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Super-size housing has an environmental cost

Modern day mansions are a long way from the traditional worker's cottage
As a building designer familiar with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) John Crossley from the Vineyard Community of Faith and Knox Moorooka Uniting Church Congregation is concerned about the “obesity” of our current suburban building practices.

He explained to Journey that one issue that is not covered by the BCA is how large a house does a family need, and notes a disconcerting trend is the increase in house sizes.

Australian Bureau of Statistics reports an increase in average floor area from 160 square metres in 1986 to 240 square metres in 2004.

“At a personal level, many of us may not be ‘obese’,” says Mr Crossley, “but we are aware of ‘fighting a little weight problem’ and realise that a little more exercise and a little less food would be better for us.”

But, Mr Crossley feels, we are being super sized into an obese use of building resources by our consumerism and he worries about what happens in our consumerist society when we decide "a few extra kilos" are acceptable.

“A key question in this debate is whether it is a responsible use of our environment to super-size that item we already have when we feel it only just meets our need.

“Does God supply a sufficiency or an excess for our needs?” he asks.

Mr Crossley points to the turn of the century workers cottages which housed most lower income and middle income families which had two bedrooms, a living room and kitchen with sleep outs on the veranda. All rooms were small with an average size about 60 square metres plus 20 square metres of veranda.

He points to the more recent swing to brick clad, slab on ground houses in the 80s and 90s as less environmentally friendly.

“One kilogram of aluminium creates 6 kilograms of CO2 and one 1 kilogram of concrete produces 1 to 2 kilograms of CO2 while using recent growth timber in construction traps only 0.5kg to 1kg of CO2.”

Together with her family Uniting Church member and Manager of the Queensland Sustainable Energy Industry Development Group Wendy Miller has been putting her professional interest into practical outcomes by modifying their original 1970s Corinda home into a more environmentally friendly dwelling.

The addition of insulation to roof, ceiling and some walls, sliding windows with casements to “catch the breeze” and shade to western windows was complimented by solar hot water and electricity generation, efficient appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures and rainwater tanks.

“Today this passive solar home enjoys year-round comfort with a little assistance from pedestal fans in the middle of summer,” said Ms Miller.

“The wood heater has been removed as no heating is required in winter and energy services are met through solar (electricity and hot water) and gas (cooking).

“This transformation has been achieved gradually as we have become aware of ways we can reduce our impact on the environment and as family finances and time have allowed.

“The process of transformation is by no means complete with more improvements planned for the future.”

For Mr Crossley the question for Christians is what do we do without to help others?

“What do we sacrifice to let God’s grace bring a balance back into our environment?

“As we know, Jesus taught us to give without expecting to receive so how do we show Christ through our environmental actions?

“I think I might miss that next update to the car, or extension to the house, or even move to something smaller. Can we get one more year of use out that church carpet?

“I know, coming from a good Methodist and Presbyterian background, such stewardship already may be in the blood, but as my mother taught me I will say at the next slightly smaller evening meal, ‘I have had a sufficiency of every delicacy’ and thank the Lord for his grace.

Photo : Modern day mansions are a long way from the traditional worker’s cottage