Clean and green

HIA member and sustainable housing expert Darryn Parkinson shares his recipe for creating sustainable kitchens and bathrooms.

Photo courtesy Your Abode

Author

Gabrielle Chariton

As experts in eco-aware home design and construction, Darryn Parkinson and Sharon Hamilton strive to educate, inform and inspire their clients.

The owners of Sydney-based building company Your Abode are transforming their clients’ quality of life by creating high-performance, sustainable homes that are cheaper to run, healthier, and more comfortable to live in year-round.

Their approach is holistic; every element of each individual project – from onsite construction processes right through to the interior finishes and fixtures – is carefully considered and selected to optimise performance outcomes and minimise the home’s carbon footprint.

While ‘green’ homes offer a multitude of benefits – to the occupants and the environment – the standout difference and major selling point of this style of housing is always going to be its superior internal comfort – from a thermal perspective, and in terms of air quality.

And this, Darryn says, is something that can only be achieved when the building envelope is correctly designed and constructed. ‘The building envelope must be built to a sufficient standard to protect the occupants inside from whatever’s going on outside, whether that’s extreme heat or extreme cold – the premise being that when you’re in your house you want to be at a comfortable temperature,’ he explains. ‘It’s got to be designed to provide shading, be well insulated, fitted with better performing glass and double-glazed window systems and things like that. Those are the fundamentals.’

The home’s overall carbon footprint can then be further minimised through thoughtful material selection, focusing on renewable, recycled or recyclable products, energy harvesting systems, and water- and energy-efficient appliances.

Choose high-quality products that will remain serviceable for the life of the home
Photo courtesy Your Abode
Timeless finishes age gracefully
Photo courtesy Your Abode

Your Abode’s philosophy is to specify as many ‘unprocessed’ materials throughout the interiors as possible. ‘We have a heavy leaning towards those materials that are the least fabricated and manufactured,’ Darryn says. Think timber, steel, low- or no-VOC paints, and natural fibres – products with low embodied energy that limit our demands on the earth’s resources, and deliver cleaner, healthier interiors unpolluted by potentially toxic volatile gasses and other chemicals.

Perhaps even more importantly, Darryn says it’s important to fit out interiors with both durability and longevity in mind. This means choosing high-quality products that will remain serviceable for the life of the home – and eschewing the latest trends for timeless finishes that will age gracefully. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to kitchens and bathrooms – the ‘big ticket’ rooms.

‘If you take a fashion-forward approach to kitchens and bathrooms, in five to seven years they’re getting trashed because it looks so 2017,’ Darryn says. Home buyers’ increasing urge to go for cheaper, trendy finishes and fixtures and update ‘looks’ from season to season is largely driven by the fast fashion phenomenon, he adds, which is crossing over to home decorating and housing in general. This ‘churn’ approach is driving unprecedented levels of waste and over-taxing the planet’s resources. It’s also entirely unnecessary.

So how does Darryn create beautiful, yet sustainable kitchens and bathrooms that his clients will continue to enjoy for decades to come?

Your Abode’s philosophy is to specify as many ‘unprocessed’ materials throughout the interiors as possible

Sustainably-sourced or recycled timbers are a major player within all Your Abode kitchens. To minimise the build-up of VOCs, Darryn avoids the manufactured board products that are most commonly used in the construction of kitchen cabinetry. ‘They comprise a lot of glues and there’s a lot of off-gassing with these products,’ he says.

A better option is plywood: ‘There’s a greater content of timber in plywood than glues, so as far as the material goes it has a less manufactured base.’

The same considerations can be made for flooring, with recycled timber, exposed concrete or linoleum all getting top marks for performance and sustainability.

Durability of materials is essential in the kitchen, where water, heat, heavy saucepans and sharp knives can all test the limits of worktop surfaces. ‘We install a lot of stainless steel kitchen benchtops. It’s unbelievably durable and can cop an enormous amount of abuse which makes it perfect for a high work zone cooking area. It’s also totally recyclable.’

In the bathroom, he says the best strategy is to avoid overly trendy finishes and colours that are likely to date. Same goes for tapware, which is currently being touted as a high-fashion, easily updateable bathroom feature. Skip the on-trend rose golds and black in favour of classically-styled chrome pieces that won’t need ‘updating’ in a couple of years. Choose taps, showerheads and toilets with a high WELS rating to minimise water consumption, and look at energy-saving design measures such as positioning windows to optimise natural night and ventilation.

Skip the on-trend rose golds and black in favour of classically-styled chrome pieces
Photo courtesy Your Abode
Sustainably-sourced or recycled timbers are a major player within all Your Abode kitchens
Photo courtesy Your Abode

Eco-conscious housing isn’t just about improving liveability and comfort, it’s about preserving and protecting the future of our planet. Sadly, Darryn feels the home buying public are increasingly focused on the ‘gloss’, or the superficial aesthetic value of their home, rather than how it’s going to perform or what it’s going to be like to live in. And this, he says, comes down to a basic lack of understanding around the infinite potential and ongoing benefits of building for energy efficiency and sustainability. ‘I don’t think there’s sufficient groundswell in Australia for [sustainable home design] to have the same shopping list requirement that fancy kitchen appliances do, for example.’

While the mainstream media continues to focus on the aesthetic aspect of housing, Darryn believes that a grassroots campaign driven by home builders could be one way to effect change. ‘As builders we make the mess, we fill the landfill when we build a building. So we have a responsibility to educate our clients about the advantages of eco-aware design and construction, to present it in a stronger way.’

Discussing the tangible benefits – such as reduced utility costs, a home that’s warmer in winter and cooler in summer, improved family wellbeing and health – will help convince clients to green-light sustainable strategies. He adds that customers naturally seek, value and trust the expertise and advice of their builder, which puts housing professionals in the perfect position to generate the growth of sustainable housing and drive positive change right across the country.

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