Show #132: Sustainable homes – from planning to building to renovating


Our show sponsor this week…


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And onto this week’s show!

In this week’s very long show, I’ve actually stuck two interviews together for a bumper issue on HOME design/renovation. I have two experts in their fields here to discuss designing, building and renovating considerations for a healthier you and planet so if this is you now or in the next couple of years, please have a listen, these talented women are a wealth of knowledge. Architects Amelia Lee (you must check out her podcast “Undercover Architect”)  and Kate Hamblet share their wisdom and with Kate also specialised in interior furnishings, it’s a bumper show for all things ‘home’. Being a passionate mold inhibitor, I’ve got you covered on the mold front, in terms of underlays, wood materials and air filters too. I hope you enjoy the show!

Amelia Lee – bio:

With two decades in residential architecture, a few awards and a truckload of houses under her belt, she has seen first hand, over and over, how our homes can improve or impede our lifestyles. And that design is what makes the difference. Your home is significant and important. Not only in the financial investment you make, but also in the launchpad it creates for your life overall. She takes her role in helping you very seriously, and the trust you place in her to share your journey. She’s also the architect behind Undercover Architect – the award-winning education resource for home design, building and renovation. 

The questions I asked Amelia:  

  • Designing a lower tox home – it’s a big one that a lot of people are thinking whether it’s because of greater temperature variation due to climate change or simply wanting their home to help them thrive instead of being a factor in making them sick… Let’s talk biggest of big picture first: What’s your approach to sustainable/low tox home design?  
  • Orientation: Does optimal orientation change depending on where you’re located geographically?
  • What can we do when we already HAVE the house to improve on its original design without knocking the whole thing down?
  • One of your gifts is helping people design rooms and spaces they’re going to love… Let’s talk functionality and flexibility… Once you design with that focus, it’s then looking at the long term functionality and flexibility of the home, with a focus on how you feel, and how the home feels for you. Considering how you design rooms and spaces that support that.
  • How do we choose building materials that are good for us / planet?
  • Air quality inside is huge… What are some of the biggest design factors for having air flow in our homes… (Can you talk to HRV systems for filtering air / reducing humidity etc?)
  • How do we build a home, materials wise, that doesn’t easily degrade / get overtaken by mites / mold and other things that can cause damage?
  • How do we reduce waste in the construction phase?
  • And I know you’ve interviewed on your own podcast which I encourage everyone to head to, quite a few incredible green-thinking people in the renovation/building/designing space… Can we talk about some of the innovations: Zero energy homes… Passive homes…
  • When renovating, how do we choose contractors who are going to know about safer, better quality materials and enable us to bring our desire for a low tox home to reality (lots of people ‘say’ they can do it but just wanting tips to ensure peeps don’t get duped choosing contractors)
  • Do we need an architect for renovation or can we work directly with draftspeople/builders?
  • How as an architect, do you see a building biologist being a useful member of the overall home building/renovating journey?
  • If someone were thinking about building a home / renovating in the very near future: What are your top tips for reducing overwhelm?

Other helpful links:

To find out more about Amelia’s work check out:

Connect with Amelia on Instagram @undercoverarchitect or on Facebook

Get your free 5 Step E-Guide and get it right in the design of your new home or reno. Download it here.

Additional resources we discussed on the show:

Amelia did a Podcast Season all about orientation. 
Each episode shares what to do if your home faces a particular direction, and how to optimise the design accordingly, plus outlines the core fundamentals to prioritise in a well-designed home.
Episodes about Passive House / Passivhaus 
There’s a series of 6, but these are a start …
Podcast Season 8: A Simple Guide to a Sustainable Home (16 episodes with interviews on solar power, energy efficiency, low tox material choices, sustainable design)
Low Tox / Environmentally Friendly + Sustainable Products and Material Resources (Australia)
There are lots of these, but these are a reputable start.
Green Magazine Design Book >>>
The Green List >>>
Sunseeker 3D Augmented Reality App (you can see the position of the sun on any property at any time of year and day) >>>

Kate Hamblet – bio:

Balanced Home Balanced Life emerged from Kate’s intersecting passions for sustainability, wellness, and experiential design.  These three areas of design have shaped the way she creates and views architecture. There is balance and harmony in a building that listens to its occupants and the surrounding environment.  Nature is an amazing learning lab and provides an abundance of inspiration for her designs. Balanced Home Balanced Life takes the approach of finding the right balance of wellness and sustainability without going over budget or losing sight of the client’s design goals.  

