Bana Yirriji Art & Cultural Centre

Key Fact

  • Art gallery, workshop and café with a trade training kitchen
  • Spatial design evolved in conjunction with the community
  • Good shading in the eastern and western areas for comfortable outdoor space that is well-used and integrated

Project Data

Location: Wujal Wujal nr Cooktown, QLD, Australia
Year completed: 2012

You can check out the Cairns Convention Centre here.


Bana Yirriji is situated on the remote Bloomfield River at Wujal Wujal in Far North Queensland. The place has great natural beauty.  The client, Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council (WWASC) commissioned the design of an art gallery, workshop and café with a trade training kitchen desiring productive, creative and inspiring spaces. The aim was to attract tourists, sell art and hospitality services as well as host functions for the community.  The spatial design of the building was evolved in conjunction with the WWASC representatives.

The design had to support the economic, training, employment, art and cultural needs of the community, as well as address funding allowance constraints, the remote location, life cycle cost, maintenance and tropical conditions.  Vital to the brief was consideration of the health and wellbeing of the builders, building users and the surrounding environment. The ‘green’ design features also had to deliver a sustainable building for this tropical and remote environment.

Awards: 2014 Building Designers Association for Queensland (BDAQ) Regional winner in the Public Buildings Category.


The budget was set by Queensland government Q150 funding.

Scheme 1 commenced under a ‘design & construct’ contract on difficult, elevated land chosen by WWASC.  The civil engineering requirements included expensive measures for stormwater management, earth retaining structures and car parking compliance. The site was identified as a landslide hazard and the provision of services to the building site was difficult. Environmental soil erosion controls and management of the site became financially unfeasible. The site was abandoned and the ‘design & construct’ contract came to a close.

Scheme 2 on a new site in a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) area had positive cost implications. It was practical and could include existing amenities. It had a beautiful outlook over the Bloomfield River adjacent to the main river crossing, ideal for a local tourist development.

WWASC commissioned the new traditional ‘design & tender’ procurement contract and essentially the ‘Scheme 1’ design was modified for the new site in a tight time frame to secure the funding and project.

Drawing documentation was completed and a building contract opportunity was tendered.  Cost saving measures were agreed and ‘ready to go’ if the tenders were not favourable.

The tenderer came in below guidance costs and this enabled additional work to be agreed with regards to water saving measures such as water tanks to service the laundry and cleaners sink, as well as high quality hardware fittings to public areas, additional landscaping and car parking areas.


The building site was existing cleared land minimizing earthworks and further vegetation clearing.

Another site that built on was the ‘Alkira’ The Stamp House.


Orientation choices were limited and passive design principles were followed. There was a river view for the tourists to enjoy from the verandah and additional requirements to integrate and upgrade the existing amenities. The proposed car parking locations are to the north and south of the building. Adopting as much as possible of the Scheme 1 design, the building envelope was massaged to fit within all of these parameters.

A priority was to ensure the appropriate design of the roof for shading in a tropical climate. The eastern and western areas were particularly important as it was essential that the outdoor space was comfortable and provided a well-used and integrated space. A traditional verandah roof was adopted to the eastern verandah being the entrance to the gallery and eating area off the kitchen. A high level roof was pitched from the east and down towards the west to ensure adequate shading over the outdoor area of the arts and craft workshop. The entire roof is well insulated. There are fans throughout including the outdoor areas. There are 900mm to 1200mm eaves all round.

The building is raised from the ground to allow for under-floor ventilation, keeping occupants away from ground dwelling pests and flood events.

The gallery, offices and kitchen is air-conditioned and appropriate use of insulation and glazing optimises the efficiency of air-conditioning during the hot period of the wet season. The building cools quickly at night and is able to function well without air-conditioning for most of the year.


Material selection was primarily based on lifecycle cost and maintenance in a remote location. 

The main structure is steel frame. The steel is recyclable, light weight, transportable and suitable for this remote location. Colorbond metal sheeting is used for the upper roof walls. It is durable and requires little maintenance. The Dulux range of acrylic paints is easy to wash and included mould inhibitor additives. There are quality protective coatings for the steel posts and frames as Dulux Aquagalv is considered as exceptionally hard wearing and resistant to damage during transport.

Floor surfaces throughout have been selected for their durability and easy maintenance. Bamboo floor boards in the Gallery have a very high Janka rating of 8 representing good resistance to dints and scratches. The floors through the workshop and amenities areas are ‘Granito’ commercial vitrified tiles and highly resistant to chips although should this occur, the tile has the same colour throughout, camouflaging any damage that may occur. The Granito range comes with a coving allowing for easy cleaning. The ‘Tarkett’ commercial grade vinyl has a recycled content. It is used in the kitchen as it is hard wearing and easily cleaned.

Material selection also considered health and wellbeing by reducing the use of chemicals and toxins. The paint specified is the Dulux range of low VOC paints that include low VOC tints.  The interior paints are EnvirO2 low sheen white base with low VOC tints. The enamels for skirting and frames are the water based ‘Aqua enamel’ high gloss low odour. Decking timbers are coated with an ‘Intergrain’ water based low VOC coating. It was also specified that the Dulux EnviroSolutions systems were used by the painting contractor.

