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.
Apr 20, 2022 12:00am
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.”