A zinc roof, a milled timber wall in the kitchen and heating and cooling assisted by the natural climate were non-negotiable inclusions when the Bland family decided to build their dream home. 

Ashley Bland and his wife Julia Strang decided that making greener choices now was the way forward — for both the home they’re building in Bathurst, in New South Wales, and the future climate their three young children will experience.

The Bland family used milled timber for a feature wall in their kitchen.(Supplied: Ashley Bland)

Moving back as an adult to the regional city he grew up in, Mr Bland said he noticed a difference in the climate, and knew the importance of building for a continually changing environment.

“When I was a kid, I would regularly miss the school bus because it couldn’t make its way through the snow,” he said.

“Now we have years where the highway doesn’t even stop from the snow … I know it’s getting warmer.

“We really knew the value of design and building fabric that actually helps protect you from the elements, and so we [thought] we should actually build a home that responds to the natural environment.”

The new Bland family home in Bathurst has been built with climate and energy efficiency in mind.(Supplied: Ashley Bland)

Adapting to the environment

Despite the recent changes to the National Construction Code (NCC), research fellow for the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, Dr Shamila Haddad, said Australia was lagging behind in the global context of home energy efficiency and building quality.

“To be able to help residents in terms of enhancing their thermal comfort as well as improving health, it is 100 per cent the requirements of both government and industry … to improve the quality of buildings,” she said.

“We need to have an updated version of the National Construction Code because that is basically set to minimum standards.

“We need to be aiming for higher requirements and also think about the buildings existing right now.”

The frequency of extreme weather occurring across Australia from 1981 to 2020. Increases in extreme weather have been primarily driven by heat.(Supplied: Actuaries Institute)

In January 2024, the South Australian government eliminated dark roofing on new builds in a northern suburbs housing development to reduce the “urban heat island effect” and increase sustainability.

Dark roofs draw in and trap more heat than lighter coloured roofs, increasing the urban temperature by up to seven degrees.(ABC Ballarat: Rhiannon Stevens)

“When it comes to dark roofs, there are places in Australia that it makes sense to have them, like Thredbo in the ski fields. But for the rest of Australia, you do pay a penalty,” Mr Bland said.

“We live in a society that says, ‘No, you should be able to do what you want’, but [that should not be] at the expense of the rest of society.”

Climate changing history

The Australian home design has been moulded over time, and while historically houses across the country have not been built for Australia’s climate extremes — apart from the classic Queenslander — that is changing.

A classic elevated Queenslander built between 1880 and 1890 in Emerald, Queensland, with wide, covered verandas to keep the house cool. (Supplied: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

An increased number of Australians now are building with the local and warming climate in mind, moving on from Australian 20th-century homes modelled on British or American suburban designs.

Professor of architecture, and host of Grand Designs Australia, Anthony Burke, said simple changes to design could have great impacts when building for the climate, including double glazing on windows and sufficient insulation.

Anthony Burke says climate and sustainability will have positive effects on Australian home designs.(ABC News)

“We’ve been living with models of the Australian home basically since the 1950s, which haven’t changed that much,” he said.

“But financial pressures, cost of living, climate and sustainability issues are all external factors which are pushing hard on those old models and demanding change.

“The more we push on the climate needs of what the building industry needs to do, what design needs to do, the better our design outcomes for us will be.

“That will change positively the way we even imagine what a home looks like in the future, and I fully believe right now we’re on a very real tipping point for the Australian home.”

Professor Burke said an improved awareness of the changing climate had “landed squarely in the living room of the average Australian”. 

“It’s very much a part of how we imagine going forward into the future and this is something which gets to our generational aspirations,” he said.

“This conversation about sustainability is one of the first we usually have with new home owners when we meet them, and they’re ready with really good answers, most of the time, for what they’re going to do to try and add their little bit of positive steps towards solutions in this space.”

Small changes, big consequences

As a business development manager with Green Homes Australia, Mr Bland said he was in a fortunate position to access a builder network with experience building climate-ready houses.

Green Homes Australia’s display home in Perth was declared Australia’s most sustainable two-storey home in 2022, with a 9.2-star NatHERS rating.(Supplied: Green Homes Australia)

“As a consumer, it’s important to be at least a bit informed about the principles you want to hold true to, because you will come up against resistance from the building industry, and trades and products people,” he said.

“The home we’re building is no more expensive because it’s a green home than the home we would have built, because a lot of the features we’ve done, you wouldn’t even notice.

“There’s this skewed perception out there of where value is in the home … but there are a whole range of really cheap decisions that you can make that materially impact the performance of the home.”

Now, for their future

Building a green home was a chance to teach his children, Tilly, 11, Daisy, 10 and Otis, seven, why certain building decisions were made, and how they impacted on their climate future, Mr Bland said.

Daisy Bland is excited to see the new family home completed.(Supplied: Ashley Bland)

“There is an awareness for them that they live on a finite planet,” he said.

“They’re beginning to appreciate these automatic performance elements of the home.

“We’ve just grown up thinking … you can click the switch and there’s always enough there, but there are a lot of people running around in the world working very hard to make sure that can happen, and that’s not necessarily the right answer.”

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