Protective coatings on the steel posts and frames is Dulux Aqaugalv, a water born inorganic zinc silicate that is exceptionally hard wearing, resistant to damage during transport and suitable for coastal environments.

Bamboo floor boards are made from renewable fast growing plantations. They are coated and cured at the factory where VOC’s (toxic solvent fumes) are controlled. Once cured and at site VOC’s have mostly been released.  The bamboo floors are very hard wearing requiring little energy to maintain. Floor tiles are ‘Granito’ and are long lasting and do not emit toxic gases. The ‘Tarkett’ commercial vinyl has a recycled content of up to 36% and is recyclable at the end of its life. In all instances, it is specified that adhesives are low toxic, low VOC solutions.

Cabinetry and joinery including toilet partitions are from the Laminex Group ‘Green First’ range. The medium density fibre board has very low VOC’s and is partly made of recycled timber.


The building achieved above minimum requirements for compliance with the Building Codes Section J Energy Efficiency provisions at that time.

The appropriate use of glazing for natural light and ventilation is fit for purpose and shaded. Therefore, the building has limited solar gain through the glazing.  The use of high level aluminium louvres allows the building to vent warm air up and towards the high level raking ceilings.

Large door openings maximize cross ventilation, also inviting visitors to enter the workshop and gallery.

Air conditioning is supplied to the kitchen, offices, training rooms, staff dining and retail area. This represents about 50% of the usable floor area. Much of the usable floor area is open verandah essential for tropical living.

The roof sheeting is Colorbond steel in a light Dune colour. The light colour reflects the tropical sun.

Thermal reflective insulation E-Therm is used in the roof and walls. This product also acts as a thermal break for the steel frame.

The hot water supply is a Rheem Commercial Heat Pump with electric booster enabling 80ºc water for the commercial kitchen supply.

The commercial kitchen has a number of energy saving areas, mostly concentrating on efficient hot water use through self-turn off hot water tap-ware and an automatic as-needed wall mounted water boiler as well as a water efficient dishwasher.

The refrigeration for the cold room efficiently employs a unit that only operates 18 hours of the day instead of 24 hours and saves energy by replacing cold air quickly. A refrigerated preparation cabinet has hinged lids rather than a door to retain cold air.

Food heating is provided by infra-red heating elements rather than heat lamps and servery displays are double glazed for temperature control and reducing condensation.


Rain water is harvested and stored in a 6,000 litre water tank plumbed into the laundry.  All water fittings including taps and toilets to have a minimum WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme) 4 star rating. Uriden waterless urinals are specified for the men’s toilets. A water efficient dishwasher is specified for the kitchen that has the capacity to wash large pots and bowls. 


“The centre was formally opened in 2012 and has established itself as cultural centre for the town and key attraction for the region. Local artists are commissioned to sell their art and craft. The commercial café and trade training kitchen has provided skills training and earnings opportunities. The centre is a major asset for our community.” Gary Ashworth, Project officer.


Base building architect/ designer: Beachcomber Building Designs
Interior designer: Beachcomber Building Designs
Civil engineer (Site and traffic): Thirkell Consulting Engineers
Structural engineer: Thirkell Consulting Engineers
Project manager: Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council (WWASC)
Energy efficiency rating consultant: Green at Heart
Other consultants: Churchie’s Commercial Kitchen Innovations
Builder: Dawson’s Constructions


Cairns Convention Centre

Key Facts

  • Australia’s first environmentally planned public building
  • Recent refurbishments keep it at the forefront of environmental operation of world class public facilities
  • It has won many awards for its energy and resource conservation features including the first ever European Incentive & Business Travel Meetings environmental award

Project Data

Location: Corner Wharf & Sheridan Streets, Cairns, QLD Australia
Year Completed: Stage 1 1996 | Stage 2 1999
Refurbishment: 2005 | 2011
Energy star rating: EarthCheck Bronze Benchmarked
Gross Floor Area: 31,000m2 | Site Area: 2.2 ha

Another project regarding a design is ‘Alkira’ The Stamp House.


The proposal for the building of the Cairns Convention Centre was the outcome of a collaborative response to a design competition to construct Australia’s first environmentally planned major public building. The Centre’s iconic double pleated roof is not only geometrically striking, providing a visual reference on arrival to the city of Cairns, but captures the seasonal tropical downpours, channelling rain water directly into storage.

As Australia’s first environmentally designed major public building the Centre has won many awards for its energy and resource conservation features including the first ever European Incentive & Business Travel Meetings environmental award in 1994. It is situated in close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Wet Tropics rainforests (the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites sit side by side).

The Centre, unlike previous public buildings at the time, was formed from a combination of steel and laminated plantation timber, producing a more crafted architecture that responds to environmental issues.


A collaborative professional approach to the environmental planning of the Cairns Convention Centre recognised the importance not only of designing environmental features but also effectively delivering the initiatives of this design. These features were supported with training and creating user manuals for the systems employed. Post occupancy system tuning has been continued by the Managing company, AEG Ogden, to ensure optimal performance of all building systems.
The building was designed with all critical infrastructure located above the Q 100 flood line to ensure the resilience of the structure to any severe tropical weather or storm surge events that may be experienced.

A 2008 review of the environmental features of the Centre identified new trends and technologies in the field of ESD. These technologies are incorporated into future capital improvements to support and improve operations and allow the Cairns Convention Centre to remain at the forefront of environmental operation of world class public facilities.


