Inverloch Straw-bale Sustainable House by Catherine Watson*

The walls of Cait and Peter Ghys’s straw-bale house are half a metre thick and it has just received a 10-star energy rating.

As Cait and Peter Ghys approached retirement, they decided to fulfil a long-held dream and build a straw-bale house. Next week they will join more than 200 homeowners nationwide in opening their home to the community as part of Sustainable House Day. They will pass on tips and advice, including on solar power, straw-bale building and design. The house, which was designed by their friend and architect Sue Mitchell, has a passive solar design and is rated at 8.3 stars. It has just been evaluated against the Victorian Residential Efficiency Scorecard, and received the maximum rating of 10 stars.

Peter says the house is not just energy efficient but beautiful to live in. It’s lovely and cool in summer and warm in winter. There’s no cooling other than ceiling fans, and the only heating we have is a wood heater, which we largely use because we like looking at it!

“We wanted to minimise our ongoing costs as we get older – I’m retired, whilst Cait is still working. We also wanted a house that was environmentally responsible.  Some things are easy; correct orientation of the house means the sun does a lot of the hard work in winter to keep the house warm.  Some things are harder, but worth it; the windows and doors are all double glazed uPVC, which were expensive, but wonderful – and I’ll never need to paint them!  We are very proud of the ten star rating that we got recently!

“We started thinking about building with straw bales soon after we met in the early 90s, but didn’t really do anything until we bought our retirement block outside Inverloch. Not sure if you’ve been in a straw bale house, but they are beautiful.  The external walls are around half a metre thick, allowing us to have very deep rounded reveals around the doors and windows.  The walls are lime washed on the inside. This looks really beautiful – sort of like buildings on the Greek Islands, or on the west coast of Ireland.  Being so thick, and dense, they provide fantastic insulation – a big reason why the energy rating is so high.  It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.  I could go on …

“I learned how to do straw bale at a workshop in Natimuk, so it was natural that we would use the same option for our build.  It works well; people pay to come; for this they get accommodation and all meals, plus instruction from someone who knows how to do it.  For the instructor, he/she gets paid for his time.  For us we get the walls erected pretty quickly at minimal outlay for labour.  We had a team of about eight people for the workshop, and got about half the walls done in the week of the workshop.

Cait and Peter’s Inverloch house will be open from 10am to 4pm on Sunday, September 16. Visitors must register to attend at Sustainable House Day to obtain addresses of all open houses.

*edited article first published in the Bass Coast Post