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Green Guru

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Janine Strachan, 2021 HIA Australian GreenSmart Professional award winner, looks at the shift in sustainable housing during her career and reveals why she’s so passionate about it.

Liz Barrett

Senior Content Producer

Janine Strachan is a sustainable design leader and tiny house guru. After starting as an HIA GreenSmart Professional in 2005, she received recognition when she won the HIA Australian GreenSmart Professional award last year.

 

Not only is Janine the director of Green Design Solutions and Tiny House Solutions, but the president of the Australian Tiny House Association and teacher of Sustainable Design at RMIT. She’s also an active conservationist. ‘I live with a focus on minimising my environmental footprint on a daily basis and support a host of environmentally focused charities,’ says Janine. ‘They mostly work on water conservation and reducing carbon emissions.’

She found her enthusiasm for the field of sustainability early in her career. ‘Back in the mid-’80s, I worked outdoors as a whitewater rafting guide across Australia’s east coast. I loved being in the environment, but was concerned when I heard about rivers being dammed for irrigation. That was when my passion was ignited. It led me to a degree in environmental management and later qualifications in planning and building, which led me to work in many diverse environmental areas. In 2014 I started my design and planning consultancy, where I bring together all of my skills. I consider myself lucky to work in diverse areas within the industry.’

Significant shift

During her time in the industry, Janine has slowly begun to see a shift in the building and construction industry, as well as in consumers. ‘Honestly, I would like to have seen more, but there’s been a real shift, particularly after the droughts and bushfires we have experienced over the past few years. But we need more education and understanding of a sustainably designed home’s environmental and financial benefits. That’s what is great about the GreenSmart program. It gives the skills and confidence to builders to say when they see a plan, yes, I can build that, but if we make these more sustainable changes, the initial investment will benefit you in the long term.’
 
Janine believes that consumers are generally aesthetic- and trend-driven; they want a certain feeling and appearance to a space. Sustainable features do not take priority. ‘We’re starting to see a bigger percentage of informed consumers who want a sustainable and passive designed home,’ she says. 

‘People now have had to live and work in their own homes. This has been a catalyst to change. They ask how I’m living day to day in my own space and is it working for me? Am I living in a house that consumes a lot of energy because it’s been poorly designed, or can I make the most of the materials in the house? But it’s taken a long time for people to get to this point. When designing a home, consumers should consider how they can achieve good design and reap the long-term benefits for their own comfort and finances.’ 
GreenSmart remains essential for the building industry and the future of sustainable housing
If clients are looking to lower their footprint, going off-grid is one way they can save on energy and water. ‘About three-quarters of my clients are off-grid, influenced by the cost to bring in power, and due to off grid systems becoming more affordable. The demand for off-grid living is growing, so I’m hoping we will start to have more micro-grid systems in regional areas because our pole and wire set-up doesn’t easily support feedback into the system. There is now talk about network charges to feedback excess power generated from grid connected homes back into the system, which reflects the success of photovoltaic panels on private property, but who would have ever thought that? These actions show that people are wanting to reduce their environmental impact,’ says Janine. 

With the NCC 2022 changes afoot, Janine can see more opportunities for sustainable living. ‘I think there’s more we can do about water conservation. We are the driest inhabited continent in the world. The way we use water is not efficient. We typically use it once and flush it down the drain. People could shift their habits and use the grey water coming out of their homes and save thousands of litres a year.’
 

Waste not want not

Having worked on numerous waste reduction programs, Janine is passionate about waste reduction whenever possible.

‘Builders do many things to reduce the waste created during a project,’ she says. ‘I would say accurate estimating and ordering first and foremost. Design for efficiency, make simple changes such as choosing a ceiling height that allows the common sizes for plasterboard to eliminate offcuts. Good management practices – material handling on the site, ensuring they are appropriately stored and not exposed to the elements to avoid being damaged. If you have excess materials, the product stewardship procedures can help with this. 

‘This is where certain suppliers will take back extra materials and build recyclability into their manufacturing, among other initiatives. Beyond that, recycling your waste products is the key – Gyprock, bricks, aluminium, steel and even PVC can be recycled. Separate your waste and recycle what you can.’
 

Material selection is essential

When designing a home, there’s more to sustainability than the orientation or the layout of the house. Materials play a big part and can impact the result dramatically. While cost will always be a driving factor, when considering the long-term benefits of your material choices, some of these initial costs may be offset over the life of the build.

‘Builders and designers should start by asking their clients, how do you feel about incorporating sustainability into your home? I look at it like taking the client on a journey. Do you want to go above and beyond or do the minimum? That will inform decisions from the start. Then help consumers select materials with lower environmental impact. Consider the low hanging fruit, such as higher levels of insulation in the ceiling or the walls. Prefabricated materials are an excellent option and help minimise onsite waste.

‘Many integrated systems provide a thermal barrier, where the insulation is sandwiched between the interior and exterior cladding layer. Green concrete is another great choice, and this is beneficial when incorporated as an exposed concrete floor to absorb, store and re-radiate heat. Select materials designed to be recoverable and reusable at the end of life, should the home be remodelled and consider the use of materials that have low volatile organic compounds to improve healthier homes for occupants.’

Colour selections also play a significant part in the process, especially for the exterior. ‘Dark-coloured roofs are in fashion, but many people don’t consider the implications. If someone needs to access your roof cavity in the height of summer, that area may be 70 or 80 degrees. At that temperature, the heat doesn’t just release upwards it also permeates into the house, ultimately costing you more to cool your home.’

Be GreenSmart

The GreenSmart program is something Janine wholeheartedly supports. ‘GreenSmart is so diverse – connecting builders to industry leaders and partners and providing training, not to mention the awards that recognise the strides we’re making in this area. What has always stuck with me was how the program changed how builders approach their projects. Back in the early 2000s, I spoke to another GreenSmart builder, who said, “I want to be designing homes that have charging stations for electric cars”. He was ahead of his time. 
 
‘Builders and designers should start by asking their clients, how do you feel about incorporating sustainability into your home?’
‘Another builder, this time from Southern New South Wales, was building based on how he would demolish the home at the end of life. If he couldn’t undo it, he would find an alternative solution or system to achieve this – really inspiring perspectives. GreenSmart is such an important program and has been around for so long. I remember when it started; it was innovative for its time because there was nothing like it across Australia. It remains essential for the building industry and the future of sustainable housing.’
 
For more information visit: 

Green Design Solutions 
Tiny House Solutions

GreenSmart Professional


Are you the next GreenSmart Professional award winner? The 2022 HIA Australian GreenSmart Awards are open now.