Previous use of the site was flat land containing a bunded bulk fuel tank terminal.

Decommissioning the terminal and preparing the site for redevelopment was achieved with minimal requirement for excavation, vegetation removal, clearing or disturbance to the topsoil and ecology of the site. Removing the fuel terminal and redeveloping for public use significantly improved the amenity, community safety and ecological value of the precinct.

The site is ideally located, adjacent the Cairns City central business district, transport routes, hotel and accommodation precincts. These factors all combine to encourage delegates and visitors alike to use interconnecting footpaths, cycle ways and public transport for attending conferences, exhibitions, concerts and sporting events. Bicycle racks have been provided for the use of staff, delegates and visitors to further promote healthy attendance and minimising the reliance on private transport.

Fitting of gross pollutant traps to all storm water runoff sumps has improved the protection to local marine habitats, water ways and marine life from the harmful effects of waste and debris entering the storm water system.


The Cairns Convention Centres’ design provides flexible meeting spaces to maximise functionality and adaptability for conventions, exhibitions, concerts and sporting events all within a minimum building footprint.

Expansive use of glazed foyers harness natural light for day time functions whilst providing sight lines to the surrounding topographical features offering a living canvass of natural beauty enhancing occupant wellbeing. This is complemented by story board murals and an extensive collection of work by local artists strategically placed inviting the user to move throughout the space.

The roofing design incorporates both thermal and acoustic insulation to shield the occupant spaces from tropical heat and seasonal rainfall. An outdoor function space with enhanced natural ventilation provides an inviting location for visitors to take advantage of the local climate.

If you are looking for a different type of sustainable building design that is smaller pod homes are a unique design.


The Centre was formed from a combination of steel and laminated plantation timbers, producing a more crafted architecture that responds to environmental issues. Façade cladding is insulated sandwich panel providing thermal resistance to heat gain within the space. Over 80% of carpets used within the Centre were selected for their ability to be fully recycled.


Energy efficient features incorporated into the design include an insulated roof with light coloured roof sheeting to reflect solar heat, solar hot water panels and louvers on foyer glazing to shade from solar radiation reducing air conditioning demand. The roof line overhangs both the eastern and western sides to provide further shading.

A building management system controls the air conditioning ensuring optimal operation to conserve energy when operating. This same system includes on/off control of lighting and air conditioning at individual zones which is programmed in response to conference requirements safeguarding against wasted energy consumption.

Car park exhaust and ventilation is controlled by multiple CO sensors to switch off fans when not required.

In 2005 upgrades to the central chilled water plant saw the addition of thermal energy storage tanks to the chilled water circuit to improve plant performance and reduce maximum demand loads.

Compact fluorescent light fittings are used for foyers and a continued upgrade of lighting has seen the inefficient dichroic lamps replaced with high efficiency LED fittings. Movement sensors have been installed to public wash rooms and common back of house areas to switch off lighting in areas when unoccupied.

Sub metering of electrical loads has been upgraded to improve energy monitoring and reporting.


Installation of flow restrictors to all outlets during construction has reduced the Centre’s demand on the town water supply. Captured rain water supplies half the watering needs of the garden and grounds further reducing the demand on treated town water.

Re-landscaping of the west facing gardens in 2009 to a more drought tolerant planting and drip feed irrigation has further reduced water consumption.

AEG Ogden as operators of the Cairns Convention Centre identified the ability to further capitalise on the rain water collected and stored in the inbuilt water tank. This captured water is now fed to the air conditioning cooling towers further reducing the demand on town water.
A program of Sub metering installation has provided the ability to better monitor and report on usage and identifies waste.


“The facilities that you have at the Centre are very versatile and the flexibility of the room configurations makes it easy to work with.” Ms Joanne Tovey, Project Manager, Arinex Pty Ltd, The Renal Society of Australasia

“The Cairns Convention Centre is a fantastic venue: the building is impressive and functional.”
Dr Carol Petherick, Conference Chair, 43rd International Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology

“Your Centre provided the ideal venue for our Meeting. We received so many complimentary comments about the Cairns Convention Centre from our overseas guests.”
Professor Bruce Waxman, Conference Chair, Tirpartite Colorectal Meeting

“Your venue is beautiful and was ideal for our Symposium. ICRS social events don’t normally attract such huge numbers but we believe delegates felt relaxed, happy and ready to participate because of your venue.” Professor Terry Hughes, Convenor, 12th International Coral Reef Symposium


Base building architect/designer, Stage 1, Stage 2 and Refurbishments: Cox Architecture
Interior designer, Stage 1: Coxnexus Design
Interior designer, Stage 2 & refurbishments: Cox Architecture
Civil engineer (Site and traffic)/Structural engineer, Stage 1, 2 & refurbishments: Arup
Services engineer (mechanical electrical, hydraulic, fire), Stage 1 & 2: Connell Wagner
Project manager: Project Services
ESD consultant, 2008 ESD operational review: Arup
Energy efficiency rating consultant/Green Star rating consultant: EarthCheck Bronze Benchmarked
Other consultants and contractors
Acoustics: RFA Acoustics
Food & Beverage Services: FSD Australia
Quantity Surveyors: WT Partnership
Builder, Stage 1: Civil & Civic
Builder, Stage 2: Abi Group
Electrical: PDR Electrical
Mechanical: Haden
Hydraulics: Tacoma Plumbing
FFE: RGC Consulting
BMS & Access control: Schneider Electrics


‘Alkira’ The Stamp House

Key Facts

  • The project re-introduces the surrounding native wetland environment
  • Massive cantilevers mitigate impact from potential flooding and cyclones
  • Materials are chosen for long life cycle efficiency and properties to deal with the harsh, corrosive wet tropical environment
  • “Off the grid” and carbon neutral in operation

Project Data

Location: Daintree, QLD, Australia
Year completed: 2013

Another project that was build was the Cairns Convention Centre.


