now I have light coming in from the north side of my house, and it’s able to reach right through the building. This house was assessed by an architect at about a 2 star rating when I moved in, but now it’s between 4-4.5 star, which is pretty good for a retrofit.
I learnt a lot about the structure of the house and became interested in building in more sustainability components, as well as becoming active in how I run the home. It's fun, and involves making changes with the seasons in order to get good results that actually reduce my energy use and bills.
Zoning and insulation
When I renovated the house in 2009 I was completing a diploma in sustainability at The Gordon and I'd started to think about what I could do to make the insulation of the roof and walls more effective. As I then did my Cert IV in Carbon Management, I was increasingly interested in creating a well functioning home which would reduce my carbon footprint as well as protect me against rising energy costs.
I retained the doors in the house so that I can heat the lounge room and kitchen separately to the rest of the house. As the plasterboard was removed during the renovations I bought insulation material to install in the walls. I used the free Government program to install a 2nd layer of insulation in the roof, and while they were installing it I went up there and tucked everything in to make sure that the hot water pipes were also insulated.
After a year or so I got a wonderful house audit through Ecomaster which included checking for gaps between the floorboards and walls, the door seals and the window fittings and glazing. I then had a guy come and put ‘Rock Wool’ insulation into the walls. To get it in the wall they took a couple some tiles off around the perimeter of the roof and blew in the insulation material down between the plasterboard and bricks. The amazing thing about this product is that it doesn’t settle so your insulation levels stay steady over time.
Before the Ecomaster audit I had Magnetite install secondary glazing on all of my south facing windows - this is cheaper than replacing the windows with new double glazed ones. They made a very big difference in preventing draughts from the sash windows, but it is a closed system that makes it hard to open the windows. So later Ecomaster measured all the remaining windows really accurately – down to the millimetre, and then make a perfectly sized high quality acrylic pane that’s held onto the window with a magnetic strip. Because it’s removable, you can pull it apart and clean it, and if you break it you can replace it easily. It worked out to around $300 a square meter and it’s the best quality secondary glazing I've come across. Ecomaster are a Victorian business and have retrofitted windows all around the State.
I put plastic dampers over the vents in the kitchen and bathroom ceilings – they are a key escape route for warm air in winter. These dampers open up when you switch the fans on, but otherwise they seal off the room space to stop air escaping through the ceiling into the roof. You can get them from hardware shops.
Then Ecomaster did draught proofing around all the doors, windows and skirting boards. They also used a silicone products or draught strips to seal up any leaking air in floor boards.
I put ceiling fans in the lounge and dining areas as well as the main bedroom. I also installed security screen doors on both sides of the house so I can leave the doors open and catch south westerlies in summer evenings to cool the house. This all reduces the bills as I don't need air conditioning.
I had a solar ventilation system fitted about 6 years ago – it was installed by a local provider and it’s called a “Solar Venti”. It’s basically a large solar panel and the heat that’s gained behind it is pulled down into the house with a small motor, and you can vent this warm air into 2 or 3 rooms.
The system has a wall monitor for assessing the balance of the temperature inside and outside of the house, so that it knows when to pump the warm air into the house. The monitor’s great - it shows me the outside temperature, the roof temperature and the temperature inside my house, and that helps me to make decisions about when to switch it on. It works really well in spring and autumn. In winter it won’t create enough heat to totally heat your house, but it basically takes the humidity out of the air so when I put the ceiling ducted gas heating on it doesn’t take long to heat up. That reduces my heating costs considerably.
Two years ago I learnt how much heat is wasted in an open fire place. So I installed a wood burning insert firebox. It's incredibly efficient and warms the living space during the colder evenings and weekends. So far I only believe there are European manufactured models to buy in Australia.
To top up the heat in winter if its needed in the bedrooms, I use an energy efficient electric heater in one room. It’s a Bliss heater and it’s Australian made.
Food and water
The garden was almost all European style when I moved in, and I have basically bushed it up with native plants as well as wicking vegetable beds and fruit trees. I took out all the thirsty plants and gave them away. I also put in indigenous wattles which fix nitrogen in the soil and feed the fruit trees. The result is that I get a lot of birds here and feed myself as well as my friends from the garden. It's an ongoing experiement!
