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Talking sustainable home design with James Goodlet from Altereco.

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

At BCT Group we are lucky to have an in-house design team as well as established relationships with local architects and designers. One that we frequently recommend is Altereco, a boutique design practice located in Seddon. Altereco was established in 2006 by James Goodlet. James and his team draw inspiration from the natural environment and are passionate about creating efficient, practical and sustainable homes (that are pretty stunning to look at too).

While Altereco is in high demand, James generously took time away from the drawing board to talk to us about sustainable home design - what it means, what it costs and how we can make it happen.

Altereco designs sustainable homes in the leafy suburbs and Melbourne and throughout regional Victoria, like this two-storey new build in Barwon Heads (image: Tara Pearce for Altereco).

What does sustainable home design mean to you?

Fundamentally, a successful sustainably designed home optimises resources in construction and minimises running costs throughout its lifetime.

Why is sustainability so important when designing a home?

The impacts of fossil fuels on the environment are widely accepted (unless you’re Donald Trump!) It’s our role as building designers to be as ethical as possible by minimising demands on fossil fuels within a home.

How can we incorporate green, energy efficient solutions in our home design?

There are a number of ways to tackle this. From the outset I believe in only building what is necessary. With larger homes, not only is there an increase in products required and demand on resources, but there are higher running costs associated with a larger footprint. This ethos favours building only what is absolutely necessary. With a clear brief we can start to think about the design response which includes passive solar design principles for example.

I also believe that a home should be healthy. A well designed home should provide good indoor air quality and we should avoid using potentially toxic building materials and finishes.

Sustainable home design by Altereco including double sashless windows.
At their 'Cole St' project, Altereco installed north facing double sash windows providing excellent ventilation of the local sea breeze throughout each space to cool the house naturally (image: Nikole Ramsay for Altereco).

What are some of your favourite sustainable products?

There are a lot of natural or recycled materials that spring to mind, but at the forefront of this opportunity is technology. Taking advantage of technology to assist in climate control, especially when the owners are not home. There are some pretty clever appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines and heat pumps that have timers that can take advantage of solar energy. The hype on batteries is valid and will reduce the running costs of a home dramatically.

Does ‘sustainable’ automatically mean more expensive?

In relation to passive design - no, the building would not be more expensive.  However the building fabric may cost more when ‘up-specced’ to be more efficient.  For a building to achieve 9 or 10 stars for energy efficiency compared to the standard 6 stars would require more or higher quality products, so the build cost will rise by 10-20%.  Then again, a smaller home would cost less. We encourage our clients to consider the out of pocket cost today alongside the total build including the running and maintenance costs across the lifetime of the building.

Altereco created a sustainable design in Yarraville using a red brick feature wall.
Altereco worked with sustainability consultants, Melbourne Vernacular on this Yarraville home where they employed a savvy design approach that enables passive heating and cooling. For example, the red brick pavers from the backyard were used to create a feature wall that acts as thermal mass for the building (image: Nikole Ramsay for Altereco).

Do you think Australia is doing a good job in terms of sustainable building design? Or do we have fair way to go?

We have a long way to go! As a society we need to create a demand for it in the marketplace. To help increase this demand the government needs to provide greater incentives and support for sustainability. And finally as a society, we need to be conscious of designing and living more sustainably. Naturally we are drawn to consider the resale value of our home, but unfortunately the broader market does not value sustainable homes. Until this changes we will struggle to create more sustainable homes.

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you are planning on living in your home for at least the next 10 years, weigh up the value of a high performance home. If you’d like to get schooled up on the various aspects of sustainable living check out the Your Home website.

James and his dog Cooper enjoying the view.
James and office dog, Cooper share a love of nature and sustainable design (image: Altereco Instagram).

Great advice from James who has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sustainable home design. If you're looking to build a home that is unique, practical and kind to the environment, be sure to check out Altereco's website and follow them on Instagram and Facebook. We're big fans of their work and love building the homes they so masterfully design.

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