‘Alkira’ the Stamp House is particular to our client, a stamp dealer among other things including property developer, who had purchased 26 hectares of beach front land in the Daintree. The clients had a strong desire to develop a sustainable and robust estate which would ideally operate as carbon neutral in its off-grid location. They had concerns regarding the annual cyclone season and associated events such as storm surge associated with king tides. They also wanted to enhance the site’s natural wetland environment.

A safe and secure off-grid structure, carbon neutral in operation, Stamp House is a luxury retreat and sanctuary – an enigmatic bunker. A new tropical architecture of resilience, both brutal and elegant. We liked the idea that the concrete over time will age well and feature a ‘patina’ further enhancing its sense of place in the sited environment.

Awards: 2014 AIA Far North Queensland House of the Year;
2014 AIA Queensland House of the Year


Integration of allied disciplines was critical to the successful delivery of the vision, in particular the hydraulic and structural engineering which not only facilitated the advanced sustainability initiatives but also the practical requirements for withstanding annual cyclonic weather events.

The leading edge hydraulic services engineering design enabled practical and cost effective solutions by understanding the potentials and constraints of designing in a tropical environment.

The building sits in an engineered water ecosystem which was the result of lengthy liaison and collaboration with National Parks, Environmental Agencies, State and Local Government.

The project was developed and procured through an intensive value management process, resulting in a highly cost-effective solution specific to the client’s requirements.


The home is situated on land that adjoins the Daintree National Park. The Daintree is a vast area of tropical rainforest wilderness in Far North Queensland, Australia. This rainforest is of immense biological value to the wider scientific community due to its incredible biodiversity and high levels of concentration of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on the planet. Daintree National Park houses the oldest rainforest on the planet – the closest living counterpart to the forests that once covered the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland. (

In the Daintree region, the rainforest meets the sea and this property is situated on land that has a beachfront and behind it a natural low wet-land. The project re-introduces the surrounding native wetland environment through the newly engineered water ecosystem.


The building envelope is designed to extend out six fingers using massive cantilevers to also mitigate impact from potential flooding and king tide inundation associated with cyclonic activity. The home is category 5 cyclone proof and therefore classed as a cyclone shelter.

The building is literally reflected in the lake and the cantilevers dramatically increase the vibrancy of the form and shape of the home.

Critical to the design approach is developing new ways of living in the tropical latitude. The design provides secure yet flexible open areas for all functions including living, entertaining, dining, recreation and swimming. These spaces are completely naturally ventilated and further enhanced by integrated building systems.

The flexible main living areas oscillate around the featured central pool that is shaped like the ‘One Pound Jimmy’ stamp. The landscaped courtyard is complemented by the cascading waterfall features. The water features give off an evaporative cooling effect in the drier months.

Natural light abounds as the design gives each room and external wall with windows and large door openings. Some of the windows are portholes which casts perforated light into the property reminiscent of stamp edges.

Bedrooms are designed so that each has a particular character by virtue of its orientation and unique aspect at the same time providing privacy. The under-croft of the house has utility areas for plant equipment.


The home has an innovative combination of in-situ and precast concrete. The concrete structure is considered ideal for this home in this location due to its inherent long life cycle efficiency and material properties to deal with the harsh, corrosive wet tropical environment.

The concrete has been engineered and insulated to reduce its thermal mass and capacity to retain heat. This achieves a constant cooler and more comfortable ambient temperature year-round.

The roof is shielded from the sun as its total surface is solar panels.


Stamp House is ‘off the grid’ and stands alone with no mains connected electrical power. It is Carbon Neutral in operation. The renewable energy system harvests solar energy via the large photovoltaic array on the roof of the house. This system incorporates batteries for energy storage and re-use. There are no fossil fuel based generators.

The renewable energy generation powers efficient air-conditioning systems that are rarely used as the house is passively designed to maintain cooler temperatures. The design also enables a high level of natural light to all parts of the home during the day and energy efficient LED lighting is used only at night.

The focus on managing energy for its conservation is controlled using a building automation system (CBUS).


The entire roof area harvests rainwater. It is collected into a 250,000 litre in-ground water tank and integrated with the plumbing/ hydraulic systems. The grey water is recycled and there is also an on on-site Advanced Tertiary Sewerage treatment plant.

A cool design that also work helped minimise wastage was Bana Yirriji Art & Cultural Centre.


