Creating an eco-friendly house west of the Great Divide was not without its challenges but Peter and Nikki Thompson have all but achieved their long held dream.
The couple set out to construct their new home on Echo Hills, north-east of Roma, with a goal to minimise their impact on the landscape and also minimise waste during construction.
Mr and Mrs Thompson agreed their path to energy efficiency had altered from the early planning days but said every attempt was made to “bring the outside in.”
“We were originally going to build an earth ship but decided we were a bit too old for hammering dirt into tyres so we moved on to containers,” Mr Thompson said.
“The more we researched them we found the general trend was to buy new containers, which went against our whole idea of utilising things that had reached the end of their useful life in their original format.
“Also, lots of container buildings are several stories taking advantage of the ability to stack them, but we plan to retire and see out our days here and so we wanted to keep everything on one level.
“That aside, the biggest issue with containers was that they are too narrow for most rooms and the cost and energy used to widen them to a useful size actually undid the value of utilising a container in the first place.”
Mr Thompson said the answer presented itself when he flew over Roma on a flight home from Brisbane during the initial planning stages with architects.
“I was looking out the window and noticed all the hundreds of dongas stored around town and I thought they might be the way to go being a more suitable size,” he said.
“We ended up buying one big demountable office complex and pulling it apart in sections to create our home in four sections- the main open plan living area, the visitor wing, a meditation room for Nikki and a large office section.”
All four sections of the Echo Hills home are connected by outdoor walkways, some used for entertaining and others not but all featuring one or more energy efficient assets.
The home was built by Roma’s Harley Lamond, HB Lamond Constructions. In recent years, Mr Lamond has created reputation as a builder willing to take on jobs out of the ordinary.
Mr Thompson said the living area was the focus and any budget extras were spent there, yet the guest wing and office suites were far from second rate.
The home is without air-conditioning and despite visiting on a 40 degree celsius December day there was a noticeable coolness upon entering.
Mr Thompson said great lengths were taken to achieve sustainable temperature control.
“Essentially we’ve built an esky- there is 125mm of styrofoam in the roofing sheets and 20mm of styrofoam in all the external walls and ceiling, as well as an air cell wrap right around the outside and through the celing with a white colourbond roof on top,” he said.
“The cement floor in the living area has been a big thing. It’s actually about two feet deep with big plastic domes inside that clip and seal together to create an egg-shell effect.
“We created a warm air collector box using black corrugated iron above the walkway that joins the visitor wing to the main living area. A tube takes warm air down into the air pockets in the concrete in winter and can be reversed to pump cool air from the concrete back up in summer.”
Mr Thompson said the aim was not to flick a switch and have an instantly warmer or cooler result but rather to achieve thermostatic temperature control from the natural environment.
Despite their best efforts Mr Thompson said the official energy efficiency targets had been testing and the house only just met the minimum rating requirements.
Peter and Nikki Thompson chose to keep as much character of the demountable building within their new home as possible, deciding to stick with the original floors- scuffs and marks included.
“We didn’t want to totally hide truth in what we’ve created here and for us the gouges are part of our home’s character,” Mr Thompson said.
“Nikki and I both liked the plywood look on the internal walls- they are both a design feature and a true representation of the demountable we worked with.”
The home has a somewhat industrial feel, with main internal doors sealed in a rust style coating, segments of external walls layered in vertical corrugated iron and, undoubtedly the most eye-catching feature, an indoor rock feature wall.
Mr Thompson said every aspect of the home was a toast to the Echo Hills land.
“We’d looked at this site for years- everything you can see to the horizon in the north is Echo Hills,” he said.
We’d looked at this site for years- everything you can see to the horizon in the north is Echo Hills.
“The iron outside came off an old shearing shed here and the two-tonne sandstone rocks we’ve used to encase the outdoor fire pit are also from the property.
“We’re very much people who live with openness rather than closing it off.”
Also of note is the massive amount of windows in the home, particularly those on the northern side.
Mr Thompson said there was a lot more to the use of windows than met the eye.
“Nikki always thought it would be great to have a skylight above the bed to see the night sky but that wasn’t going to work here with the sloped roof line,” he said.
“Instead we went into a lot of detail and got all the measurements so when you’re lying in bed you can actually see the night sky and watch the moon’s path across it each time you wake up.”
A coldroom lies indoors in close proximity to the kitchen with copper piping on the inside connected to a tap on the outside for instant cold water and no chance of an empty water jug.
Most noticeable from the main road running just over the ridge from the home is the tank stand built from two stacked containers.
Mr Thompson said there was a seven metre rise from the house to the top platform of the stand in an attempt to use the natural lie of the land to their benefit.
“The containers are not redundant either- one is used for storage and the other houses batteries linked to the solar panel set-up nearby, which we’ll use to go off the electricity grid.”
Having only just completed construction, work on gardens at Echo Hills had not yet begun when QCL visited recently, however the Thompsons had a view to creating a zen type space among expansive lawns and orchards.
“We plan to turf the ground closest to the house and let it spread down towards the water hole on the northern side,” he said.
“Besides being aesthetically pleasing it will add to the cooling effect within the home with northerlies blowing across the water,” he said.
“There’s nothing better than to look at green grass and water when you’re in the middle of roaring drought.”
Mrs Thompson said the majority of the garden would be food producing while avoiding blocking the spectacular view, with hydroponics a certainty.
“The home and garden has received years of thought and our dream has finally grown- it’s now blissful to sit out here in the late afternoon and take in another glorious sunset.”