From Green Home to Dream Home

Green Homes Australia

“You have in the marketplace some real genuine green builders who operate with all sustainable materials and expensive green technologies like heat pumps and geothermal heating and the like. But, because they have such a staunch policy on renewable and expensive materials and high tech devices, they often tend to come out at the higher end of the scale, so for a lot of Australians, they’re very much out of reach.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a large proportion of builders will simply build a standard home which they later augment with water tanks or solar panels. Such homes are then labelled as “green houses” and marketed to would-be conscientious consumers.

“That’s what we consider greenwashing – when there is actually no thought put into making the home efficient by design,” explains David Berryman, Operations Manager for Green Homes Australia. “It’s just about building the normal house that they would normally build and then chucking some green benefits on it.”

Green Homes Australia (GHA) sits comfortably in between these two extremes, building homes which are designed with sustainability in mind from the start and which are constructed using traditional methods and common materials like bricks and mortar, corrugated iron, and cladding.

GHA, says Mr Berryman, takes a very realistic approach to being green. “We don’t muck around and try to build you a house that’s over-engineered and too high tech and which, if you want to be efficient, you’ve got to learn how to live within – that’s not realistic. Realistic is taking a normal sort of home that people are comfortable with and making it efficient. There is no reason why that can’t be done, so that’s what we do.”

It’s not about using new technologies; it’s about building a better house in the first place.

“For a building company, you need to have a very flexible approach to how you design the home,” continues Mr Berryman. “So for GHA we’ve probably built in the vicinity of about three hundred and fifty of these homes and I can say with 100 per cent certainty that no two have ever been the same.”

Contrast that against project or volume builders, who work from a set of plans then build en masse. While such companies arguably can cut down on waste by using the same plans and materials for a large number of houses, that model simply doesn’t translate well into green building. “Every individual home needs to be designed from the ground up to suit the climate, the block, the lifestyle of the owner and the budget of the owner.”

Adhering to twenty-six green building principles, GHA makes the best use of thermal mass, correct building practices, and passive design to ensure that all its homes are draft proof up to a 1 per cent leakage (the national average is 6 per cent) with no added costs to the client. “There are a whole variety of small things that go into building our houses, but they’re not rocket science; they don’t cost a lot but the outcome is really exceptional!”

For example, in a 6 per cent leak-proof home, a 10 kilowatt split system air conditioner will heat or cool approximately 100 cubic metres, while in a 1 per cent leak-proof home that same unit will heat or cool about 400 cubic metres. With just a small increase in the energy saved, one can effectively quadruple the efficiency of standard technology. It’s not actually the unit that is efficient; it’s the house around it that’s efficient. “In fact,” notes Mr Berryman, “we often find that our homes are so efficient by design that we don’t even have to put solar panels on them to achieve a really efficient home.”

Many of the techniques used by Green Homes Australia are typical to most builders, such as water harvesting and garden allotments, though the company also incorporates a variety of clever but simple design techniques such as window placement, eaves depth and cross flow ventilation which Mr Berryman says other companies are sometimes uninformed about how to do correctly to ensure maximum efficiency.

Further, he explains that one of the greatest design sins in terms of efficiency is when a home is designed to be the wrong size for the people who will be living in it. “Some people will come to us and say they want the biggest house. That doesn’t really work; you can’t have an efficient home if you’re going to have five or six bedrooms that are empty most of the year. It’s about living within your means. We don’t ever expect our customers to make sacrifices on comfort but if you really want to have an energy efficient home you have to be realistic.”

Unfortunately, a lot of confusion still exists in Australia in terms of the perceived expense and lifestyle adjustments one must endure in order to go green. “The biggest misconception in green building is that it’s more expensive and it’s harder; neither of those things is true! You can own a home that’s going to be three times more efficient and it’s still going to be affordable and it’s still going to be comfortable. You’re not going to have to make sacrifices on your lifestyle or your physical comfort to live in your home and it’s not going to be weird or built out of strange things; it can look exactly the same as the home you’ve always wanted.

“It’s taken us twenty years and several hundred thousand dollars to figure out how to design these homes but now it basically happens like second nature. Now any home we build is going to be energy efficient and it’s going to be affordable. That’s what we do and we do it really well.”

