A Good Home Forever Case Study

The Story

Video that accompanied the original booklet, published in 2009
An extract from Rowe Morrow’s eBook: A Good Home Forever: Downsizing for the future


Decide the Criteria

I decided that I would need a one storey house on a north-facing reasonably flat block with space for a small vegie garden, fruit trees, three chooks, and land for the re-establishment of natural bush and corridors for wildlife. I also needed to have low water, energy and nutrient use and, a house built for low maintenance and energy sustainability.

I developed my six purchasing criteria with retrofitting in mind and I went to buy a house.

  1. Future low maintenance and ease of retrofitting
  2. Energy considerations for efficiency and as passive solar as possible
  3. Water sustainability (autonomy)
  4. Facilities and transport access
  5. Financial sustainability
  6. What would have been a bonus – A view, nearby bushland and a shed

Starting with Zone Zero

I implemented permaculture principles because they worked so well in my other two homes. A permaculture principle says “Start with your home, so that no matter how cold, wet, dry, baking hot or bare it is outside, when you come inside, your home works for you”. When you modify a home it is called retrofitting. Remember: stick to your criteria.

I also resolved to reduce my possessions because I wanted everything to be in use, and so for the second time in one year, I reduced my worldly goods by at least 50%. I now have one small linen cupboard, one built-in cupboard and overflowing bookshelves.

I found reliable ethical tradespeople to work for me. They were careful with time, money and resources so it was a delight to work with them and they respected my retrofitting criteria.

My Five Retrofitting Criteria:

  1. Second hand materials, and so we found aluminium doors, windows, timber and corrugated iron.
  2. Locally sourced materials where possible e.g. such as timber, non-toxic paints.
  3. New organic materials, or replace non-renewable with renewable e.g. paints, modwood.
  4. Zero waste from retrofitting including disposing of nylon carpet.
  5. Give financial priority to local labour and small businesses.

Major Goals and Works

  • Remove walls and live and work in one large open space with different alcoves and use only one radio, one heater, one light and one phone. Reduce energy use per item and the number of white and electrical goods
  • Remove some windows and replace with doors to allow greater solar gain and access to garden
  • Insert a window seat for extra sleeping/dozing for self and visitors and, allow extra sunlight
  • Ensure that any important resource or need such as water or energy was met from two sources. I now have solar energy and wood (all recycled) for heating and cooking. I have rainwater and town water for all my water needs and draw only minimally on town water supplies.Note: It was important that the flow of work was efficient and co-ordinated to avoid duplication of time and resources.

It took six weeks to retrofit the house to the point of being able to move in. The builder was a ‘natural’ builder from the local area who was totally on board for re-using everything possible from paints to second hand doors and pelmets. I searched the six op shops in Katoomba and found the curtains and used bookshelves for pelmets.

Once the house was livable, we took down the two pines, and, I used the smelly nylon carpet to line the gravelly pond. I planned to use the bobcat (small earth mover) sequentially and it worked. Everything was used or moved once only. So fill went to the terrace, stones for its wall, mulch was distributed on top of that and so on. When the bobcat left after one day’s work, the garden was all laid out. Then I got on with planting.

I lived in the house for 18 months before selling it, by that time the gardens had matured. Some changes have happened since. The food garden is smaller. The back – western boundary has fewer shrubs which I had planted for a windbreak. However the structure is substantially there and it still works.

For more about this project, Rosemary Morrow’s A Good Home Forever: Downsizing for the future, is now available as a eBook

Summary + Statistics

Retrosuburban Real Estate Checklist rating: This property hasn’t yet been rated.

Location: Katoomba, Blue Mountains (pop. 8000). 110km west of Sydney.

Rainfall: 1397mm

Soil: ?

Build: Late 1970s / early 1980s. Retrofitted in 2008?

2016 Property Value: AU$

Household: Single occupant

Land Size: 717m²
Floor space: 
Roof area: 
Water tank storage: 30,000lt
Tank water use: 
Mains water use: 25lt per day
Power: kW Grid-tied solar. Annual Power exported:
Annual Power imported: 2650kWh (7.2kWh p/d)
Av. Power produced: 
Av. Power used: 
Annual Gas used: 
Annual Wood used: 
Food production: Vegetables, fruit, and eggs.
Waking hours at home: 

Site Plan

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