“In all of our work, we strive for innovation and new solutions to the problems of living with climate change in the 21st Century. This home is an exciting working example of a new sustainable tropical housing prototype for off-grid coastal locations.” Charles Wright

“This house is an extraordinary response to a very personal and adventurous brief for a new type of tropical house in a remnant paddock in the rainforest. The concrete fabric chosen for permanence, robustness and thermal mass is placed on a man-made lake and shaped and patterned around its quirky personal spaces to somehow make its other worldly presence take its place in the world’s oldest and most pristine landscape.” AIA Far North Queensland 2014 Awards, Jury citation.


Base building architect/ designer: Charles Wright Architects
Other architect/ designer: Landscape Architect: Andrew Prowse
Civil engineer (Site and traffic): McPherson MacLean Wargon Chapman
Structural engineer: G&A Consultants Pty Ltd
Services engineer (mechanical electrical, hydraulic, fire): Gilboy Hydraulic Solutions, MGF Consultants
Builder: PD Builders
Photographs courtesy of Patrick Bingham Hall and The Cairns Post newspaper.


Is It Illegal to Live Off the Grid in Australia?

Off-grid living is on the rise. As the effects of climate change become more visible and more people take an active interest in the fate of our planet, an increasing number of Australians are trying to live sustainably. And for many homeowners, the path to sustainable living has taken them off the grid.

Living off the grid means residing in a home that is disconnected from regular utility supplies such as electricity, water and waste disposal, and which functions independently by meeting these needs itself. Ingenious designs incorporating technology such as solar panels, sewage recycling systems and rainwater collection tanks make it possible for off-grid dwellers to maintain a good standard of living without relying on utility suppliers whose services are often provided unsustainably and at high cost.

The long-term cost savings that off-grid living offers are another source of its appeal. Though the initial set-up cost is high, a typical four-person household can expect to see savings of between $2,000 and $4,000 per year upon taking their home off the grid. And technological advances are steadily making the cost of building off the grid houses less prohibitive.

As house prices continue to increase across the country, it’s likely that we’ll see a growing number of Australians choosing this way of life. It’s believed that around 2% of Aussies live off the grid [1] already, and this number is growing.

But is it entirely legal? Off grid laws in Australia can seem confusing, or even inaccessible, and the degree of uncertainty this creates sometimes deters people from making the leap. But we’re happy to inform you that the law is actually much clearer than you might think.

Is It Illegal to Live Off the Grid in Australia?

In a word, no! If somebody wants to separate their home from the national energy grid, it is entirely legal. Though it’s still not all plain sailing, there’s nothing in Australian law that prevents people taking their homes off the grid. 

However, complications can arise when it comes to obtaining planning permission and permits for the necessary renovations or building works. As with any construction project, you must first secure permissions and permits from the relevant local council, and some councils have proved to be more obstructive than others.

If you want to avoid this step, there is also the option of purchasing or renting land in a ‘no permit zone’ – an area that doesn’t require permits in order to be built or lived on – however you should do thorough research on the surrounding area and seriously consider the potential impracticalities before you commit to building your home there.

No permit zones tend to be extremely remote. While that may be fine if you’re capable of becoming entirely self-sufficient (in which case your plot will need to produce food in addition to energy and water) and embracing a life of relative isolation, it could make day-to-day life impossible if you crave a sense of community or require ongoing access to the amenities of a town. For instance, if a member of your family needs to go to school, or if your household’s daily food requirements exceed the amount you can naturally produce, living so far away from civilisation would be highly impractical.

Whether you live in a no-permit zone or not, it’s also worth noting that Australia has some building regulations that are specific to off-grid projects. (It’s particularly important to remember this if you’re planning to undertake some of the building work yourself). One such example is in the installation of high-volume batteries which store the electricity generated through solar systems, for which there are many standards and regulations that differ from those of conventional grid-connected installations.

Does It Matter Which State You Live In?

Contrary to popular misconceptions, it doesn’t matter what state you’re in. Building an off grid house is legal everywhere in Australia – provided you meet all of the necessary building regulations and acquire those pesky permits.

But it’s true that some states have embraced off-grid living more than others. Politicians and network operators in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland have all expressed interest in detaching housing estates, neighbourhoods and even towns from the electrical grid [2] as part of a bid to boost renewable energy usage. 

And what about New South Wales and Victoria? Yes, while there may not be any state-endorsed off-grid initiatives to speak of yet, it’s still legal to live off the grid in both New South Wales and Victoria.

In fact, one of Australia’s most famous off-grid dwellers is based right in the heart of Sydney. Michael Mobbs first began the process of taking his inner-city home off the grid almost 25 years ago, and has been a passionate advocate of off-grid living ever since. The former lawyer has given tours of his home (complete with guidance on how people can go off the grid themselves) to thousands of visitors, and has been known to advocate on behalf of potential off-grid dwellers facing restrictive planning conditions.
And Victoria is also an active hub of off-grid living. It’s home to an array of fascinating settlements, including an entire community near Castlemaine [3] that has been living off the grid since 1967 and is still thriving today. On top of this, Victoria is home to Australia’s biggest off grid living festival, held annually at Centennial Park, Eldorado.

So Off-Grid Laws in Australia Aren’t so Bad?

As it happens, they’re not. In terms of off grid laws, Australia is pretty liberal. 

Compared to America – a country similarly blessed with an abundance of land, but where prohibitive zoning laws severely restrict off-grid living – Australia’s off grid laws seem practically utopian. 

