Homes of the Hunter | Sustainable original in Glendale

Glendale residents Roger and Jill Foster were environmentalists before it was hip. Thirty five years ago they found a north-facing block of land, perfect for catching maximum sun.

The two of them built a sustainable house from scratch and then moved into it with their two boys.

Roger says their interest in sustainability started in the 70s during the fuel crisis. He and Jill began looking for ways to reduce their costs not only with fuel but with general living costs, including energy. When they first looked into it, the only resources available were a couple of magazines on solar generators and hot water solar panels.

“We originally looked at building a mud brick home out near Mulbring, on about five acres, but the cost to get power and water put on was about $20,000 each, because the last house where these were supplied to was about 1.5 kilometres away. Also with a young family, we were miles away from a school and family,” Roger says.  “This is what prompted us to look at suburbia.”

Looking back, Roger says he would do a few things differently. But his house is still a great example of personal responsibility, efficiency and practicality. It’s also a lovely family home that he never plans to leave.

“As far as selling, my next move I hope, will be six foot under. We love this house, as we put so much blood, sweat and tears into it, I would hate to have to move,” Roger says.

Thirty five years ago the pair decided to build as much of the house as possible themselves. Roger reckons they saved at least half the cost by doing it this way. They built the three-bedroom two-bathroom home for $98,000.

“We bought this block in 1980, and started designing the house then. We designed and built the house as owner builders, only subcontracting out the large-stage items. We only employed an architect to put our ideas on plans suitable to submit to council,” Roger says.

Roger is an electronics technician but also very handy. When they built, Jill, a nurse, did all the furnishings.

They haven’t changed much in their 35 years; they had a bathroom redone, and new kitchen appliances installed. The house is well built and solid. It survived the earthquake without a scratch.

It’s a three-level building, with a single-storey facing north and two storeys on the southern side.

The Fosters are proud of their home’s many environmental features. They have built with double brick on all outside walls. For thermal mass, maximum glass on the north, less on the south, no glass on the west, and minimal glass on the east.

The clerestory windows open in summer to allow the hot air to rise and escape, aided by cathedral ceilings. 

About 18 months ago, they installed solar panels and batteries through a commercial supplier and have dramatically reduced their electricity costs, even though they are still connected to the grid.

On Sunday their home will be open to the public for Sustainable House Day, an national initiative that allows people to learn more about Australia’s environmentally built homes. The Fosters will be on site to answer questions for anyone keen to pursue a sustainable house. Roger has lots of tips.

“We have been in the house for 35 years and still don’t have a heater,” Roger says. “(If it’s) overcast for a week the house does cool down. We put a jumper on and we’re fine,” he says.

The home has been a welcoming and comfortable place for Roger, his wife, kids and extended family. They’ve always tried to encourage other people to build sustainably as well.

“Other people say ‘yeah yeah yeah’ and that’s as far as it gets. But now people are looking at it. It’s great that this system (Sustainable Houses Australia) is in operation. We can show how simple and cost-effective it is,” he says.

“You don’t have to build a fancy, expensive house to do the same job.” 

The Foster home, and another house in Toronto featuring a 5kW rooftop solar system and 10kWh battery are open to the public on Sunday, September 16, from 10am to 4pm as part of Sustainable House Day, a national open house event sponsored by the Alternative Technology Association. To register and learn the home addresses go to sustainablehouseday.com