This is the story of my family and our green existence. There are four of us in the family: my wife, my two young daughters and myself. We live on a fairly typical surburban block in the state of Victoria, Australia. The block is 680 square metres in size, with a 3 bedroom 1950s single storey double brick house. We've been in the house now for almost 4 years and have made a number of changes to the house to make it more environmentally friendly, as well as changed our lifestyle to match. Power ===== Power is supplied by a grid-connected 2kW system, connected 18 months ago. In that time, we've generated over 3MWh of solar energy, feeding more than two thirds of that back into the grid. As almost all of Victoria's power is generated by brown coal power stations, pulling power from the grid is not something we want to do if we want to be environmentally aware. By feeding our excess generated capacity back into the grid, we are in some ways helping our neighbours use renewable power. Our daily usage is approximately 6kWh, about a third of the average home in the state (16-18kWh). We use LED lighting on all our high-usage lights, and compact flourescents on the remainder. Our broken TV was recently replaced by a LCD LED TV that uses very little power despite my children's obsession with daytime children's TV. We use laptops as PCs; this substantially cut our power bill when we switched over to these. Both PC and TV outlets are fitted with standby power switches that switch the devices off physically when not in use. This has also reduced our night time power bill considerably. The remaining offender is our refridgerator, inherited from my wife's grandparents. It contributes about third of the power usage in the house. It is unlikely to be replaced before necessary as there are currently few models more efficient than this model that are available at present, and none at a reasonable price. Heating and Cooling =================== Victoria is a temperate climate, with winter nights dropping to around 5 degrees celsius at night and rarely colder than 10 degrees C in the day. Summer usually has about 3 days above 40 degrees Celsius, with temperatures
averaging around 30 degrees for most of January and February. As such, a 'normal' brick veneer house typical to the area does not require a massive amount of heating over winter, but would get quite hot over summer and more than likely have air conditioning. As our house is double brick, it has excellent insulating properties, and the internal rendered walls provide large amounts of thermal mass to the house. There is also in roof insulation to prevent heat loss and add thermal mass. This means that temperature variations in the house are minimised, and the house remains warm in winter and cool in summer. It is fitted with a space heater, but no airconditioning. As is typical for houses in Victoria, the primary heating source is natural gas. The single heater is used only during the winter months (late April - September). In the four years we've been at this house, the house has only once been intolerably hot, a period of 3 consecutive days above 45 degrees in 2009 that followed quickly after a period of 3 consecutive days above 43 degrees. In this case, the house's thermal mass stood no chance and took some time to cool down again. Water ===== Water security is a big issue in Australia. Rainfall is not consistent across the continent, and Victoria can be quite a dry state despite its location. As recently as 2 years ago, the city I live in was under Stage 4 water restrictions - essentially allowing you to drink and clean, with no other uses allowed, and with a daily usage target per household of 150 litres (40 gallons) and water storage levels below 20%. At the time, we installed a 4500 litre water tank, which has been used to keep our garden watered from rainwater off our garage. We just installed another three 2400 litre tanks fed by rainwater from the roof of the house, taking the total water storage capacity on site to almost 12,000 litres or 3200 gallons. These will eventually be used for laundry and to flush toilets, as well as to maintain our productive gardens. Our mains water supply is heated by a solar hot water system consisting of two evacuated tube panels connected to a gas-boost instant hot water system. This replaced a regular gas-fired hot water heater, and resulted in a two-thirds reduction in our gas bill. The gas boost system is rarely used, and the system retains sufficient heat overnight to keep my morning shower running on solar-heated water. Garden ====== When we purchased the house, the garden was typical of the houses built by European migrants to the area in the 1950s. There was a large expanse of lawn space, some fruit trees and a small vegetable patch. The front of the house was lawn and flower beds. We straight away planted out the vegetable patch and combined with the water restrictions and drought killing most of the lawn in the back yard, we elected to turn part of the area into a screened native plant garden. This provides a shady play area for the children. We also decided to build out some more garden beds for productive growing space. We installed citrus and fruit trees (oranges, mandarin, avocado, cherry, stonefruits, pears and apples) as well as a row of olive trees to screen the shed off and provide fruit. We have recently decided to convert the front garden into productive space and have installed approximately 15 square metres of productive garden beds. Our winter crops of garlic, carrots and brassicas are all growing well and will be ready for harvest later in the year. These will be used by us to meet our own needs and to trade with friends for other produce we are not growing. We are also experimenting with growing grain crops like wheat and later in the year, soy. These are primarily used to condition the soil, but hopefully will also provide a harvest that can be used in our breadmaking. At the rear of the garden, housed in their own large run are our three Isa Brown and 3 Aracauna chickens. These chickens may soon be augmented by another two Plymouth Rock chickens. Isa Brown chickens are bred to lay eggs, and we receive almost 20 eggs from the 3 chickens over the course of a week. These are used by us where possible and traded or gifted when our fridge is fully stocked. The additional chickens will provide a more suitably sized flock as well as teaching our children about where their favourite foods come from. Our local council zoning allows us to keep up to 12 chickens, but restricts or forbids other animals such as sheep or pigs. Both animals are highly desired by my children for their 'farm' and were we allowed to, I daresay pester power would mean our backyard would include a sty and a sheep run. We are currently investigating the effort required to maintain a bee hive, which is permitted
under local zoning, and will help with pollination of the garden and be a steady supply of honey. Lifestyle ========= My wife has take the lead in showing us how a sustainable lifestyle can be led. She handmakes children's clothing which is sold online around the world. Her test pieces clothe our children, and reduce the amount of low-grade consumer clothing we purchase. She makes her own bread, baking 2 loaves at a time which feed the family over several days. She makes her own soap, simultaneously keeping us clean, reducing our consumption and providing soapy gifts for other family members. We are a single car family and use the car primarily on weekends. My wife does not have a driving license, so walks everywhere with children in tow, and the car is only used by me to visit the farflung places around our city on weekends. I ride my bike to our local train station and catch public transport to the Red Hat office. At our current rate, we fill the car with petrol about every 2-3 weeks. Once the children no longer need child restraints, we will downsize the vehicle to a more economical and efficient vehicle. What we have been able to do is to show our friends and neighbours that it is possible to live a low-impact, sustainable, green life without having a huge impact on our enjoyment and the quality of our life. A little bit of effort and education can make a huge difference to the cost of running your home, as well as reducing your impact on the environment. There is a real sense of achievement to prepare your breakfast using bread that is fresh baked and eggs that were inside the chicken not twenty minutes prior.