Building Better and More Sustainable Houses in Canberra

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It pays to build a more energy and water efficient house.
While other home owners may worry when electricity and water rates go up, the owner of an energy and water efficient home can relax in the knowledge that not only will they be shielded from such significant price hikes, but they will also be doing their bit to reduce Canberra’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In this article, we showcase a couple of local Canberra businesses that are committed to helping people build homes that are energy and water-efficient.

Jigsaw Housing

Jigsaw Housing is a sustainable design and construction company, founded in 2010 in Canberra by builder Tom Henderson and architect Andrew Verri. Tom trained as a carpenter in Denmark, has an ACT builder’s licence, and from 2005 has run his own building company. Andrew has been an active member of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) for over 10 years and has served on its sustainability and practice committees. In 2009 he won a commendation in the AIA Award for Residential Architecture – Houses in the ACT.

Jigsaw house under construction: 20 Whitington Street, Franklin (photo courtesy of Jigsaw)

Tom and Andrew use an approach that aims to:

  • Enhance comfort – by maximising solar access for light and warmth, creating thermal mass to store heat, using high-level awnings for shading, and positioning windows for cross ventilation;
  • Reduce costs – by zoning living and sleeping spaces to reduce energy use, using collected rainwater wherever possible, and installing highly rated insulation;
  • Enhance functionality – by designing customised storage to make spaces work and by creating outside areas – such as courtyards and multipurpose garages – that give privacy and utility;
  • Reduce chemical use with low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and floor sealers, stainless steel termite mesh and avoiding products containing formaldehyde;
  • Maximise energy efficiency – through appropriate solar orientation, use of recycled and durable building materials, and installation of double glazed windows;
  • Save water – by recommending appliances with high star-ratings, installing water tanks, and opting for low water use gardens.

ClimateXchange recently visited the Jigsaw display home in Whitington Street, Franklin. Tom and Andrew have chosen to build a smaller house on this compact block, in contrast to the neighbouring houses that have a much larger footprint. The house is designed to maximise solar access.  As you can see from the photo below, they’ve managed to squeeze in a courtyard on the northern side and, in fact, there is another northern facing courtyard towards the back of the house, off the family room. The house has double-glazed windows, water tanks, solar hot water and other sustainable features.

Jigsaw house after completion: northern courtyard (photo courtesy of Jigsaw)

You can find out more about Jigsaw on its website at, or by phoning 02 6161 7735 or emailing

Canberra’s Sustainable House

Scientist, educator and sustainability consultant, Nicholas Mayo and textile conservator and Antarctic authority, Sarah Clayton, have built their sustainable house in the suburb of Ainslie. They live there and also use it as a base for their sustainability advisory service and as a showcase of best practice in sustainable technologies and lifestyle.

The home faces north, has solar panels, and has been built with high thermal mass in the floors and walls, so it is heated entirely by the sun. Water is also heated using solar energy, without any type of  ‘boosting’. Nick and Sarah have installed huge concrete in-ground water tanks that meet all their water needs and, indeed, they have no connection to the ACT Water and Sewerage network. They also operate a large vegetable garden in their back yard.

Canberra’s Sustainable House, 240 Duffy Street, Ainslie (photo courtesy of Canberra’s Sustainable House)

ClimateXchange has participated in one of Nick and Sarah’s organised tours around their house. On a cold but sunny winter’s day some months ago, it was amazing how warm it was inside the house without any heating other than that coming through the windows from the sun. The kitchen was very contemporary but used reclaimed timber, which had been beautifully installed, and had very energy efficient appliances. You would have thought that a compost toilet might smell, but in fact the bathroom was odourless. All in all, the house tour was very informative.

(photo courtesy of Canberra’s Sustainable House)

Nick says that the house’s sustainable features have resulted in the following savings:

  • “Food: Our kitchen garden produces all of our vegetables and a large percentage of our fruit. We save approximately $1500 per annum in food costs
  • Water and Sewerage: Save $800 p.a.
  • Energy: We use $28.00 of Natural Gas p.a. Savings attributed to space heating and heating water (compared to an average Canberra Home) are $ 3500.00. Additional net income from Photovoltaic solar roof is $1500.00
  • Total Annual Savings: $7300.00”

He adds that in the 4 years they have lived in Canberra’s Sustainable House the real
environmental savings beyond their property boundaries also include:

  • “More than 400 000 litres of sewerage saved from entering our rivers. This nutrient supports our flourishing kitchen garden and food forest – berries, fruit and nut trees
  • Stopped over 32 000 kilograms of greenhouse gas from polluting our atmosphere and contributing to climate change, global warming and the acidification of our oceans. The wellbeing of our natural world is critical!!!!
  • We have left at least 16 000 kilograms of coal in the ground
  • We have left over half a million litres of water to flow in our rivers – The Murray
    Darling system”

That’s very inspiring isn’t it!!

Nick’s passion for sustainability has also led him to run a sustainability consultancy. He is a qualified home sustainability assessor and also provides consultancy services in:

  • Product Selection – advises on products and installations ranging from small rainwater tank installations, through renovations and retrofits to a complete rebuild;
  • Approvalsassists with gaining approval from government or council for environmentally friendly technologies;
  • Sustainable Retrofits, Renovation & Project Coordination – assists with bringing trades, builders and manufactures together on projects aimed at enhancing home sustainability;
  • Kitchen Gardens – provides a design, construction and maintenance service for people who want a sustainable garden.

To find out more, go to the website of Canberra’s Sustainable House or phone 0429 492 773 or e-mail

There is also information on Jigsaw Housing and Canberra’s Sustainable House, as well as a range of other local service providers, in the climateXchange Canberra Green Directory.

If you want to comment on this article or see what others have written on making your home more sustainable, and other topics, check out the climateXchange forums.


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