Passive House...why we're making change

I started my business over 10 years ago with the best of intentions to build sustainable homes. By definition I didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but deep down I wanted to contribute my knowledge to quality residential homes. I’ve used the fundamentals of Passive Solar Design, searched for the most sustainable materials and have always sought efficiency in our design solutions.

However I’ve never pushed or challenged my clients to sustainable design. I’ve always adapted to their brief, their needs, and essentially their values. Unfortunately most Australians value scale over quality. This is why we have on average the biggest houses in the world. (“But we’ve got the room” - don’t give me that crap). I could dive deep into this topic but we have to understand the fundamental reason we need to change…. Yep it is our climate. (Naysayers need not read further). 

We can tackle this in two major ways, reduce the materials and resources that we use; and minimise our energy consumption to run our homes. The building industry can have a massive influence on stabilising the rapid increase of C02 in our atmosphere. I don’t have kids, but I am so concerned about the future and what is left for generations to come. In recent years I’ve noticed that the most enjoyable projects are with clients that I share values. This has lead me to explore what my values actually are.

I’ve decided to make a stance. Draw a line in the sand. Announce my values and commit my efforts towards like minded clients and builders. Our capitalist values need to shift. I think there is no better place to start than with your own home. I truly believe that the shelter that you provide for your family should be safe, comfortable healthy and have minimal impact on the environment. This definition should be priority number one on your brief. Everything else will fall into place if this is your primary goal.

My first step is Passive House certification. If you don’t know about Passive House then check out this 90 second video, or a detailed explanation of the principles here. In essence striving to create a building that is healthy and comfortable. The byproduct is a building that operates on very little heating and cooling demand. This intense two week training course was a massive challenge. To down tools and focus intently on the physics and the data was personal test was actually a bit nervous about going in. 

I’d like to share with you what I learnt, test my values and ultimately give you some understanding of what the new ‘quality home’ could look like in your backyard. 

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Negotiated Tender & Early Contractor Involvement (ECI)

Staying on top of costs and hitting our clients construction budget is of utmost importance. For most, it’s make or break.

As such, in most cases we have moved away from the traditional tender path, whereby we invite 2-3 builders to competitively price on a thorough and complete set of documents and hope that the tender price comes back on budget. As players in the custom-design market, ensuring the construction cost from the outset is becoming increasingly difficult. We don’t set construction costs, the construction industry, driven by supply and demand and ever increasing labour costs does.

A specialised residential custom-home builder can mitigate the risk of over design or over specification when involved in the project from an early stage. We believe that the collaborative approach with early contractor involvement will ensure we meet budget and a satisfactory outcome for all.

Our process is to recommend and/or interview (with our clients) to 2 to 3 builders early on in the project. We can either select builders that we’ve worked with before, who are already familiar with our documentation and detailing methods and whom have the technical ability to execute our design. Otherwise we are happy to provide recommendations for builders whom we’ve interviewed and are confident that they will be well suited for the project. When making recommendations, we also consider the personality types of each builder, and select builders that we feel both parties can have a successful working relationship with.

Be prepared to pay for a builders early involvement, as it’s their IP and experience that we’ve leveraged off to get this far. Most builders will deduct their fees from the tender figure should they win the job. If clients choose to go elsewhere then the builder is compensated for their time and expertise.

Depending on the nature of the project, we propose that builders have the opportunity to get involved at three key stages of the design and documentation process:

Feasibility/Sketch Design

As soon as we put pen to paper, ideas are flowing and we develop a concept and direction, collaborating with a builder to resolve the best approach to construction and lean on them to establish a budget.

Design Development

During this phase our builder can review the detailed design and make recommendations on construction methods and materials. By the end of this stage we will have a fully resolved concept and our builder can provide a more refined estimate taking into consideration the intricacies of the project.


Once we have compiled our extensive package of working drawings, specification and product selections, detailed interior design, structural engineering, energy rating; we will issue to the builder for formal quoting. This process is known as tendering. Based on our builders input to date there should be no surprises to the overall cost.

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