Acquiring planning permission and permits from the council may sometimes be a pain, but there is nothing in the law to prevent you living off the grid. And once you’ve obtained them, you really are free to go.


Off the Grid Homes in Australia [3 of the Most Unique Designs]

As the demand for sustainable housing in Australia increases, a growing number of people are turning to off-grid living.

The grid is the central provision of utilities such as water, electricity and waste disposal that many of us take for granted. In most cases our homes are already ‘plugged in’ and we simply pick our suppliers and pay our bills. But by going off the grid and meeting these needs ourselves we can live self-sufficiently, ending our reliance on essential services that are often sourced or provided unsustainably while also reducing our monthly bills.

The four central components [1] of off the grid homes are their ability to generate electricity, collect rainwater (or access an alternative fresh water source), treat and deal with waste, and minimise their demand for these provisions through increased efficiency, these elements help make a sustainable house.

Many people choose off-grid living in order to reduce their impact on the environment. Some are enticed by the long-term savings that an off grid house can offer at a time when residential real estate prices are rising across Australia [2]. Others who live in remote rural areas find it to be the only viable option, given the prohibitive cost of connecting to the grid in the first place. People often ask ‘is it illegal to live off the grid in Australia?‘ this is a misconception.

Consequently there are more off the grid homes in Australia than you might think. And we’ve taken a look at three of the most interesting examples.

3 of the Most Unique Off the Grid Homes in Australia

Earthship Ironbank – South Australia

Earthships were conceived in the 1970s by American architect Michael Reynolds and brought to Australia in 2009 by enthusiast Martin Freney.

In addition to the standard requirements of electricity production, self-sustaining water supply and waste disposal, central tenets of the Earthship’s design are its use of natural and recycled building materials, an allocated space for producing food, and a system of heating and cooling which uses thermal mass and principles of natural cross-ventilation in order to minimise energy usage.

After doing his PhD on Earthships, Freney built his own in Ironbank, South Australia, from a mixture of recycled materials that included plastic and glass bottles, aluminium cans and old tires. Now the finished house, Earthship Ironbank [3], operates as an eco bed and breakfast where guests are invited to take guided tours, learn about its design, and even participate in workshops on how to build their own off grid house.

An Off-Grid Acreage – Hobart, Tasmania

Earthships were conceived in the 1970s by American architect Michael Reynolds and brought to Australia in 2009 by enthusiast Martin Freney.

In addition to the standard requirements of electricity production, self-sustaining water supply and waste disposal, central tenets of the Earthship’s design are its use of natural and recycled building materials, an allocated space for producing food, and a system of heating and cooling which uses thermal mass and principles of natural cross-ventilation in order to minimise energy usage.

After doing his PhD on Earthships, Freney built his own in Ironbank, South Australia, from a mixture of recycled materials that included plastic and glass bottles, aluminium cans and old tires. Now the finished house, Earthship Ironbank [3], operates as an eco bed and breakfast where guests are invited to take guided tours, learn about its design, and even participate in workshops on how to build their own off grid house.

An Off-Grid Acreage – Hobart, Tasmania

The Tufts’ decision to go off the grid was practically made for them. After growing tired of city life the couple decided to move away from Sydney, purchasing an acreage 40 minutes from Hobart in Tasmania. But it was only after purchasing the land that they realised their plot – 60% of which is located on conservation land – was not connected to the local electricity grid.

For Peter Tuft, who recalls doing his undergraduate thesis on renewable energy in the ‘70s, this was a great opportunity to build a home that was completely off the grid. “Connecting to the grid would have cost us a lot – possibly the same amount as our off-grid system,” [4] explains Peter, who adds that the beautiful but remote location of their home inspired, as much as it necessitated, their decision to go off the grid.

Though it took around six years of planning, it required just 10 months to build their three-bedroom home, and the results are certainly worth all of the effort and expense; state of the art technology – including solar panels, batteries and a hydro-generator – and an upscale interior mean you could easily fail to realise the house is off the grid. The couple insist that off-grid living has not forced them to compromise on their lifestyle, and it’s no surprise. Together they seem to have built one of the most luxurious off the grid houses in Australia.

Off-Grid Living in the Heart of Sydney

And finally we bring you proof that off-grid living doesn’t have to mean relocating to the middle of nowhere. Michael Mobbs first began taking his home in inner-city Sydney off the grid almost 25 years ago, and now it stands as a shining example that sustainable living is possible anywhere – not just in the far flung reaches of barely accessible countryside.

A key aspect of this home’s design is efficiency. Mobbs claims that while an average four-person house uses between 22-23 kilowatt hours of electricity per day, his needs just three – generated by solar panels on his roof and stored in his own 12kwh battery. On top of this he has installed a sewage recycling system alongside an $11,000 rainwater system (complete with 10,000 litre tank and pump) which collects around 84,000 litres of rainwater a year.

Mobbs believes that a house like his could be converted for around $20,000 today, and that it would return instant savings of between $2,000 and $4,000 a year. As Mobbs’s credo goes, you don’t have to be special to live sustainably.

Can Anyone Build an Off the Grid Home?

More Aussies than ever are deciding to live off the grid – and with the necessary technology getting cheaper, house prices going up and awareness of our planet’s impending environmental crisis increasing, this trend is likely to continue.

