{building outside the box}

There were many things that appealed to us when we found our property and instantly fell in love with in, despite it not fitting all that many boxes on our list. We are like those couples on house hunters, who love two houses, complain about the third and how it isn’t any of the things they want…and the proceed to buy the third house anyway. But once we stripped away the boxes it didn’t tick, the ones that it did were the Goldilocks boxes. Not too nit picky. Not too broad and pie in the sky. What was left behind was just right.

What was left behind was the opportunity for semi-self-sufficiency, with all the hard work of infrastructure done and in place. Storage. Gardens. Orchard. Irrigation. Power. And all that, with the benefit of no house, giving us the option to build exactly what we wanted. Since what we wanted is somewhat out of the ordinary, it was definitely a large tick to be able to start from scratch, rather than have to renovate an existing house to still be nothing like what we wanted.

What do we want? Well, to start with, the main driving factor behind our move is to simplify our lifestyle, and get back to basics. Part of that is to downsize our house. Big houses are all well and good, but big houses require big effort to keep them clean and maintained and ticking along smoothly. So our first criteria was that we wanted a smaller footprint than we currently have. Our current home is 240sqm, half of which is a 100 yr old double brick cottage, the other half a more modern extension that we undertook when our daughter was born. Being an extension, we had certain constraints on design and layout to ensure the two halves went together, but that also meant some areas were larger than ideal, or created dead space. The plans we have for the new house have a footprint of 175sqm, plus lofts. Not a huge amount smaller, true, but we lose a lot to staircases (yes, plural), and have added space for food storage once our garden starts producing excess to our requirements. It’s still in process though, so this may change.

The other thing we want is sustainable, natural, solar passive design. Part of that is, we are leaning towards strawbale construction for the exterior walls. The more we research our various options for construction, the more we keep coming back to strawbale. As a traditional building material, it’s resilience over time has been more than proven. As an insulation material, it is pretty much unbeatable. As a bushfire zone option, it has remarkable results and is even being used in areas decimated by the Black Saturday fires.

Of course, chosing a less-common building type, makes for it’s own unique sets of challenges. We have gone back and forth on how best to approach the build, from owner builder, to partly contracted, to fully contract built. Each option has it’s own benefits and drawbacks, so there has been much discussion and back and forthing and trying to work out what exactly is the best option for us.

Where we stand right now – we have plans that are almost concrete. We have a builder who is excited by the idea of our out-of-the-box project. We are spending this weekend tweaking our design, so that we can move on to the quoting side of things. We are still hoping to move forward with strawbale, but are considering options such as spray foam insulation or SIPs (structural insulated panels). We are excited and overwhelmed and anxious and busting to get started. We are trying to embrace the entire process, even when it is frustrating or my indecisiveness puts my in a tail spin and makes me freeze all at once.

I plan to share parts of this journey with you as a series of blog posts – in theory once a month, but in practice, it will depend on how things are progressing and what is happening with the build. It may be three posts in a month, and then nothing for two months. If you have any questions or have things you would like me to share more about, please feel free to ask as we go along. I hope you enjoy following along with our progress, as we work towards our out-of-the-box farm house!

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