Living in stylish and sustainable Merrivale

Posted on March 6, 2016 | 3 comments

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Leaving a small footprint: Jean Christie and Jacki Carruthers in their six-star energy rated Merrivale, designed by award-winning local architect Fiona Golding.

Words by Louise North

Not that long ago Merrivale, a suburb west of Warrnambool, was not the first choice of many people searching for a home or land to build on.

Now, it seems that the “working class, living out west” stigma has evaporated and Jean Christie and Jacki Carruthers‘ new home on a small block of land in Davis St is evidence of that shift.

The 6-star energy rated, award-winning home fits snugly between a stone cottage (thought to be the former post office) and a 1980s weatherboard home.

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This is the new mix in Merrivale, and it’s that variety that Jean and Jacki enjoy.


Despite its size, the clever use of glazing creates a sense of space and plenty of room to move. Image: Live Architecture/Fiona Golding.

The pair had spent many weekends looking for land all over Warrnambool, mostly in new estates, and found nothing that suited them until one day they found the 595sqm, L-shaped block at 98 Davis St, Merrivale – and snapped it up.

They loved the area’s open spaces, that is was close to the wetlands and the rail trail where they could walk their ageing Labrador/Kelpie, Maggie.

They also liked to walk to town and decided the area offered a “sense of the country” – and a sense of community.

And it seems Merrivale has ‘community’ in bucketloads. It is the only area around Warrnambool that has a residents’ group, the Merrivale Community Association, of which Jean and Jacki are active members.

“No one drives past you in the street without waving,” Jacki said, who was quite taken by the note left by a neighbour in their letterbox when they first moved in a year ago welcoming them to the neighbourhood and asking them over for a glass of wine.

Newly poured house slab viewed from backyard steps

Jean admits she was a little dubious when she saw the size of the concrete slab, but the finished house is now a dream home. Image: Supplied.

The decision to build a sustainable house came after Jean had spent 25 years living in a dark and unusually breezy 1930s timber cottage in Hyland Street, Warrnambool.

You might imagine that after so much time in one house that it might be hard for Jean to decide to sell and build a new home, but it wasn’t.

“One night I was lying in bed and realised that my hair should not be moving,” she laughs. “A breeze was coming through the closed window and I thought ‘I’m so sick of this’.”

Jean and Jacki haven’t looked back and both agree that the only downside to building and moving to the ultra-modern, open plan, eco home is that they rarely want to leave it.

“I just love this house,” Jean said.

That is not to say the building process didn’t have its usual worries.

“I remember walking around the foundations when they were first laid and thinking this is so small, I can’t live here,” Jean said.

But thankfully foundations and the finished thing are very different.


Style meets sustainable, the Merrivale house shows just what is possible through clever design.

The 127m2, two bedroom, one bathroom home was designed by Fiona Golding of Live Architecture in Warrnambool. Her design impressed a lot of people and won last year’s People’s  Choice Award (residential) at the Warrnambool Building Design Awards.

More than 250 people grabbed the chance to wander through the house on Sustainable House Day last September.

It was a vote of confidence for what Jean labels her “humble home”.

“It was liberating having free rein to adopt sustainability principles on this home – with the exploration of some new ideas as well as some tried and tested,” Fiona Golding said.

“Sustainable design is core to my design ethos and when that is paired with clients that want to live a more sustainable lifestyle it really sings.  It becomes core to the design rather than an add-on and creates so much value.”

Sustainable living has always been important for Jean and Jacki who are members of the Warrnambool Environmental Action Group, but they didn’t want the “full on, off the grid mud brick house kind of living, we wanted to be close to town”, Jacki said.

They opted for a small home, with only two bedrooms and one bathroom, and they wanted passive heating.

“There is nothing new in what we have done, no new technology, just simple things,” Jean said.


Upcycling: Jacki and Jean at their dining table which was used as a workbench by Jacki’s father for 40 years while working at an ammunitions factory in Melbourne.

The sun floods in through large glass windows in the north facing living area, heating the concrete slab and helping to warm the house in winter. The materials are all sustainably sourced, and even the varnish used to coat the plywood ceiling and feature walls is free of toxins.

A rainwater tank provides drinking water and also feeds into the toilet and laundry water.

But not everything in the house is new. The home is furnished with a nod to things retro, and look into a few nooks and crannies and you’ll find some unusual, small collections, like toy robots and wooden spoons. And when Jean finds the time she also paints (but she won’t let me call her an artist!), some of which hang in the home.

The kitchen table was Jacki’s father’s workbench which he used for 40 years at an ammunition factory in Maribynong.

The second-hand bricks that surround the outdoor fireplace were found by Jacki on ebay.

And after more than a year in their new home is there anything that doesn’t work as well as expected?

“There are never enough power points!” they both laugh.


Sustainable features (courtesy:

  • 6.3 star energy rating
  • R 5.0 insulation batts to roof with R 1.3 foil faced blanket
  • R 2.7 insulation batts & reflective bubble wrap to external walls
  • R 2.7 insulation batts to internal walls between living and sleeping zones
  • Orientation to the north for living areas, south and west windows kept to a minimum
  • Aluminium Improved double glazed with Low E windows with U value of 3.45
  • Passive crossflow ventilation with openings on two different sides of each room
  • Ceiling fans to bedrooms, living and dining
  • Hydronic heating
  • Water harvesting with on site water tank
  • Green switch for switching off all stand-by power

Building materials:

  • Spotted gum shiplap cladding & decking
  • Colorbond cladding selected for its longevity
  • Exposed concrete slab to act as thermal mass with low VOC finish
  • Recycled bricks for feature external fireplace
  • Redgum timber sleepers & red ironbark posts and verandah beams
  • Plywood ceilings, feature walls and kitchen joinery with low VOC finish

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  1. I love this house. A great collaboration between Jean, Jackie and Fiona. Congratulations to all.

  2. when i married i moved to merrivale i was there till my husband passed away. it was a friendly community. i have many stories of the vale.

  3. I totally understand the feeling of being annoyed by air coming through windows. I want to replace my windows and make them aluminium. I heard aluminium windows are more energy efficient so it sounds like a good idea.

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