Dream block SOLD

January 1st, 2013

As you might have guessed from the lack of recent updates, this project didn’t go ahead. Circumstances change, and our lives sometimes don’t go as planned. We’re now living in Perth, WA, in a good house but one we didn’t design ourselves and that isn’t particularly solar-efficient (we’re working on it, but that’s another story). So after several years of prevarication  soul-searching, we’ve finally decided to sell this block and give someone else the chance to build their own solar dream house there, or just to renovate the old house if they’re up for a challenge.

Update: The place is now sold. Best wishes to the new owners – I really hope they manage to do more with it than we did…

Moving the living room…

November 4th, 2007

Another update. Fiona came up with the bright idea of moving the main living area from the centre to one side of the upper floor. It’s a move I’ve resisted before because the living area just seemed so right there in the centre with views out of its own South window and those of the rooms on both sides – and indeed the new placement does limit the view slightly (partially offset by increasing the size of the East window) – but against that the new design does bring some significant advantages:

  • Improved flow: the stairs now come up to an open space leading to kitchen, bathroom, deck, dining room and living area.
  • Better kitchen layout: no need for the galley-style kitchen
  • Easier zoning for the living area: just one side wall to close off

Sketchup model of south-facing passive solar house design - 28 October 2007

Sketchup model of south-facing passive solar house design - 28 October 2007

Overall I think the benefits are just too good to ignore. New images and model are available under the same terms as before – Creative Commons “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike” license.

Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license

Download Sketchup model (13MB)

To view the model you’ll need to download the free viewer from Google Sketchup.

Yet another “latest design”

September 25th, 2007

Apologies to any avid readers (!) for the long delay updating this blog. In short, not much real progress but the design continues to change and develop (we hope for the better!).

Some of the wackier elements of earlier designs have gone, leaving a simpler, mostly rectangular shape which is perhaps less interesting but certainly more practical. We’ve also looked more closely at zoning and arranged for the main living areas to be isolated as far as possible from the external walls. The main bedroom has now moved downstairs because we couldn’t make enough room upstairs for the living area we wanted while the bedroom was also there – this allowed us to position the main living area in the centre of the upper floor with as wide a view as possible through the lake-view windows along the entire south side of the building.

Also featured here, some furniture (from the Sketchup components library and scaled to fit the size of our own, although the style isn’t really what we’d choose!) and surface textures, so it begins to look almost realistic…

South-facing Australian passive solar house (24 September 2007)South-facing Australian passive solar house (24 September 2007) South-facing Australian passive solar house (24 September 2007) South-facing Australian passive solar house (24 September 2007)

This latest post is particularly for our friends Steve and Manisha – hope you’re enjoying the rest of your holiday and if you’d like to see the current version in its native Sketchup form please download the free viewer from Google Sketchup and the model here:

Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license

Download Sketchup model (13MB)

For anyone else who may be interested, please note that our design (available here in the form of a Sketchup model) is released under the Creative Commons “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike” license. This means, briefly:

  • If you are designing your own home and want to use this as the basis for your design you’re welcome to do so.
  • If you wish to distribute this design or any of your designs based on it, you may do so provided you give us credit as original authors and release your design under the same terms as these.
  • But if you’re a designer or architect and want to use this as the basis of your client’s house design (commercial use) the license does not allow this – please contact us to discuss commercial terms.

For full details see the Creative Commons License page.

More screen images of the current Sketchup design

June 24th, 2006

June 2006 design

A few more images of the latest house design…

3D plans - ground floor

Ground floor showing central hallway and staircase, laundry and library on the left (West), 3 bedrooms and bathroom.

3D plan fo first floor
First floor showing kitchen / dining / living room on left (West), Master bedroom, ensuite and walk-in robe.

3D plans - Roof

Roof showing raised section over void – for maximum solar gain in Winter and ventilation in Summer. The sides of the raised section are openable in all directions to release warm air rising inside the house.


June 22nd, 2006

We spent a while testing out house-design drawing packages with limited success – most seemed to be either full 3D solid-modelling CAD systems with a learning curve like the North face of the Eiger or trivial little 2.5D* “My new home designer” software that would limit you to little more than a simple box.

Then a post on a forum somewhere lead us to Sketchup. We downloaded the free trial (full program, limited to 8 hours use), watched the training videos and were just amazed by how powerful and yet easy to use it is. It’s not a full CAD package – rather (as the name implies) a 3D sketching tool but it’s so versatile and intuitive to use that true 3D models just grow before your eyes!

Nice as the interface is, the real killer app for us is the shadow generation – enter the location of your property (longitude and latitude), choose a date and let the program instantly calculate the sun’s position through the day. Drag the time slider across to see how sunlight and shadow change from dawn to dusk, or set a time (eg. noon) and watch how the sun’s position changes through the seasons. After seeing this, how could anyone attempt to design a passive solar house without it?!

To be honest we were a bit reluctant to get too attached to it at first because the purchase price for the full version was Au$705 – high enough to make us think twice! – but in the context of designing and building a new house well worth it. So back in March we went ahead and bought a copy… and at almost exactly the same time Google bought the company (@Last Software) for “an undisclosed sum”.