The expertise couldn’t come at a better time for Australia, as the country faces seemingly ever-increasing energy prices. “Energy prices in Australia I think are some of the highest in the world so we are approaching the point where most bigger size Australian homes – an average family home which is maybe four bedrooms – we are fast approaching that costing maybe $1000 a month in electricity, so that’s a lot of money for any person to stomach. When you actually come on the radar like we do and say, ‘Hey, we can build you a home that’s affordable, that’s comfortable, that’s energy efficient, and you won’t have to sacrifice any of your lifestyle to own it and it’s about the same price as what you would pay with anyone else,’ we definitely attract a big audience.”

It was precisely this shift in the marketplace which drove GHA to begin to offer its trade secrets out as a franchise opportunity. The introduction of the carbon tax in Australia drove a consumer frenzy, which in turn drastically increased market demand and prompted requests for GHA’s services across the nation from WA, northern QLD and even Tasmania. “We literally had to become a franchise to meet the demand; there was no way we could manage it from our office.”

The opportunity provided then to franchise owners with GHA is a complete turn-key solution – an opportunity to align themselves quickly and easily with the values and capabilities they revere without the high cost in time and money. “When you’re out to make that leap into growing your business, you’re looking to add one or two staff members for your office to give you a hand… For a relatively similar amount of money you can get access to a sales team, a marketing team, an IT team, a website team, a building advice team, a drafting team – all the systems we have here at Head Office and we have been using for twenty years. So for a lot of builders… they would rather become part of a business and a brand that is recognised and is doing something different and gives you a lot more support for that for a lot less money,” shares Mr Berryman.

“A typical franchisee for us… the most important thing is attitude. At the end of the day, very much of what we do here at Green Homes Australia is about being honest with the clients and giving them the best options that they just can’t get anywhere else.”

GHA has also aligned itself with Skillset, who provides green building training. Over the years, the two companies have worked together as sustainability partners numerous projects, though most significantly, Skillset delivers a training course for GHA’s employees. “Skillset are very, very green in their approach and they will teach you the hard science of what it takes to build an energy efficient home. From there what we do is we look to roll that back a bit and put it in a more commercial setting. We take those principles that are true and that can be applied to building design and we put that to a more saleable product which is a realistic and comfortable home.

“On one side it’s great for the builders to be exposed to the hard facts behind green building and to be able to outshine anyone else when it comes to understanding what goes into building an energy efficient home. But it’s also important to be able to then balance that… You’ve got to be able to find compromise and make a product that people want to live in.”

GHA works with a wide variety of National and Preferred Partners and Suppliers to bring the utmost in quality to its clients and its franchisees. Appricus Australia Solar Hot Water is one such national partner, and a leader in its field. “They’ve got a really great product that works in all climate zones. We like their product and we like how they do business.”

The company is also excited to be working on a new contract with national partners AGL, who provides energy saving plans and options for electricity and appliances in new and existing homes. “Every project that we’ve done has been a real symphony of different ideas and concepts all coming together,” says Mr Berryman.

Recently, GHA completed a home out in Wellington, which demonstrates well the high level of efficiency and comfort possible in building a green home. “It’s pretty amazing what these homes can do. The owner was out there when it wasn’t even all locked up yet, some of the windows still had to be installed, but he called our director at ten o’clock at night and said, ‘I had to call you; I’m in the house, I’ve got a temperature gauge here saying it’s 4 degrees outside and it’s 14 degrees or 15 degrees inside!’ And that’s ten o’clock at night in the middle of winter in one of the coldest parts of Australia. That’s just the house performing, doing what it does.”

At the moment, GHA is working on the Ronald MacDonald house in Orange. As one of the last of its kind to be built in NSW, Mr Berryman says the company is obviously quite proud to be working with the charity.

“Every home gives us a bit of a kick, really. When you see customers for the first winter that they have been living in their home and just loving it, and seeing customers realise that they can design a home from scratch instead of having to pick one from a plan – when they realise that you are giving them something that isn’t going to cost them more but is actually going to save them a lot, that’s the kind of stuff that we really get a kick out of… and it’s so good to know that we’re the ones who are answering that demand.”

When asked about the future, Mr Berryman’s enthusiasm and confidence in Green Homes Australia was at peak. “Look, we want to take over the world, really!” he enthuses. “We’ve already been approached by some people looking to do Green Homes India and Green Homes New Zealand, so that’s a different step in the process, but for now the short to medium term plan is we want to have one hundred of the best builders in Australia working for us and we want them to be the happiest builders in the market!”

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