Now it’s even possible for people who don’t feel capable of building or designing a house themselves; when it comes to off grid kit homes, Australia has some great options, with a growing number of companies offering modular and prefab constructions [5]that can be built to order. Off the grid homes are now more accessible than ever. For many people, the path to sustainable living could be just around the corner.








Australian Modular Homes [Prices and Floor Plans]

What is a modular house? It’s a house that has been built in a factory, transported to its final location, and assembled on-site. Its sections are constructed in a controlled environment before being set down atop permanent foundations somewhere else.

The way modular homes are built and then assembled means they can be completed more quickly than conventional houses. Protection from adverse weather conditions makes delays rare, and total build time often takes weeks rather than months.

Modular homes vary considerably in their styles and size, and designs are easily customised. Once built, their structures are permanent, and their values appraise just like traditional houses. They are also typically more environmentally friendly.

Another type of design are pod homes and they have been gaining popularity.

Building houses in factories to specific measurements significantly reduces waste material. Approximately 40% of landfill space is filled by byproducts from construction, but prefabricating parts such as frames and trusses reduces the waste a build produces by up to 52%. (1)

By utilising low-energy lightbulbs and innovative insulation materials, modular houses often provide considerable savings on energy costs. Self-sufficient prebuilt homes can reduce energy consumption by as much as 72%. Case studies have also shown modular townhouses to use approximately 30% less water than traditional alternatives. (2)

The materials used in constructing modular homes are usually more sustainable than those used to build traditional houses. Importance is often placed on using non-toxic materials or materials low in volatile organic compounds. Many manufacturers of prebuilt homes prioritise the use of recycled and sustainable materials. Generally, modular homes have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than sustainable houses built on-site. (3)

More efficient use of materials, fewer delays and reduced construction time also make prebuilt homes comparatively cheaper. It’s estimated that the total cost of building a modular house is approximately 10-20% less than that of an equivalent house built using conventional methods. (4)

Many companies provide modular homes with both pre-designed and customisable layouts. They differ considerably in terms of the designs, quality, price and level of service they offer. If you’re considering a modular home, it’s vital to thoroughly research your options and identify the company and design that meets your needs.

Below, we’ve identified some of the best models of modular homes with prices and floorplans included:

Some of the Best Modular Homes Available Today

Archiblox Carbon Positive House

Archibox is an eco-minded builder of modular homes and recipient of the Build Excellence Award at the 2018 Australian Construction Awards. It claims its Carbon Positive House “moves beyond carbon zero by making additional ‘positive’ contributions, producing more energy on-site than the building requires.”

Cooling tubes project cool air from the earth around the house, solar panels power it, and in-built mechanisms enable the recycling and reuse of water. It also boasts lots of windows and an indoor garden.

The standard model comes with one bedroom, one bathroom, an open-plan kitchen, living and dining room, a laundry nook and an indoor garden, all set on one level.

With a footprint of 73m2, its price ranges from $300,000-$400,000.

Prebuilt Metro

Prebuilt has designed its Metro modular home specifically for inner-city plots. Its footprint is just 5×16 metres, but by providing a second storey it’s able to offer three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. Decks and pergolas are available as optional extras for people with additional space.

The ground floor is devoted to an open-plan kitchen, living and dining room, and all bedrooms are located on the upper level. Prebuilt has endeavoured to make the design compact and chic. From an aesthetic point of view, the most prominent feature is an asymmetric sloping roofline which peaks 3.2 metres from the ground below. Prices start at $489,000.

Modscape Family Home

Modscape’s prebuilt homes are only designed to order, allowing it to carefully consider the space, budget and precise nature of the proposed site for each of its designs.

Promising energy-efficient appliances and high-quality finishes, it says its completed homes are fully-functioning and ready to be lived in. It also claims to be able to build and deliver them in just twelve weeks.

The prices of its designs are determined by their size, complexity and level of finish, and it provides no set floor plans or price list. But Modscape estimates the cost of a 300m2 four-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom family home at between $1.083m- $1.59m. Unlike Archiblox and Prebuilt, its prices do not include GST.

Ecoliv Eco Studio

Ecoliv claims to be the only manufacturer of modular homes to include a 1.8kw solar power system as standard in every design. It also provides a 10,000-litre water tank and guarantees that each of its buildings will achieve a minimum 7-star energy rating.

Its cheapest model is the Eco Studio. With a modest footprint of just under 26m2, it offers a single room that functions as a bedroom, kitchen and living room, in addition to a bathroom. The smallest of Ecoliv’s designs, it’s also the most affordable modular home on this list. Prices start at $86,000 + GST.

Habitech Cumulus

This model by Habitech is designed to optimise the sunlight received by whatever site it’s placed on. The living room and all four bedrooms are intended to face north, creating a house full of natural light.

The footprint of 157m² is relatively small for a house with this many rooms, enabling it to be placed on sites of various orientations and sizes and still optimise their northern aspects.

The ground floor has an entry porch, open-plan kitchen, dining and living room, one bedroom and a bathroom. An additional family bathroom and three further bedrooms are found on the first floor.

The Cumulus is priced at $428,000 +GST

There are many manufacturers of prebuilt homes in Australia. Whether you want a set design, one that’s customisable, or to completely design your own house, there are more options than ever before. In an age of climate change and exorbitant house prices, modular homes provide a partial solution to two prominent societal problems. They may be the future of Australian housebuilding.


