Andrea is a guest writer for the Domain section of the Fairfax papers: The Courier Ballarat, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and Warrnambool Standard plus the Illawarra Mercury. See the latest articles here.

November 26, 2016 Is your home affecting your health?

We all love to walk into a new home and smell that fresh beginning but is it actually good for us? There is now growing evidence that the materials, finishes and products that we use in our homes and the furniture we covet are harmful to our health.

The main culprits are chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). It’s an impressive list including Formaldehyde, Decane, Butoxyethanol, Isopentane, Limonene, Styrene, Xylenes, Perchloroethylene, Methylene, Chloride, Toluene and Vinyl chloride.
And some of the worst offenders are furniture, paint, plaster, paint strippers, adhesives/glues, solvents, upholstery, and other textiles, bedding, carpet and building materials.

It’s not all bad - there is now a great range of products available that are ‘low-VOC’ or ‘eco-friendly’ – particularly in paints and carpets. Using natural materials can be better but not necessarily as it depends on the glues and stains that are used and interestingly, many synthetic materials have no VOC's. Ultimately, you must check the labels before deciding.

If you can’t avoid the products, then it may be necessary to ventilate areas with new paint, carpeting or furniture for longer time periods because VOC levels can build up again after the windows are closed. If possible, unroll new carpets or store furniture outside your home (in a shed or detached garage) to minimize odours before bringing them in the home. If that's not possible, open windows, close doors and try to stay out of rooms until odours are reduced.

To find out more a good place to start is or search the web using ’low VOC’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘healthy interiors’.

October 08, 2016 Keep the damp outside!

As we come into spring cleaning season, many of us come up against the awful problem of mould and mildew on our windows and walls.
In colder climates this can be the result of condensation formation which increases as the outside temperature falls, and the inside of the home is heated.

The possible consequences include health risks from unseen mould growth behind wall and ceiling linings, visual deterioration or staining of plasterboard linings, structural decay as moisture is trapped causing corrosion of metal structures or timber rot, and a reduction in the building’s energy efficiency due to moisture saturation of the insulation.

Indoor humidity can be reduced by ensuring ventilation fans in kitchens, bathrooms and clothes driers are vented directly outside, keeping air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed, proper maintenance of your heating/cooling system to make sure it is sized and operating properly to remove humidity, making sure any underfloor space is dry or has a vapour barrier, and by sealing air leaks.

Vapour permeable sarking in the walls and under the roof reduces the risk of condensation formation, by allowing water vapour to be effectively managed and safely drained away. It also helps improve thermal performance by shielding the home from up to 97% of radiant heat when combined with an air-space, helping to provide a more energy efficient and comfortable home.

So when building or renovating seek professional advice on how to prevent condensation as we improve the air tightness of our homes for energy efficiency.


July 30, 2016 Living with trees is OK

Buying and building real estate often brings us in conflict with the native vegetation that is so important to our communities. In Victoria, a permit is required to remove, destroy or lop native vegetation under the Native Vegetation Permitted Clearing Regulations and local council Vegetation Protection Overlays. Other local bylaws may also be relevant such as the Koala Protection Overlay in Ballarat.

Choose carefully when making your property purchase: check the overlays that exist for the land parcel, see the trees and plants as a welcome asset to any property, plan your development wisely and try to incorporate what is already there.

As part of the planning permit a site plan and a professional vegetation assessment may be required. If removal is permitted you may also have to pay for replacement plants to offset the loss. Consider that these processes may delay your planning and can add to the cost of your build.

Some activities are exempt from the need for a planning permit, however, so contact your local council for advice before buying or commencing works. Also refer to regulations at

July 31 is National Tree Day - when communities get together to put plants back into their local area. I often hear people say that it doesn’t matter if you chop down a tree – you can grow more. Anyone who has taken part in a replanting project, understands the effort it takes and how long we have to wait for them to mature - so let’s look after what we have.

If you’d like to get involved in community activities go to www.

May 28, 2016 Keeping the Warmth in with the right Window Choice

I often talk about window placement and the benefits of double glazing but how do you decide which window is best for you??
Glass is a very high conductor of heat so in a home with single glazing, heat is transferred straight across the windows.

Double glazing has two panes of glass joined together which traps a layer of air between two panes.

Air is a very poor conductor of heat, so the trapped layer sets up a blanket of protection between cold air on one side and warm on the other. As a rule, the wider this spacing, the better the window.

