Four years ago, we bought a modest 1980s ex-government house. We deliberately bought a small property, as we had the idea to spend the rest of our budget on retrofitting our home along sustainable lines.
As we get older, we tend to spend more time at home. But with the increase in extreme and prolonged weather events, are we living in homes that will keep us comfortable, secure and healthy?
Have we become too worried about appearances at the expense of asking if it works as a home and meets our needs?
Some people have the luxury of being able to build an eco home from scratch, but lots of homes can be retrofitted without difficulty and without vast expense. Which is why we decided to open our home for Sustainable House Day on September 15: to show what is possible.
The first thing we did was repaint the roof with reflective paint, which in these extreme summers can make a significant difference inside.
The next thing was to put solar panels on the roof and on a solar pergola in the backyard that in total gives us about 5.6kW of solar energy. Averaged out over the year, we get 23kW hours of power a day with any excess transferred back to the grid ... so we rarely get an electricity bill. It enables us to run all our appliances as well as our e-bikes, which we use for journeys under 10km instead of a car.
With each improvement we make, we can see the impact. A cooler home makes an enormous difference to your ability to sleep during a heatwave.
Thermal-backed curtains keep our living area cosier in stormy weather.
Everything we have done to the house including a new hot water heat pump, replacing walls and insulating floors, draft-proofing windows and doors and installing solar has cost $40,000, but each year we save between $2000 to $3000 in energy bills.
Another effect is that we are healthier, with fewer sick days each year.
This house will keep us comfortable in the worst weather events. We have days where temperatures soar up to 40, but we can keep the house at 20-25 degrees easily.
Heatwaves can kill, and so this is about making our home safe during those extreme days. We want to see all this become standard with a government program to enable low-income households to retrofit and become more sustainable.
For more details on Sustainable House Day, visit sustainablehouseday.com
Kathryn Maxwell and Thomas Schild live in Moruya on NSW's south coast.