May 20, 2022

happy-House

The home veterans

A sustainable home in Kyvalley, northern Victoria

2 min read


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A Victorian family’s desire to build an off-the-grid house grew into an online community that makes building sustainable homes more achievable for all.

Who lives there: Owner-builders Lisa and Steve with their children.

Style of home: An eco-friendly four-bedroom house with two living areas on what was a sand-extraction mine in northern Victoria’s Kyvalley. It’s powered by solar panels and batteries.

Timeline: After years of research, the family began building in 2015 and were finished by 2016.

Budget: The build cost a little less than $400,000.

The Booths’ home is built on a concrete slab that works as a thermal mass for both storing and releasing heat. They supplement this with a biofuel heater. As well as Zincalume steel, concrete and reclaimed bricks, they used a lot of recycled wood.

Lisa and Steve Booth have had an appreciation for the land since they were children. In Lisa’s case it was nurtured through family camping trips and weekends spent at her grandfather’s farm in Victoria. When the couple got together, they initially tackled another project that they hoped would become their forever home, but were limited by how eco-friendly they could go with it.

“Conversations would often arise about how we might be able to create a home that worked with nature – and the free resources it provides – rather than against it,” says Lisa, who has qualifications in science and education.

The dining table was once a wool-classing table and the lights above it came from an old wool shed.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the pair really started to pursue the dream of a sustainable home for them and their four children: Bodhi, 19, Charlee, 18, Xan, 17, and Jedda, 10. The following year, they bought a nine-hectare block of land on a former sand mine.

“Our plan was to design and build a four-bedroom, eco-friendly, off-the-grid home for less than $400,000,” says Lisa. “The design brief included keeping the build cost and the mortgage low, so we could unshackle from the bank earlier. We also designed around the sun to maximise thermal performance for year-round comfort and minimal bills, and created a low-impact life that prioritises wellbeing and care for country.”
The orientation of the pavilion-style home was crucial. All the rooms except one face north, which is why the building is long and skinny.
What came to be called Booken Blend (“we are a blended family, and Booth plus Hawken equals Booken”) was completed in 2016 on Yorta Yorta country, 220km north of Melbourne, using local builders and trades. The simple design has a northern orientation and utilises passive-solar and thermal-mass principles, recycled materials, double-glazing, cross-ventilation and strategic shading to ensure the abode is as eco-friendly as possible – and produces enough power for the family to live off the grid.
Lisa and Steve chose burnished and sealed concrete for the floor, which absorbs the heat coming in through the north-facing windows and makes the slab feel as if it’s heated. “You can’t cover up your concrete slab with something like timber floorboards if you want the thermal-mass principle to work,” Lisa points out.

While they are proud to have achieved their goal (and even snuck in a hair under budget!), the project wasn’t all smooth sailing. Once Lisa and Steve began planning the new build, they quickly learned that this type of home fell into a niche category serviced by the creators of either big-budget architecturally designed masterpieces, or extreme green homes that compromised style and comfort.

As an average family, they didn’t fit either of those categories, though they did have valuable renovation experience. “We had learnt enough from our farmhouse renovation to know it was possible to blend traditional, inexpensive building methods with smart sustainable design to create spaces that are beautiful, affordable and good for the planet. So, why did this gap in the market exist? The answer is lack of information,” says Lisa.

“There was no one place we could go to quickly and easily to get our hands on simple and independent advice, and we often felt like we didn’t know who to trust. We even had to throw our first set of house plans – and the thousands of dollars they cost us – into the bin because the building designer hadn’t come within cooee of meeting our brief.”

It was about this time that Lisa decided to share their building experience online, in the hope that their knowledge could help others on similar journeys. “I remember sitting in our sunny kitchen and opening up a new app called Instagram. Our friends call us the Bookens, so I named the account Booken Blend. Had I known what it would one day become, I probably would have thought a little deeper about it!” says Lisa.

Booken Blend quickly grew into an online community of like-minded builders and renovators seeking affordable and sustainable housing solutions, which eventually branched into a website and online store (filled with house plans and planning documents) and partnered with One Percent For The Planet. “As the Booken Blend community began to grow, so did the questions,” says Lisa.

“This became more time-consuming and difficult to manage, and we needed a more efficient way to share the step-by-step process we had used. Hence, our free Sustainable Build Checklist, which was released in late 2020. A natural progression from that was to develop our design packs, launched this year in response to the rapidly growing interest in our house plans and planning documents.”

Ultimately, Lisa and Steve shared their experience online in the hope that they could leave the planet in better shape for their children than when they found it. For Lisa, who recently quit her job to work on Booken Blend full-time, it’s the perfect marriage of her two big passions: science and education.

“The Booken Blend community makes me feel hopeful about a burgeoning grassroots movement of everyday Aussies who are dreaming of homes that use very little energy, are light-filled and comfy all year round, have minimal utility bills, are kind to the environment and don’t plunge you into debt up to your eyeballs.”
The high cost of connecting their land to the electricity grid meant choosing a life off-grid was a no-brainer for the Booths. They pay nothing for their electricity and have minimal impact on the planet. That doesn’t mean they miss out though — the family run everything from hair dryers to washing machines with the power generated by the roof’s solar panels (mostly from 11am to 3pm, when the sun is high in the sky) and stored in lithium batteries.

The end goal for the Booth family is to encourage a shift towards sustainable homes as the norm in the Australian housing industry, relocating builds like theirs from a niche category to the centre of mainstream construction. “The power of the collective is very important,” says Lisa. “When many people do small things, they add up. If every new home could incorporate a few simple, cost-effective strategies to minimise its impact on the planet, then collectively we can create change.”

“If every new home could incorporate a few simple, cost-effective strategies to minimise its impact on the planet, then collectively we can create change,” says Lisa.
Find Booken Blend at bookenblend.com or @bookenblend





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