Why We’re Doing It – EnvironmentAL Sustainability

2015 was a big year. It was the year the US science agency said was likely to be the hottest year on record. So in 2015 I decided that if our leaders weren’t going to take the real action required to combat climate change, then it was even more important to take action at the individual level. 5 years on and the situation is much worse, which means I have further strengthened my resolve to finish the ImPossible house.

Method in my off-grid madness

Now, it’s easy to build an off-the-grid sustainable house if you have a large block of land and lots of money to spend, like Chris Hemsworth. The problem is that most of us live in high-density areas and don’t have a spare $20 million lying around. On top of that, I think a lot of us don’t have the time to spend doing the research or we’re worried that being sustainable means we have to give up our modern lifestyle.

So I figured that if I can find a way to make being sustainable easy, without building a house that looked “sustainable” (aka daggy, run-down/unkempt and with a drop toilet out the back that requires a stick to fend off the brown snakes), then maybe a lot more of us would do it!

Does this mean that I’m saving money on this project? Nope, far from it. I’m engaging experts to help me do the research, aiming at figuring out how everyone else can replicate what we’re doing. So hopefully, it will be cheaper for you and anybody else who ends up on this website. Not that I’m a martyr – I’m just really worried about where our planet is heading.

As part of my sustainable building design process I’m doing things like this

  1. Working with my architect to understand how to minimise the build time in high-density areas on small blocks.
  2. Working with my water engineer to understand how a water recycling system can work on a tiny block.
  3. Working with my planner to persuade the council to allow solar panel installation on any part of the roof.
  4. Working with the council to understand what I can and can’t do on my property.
  5. Working with my designer to find sustainably-sourced materials and fittings and figuring out which things are worth salvaging from the demolition for re-use.
  6. Doing the calculations to understand if it’s more cost-effective to invest in top-end appliances that don’t chew up much electricity or to buy cheaper appliances that will drag on the energy in my battery.
  7. Building calculators to understand the cost/benefits of different solutions over different horizons.
  8. Understanding whether the embodied energy in concrete is more costly to the environment than the resulting benefits of its thermal mass.

Who has the time to do all that? Not many of us! And that’s why I’m building this sustainable building and design website.  If I can do the leg work on all those sorts of things, then you don’t have to. If I can build a site that provides a step-by-step guide, supported by research and evidence, then I hope it makes the whole thing less overwhelming and easier to do.

I HAVE A FEW OTHER MOTIVATING FACTORS Behind my off-grid approach

The 2019-20 bushfires made it clear to me that we don’t have the resources to properly protect ourselves. Climate scientists have told us climate change was in part responsible for the increased ferocity of the fires. They have also warned us that they will get worse.

This makes me think that our energy and water infrastructure may be at risk (no I don’t have a tin foil hat and I’m pretty sure I have all my marbles – I am just listening to the scientists).  This is another reason that I would like to be self-sufficient in water and energy and the primary reason that I am installing a battery rather than just solar panels.

At the moment, the economies of scale mean that it would be more cost-effective to simply install solar panels and be plugged into the grid. But I want energy certainty, and I also want to contribute to the demand for batteries so that eventually they will be cost-effective for everyone.

I’m expecting there to be a mix of failures and successes. I will document them all so that others can learn from my mistakes: there have been many already! I am also intending, at some stage, to start planning the ImPossible House II so that I can refine the process and rectify any of the mistakes I made in the first build. But given I’ve been working on this project since 2018, that’s probably a while off!

If I can inspire others to make even small, low-cost, easy-to-implement changes towards sustainable building and living, then I’ll consider this project a success.