The questions I asked Kate:  

  • Did you always want to be an architect?
  • And where did the healthy home aspect kick in for you? Born and raised eco-conscious or was it an ‘aha’ down the track?
  • Something you talk about was the few initial changes you made when you noticed as a new parent, your home wasn’t supporting you guys to thrive… what were some of those initial changes?
  • On your website you quote the cradle to cradle founder William McDonough “How about designing a building that nourishes and restores living systems”. Can you share what “Cradle to cradle” is for people who haven’t heard that phrase?
  • How has your architecture evolved over time to embody that nourishment and restoration of living systems?
  • A lot of people fear that (and seem to find that) a healthy home with ecologically sound building materials in a build or renovation are much more costly – does it have to be? How do we achieve a healthy home within budget?
  • What are some of your favourite ways to blend the outdoors with our indoor living from architecture to interiors?
  • So we talked about air flow, orientation and room positioning with Amelia… you’re passionate about keeping the water source clean and preventing water damage – a huge issue with up to half of buildings being water damaged in the US and the figure not being dissimilar here in Aus… How do we design for clean water and mold prevention?
  • Flooring (does felt under boards encourage mold growth over time? Other solutions to sound dampening for multistory houses that still ensures breathability?
  • Windows: Does triple glazing create a ‘bubble’ and stifle us, encouraging mold/raising humidity or can it work depending on what else we’re doing in our reno/build?
  • Filtration of indoor air: How do we ensure we keep the air in our homes pure?

Other helpful links:

To find out more about Kate’s work check out:

Connect with Kate on Instagram @balanced_architecture or on Facebook

Course:  Designed For Wellness

Course will launch on Thursday, April 11th.

Additional resources discussed on the show: 

Helpful Blog posts:

Budgeting for a healthy home:

Choosing a contractor for your healthy home build:

Resources for mechanical ventilation consultants and durable (water tight, air tight) building experts.

Positive Energy,  Austin Texas, works nationally.  They are a mechanical engineering firm that focuses on healthy homes.  They also have a really helpful podcast called ‘The Building Science Podcast’

Building Science Corp,, Massachusetts, works nationally.  They have an exceptional website with free resources for how to build buildings correctly.  They can also be hired for building enclosure consulting.

Steven Winters Associates, multiple east coast offices.  Energy efficiency consultants with a great understanding of healthy and durable buildings.  They also have a podcast!  It is called ‘Buildings and Beyond’.

Cradle To Cradle:

If you want to click through to iTunes from here to subscribe to the podcast and listen to this week’s show, and the episodes that have aired since our launch in July 2016, GO HERE

If you want to listen on your Android, download Stitcher or click through HERE or you can buy the Pocket Cast App for Android.

If you want to listen on Spotify click through HERE.

Enjoy the show and thanks again for taking the time to rate and review the show on your app – it’s like tipping the bartender and it means the world.

Low Tox. Happy us. Happy planet

Comments 7

  1. Loved this podcast as I have a strong interest and knowledge around the design of sustainable homes. I would though like to address two of the materials recommended by your guest Kate Hamlet – timber and concrete.

    Firstly timber. There is a huge amount of blatant greenwashing in the timber industry, particularly from the largest government owned timber mill in Australia (and yes the word sustainable is in the company’s name). If we care about the planet, hardwood timber must have FSC certification. (I think Amelia referred to this briefly but Kate didn’t). The Wilderness Society recommend recycled or reclaimed timber with FSC certification and second choice would be FSC certified timber that is 100% plantation grown.

    The ABC and The Conversation have a couple of good articles about this ( and

    There is also a list of timbers to avoid (because the species is endangered or on the verge of extinction) from the Rainforest Information Centre Good Wood Guide –

    Secondly concrete. To borrow the title from a very recent Guardian Long Read Podcast: “Concrete – the most destructive material on earth”. This is a great podcast. It explains really well how the benefits of this widely-used material are masking enormous dangers to human health.

    My feeling in regards to these two materials – avoid concrete and choose your timber very carefully. Having the FSC certification stamp is the bottom line and reclaimed or recycled is still the better choice.

    1. Hi Carmel,

      Great recommendations on links and resources. As you say, there is a lot of green-washing isn’t there. I also find too, that there’s so many ways to examine the ‘sustainability’ of a material.

      For example, something like concrete can be high embodied energy to use, but super durable and long term … and recyclable as well … and so some industry colleagues will support its use on that basis. And also recommend using ‘greener’ concrete with fly ash, recycled aggregate etc, with examples overseas of lower-impact concrete with a geopolymer binder system instead of Portland cement.

      The industry is aware of how energy intensive they are, and are doing a lot to research new ways of production, plus look at how other waste materials can be used in its production.

      We still, in Australia, have a massive aversion to building larger commercial or multi-storey buildings from timber, so there’s a fair bit of industry catch up to do in this regard.

      Timber, when well-selected and sustainably produced, has a lot of merit still.

      So glad you enjoyed the podcast!
      – Amelia, Undercover Architect

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  2. Loved this episode. You mentioned that you were going to add links to air purifiers – I couldn’t find it. Can you please share.

    Also best tool to test for off gassing in house etc.

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