I have 2 water tanks, one was here when I moved in. It's 5000 litres in total. I use the water for the vegetables and fruit trees, and may plumb one of them into the house for the toilet in the future
How did you choose your solar PV installation company?
I had the solar PV system installed in mid 2014, after talking with friends about their systems and making the home as energy efficient as possible first. I chose Green Earth Electrical (GEE) because they are a local family run business, and they understand the connectivity between how you run the house, how efficient you are, and the optimum sized solar PV system you’d need. I also like that there is a real time monitor which I can read on my phone to see how it is performing, and GEE monitor the system to make sure it’s working properly, They come and clean my panels to keep them working well. I can discuss my bills with them to see what’s going on, and assess whether the system is still suitable for my needs, for example when there are other people living here as well.
What size system did they recommend?
Because I’d done all this efficiency work on my house, and I know to turn everything off at night, and I have a small fridge, my electricity consumption is really minimal. So Green Earth Electrical advised I only needed a 1kw system. Feed in tariffs are really low these days so there’s not much point over-sizing your system to sell the energy back into the grid.
The PV system system has micro inverters, and Tindo Australian manufactured solar panels that are designed to handle our hot summers. Micro inverters are great, because they give me future flexibility and will enable me to extend my system down the track if I need to. When batteries come out it would definitely be very good to have a slightly bigger PV system so that I can generate more during the day and use my stored energy overnight.
I try to shift as much electricity use as I can to daylight hours so I can take advantage of the energy I’m producing on site. This includes the washing machine.
Has all this made a difference to your bills?
There has largely been two of us in the house over the past year, using a total of 1062 kWh electricity. The Solar PV system generated 997 kWh, so that's a fabulous match! It basically off set the house use of grid electricity which is generated from really high carbon emission brown coal in Victoria.
It’s made my bills very small for a 3 bedroom house - my total electricity bill was $164 for the last quarter, which includes the coldest months of winter. And the gas for hot water at this stage and ducted heating is low as well.
What’s next in your sustainability journey Vicky?
My next purchase will be a home electricity monitor so I can keep track of what’s happening with my electricity consumption and production. It’s a great little product, you can currently buy them for around $150.
I also quite like the idea of having a shared electric vehicle in the future, and I’m also keen to install batteries when they come to the Australian market.
Down the track I’ll be building further accommodation to enable me to share my property with more people – your efficiency shoots through the roof when you share your space with more people!
What is it about sustainability that you love so much?
Sustainability is great if you are interested in thinking about your surroundings, learning and trying new things. It's an adventure to me!.
Because I work in energy efficiency I try to keep up to date with new products, and I work with engineers and people who are interested in having conversations about equipment. I’ve been lucky to learn what works and to be able to apply them to my home.
I learned a lot about sustainability from my parents. My Dad was very interested in less intensive farming methods, and my Mum supported organisations like Friends of the Earth. – they were ahead of their time.
I’ve also learned a lot from local Aboriginal people, and I think reconciliation links perfectly with sustainability. They are both about respectful caring for people and environment, learning about our history and working together to right the mistakes of our past. I had a smoking ceremony when I moved in to my home. It helped me to realise that I needed to be more connected to this land, and live more communally to care for our country.
Something happened to us at some point in history when we thought we needed to have more all the time. But real sustainability is recognising that we are connected to every little creature on this planet and recognising that we need to look at living very different lives. Everything’s connected.
Looking at energy use is one thing but sustainability is much broader than that. I grow my own food, I shop at op shops, I swap things, I'm currently having fun with a second hand sewing machine.
I’ve realised that it’s not hard to be sustainable – its actually interesting and enjoyable. And energy efficiency isn’t passive – it’s an active thing, it’s about learning, and it’s actually quite fun.
My new passion is working with a community group to get a community owned renewable energy (CORE) project up and running in Geelong. It’s exciting what’s happening in the Geelong community around energy and renewables. It’s an amazing team of people who are willing to share their skills for something bigger than our own individual interests, and that’s a really exciting thing.
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