AS PUBLISHED BY FIRST NATIONAL PALM BEACH, SEPTEMBER 2016
From indoor pools and gardens to cathedral ceilings and skylights, more Gold Coast families are choosing to build eco-friendly and eco-sustainable homes. Find out all about this hot building trend in our interview this month with Jeremy Magee, Co-Director of the award winning Burleigh based Eco Essence Homes.
Q: You have two businesses – Eco-Essence Homes and Eco Sustainable House. Tell us about them?
I’m a builder by trade and previously had a company building high volume commercial properties with my current business partner Wayne. I was never really satisfied with the projects we were working on so I decided to close my business and focus on building properties that were interesting and inspiring.
Wayne and I formed Eco-Essence Homes in 2010. Eco Essence Homes manages the whole process of building healthy and inspiring eco homes from start to finish. We currently build around 20 – 30 homes per year. Apart from the actual houses being eco friendly we also try to incorporate the principals of eco-sustainability into everything we do, which is why we ensure 95% of waste from our building sites is recycled with only 5% going to landfill.
We launched our second business Eco Sustainable House in 2014 as a design company. Builders and homeowners can get an architecturally designed home as well as finding industry leading materials for it on our online store. I’m also really passionate about the advice and educational focus of the company. We field a lot of calls from builders in particular looking for advice because they haven’t built an eco home before or used a particular product before. So we are using this company as a platform to build awareness and educate more people which will contribute to a more sustainable industry for eco homes in Australia.
Q: What was your first project?
My first project was actually my own house. I wanted to create a healthy, positive and empowering environment for myself and my family so I knocked my whole house down and rebuilt it from scratch. My favourite features would have to be the 2 metre long fish tank and the beautiful 6 metre garden that extends from my backyard straight in through to the kitchen. You can see both when you first enter my house which makes a great first impression! My home is now a really uplifting place to live in and the kids love it too. It inspires me every day to continue what I’m doing.
Q: Why are people choosing to build an eco home?
When we first launched the business it felt like we were talking in a different language – people didn’t know what was out there and what could be achieved. Six years on we’re finding people already understand a lot about living sustainability and the value of eco friendly fittings and homes. Some of this has been driven by TV shows like The Block and Reno Rumble which really popularised things like vertical gardens, skylights and roof windows, and the solar industry has also contributed with lower prices meaning more people are turning to solar and becoming more aware of sustainable living.
About 80% – 90% of our clients are families who come to us after years and decades of living in homes that are dark, cold and uninviting and are looking for something better for their family. We’ve had clients ask us to build a home that was everything their last house wasn’t! Popular features that come to the top of the must-have list are to create a home that flows between internal and external spaces, creating a journey for the occupants and their guests with lush gardens, courtyards visible from all areas of the home, ample natural light and open and airy rooms that flows from one space to the next.
Q: Does it cost more to build an eco home?
It’s a 100% myth that it costs more to build an eco home. We’ve actually had customers who have run the numbers and agree that it doesn’t cost any more to build eco-friendly. In fact, in the long run an eco home will save you money, particularly your electricity bill, by using eco friendly methods to cool and heat your home.
We opened Eco-Essence Homes in 2010 in the wake of the GFC which actually helped launch our business because people were forced to really stop and think about what they were doing and how they could save money and live more sustainably within their own means.
The most challenging aspect of any home is the block of land – the orientation and size of the block, and how the house will be situated on the block. We’re perfectionists so close enough is not good enough. We work hard until we get in right.
One of the most challenging builds we have done so far is Lot 20 Casuarina. With a north-facing block the challenge was to get the sunlight and air flow through to the back of the house where the living areas were. We opted for a single depth room with high ceilings and high windows which not only resulted in a great flowing open plan design, but also opened up the whole house to more sun light and greater air flow. We achieved an 8 star energy rating for this property while keeping the costs down. It was a great achievement and we eventually sold this property to the Surf Life Saving lottery.
Q: What has been your favourite project so far?
My favourite project to date is Lot 60 Kingscliff – which is part of our Pacific Range of homes. We achieved an 8 ½ star energy efficiency with just standard building materials, which resulted in us winning both the regional and State HIA Energy Efficiency awards in 2015.
We were really passionate about the design of this house and had wanted to build it for a while but we hadn’t been able to sell the idea to any of our clients. Eventually we just decided to go out and build it ourselves. We completed the house in 2014, sold it and have built 5 or 6 since– I guess sometimes you need to be able to show people what you’re talking about!
The house has cathedral ceilings and high windows in the living area and is designed so that the winter sun will shine through the windows and heat up the thermal mass floor providing heating to the property in winter – however the sun doesn’t come low enough in summer to shine through the window so the thermal mass floor actually keeps the house cool in the summer. Everything in the house works together which is something that beginners struggle to understand – some people go out there looking for a quick fix and buy a few products they think will make their property more sustainable and efficient, but it doesn’t work like that. Everything from the design of the property to the materials and products need to work together as part of a system.
Q: What tips would you give to home owners / landlords looking to make their properties more eco friendly?
There’s not really a quick fix – every house is different. If you’re looking at making improvements to your home it’s important to be familiar with your block of land and your local environment. You can achieve a lot by using your house to harnesses the natural environment so it’s important to find out where the winter sun is, where the summer sun is and which direction cool and warm breezes come from. When you have this information you can make drastic changes to your home by just putting a window or skylight in the correct place. The hardest part is getting the correct information, which is why we launched Eco Sustainable House so people could get information and advice for their projects.
Q: What award(s) have you won?
We are proud to have won a few awards over the last few years. It’s great that our work really does speak for itself and these awards will hopefully give more exposure to what is achievable in designing and building eco homes.
2015 – Finalist Architectural Design, Pacific awarded by Sustainability Awards
2015 – Winner GreenSmart Energy Efficiency awarded by HIA Gold Coast / Northern Rivers Housing Awards
2015 – Winner GreenSmart Energy Efficiency awarded by HIA CSR NSW Housing and Kitchen and Bathroom
2016 – “Best Of Houzz – Best of Service” awarded by Houzz®, the leading platform for home renovation and design.
2016 – Winner GreenSmart Home of the Year awarded by HIA Australia