  1. Pebble Mag,toxic%20or%20low%20VOC%20materials.

  1. PBC Today
  1. Environment Journal

  1. Money Crashers

  1. Archiblox Carbon Positive House
  1. Prebuilt Metro
  1. Modscape Family Home
  1. Ecoliv Eco Studio
  1. Habitech Cumulus


Sustainable Houses and How People are Making their Homes Self Sufficient

Sustainable houses are designed in a way that minimises their environmental impact. By building them from eco-friendly materials, reducing waste during the construction process and making their energy and water usage more efficient, it’s possible to create a home that produces a significantly smaller carbon footprint over the course of its lifetime.

The benefits of sustainable housing extend beyond preserving the environment. Their efficiency means lower water and energy bills; “green” materials are often free of the potentially harmful chemicals found in conventional building supplies; and increasing demand for sustainable homes means that they attract higher values than traditional houses.(1) Types of houses like modular homes are an example of sustainable houses.

Many people are looking to completely remove their homes off-grid. Whether you want to create an entirely self sufficient house or just make it more environmentally friendly, there are a number of ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

How to Make Self Sufficient and Sustainable Houses

Adopt a Passive Design

Passive design means considering the climate when designing a house, in order to reduce its energy usage. By strategically orientating a building and carefully designing its walls, windows, floors and roof, it’s possible to curtail undesired gains and losses of heat while harnessing natural weather factors like sun exposure and breezes.

Manmade heating and cooling units are responsible for roughly 40% of energy usage in Australian homes.(2) Effective passive design reduces or removes the need for auxiliary units, considerably lowering a household’s carbon footprint.

The principles of passive design are easiest to implement when building a new home, but they can also be applied when undergoing the type of renovation work required to upgrade a house or take it off-grid. Any substantial construction work to make a property more sustainable presents an opportunity to increase its “thermal comfort”.

Carefully Select Materials

A key tenet of sustainable building is minimising the unnecessary use of new materials. When renovating, this can be done by reusing materials from your existing home as much as possible.

Where new materials are required, using modular components can reduce waste by up to 52%(3). Where possible, sustainable materials should be chosen. This means materials that aren’t created using non-renewable resources, and whose existence doesn’t negatively impact the environment.

When considering the environmental impact of materials it’s necessary to account for their entire lifecycle, from their extraction and manufacture, through their period of use, to their eventual reuse or disposal.(4) A number of online databases provide detailed lifecycle assessment (LCA) information about a wide range of products and materials, enabling homeowners to make informed decisions before commencing building work.

Maximise Energy Efficiency

The average Australian household generates over seven tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year from its energy usage. Sustainable homes can combat this in two ways: first, utilise energy-efficient designs and technologies in order to conserve energy; second, obtain that energy from renewable sources.

If a house requires auxiliary heating or cooling units, they should be used as efficiently as possible. Zoning a centralised system stops it from expending energy to regulate the temperature in rooms where it’s not necessary. Carefully choosing the right system will reduce the environmental impact further. The most efficient reverse cycle air conditioners and gas heaters produce roughly one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions of electric heaters, while centralised hydronic systems can be heated using an inbuilt solar system.

Solar air heaters and heat shifters can also reduce the amount a house needs to be heated. For cooling, fans and evaporative coolers are the least energy-intensive options.

Obtaining energy sustainably is equally important. As the technology behind solar panels and batteries gets cheaper, a growing number of households are producing their own electricity using photovoltaic systems.

The newest systems have low running costs and are often price-competitive with electricity purchased through the grid. In many cases, the cost of generating electricity from a photovoltaic system over its lifetime is thought to be less than obtaining it from external suppliers.

Improved and cheaper batteries now allow households to store the electricity they generate and use it when their system isn’t operational, for example, at night, facilitating the trend of people taking their homes completely off the grid.

Minimise Water Usage

The average Australian uses approximately 100,000 litres of water per year, of which 12% comes from their home and garden. The solution here is also twofold: first, reduce household water consumption, then increase the effective recycling of water by households.

Reducing a home’s water usage is one of the most accessible methods of making it more sustainable. Installing water-efficient appliances such as taps, showerheads and toilets are an effective way of cutting household water consumption. The Australian Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme assesses the water-efficiency of products, providing a star rating alongside data on their levels of water consumption, making it easy to identify the appliances most suitable for sustainable homes.

Outside of the house, growing local plants and developing efficient irrigation systems can significantly reduce the amount of water that a garden requires.

Recycling water usually begins with rainwater collection. Collection systems comprising the roof, guttering, downpipes, rain-head and first flush diverters can effectively fill a water tank that feeds a supply system containing pumps and filters. The way recycled water is used determines the level of treatment it requires. The best systems can provide water suitable for all domestic purposes.

Many sustainable houses use recycled rainwater water for showering, clothes washing and toilet flushing while using an alternative supply for drinking water. Most Australian households ignore this valuable source of free water, instead using drinkable water for all domestic needs.

The central components of sustainable housing are simple. Most can be incorporated into your home gradually, as circumstances allow. You don’t need to move or rebuild your house to make it more environmentally friendly. Green renovation is easier than ever, and sustainable homes are the future.


  • National Self Build and Renovation Centre

  • Your Home

  • EcoSpecifier