AS CAIT and Peter Ghys approached retirement, they decided to fulfil a long-held dream and build a strawbale house.
The house, which was designed by their friend and architect Sue Mitchell, has a passive solar design and is rated at 8.3 stars. It has just been evaluated against the Victorian Residential Efficiency Scorecard, and received the maximum rating of 10 stars.
Peter says the house is not just energy efficient but beautiful to live in.
The Post asked him about the building project.
What about heating and cooling?
It’s lovely and cool in summer and warm in winter. There’s no cooling other than ceiling fans, and the only heating we have is a wood heater, which we largely use because we like looking at it!
Why were you interested in building sustainably?
We wanted to minimise our ongoing costs as we get older – I’m retired, whilst Cait is still working. We also wanted a house that was environmentally responsible. Some things are easy; correct orientation of the house means the sun does a lot of the hard work in winter to keep the house warm. Some things are harder, but worth it; the windows and doors are all double glazed uPVC, which were expensive, but wonderful – and I’ll never need to paint them! We are very proud of the ten star rating that we got recently!
Why straw bales?
Good question! We started thinking about building with straw bales soon after we met in the early 90s, but didn’t really do anything until we bought our retirement block outside Inverloch. Not sure if you’ve been in a straw bale house, but they are beautiful. The external walls are around half a metre thick, allowing us to have very deep rounded reveals around the doors and windows. The walls are lime washed on the inside. This looks really beautiful – sort of like buildings on the Greek Islands, or on the west coast of Ireland. Being so thick, and dense, they provide fantastic insulation – a big reason why the energy rating is so high. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer. I could go on …
Did you and Cait have previous building experience?
We owner-built an extension to our old house in Melbourne, but we haven’t actually built anything ourselves other than things like carports and pergolas, and odd bits of furniture. I did do two straw bale courses before we started; we followed the techniques of Andrew Morrison from strawbale.com. We had a builder build the post and beam frame, and the roof plumber put the roof on, then it was over to us. We had great assistance from a number of labourers
Describe the process of using volunteers to do the straw bales.
I learned how to do straw bale at a workshop in Natimuk, so it was natural that we would use the same option for our build. It works well; people pay to come; for this they get accommodation and all meals, plus instruction from someone who knows how to do it. For the instructor, he/she gets paid for his time. For us we get the walls erected pretty quickly at minimal outlay for labour. We had a team of about eight people for the workshop, and got about half the walls done in the week of the workshop.
Any crises (of the Grand Designs type)?
Of course. And it was related to the workshop. We had engaged a company to provide the instruction and do the advertising and administration (including food) for the course. We had a reasonable number of applicants signed up, although we didn’t think the advertising was as good as it could have been. Then about 2 weeks before the workshop was to be held the company pulled out – and arranged a workshop elsewhere, taking a number of those who had signed up with them. We were devastated. After thinking about it, we decided to push ahead and run the course ourselves. Numbers were down on what we would have liked, but those who came enjoyed it, learned a lot and helped us a heap!
Cait and Peter’s Inverloch house will be open from 10am to 4pm on Sunday, September 16. Visitors must register to attend at Sustainable House Day to obtain addresses of all open houses.