A Recyclable Home Not Destined for Landfill
Words by Anthony Richardson
Using recycled materials is a noble gesture in building, however the way these materials are installed often lend themselves destined for the landfill. Quentin Irvine, Managing Director of Inquire Invent Pty Ltd, used a closed loop approach when designing and building The Recyclable House.
There are loads of ways to design and build sustainable homes these days. You could just focus on the basics such as orientation and smart material choice. You could fill the stud walls with the highest rating of insulation on the market. You could cake the roof in solar panels. Or you could do what designer and engineer, Quentin Irvine did, and experiment with closed loop design and construction methodologies. Basically, this house can be fully recycled at the end of its life, and I think that's a pretty sustainable approach.
The house features some fairly typical sustainability practices, such as passive heating and cooling, high insulation, wood stove and solar hot water. What sets this house apart from many of the other sustainable homes out there is this approach to recyclability, which required a bit more research and thought. To achieve this, Quentin, who was the designer and builder, looked at older building methods and applied these creatively.
Quentin took a fairly different but considered approach to widely accepted 'sustainable practices', particularly revolving around embodied energy and the actual use of recycled materials. For readers who may not know what embodied energy, basically it's the energy consumed throughout the entire process to produce something. Bricks and timber generally have low embodied energy, whereas stainless steel is quite high. So if you're looking to be sustainable, you generally avoid stainless steel, however Quentin says "because these elements are used in a reusable way, I don’t see them being expended or spent in the building of the house, I see them as being invested." And he even took a stronger approach when using recycled materials, such as timber floorboards. Quentin was skeptical of using recycled timber floorboards because "We don’t know where these materials have been and don’t know the content of the finishes used on them." A lot of older floorboards is toxic, particularly in the finishing coat, so Quentin ended up re-machining to strip off the original coating.
A challenge for this closed loop approach was the bathroom, how do you build a recyclable bathroom? The way we typically build a bathroom just creates waste for the landfill, with substrates being glued and nailed, waterproofing membranes and tiles. Quentin got the idea from an architect friend, Ann Cameron, to build the bathroom similar to a roof. He started with recyclable and partly recycled cement sheets that were screwed, not glued, to the floor structure. For the waterproofing membrane, stainless steel floor trays were installed, without glue. On top of this was floating decking boards in one bathroom, and pebbles/pavers in the other.
When you look at the building from the outside you can easily see how Quentin was inspired by the iconic Australian galvanised steel wool sheds. Fortunately this vernacular lends itself quite well with the closed loop approach, compared to typical weatherboards or cement sheets which relies on paint. Galvanised corrugated steel was the main material used on the external, chosen for its exceptional durability and recyclability. On the north facade, Quentin experimented with charred timber, using Yakisgui which is a Japanese cladding technique. This process of charring has multiple benefits, including fire retarding, rot resistant, fully recyclable and extremely low in maintenance.
Sometimes it isn't the large gestures like the galvanised metal, or completely re-thinking how we build bathrooms, but rather the little things. Something as simple as documenting and recording the materials and constructions allows future generations to recycle the house safely and efficiently. The walls in the Recyclable House are fully compostable and are screwed to the studs without the use of glue. Pull lights, as opposed to wall switches, save on pvc and copper and the linen pull cord is far lower in embodied. For Quentin, this closed loop approach was applied to every facet in the house and as a result you have this beautiful, durable, unique, recyclable home.
Oh and if you want to actually experience this house in-person, it's available on Airbnb! Click here to see the listing.