Drumkerin, a finalist for the Single Dwelling (New) Award, is the architect’s own new residence as a response to downsizing but also the chance to showcase an example of best practice in passive solar, energy efficient and sustainable house design.

From the architect:

It is very much about the holistic approach to the integration of the building systems rather than just individual ‘sustainable’ items and components.

But it’s not just about the house – it’s also about the occupants, and our decision to take responsibility for our actions in choosing how we live and what impact we personally have on the planet.

After many years designing other people’s houses, here was the opportunity to design our own and incorporate all those ‘green’ issues that clients so often forego in favour of other priorities and/or are not brave enough to try, and incorporate our lifestyle choices as part of the process.

So it provided an opportunity to bring together years of ongoing research and experience, while being conscious that not everything can go together and some things must be left out.

But also, given changing weather patterns, a response to the shorter, sharper winters and hotter summers, with the decision that it was no longer necessary in this climate (Armidale, NSW) to include major heating/cooling infrastructure if the building is designed right.

As new products or solutions came to mind, we researched further into detail to determine what we could and couldn’t include, balancing each eco-initiative against a set of criteria –

•          Practical - would it be possible, would it work and would it last

Drumkerin by Mahalath Halperin Architects is the architect’s own new residence as a response to downsizing but also the chance to showcase an example of best practice in passive solar, energy efficient and sustainable house design.

•          Sensible - was it worth the effort, did it balance with other inclusions, would it negate other benefits

•          Aesthetic - does it look good, does it fit in with and/or compliment the rest of the house

•          Financial  - could we afford it, was it cost effective, what’s it’s pay back and would it’s benefits last

Two specific examples were research into the PCM (phase change material) and the thermal mass options. For the PCM (see later) we concluded we only needed half the recommended amount as we were relying on passive heating and cooling rather than RC aircon systems and did not need the additional material (and therefore cost) to offset the active systems.

For the internal thermal mass walls we investigated the pros and cons of concrete tilt-up, concrete in-situ, rammed earth etc and finally ended up using core-filled concrete block, partly because it is straightforward and does not require specialist trades or skills (such as rammed earth).

Having now lived in and monitored the house for a year, the proof is in the pudding – it is extremely liveable, requires no active cooling, minimal heating, and uses very little energy (or costs) to run.

This is our forever home, so it is important to us personally that it ‘works’. But it is also a stepping stone to improvements for the next project for other clients.

It was important that as an architect’s home, it would demonstrate systems and practices, and that they are readily replicable without requiring additional (and therefore costly) trades or skills, i.e. any builder can do this. Low tech solutions are preferred for longevity and durability, and ease of replication. 

About the Awards

The Sustainability Awards is Australia’s longest running and most prestigious awards program dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating excellence in sustainable design and architecture. Nominations received are shortlisted and then winners for each category are announced at a five-star Gala evening hosted this year at the Star, Sydney on 11 October 2018. The daytime event Sustainability Live is a CPD-endorsed education event where industry experts present a range of topics to educate, inform and ignite learning. Buy tickets.