When researching sustainable granny flats you might be asking: What is an Eco Granny Flat?
An Eco-granny flat is made as environmentally friendly as possible. By designing a secondary dwelling in the most energy efficient way and by reusing materials or recycled materials you can reduce your carbon footprint.
This is a popular topic, so brought in Pia Watson an Australian designer, interior architect and associate at Tom Mark Henry to help answer the questions below. As well as list recommended granny flat builders who offer the most Eco (environmentally friendly) building services as well.
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So, lets jump right into it.
What Does it Mean to Build an Eco-Friendly Structure?
Pia mentioned It’s really talking about a sustainable approach to the architecture.
Looking at passive ways of using heating and cooling rather than having to use air conditioning and heaters. You might install louvered windows for example that can open and close to allow air flow. By installing windows in certain parts of the building you get cross air-flow (ventilation) as well.
What I discover is that it isn’t so much about building out of straw bales for instance, it’s about how the granny flat is “put together” and designed with the environment in mind.
However, it is also being very mindful of using efficient materials as well. Such as using materials that might be reused in the new setting.
Pia mentions not only are people looking to build energy efficient granny flats. It is big business with larger commercial clients.
With a greater focus on energy star ratings from large clients there is a whole new market with great innovations popping up. And these can be incorporated into your granny flat.
Driven by larger businesses the technology in energy efficient products is improving
If you want to read up a little more about energy efficiencies see this article about BASIX energy requirements.
The whole process of designing an Eco friendly granny flat starts with the initial plan. It isn’t what people think about just paying for “Eco” products.
Again, it goes back to passive designs, features and how they work together.
So you might put windows towards a certain aspect because you get the best light (solar), as passive solar comes through you are heating a space free of charge.
Once the design is dialed right in to make the best use of your land, screening and how the sun passes over your block, you might then focus on the next steps.
These next steps entail using solar panels for instance and understanding which materials work better to keep heat in our out. Depending on what you are trying to achieve for the space.
Holistic Eco Design
Effectively; an Eco granny flat isn’t so much about building from just sustainable materials, although that would be one aspect of it. It’s holistically looking at the design.
The idea is a “whole view approach”. By effectively trying to build a granny flat that is as “off-grid” as possible.
It is important to install rain water tanks so you can make use of what mother nature provides. The aim of the game is to reduce your reliance on main power and water (also known as town water).
The great thing is you can use ‘grey water’ to wash your clothes and even flush the toilet. By connecting an outside water tank a plumber can feed the water with a simple pump to the parts inside your granny flat.
With this holistic approach, you are reducing your carbon footprint and also with the rising costs of electricity and water, saving money as well.
If you had a proper solar set up with a battery for the granny flat, then when power goes down you won’t be affected at all.
Tesla batteries and solar panels are pretty amazing (although expensive) and I’ll get to this point in a little bit.
Environment or Design?
New Eco-friendly granny flats are popular because of the overarching notion of climate change and wanting to do better for the environment.
Even better news is by focusing on an Eco friendly approach to your granny flat, you can easily make it fit in with contemporary design.
Making use of space, light and your location is all part of the holistic approach
Cost of Eco Granny Flats
The only downside – it can generally costs you more in the beginning but you’re hoping to save later; by reducing energy bills and lower water costs.
The discussion of cost with Pia was an interesting one.
Due to Eco friendly products not being as popular as traditional products, certain products tend to cost more. They can also be more robust, (made better) so this adds to the cost as well.
For instance, opting for triple or double glazed windows costs a lot more, yet the ongoing costs will be reduced. And this isn’t something that is mentioned much online.
For example, if you buy the more expensive windows now, they will last longer (by-in-large) and will reduce your energy costs. By not having to run an air conditioner or heater as much.
Windows can have a large impact on energy efficiency
The longevity of the final building should be thought about.
When using Eco friendly products such as the windows example above or reusing strong timber beams and recycled bricks. You know that they were fit for purpose for decades already so you can trust them for decades more.
Eco Friendly Designs for Australia
Pia discussed that a lot of buildings in Australia were built off designs from the UK and for over a century we followed their architecture because we were obviously a colony and thought it was the best thing to do.
But the building typology from the UK isn’t suitable to the Australian climate. So you find that we have terrace houses that are built pretty much straight on the ground and in Australia that’s not suitable because we’re largely a clay based continent and with the soil above this you get a lot of rising damp in houses across Australia.
If we didn’t have clay in many major cities in Australia, the water could drain away easily instead of sitting on this large clay base.
So by looking at the common terraces in the UK and trying to copy them, simply doesn’t work for us.
Similarly, if you want to design a granny flat like they design ancillary dwellings overseas you are missing the mark. The foundation for Eco design is missed because you are not designing for the environment in which you are constructing.
I think with building these days it is very important to understanding the yearly climate where you want to build.
So just being really clever about architectural features and designing for your specific environment is in fact what “Eco” means.
Pre-Fab Eco Designs
By prefabbing a granny flat and having it craned in, you can even reduce the carbon footprint of the construction itself.
How we build is changing and the materials that are being produced in prefab is constantly evolving.
But looking overall at the history of constructing homes in this country, it’s a fairly new way to undertake building in Australia.
When building from one purpose-built site, all engineering tooling, tools, machinery etc. is already there, you are not wasting precious resources in relocating machinery to try and make it work on a construction site far away.
There is less damage to the local environment as well. So the very nature of pre-fabrication and how it is done has a positive impact on our planet.
Reusing What You Have
If you are looking to build a granny flat on an existing concrete slab or looking to convert a garage or shed into a granny flat, there is a lot you can do with what you might already have.
Instead of buying new floors, you can just use the existing concrete and polish it.
And being clever about what you keep in a space and what you work around can make for an incredible finish.
Reusing materials makes a big difference to the end result
With the notion that most people have in Australia about heritage and preserving history, there is a big push for contemporary design that works by retaining older features to make them a focal point of a room.
Especially if you are looking to rent out your granny flat, whether that be short term rental or long term rental, people are looking for something unique.
Automatically a granny flat becomes unique if you use an old timber beam that was fitted 50, 80 or 100 years ago. You simply can’t get that specific piece anywhere else!
Pia mentioned that when you design around those features. You don’t put something that’s competing with it because it takes away from this great focal point.
Making the most of existing feature pieces
You then ironically save money because don’t need to put much else into a space. You will find that those Eco-friendly spaces using reused materials are really quite minimal.
Eco Friendly Granny Flat Builders
I hope this article shed light on what it means to build an Eco-friendly granny flat.
If you are ready to take the next step, it doesn’t hurt to call on the list below to find out what Australian builders are doing in the Eco Granny flat space.
And if you are looking to build your own granny flat yourself this is a great starting point.