Lifelong sustainability

Builder Griff Morris has spent his entire career learning about energy-efficient buildings and educating others in an effort to provide Australians with more sustainable, affordable and comfortable houses to live in.


Laura Valic

Griff Morris
Builder Griff Morris from Solar Dwellings in Western Australia has a strong passion for educating consumers and builders alike about sustainable housing.
Griff Morris began his extensive career in sustainable building by researching, designing and constructing his first passive solar home in the 1970s in Melbourne. He founded Solar Dwellings 27 years ago and has been producing award-winning sustainable homes in Western Australia. 

Griff spent 18 years as a HIA GreenSmart trainer, sits on the HIA WA Environmental Planning Committee, is an ambassador for the Disability Services Commission to have accessibility included in housing design, and was an inaugural board member of the Sustainable Energy Association.

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the past five years in this space?

GM: Higher performance of the envelope by better insulation of externals walls, higher performing glazing units and doors seals has become better under the code, which has been good. This has given rise to walling materials and concepts such as passiv haus, which uses highly insulated walls, internally and externally. Then double-glazed windows with thermally broken frames. The building is highly sealed, and blower tested. That’s great in very cold conditions in Europe, but adapting it to Australian conditions you are best to include internal wall mass, coupled with good design. This will give a far better outcome otherwise a mechanical device is needed to pump air in and out on a consistent basis. You can get a high rating with an insulated container model, but not as good performance as the high insulation and mass combined.

Q: Would you say that an accessible home is a sustainable home?

GM: We won’t do a home unless we make it accessible. In the early stages if you incorporate the basics of accessibility into a home the costs are very low, but if you have to retrofit, then the costs are high in most cases. We have an ageing population so it’s critical that we involve ourselves as an industry in accessibility. We’re all ageing, and at some point we’re going to need one of these homes. We also need to realise we can produce very smart, sustainable homes for a low cost. Particularly considering the current market we’re in.

energy and water efficient home

We have an ageing population so it’s critical that we involve ourselves as an industry in accessibility

Q: What are some of your sustainability successes over the years?

GM: When I started Solar Dwellings I had a client who said to me, “What about building me one of those solar passive homes who’ve been talking about?” so I did. That house in West Leederville was written about by Choice Magazine in a major book. The book was republished two years ago and they still include that house; they thought it was the best example of a battle-axe passive solar energy-efficient design that they had come across in Australia. I found that the first 10 years of business involved educating the public and educating builders. I worked with builders to come up with the most efficient processes within the way they worked, using normal building materials [to produce sustainable housing]. 

In about 1998 we won the tender to build the Subiaco Sustainable Home, which was an environmental showcase in conjunction with local government and the Subiaco Council. It was extremely successful – and was the most efficient home in Australia at the time that was assessed by the CSIRO with their new rating program – which was the first star rating program. It was four stars in those days, which was the top. The rating program is very different now. The home won lots of awards and was open for two years. It had about 30,000 people walk through it, even Prince Charles came over to look at that house.

We also built Josh’s House for ABC TV Gardening Australia presenter Josh Byrne. It’s a 10-star home and has been tested by the CSIRO on a consistent basis for several years. Universities are also following it, and watching its assessment process. You could build Josh’s House anywhere in Australia and the modifications would be minor. Its design is easily adaptable. 

Q: When it comes to sustainable building what would you like builders to do more of?

GM: Education is paramount. GreenSmart is a great course but is poorly used by industry. We need education along with higher levels of government support, with all levels of government engaged in the process. We need a consistent dialogue between them, and a structure that supports education and good design practice that is simple and cost-effective for the building industry to instigate. Then you train the builders, designers, trades and suppliers – everybody needs to get on board. People say, ‘That’s a lot to do!’ but if you don’t start you’re never going to get it done, and right now we’re just playing around the edges. 


Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge industry faces when it comes to environmentally-friendly housing?

GM: Inconsistent policies from federal, state and local governments and a lack of training – and as a consequence, a lack of understanding from most of the people involved in the process. We need policy all the way through that is consistent, and then the education and the programs to support that. Also industry incentives. If there was policy that when you get over a certain star rating you get a tax break or other incentive, that would give builders and their clients a reason to move forward in a more sustainable way and give compounding energy savings for the life of the building.

Another issue is a lot of industry isn’t properly aware of the COAG Energy Council’s NEPP, which is a plan to deliver a 40 per cent improvement in Australia’s energy productivity by 2030. Energy Ministers have agreed to a national plan that sets a trajectory towards zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings for Australia. Local and federal governments, various universities, and others like myself have all been involved, but many don’t know about it and need to.

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