Another important factor is the framework of the window around the glass unit. Significant heat loss can be prevented by your choice of materials - establish if the frame has some form of thermal break i.e. either the material itself or a barrier inside the frame which reduces this heat transfer. Timber and PVC frames perform much better than aluminium which is the worst offender, however it’s very exciting to see there are some frames now with a built in thermal break.

The most important thing to know is the overall performance of the whole window - U-value (Uw). Regulated by the Window Energy Rating Scheme, it measures how well a product prevents heat from escaping. Make sure you ask for this information – it should be in the specifications or look it up on residential product search at and the lowest Uw number is best!

Other useful information on sustainable choices can be found on Your windows are the eyes of your home so it’s worth getting it right.


March 19, 2016 Keep bushfire risks in mind when building or renovating in rural areas

Summer is over but bushfire risk is still high and I have many friends who have lost property this fire season as a result. Whether you live in the bush or not, our changing climate is increasing the risks to everyone so when buying or building in rural or semi-rural areas you must consider the risks from bushfire attack.

The Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) is a critical tool when looking at purchasing property and planning the costs of development. It identifies areas of high bushfire risk and outlines bushfire protection measures that should be considered. The Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) indicates the construction requirements for building within a medium threat Bushfire Prone Area and form part of the Planning Permit application from your municipality. Accredited bushfire consultants can help with this process.

Existing homes can be retrofitted to reduce the risks from ember attack, radiant heat and flames. Sealing draughts, including under doors, installing appropriate sarking, using bushfire resistant cladding materials, insulating with flame retardant products and double glazing have the added benefit of improving your energy efficiencies. Solar systems with battery backup can also protect you against power failure to help keep your watering system going.

Remember fire prevention on your block is also your responsibility. Reducing fuel is an option but native vegetation is protected by law and a Planning Permit may be required if you wish to remove it. Factor in the costs of slashing or mowing the grass and plan appropriate landscaping to help.

There is a lot of useful information on the CFA website, the Victorian Building Authority website and

October 31, 2015 Protecting your Windows in Summer

I live on a rural block with lovely views and I love my double glazed windows. As we approach a very hot summer I’d like to share some tips on staying cool.

Double glazed windows are designed to reduce the amount of heat that is transferred across the glass. The air space in the middle of the two panes of glass acts as a barrier to the transfer of radiant heat which I think of as soft wavy indirect heat. This is not the same as direct sunlight which I think of as a straight arrow which penetrates through both panes of the clear glass and heats the surface it touches inside.

Internal blinds will not stop the heat that has penetrated the window into the home. Once warm from direct sunlight, the double glazing retains the heat inside your building creating an oven effect and is often criticised for this, however it’s not the windows that are at fault but the design of the house and the shading! When fully shaded, double glazed windows are brilliant in summer as they reduce the outside warmth coming in and retain the coolness from an overnight breeze or an air conditioner - reducing cooling costs.

So, remember, it is absolutely essential to keep direct sunlight from reaching the outside of all your windows during the warmer months. East and west windows need full shade with good visibility. North windows need horizontal shading and south windows should be OK.

Done properly you don’t have to live your summer in the dark to keep cool!

August 19, 2015 Sustainable Heating Options

This winter continues to break records so what are the sustainable heating options for your home?

In the country, we do not always have as many choices for fuel. Natural gas is generally considered the cheaper fuel but this is changing. LPG is much more expensive and there are less choices of appliances. Check the Energy Rating labels when choosing and note that gas decorative appliances use more gas and don't heat areas effectively. Check that unflued gas heaters meet current regulations for ventilation.

Slow combustion wood heaters can be an excellent choice if you use good quality wood that has been harvested from a renewable source without causing habitat destruction in bush areas. Wood heaters are not recommended in urban areas because they create air pollution and account for high energy use in the transportation of the firewood. Also beware of using treated timbers, which may give off toxic pollutants when burned.

Electric systems, including heat pumps and hydronics, are best judged on their energy efficiency i.e. how much energy is converted to heat for you. They can offer more flexibility in choice and cleaner air in the home. Electricity may have higher greenhouse emissions but this can be reduced if you can offset the power with a solar/wind system or by purchasing 100% GreenPower. Make sure you check the power usage information.

Take the time to choose well for your situation. Radiant heaters predominantly heat people and objects by direct radiation of heat and are best in larger rooms. Convective heaters warm and circulate the air in a room and work well in smaller rooms. Don't waste money and energy on a system that's bigger than you need.

The right heating can save the environment and your money – coupled with good home design, proper insulation and draught proofing you should be able to enjoy these frosty mornings!

June 13, 2015 Plug Holes to Stop the Winter Chill.

