5 ECOhomes, 1 day and 50 eco-tourists..
Monday, November 2, 2009 at 7:39PM
Ann Niddrie in ECOhomes Tour, cob bricks, eco building, mud construction, poured earth, solar passive, straw bale, sustainable housing

Although we are usually not the types for coach tours, this weekend Mr K and I jumped on a bus and joined the Blue Mountains ECOhomes Tour. Nigel Bell of ECO Design Architects (below), based in the Blue Mountains, is the founder and co-ordinator of the tour, which started out as a handful of people ambling through a couple of houses. It has since grown to a busload of eco-tourists enjoying a day of meeting new people and touring the Mountains. 

Our bus departed Lawson a bit after 9am on its way to Bullaburra, where we saw a new home, recently completed. It replaced a 1950's fibro house on a bushfire prone piece of land. Mr K and I have been creating lovely dreams of buying bushland and building serene, isolated tree houses from recycled timbers. On arrival at this house – our dreams are quickly dashed. A lovely 2 storey house built out of the most fire resistant materials you can find in Australia, with concrete flooring, fire retardant cement block walls, heavy glass windows, Rural Fire Service Regulations constantly changing during the course of building, and a curved corrugated iron roof to prevent bushfire embers lodging in the eaves. The budget had blown out by a third and the construction time by 3 times. It was a great way to start the day. With a reality check. It was a lovely comfortable house that the family was going to be very happy with. It was just as opposite to a light timber tree house as you could get.

A soon-to-be-installed water tank at the base of the fire-prone Bullaburra property.

Our 2nd stop was Kindlehill Community School in Wentworth Falls. Based in an old building that was previously a Yoga School, Kindlehill's teaching is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.

At the one location there were so many different things being done and so many creative, sustainable ways in which they were being generated and carried out. There were carparks being built, vegetable gardens established, school rooms being renovated, a water tank installed, a verandah enclosed, and all without much of a budget.

The busload of eco-tourists split into 3 groups to wander around with Jaime the architect, Matt the carpenter or Jason the eco builder for the project, to get a more personal experience, to ask questions in their area of interest, and for the oldies - for the sake of hearing properly...

A tyre wall will act as a retaining wall supporting the school carpark, and when the wall is clay rendered, it will act as the inside wall of a new on-site workshop. The fill for the retaining wall for ramming into the tyres was obtained for free from a roadworks site nearby. Mechanics usually pay the EPA to remove and dispose of tyres, and Jason takes advantage of this and gets the tyres for free.

Jason Dash was lovely to chat to, down-to-earth (no pun intended), enthusiastic and happy to share his knowledge and passion with others. Jason is a big believer in his clients getting involved in their project. He runs working bees and workshops and lots of the parents from the school have attended. On the Kindlehill School Spring Fair day parents from the school built a temporary straw-bale workspace as part of learning the building techniques.

Cob bricks bake in the sun by the temporary straw-bale workman’s shed. Also, the remains of 18 Radiata Pines felled and cut up using a mobile mill on the property are waiting to be utilised as structural beams in constructions on the site. Radiata Pines are currently classified as a noxious weed in the Blue Mountains. The school children, although missing their handball court, have been enjoying taking part in making cob bricks in working bees.

Our next stop was in Medlow Bath where we met the curious, energetic and proud owner builder Craig Laurendet. Craig spent 10 years collecting the materials for his house from locations all over Sydney.

Craig has spent 333 days so far building his house using 99% recycled materials over a span of 4 years. Obviously time has to be spent working for money and researching and planning as well.

Craig explained that the hardest part was preparing the weathered, recycled materials for re-use, such as planing old painted wood, and pulling out thousands of nails and screws. Above is a hand-saw that Craig has been using for the last 3 years. What was evident in this house was the pride Craig had in his project and that he had managed to almost complete the task he had set out to do and was able to save materials from going to landfill from construction sites and create a totally unique house.

Craig has built his own website for his home building project which is a fantastic diary of how he has done things, and he has shared things that did work and didn’t work along the way so far in his house building journey. It's definitely worth a visit for those toying with the idea of doing something similar.


Over the course of the day we had done a big loop and ended up at Lawson at a 1950’s fibro cottage that was being retrofitted with straw-bale walls, poured earth supports, and cob brick walls with earth rendering.

This particular house was Sam Viva’s personal project although his business is in building solar passive houses out of natural materials. I really liked the opportunity to see all stages of the process, the exposed straw bales and how they were being supported, and earth rendering at various stages in the process. I liked the feel of the house and could see that this approach with such a contemporary finish could really appeal to the mainstream as a new way of doing things to save them money over time due to the energy efficiency of the construction.

All in all I had a great experience and it was certainly worth the reasonable price we paid for the day. It was made even better to discover that all of the proceeds from the day were going to be given to Katoomba Primary and High schools' P&C for their environmental education programs. I really appreciated that each of the home-owner’s had opened up their homes in varying levels of completion and shared their stories and experiences with us. It was truly fantastic.

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