Nestled in the bushland of Logan Village on Brisbane’s southside is a home for the future: The Vicker Ridge. For Robert McVicker and his wife Tracy, it’s a model of sustainability while still having all the features of a luxury home. Live for Less visited their home to learn more about how and why they built this extraordinary residence.

As the owner-builders of The Vicker Ridge, Robert and Tracy were intimately involved in its creation, including the design process, approvals, quoting, contracting, site management and quality control.

Even more impressive is that it was their first new build. Almost every element of design, construction, materials, fixtures and products had to be learnt, understood then rigorously evaluated before proceeding. Robert and Tracy rarely accepted the norm, because they didn’t want a normal performance home.

The Vicker Ridge swimming pool

Following one year designing, four years building an abundance of research, experiments, successes and failures, the result is a home that:

  • generates more electricity than it consumes
  • harvests more rainwater than it consumes
  • has true climate-smart features that helps the home to be naturally cooler in summer and warmer in winter
  • mitigates building storm water
  • treats and reuses all its wastewater onsite without the use of chemicals.

The Vicker Ridge living room

THE 12 MONTH TEST

Between May 2014 and April 2015, Robert and Tracy put the home’s performance to test. They set their challenge for ‘Double Net Zero’. That is, both Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Water concurrently.

Over a 12-month period the building had to:

  • generate with renewable sources 105% of the energy demanded annually by the building
  • harvest or produce 105% of the buildings water needs (via rainwater harvesting or re-use)
  • treat all wastewater onsite (without the use of chemicals)
  • ensure all building stormwater is managed onsite or within natural processes.

The home successfully exceeded these benchmarks. To further prove this was no one-off or was reliant of occupant behavioural change, the home continues to this day to post similar monthly figures in water and energy production and consumption.

The Vicker Ridge dining area

ALL THE MOD CONS

The Vicker Ridge is no hippie shack: it’s a fairly large contemporary luxury family home designed to serve a modern family and modern lifestyle.  Features include:

  • 90,0000 litre swimming pool and waterslide
  • theatre room
  • multiple fridges (one with ice maker)
  • under-bench water chiller
  • air conditioning, both inside and outside
  • multiple TVs
  • electric heated floor
  • house pump for all water supply
  • onsite wastewater treatment system.

The family is also a regular user of the demonised clothes dryer (even on sunny days). “The home accommodates these with no electricity bills, no municipal water service fees, water consumption fees or municipal wastewater charges,” says Robert. “We’re not required to sacrifice modern day living standards, as the house has been designed and constructed as a high-performance regenerative building.”

The home is still currently grid connected. Robert explains the home originally was wired to maximise solar exportation to the grid as it was best practice at the time, but the current extremely low feed-in solar tariffs make a grid connection less useful. Being a Net Zero Energy home makes it an ideal candidate to go off grid with batteries.

The Vicker Ridge outdoor kitchen

WATER

The home is not connected to services such as town water and sewerage, nor does it plumb storm water to the street.

“The only water we use in the household is what’s captured off that roof into those tanks. My wife and I have both grown up in semi-rural areas in homes without mains water and we’re familiar with being dependent on rainwater. So instead of just relying on conserving water, the building incorporates a lot of unique features to maximise rainwater harvesting.”

This different approach and attention to detail is evident in the large funnel-like spouts that draw water from the gutters to three 30,000 litre water tanks next to the home.

“The rainwater harvesting features are exceptionally good for heavy rain events common to areas like North Queensland and cyclone events. This home loves heavy rainfall. We hear in the news about damage to homes with gutters over flowing, but we’ve made sure with our design that it just doesn’t happen here.”

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Robert McVicker next to one of the 30,000 litre water tanks

BUILDING DESIGN

Driving to The Vicker Ridge, it was hard not to miss some large and extravagant houses being built in the surrounding developing suburbs.

“With some of them clearly there has been no thought to the passive performance of the building or the environment when designing or building them. Sadly, it’s a missed opportunity as they obviously had a large budget, had the option for optimum orientation thanks to the acreage, yet they just lacked advice or didn’t value it. The end result is simply a home that is inherently hotter in summer and a colder in winter. It will be manageable with vast mechanical cooling and heating, yet at great expense.”

“I think because electricity and water were once cheap, there has been no mainstream public pressure for a better performing home. Now that electricity and water are more expensive, it will drive an awakening to the need for regenerative buildings.”

Robert believes that to move forward, consumers need to seek out and reward builders and architects that build smarter, regenerative buildings that work with the environment, not against it.

“A regenerative building will only use its own renewable sources of water and energy to meet occupant demand. It will treat its own wastewater for re-use and not damage the environment with its storm water.”

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SEE THE LIGHT

Robert and Tracy maximised daylighting opportunities in the design before supplementing it with LED light fittings. They even have windows internally within the home between rooms and hallways to increase ‘daylight sharing’.

The design also makes clever use of vaulted ceilings and glass to the ceiling. They often get comments from visitors that the home feels much larger than its plan size.

“Unlike other design projects, the measure of success is not after the last brick is laid. It’s when a building is fully operational, meeting its energy and water budget, and making an ongoing impact. Fine-tuning is always needed. A Net Positive building is never truly finished. Just like life, Net Positive is a journey, not a destination.”

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3 Questions with Robert McVicker

Q. What does living for less mean to you?

Living for less to me means a sustainable building that gives more than it takes, with less impact and burden to the occupant, the community, the environment and our councils.

Q. What’s your guilty pleasure?

For our household, it would have to be regular use of the clothes dryer.  The humble clothes dryer has been demonised (with arguably no place in a green home) for years.  Whilst it has been mostly warranted, modern clothes dryers can be extremely energy efficient.

Our heat pump condenser dryer came with us from our previous home and is nearly 7 years old.   Its regular use even on sunny days has remained unchanged before, during and after our Net Zero Energy challenge.

Q. What’s your top tip for people wanting to live for less at home?

As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  Measuring your energy and water use is the first step to taking control.

Imagine if a new car was released with the speedo in the boot.   You would be expected to manage speed via guessing and speeding tickets received in the mail weeks after the event.   As silly as this sounds, we still accept ’as normal’ hidden energy and water meters outside buildings.  Whilst this may benefit service providers (in more ways than one), households can affordably piggyback or duplicate this equipment to give live readings inside the home or at your fingertips on your mobile phone.  Affordable equipment chosen at the Vicker Ridge include Smartnow energy meters and Aquamonitor for water consumption and wastewater treatment production.