It’s 7 degrees outside as I write this - keeping warm in Ballarat is a high priority! It’s tempting to just buy a bigger heater but why not maximise the benefits from your heater and reduce energy costs with quick wins such as improving insulation, draught proofing and solar gain.

The recommended level of insulation for Ballarat is R4.1 in the ceiling and R2.8 in the walls. This is easy to achieve if you’re building but harder if you’re in an older home. You may need to install or upgrade your ceiling insulation. Wall insulation is a lot harder and is best addressed during renovations. Underfloor insulation is worthwhile if you’re on stumps.

Air leakage accounts for 15−25% of winter heat loss in buildings. Even new homes can have issues with draughts. Block gaps around doors, windows and in floorboards. Make sure your windows seal, use a flue balloon in that old unused chimney, block old air vents, consider changing downlights that are not sealed and incorporate draught stoppers into your ceiling fans.

Double glazing comes into its own in winter, reducing the heat loss through your windows. Try to include it in your new home. Look at options to retrofit or replace your old windows or use heavy drapes or blinds under a pelmet to reduce air flow against the cold glass.

Then when the sun comes out again sit in your north facing window and soak up the rays!

April 4, 2015 Upstairs Living

After 25 years we have finally had to renovate our front shade pergola and for the first time we had summer sun hitting our double glazed windows! Not cool!! I am reminded why solar passive design is so important. Remember we are striving for full shade in summer and lots of sun in winter.

Building double storey on the narrow blocks of new developments can be a challenge and your neighbour can overshadow your home. Try to build closest to the south neighbour to maximise your northern exposure or concentrate on having your north exposure at the back of the block. If that isn’t possible, make sure the ground floor is well insulated and that the stairwell can be shut off with a door to create zones that you can manage for heating and cooling. Then concentrate on maximising the solar passive design upstairs.

Many modern homes don’t take enough care in the protection of the upstairs windows. Windows have to be placed high and are often smaller or require slats to comply with the privacy regulations which can reduce the solar gain. Plus warm air rises and these rooms are already vulnerable to becoming hot in summer. Ensure your windows will allow south/north cross ventilation at night. Invest in internal controls for external blinds or ensure you have fixed awnings to shade them in summer.

It is also advisable to invest in good sound and thermal insulation between the storeys for temperature, privacy and a good sleep.

January 24, 2015 Living with Fire

It’s Summer and the bushfire risk is high. Ballarat is lucky to have many forested areas that provide fantastic habitat and recreational opportunities adjoining residential areas. However, when buying or building in these areas you must consider the risks from bushfire attack.

The Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) is a critical tool when looking at purchasing property and planning the costs of development. It identifies areas of high bushfire risk and outlines bushfire protection measures that should be considered. The Bushfire Attack Level (or BAL) indicates the construction requirements for building within a medium threat Bushfire Prone Area and form part of the Planning Permit application from your municipality. Accredited bushfire consultants can help with this process.

If you are buying an existing home you can retrofit your property to reduce the risks from ember attack, radiant heat and flames. This is not mandatory but any changes requiring a Planning Permit will come under the BMO.

Remember that once you have bought fire prevention is your responsibility. Reducing fuel is an option but native vegetation is protected by law and a Planning Permit may be required if you wish to remove it. Factor in the costs of slashing or mowing the grass and plan appropriate landscaping to help.

Getting involved with your local CFA and Fireguard group is a great way to learn about the risks, prepare your property for the fire season and to meet the locals.

November 1, 2014 Building in Koala Habitat

Aren’t we lucky – Ballarat is home to one of Australia’s greatest icons – the Koala! However, they are under threat from urban expansion. If you are looking to purchase a property that has lovely tall gums on it then you have the perfect opportunity to help protect the Koalas.

Recommendations from the Ballarat Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management, Parts 1 and 2, 2006 are now referenced in the Environmental Significance Overlay as ESO5.Schedule 5. You need to be informed of the regulations if the ESO applies to your land. It may influence construction of a building, vegetation clearing, potential for subdivision and even the type of fencing you can do.

Koalas need to be able to move freely across the ground and have a very limited diet. Consider carefully whether trees are part of your final vision. You can plan to add to the ‘larder’ by replanting food trees and creating ‘cafes’ in the landscape. Join a local environment group and learn more about the plants on your property. Incorporate trees into the fence line or place overlapping trees on each side of the fence to form a bridge.

Wildlife and pets are not compatible. Keep your pets secured at night. Livestock, particularly cattle, are also known to harass and even kill Koalas.

Slow down! Koalas utilise trees close to roads and deaths from vehicles are common.

You can find out more from the City of Ballarat Planning Department.