Now I see Google has released a new version, like most Google products free for personal use: Google SketchUp free. If only we’d waited a little longer! Oh well, it was worth it, and the price of computer hardware and software is falling all the time (not usually quite that fast though!). And perhaps the free version is limited in some way. I’ll install a copy on the laptop and find out…

I’ll be putting up some screen dumps of the Sketchup design, and the model file itself if anyone’s interested. Here’s a preview:

Sketchup model house design as at 18 June 2006
* 2.5D – Two and a half dimensions – ie. you can draw out the layout of each floor, set a ceiling height and stack the floors on top of each other. The problem is: what if you want different parts of the floor at different heights, or voids with windows extending up two storeys, or indeed anything vaguely out of the ordinary…

Dream block, Lake Macquarie, Australia

March 18th, 2006

View 2

Not a bad view, is it? Unfortunately the view here is south-facing and we want to build a house that is energy efficient and takes advantage of passive solar techniques (among others), so we’re facing the wrong way! The block is also long and narrow in the north-south direction. Chris had already designed and built our current north-facing house (the ideal orientation in the Southern hemisphere) before we met. It is the first house that I have lived in that aimed to utilise passive solar techniques for energy efficient heating and cooling. I have been very impressed with the thermal comfort achieved for most of the year, compared to any other house I have lived in, although improvements could be made to make it even better. Since acquiring the property above, which will be a knock-down-rebuild job, I have developed a slightly rabid interest in environmentally friendly housing and ways to achieve good thermal comfort year round without breaking the bank. Chris is the practical half of the duo – he likes to point out why some of my ideas aren’t entirely feasible. He’s also the “big picture” person while I am interested in the minutiae – like adequate storage, practical bathroom, kitchen and laundry layouts and appropriate placement of the clothes line (not in the shade on the opposite side of the house from the laundry!).

Our challenge has been to design a practical house to suit our needs (we are only two plus a cat) that will maximise the view to the south, utilise northern solar gain, provide maximum passive summer cooling, which we have come to believe is more important than the winter heating issue, and not over-capitalise.

There is a lot of information out there about the basic techniques of energy-efficient house design, passive solar technology, etc, etc. There are even suggested solutioins if your orientation is not ideal – west or east facing for example. Unfortunately there is nothing that tells you how to have your cake and eat it too with a south facing building block in the southern hemisphere! Ideally you want to minimise south-facing glazing in this situation and maximise the glazing to the north, combined with other techniques like appropriate thermal mass, insulation and good ventilation. All excellent, apart from minimising south glazing when you have a view to die for in that direction!

Anyway, the idea of this blog is to work through our planning and design process, mostly in the hope that this will make it clearer to us, but also with the hope that others may have faced similar challenges and perhaps thought of ways of approaching this type of problem.

About SolarDreamHouse

March 12th, 2006

Stunning 180 degree views over Lake Macquarie from high above! Perfect place to build your dream home!

Ok, enough of the real-estate agent hype – it’s a great location but the shape and orientation of the block doesn’t make for easy house design. It’s narrow, and the view is to the south (for readers in the Northern hemisphere that may sound ideal but here in Australia North-facing is good!). So how do we design a house to meet our requirements:

  • Take full advantage of the views
  • Minimal water usage (rain water tanks, grey-water recycling?)
  • Minimal power usage through good insulation, ventilation,  passive-solar gain and high thermal mass
  • ie. general solar and thermal efficiency for comfort without ducted reverse-cycle air-conditioning!
  • Photo-voltaic solar system? It’s under consideration but cost will be an issue, because…
  • We want all this without breaking the bank!

Using the WordPress blog format we aim to record the process of designing and building our new house, in hopes that by explaining our reasoning here we will understand it better ourselves and make fewer mistakes. And ideally you, gentle reader, will give us your feedback and comments to help us even further!

If you enjoy reading about our progress and perhaps find this useful in your own projects, please register and leave a comment.


Chris and Fiona

The south-east corner cut-off design developed

March 11th, 2006

11 Mar 06 designThe south-east corner cut-off design developed internally while keeping the same outline.

Upstairs the ensuite is looking good. downstairs we move the 4th bedroom to the north side with the bathroom in the middle of the east side (this loses the view from bed 4, but does make for a neater design overall).

Still thinking…

Both south corners cut off…

March 6th, 2006

6 Mar 2006 designStill playing with alternative layouts – what if both South-east and South-west corners are cut off?

In effect the living areas are now facing South-west. One problem is that we now have exposure to western sunlight – potentially a serious problem in Summer.

Worth thinking about but it seems that this one may not be worth pursuing…

South-east corner cut-off design

March 5th, 2006

5 Mar 2005 designAn alternative and perhaps more practical way to redistribute the spaces. By cutting off the south-east corner we provide extra views (including lake views to all 4 bedrooms) and a better flow around the living areas…

Bed 4 has been cut off from the private bathroom access.

The central core acts as sun-trap and ventilation tower. The thermal mass wall (shown in red) accepts direct solar gain and heats the surrounding rooms.