Friday, July 9, 2010

Finally a house we love

Finally we have found a house the whole family loves.  No, that isn't it above.  That is the cute wee "holiday home" I am currently "holidaying" in with my partner and the "Home Unschooled" children while I hunt down our longer term accommodation.

This hunt has been unexpectedly time-consuming and, if I'm honest, also quite depressing.  I thought I had the situation sorted and was already mentally arranging the furniture in our Brady Bunch-style rental home and looking forward to depositing the children at the local school. Then the home's owners announced that their renovations won't be finished for another couple of months. Noooooooo! So I've started the whole soul-destroying process all over again.

In my home quest I've seen plenty of outrageously expensive "luxury" homes full of numerous features that I neither need or want.  These houses usually have unopenable windows and require so much energy to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter that their power bills would bankrupt us.  Sometimes they actually look OK but more often they have multiple pink bathrooms and at least one other pink room. They have lawns and gardens which are watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water, as most of Mandurah is built on pure sand.

I've also seen plenty of brand new suburban homes described as "What more could you want!" that are really just budget homes for people who aspire to live in one of the luxury homes.  These homes get no sun in winter, too much sun in summer and require so much energy to keep them comfortable that if these are the homes of the future then we had better hurry up and find a few spare planets. They are built so close together that if you wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbour you could reach in from your own kitchen and help yourself.  They all have a "home theatre room" which is actually just a gloomy room housing a row of unbelievably ugly big black chairs (and which of course doesn't impress this family as we want people to go out to the real theatre). These homes also have lawns and gardens watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water.
(No, that isn't another one of them pictured above. That cutie is from a dishy blog called Perth's Best Architecture which I sometimes read to torture myself. I have photographed some horrifically-fascinating local homes but I'm convinced that as soon as I publish the photos my children will befriend the children who live there and I'll then live in fear that their mothers will discover what I've said about their homes...)

Lastly I've seen numerous 1970s houses that are described as "Fantastic location - walk to everything!"  That is true, and these homes would have been the height of cool when they were built.  Sadly though for the past forty years the inhabitants have systematically painted or tiled every interior surface pink.  Every single window has been given the "Why have windows? window treatment" which is a 5 step combo of floral curtains, lace curtains, vertical blinds, prison-like security screens and outdoor fabric awnings (most often seen collapsed flush against the house) designed to block out every scrap of daylight.  Retro-fitted to every northern, eastern, western (and sometimes also southern) side of these houses are huge carport-like structures.  The resulting interior resembles what Barbara Cartland would have come up with if she'd taken up decorating caves.  And yes, these homes also have lawns and gardens - quite large in many cases - watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water.

I've convinced myself I can cope with any of this crazy carry-on for a few months in a rental home.  But given that a) we are also looking around with a view to buying a house here further down the track, and b) I couldn't (soberly) live long-term in any of these homes, and c) I am a person who needs a lot of information before I make a big decision, I headed to the library. There I borrowed "Warm house, cool house: inspirational designs for low energy housing", "Making your home sustainable: a guide to retrofitting" and various books on contemporary Australian architecture and design. Nice.

And then we finally found a house that the whole family loved from the second we walked in the door.  This wonderfully-designed, five-year-old house stays between 18 and 28 degrees inside all year round without any powered heating or cooling system even though the outside temperatures here range from 2 to 40 degrees. This home is spacious, light, modern and comfortable and packed with clever features.  A knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide explained the home's features to us; it heats its own hot water, makes its own electricity, is warmed by winter sun, cooled by summer breezes, collects its own water and has a beautiful garden that requires very little maintenance or watering. Sadly for us this home isn't for sale but we can go and visit it and learn from it as many times as we like.  Yes that is it pictured above: it is The Sustainable Mandurah Home.

So as I start again in the hunt for our short-term rental home, we are also researching and formulating longer term plans: Option A is to buy our own piece of sand and build a sustainable home; Option B is to refit an existing home.  I'm currently most interested in option B as I'd love to buy a 1970s gem in a great location, peel away the carports and the Nana decor and re-cool it as well as sustainably refit it.  I'll spend my days singing "Here's the story, Of a lovely lady..." as I plant local native plants (yes, I am a soooo predictable), slap bucket loads of paint on the interior walls and dance around a "window treatments" bonfire.  While I do this a succession of trades-blokes will retro-fit solar louvres (perfectly angled to let in low winter sun yet block higher summer sun),

insulation, solar-powered devices, water-saving devices and breeze-catching windows.

Now there is a housing option I can get excited about...

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