You can find out more about living with Koalas from the Australian Koala Foundation

August 30, 2014 Are you considering a tree change?

Tree change properties generally fall within the Low Density Residential Zone (LDRZ) and the Rural Living Zone (RLZ) and represents 7.3% of the total land and 4.1% of land parcels within the City of Ballarat area. Most of these properties are under 4ha – that's a lot to mow! Before you buy, think carefully about the potential of the existing assets of the block and the issues you may encounter.

Owning land comes with a duty of care to the environment and lots to learn. Is that attractive yellow flowering shrub actually an invasive weed such as gorse which you are obligated to control? Is that bare patch really a salinity scald? Is there room to plant for wind protection and which plants would be considered local to the area?Are you thinking of introducing stock and have you researched the care and time commitments required? Is there sufficient grass and will they cause damage to bush areas or waterways?

A bush block offers the chance to enjoy the benefits of being close to nature and the quiet and privacy the surroundings offer. But don't lose sight of the delicate balance between protecting and enhancing our remnant bush and the risks from bushfire and snakes. Learn more about our local plants and wildlife - how you can live with them and even give them a helping hand, for example by erecting suitable fencing or installing nest boxes for birds.

With all this in order then sit back and enjoy the serenity!  

June 28, 2014 Purchasing an existing home – things to look for to maximise energy efficiency.

The older timber heritage homes of Ballarat were considered luxurious at the time - compared to a tent or slab hut - but by today's standards they are the equivalent of living in a cereal box! Before 2003 and the introduction of the national energy efficiency regulations for houses, less than 1% of homes in Australia received a 5 star rating! So if you are purchasing an existing home in Ballarat, whether timber or brick, chances are it won't be very energy efficient.

Before you buy, think carefully about the potential of the building. As with building a new home, orientation is important. Look for homes with existing north facing windows or potential to add them, particularly in the living area. Does the basic layout of the house make improving it simple? If you intend to restructure or extend keep in mind that the energy rating of the existing home is taken into consideration when you plan any extension.

Sealing draughts is one of the most cost effective ways to improve the performance of a house. Are there gaps around doors and windows and can it be easily draught proofed? Look for evidence of existing insulation in the ceiling, walls and underfloor. How much cost and effort will be involved to get this done?Just as it can be worthwhile getting the building inspected for structural faults before you buy, it is equally important to consider the ongoing energy performance and costs.

April 26, 2014 Will your new property meet your transport needs?

Transport and travelling costs can be a major factor when deciding whether to buy in town or make the tree change. Vehicle emissions account for about eight per cent of the total carbon dioxides released into the atmosphere, which contribute to extreme weather conditions and global warming.Some of the things you may need to take into account are: the current stage of your life; do you have children participating in activities in town several nights a week and running up your car mileage; do you commute to town or even Melbourne for work; are you retired and attending clubs or health services in town?

If you do settle out of town there are many ways you can reduce your carbon. One option is to purchase a more efficient car. A carbon emissions check may help with your choice ( Plant gum trees to soak up some of your carbon emissions. Use local species purchased from an indigenous plant nursery or as advised by your Landcare group ( Look for opportunities to car pool to reduce costs. Don't forget the milk – plan ahead and get your groceries while in town!

If purchasing a property in town consider the location for close access to bus routes, train stations, walking and bike paths to reduce the use of your car. You also get the added benefit of improving your health and fitness.

You can learn more at Smart Living Ballarat (

February 22, 2014 Remember, aspect is important.  

Position, Position, Position is the catch cry of the property world and right they are but Aspect, Aspect, Aspect is the key to a more comfortable and energy efficient lifestyle. Combine the two and you’re on a winner!

Ideally, you want windows and exterior structure to allow sun in in winter and exclude it in Summer. If you’re looking to buy vacant land, then go for the block that offers the most potential. Study the layout of the blocks in the development plan – generally North is at the top of the page. The block best suited for single storey developments will have a north-facing long side, ideal for your planned living zone, unless your neighbours will be shading you with double storey homes!

Often blocks are marketed as desirable for being north facing. This can be misleading because garages generally face the street, so the best street frontage is actually East or West to reduce the sun in Summer. Again many new homes have a large shading patio/outdoor area out the back. In both cases if it’s north-facing then you will not be able to maximise the warming from the Winter sun. On larger blocks or rural properties--- you have more scope to position and design your new home. The best have a north-facing view but this isn’t always possible so you have to plan to maximise energy efficiency!

You can find out more at the Smart Building and Living Expo at Buninyong tomorrow, Sunday February 23.  

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