The subject of this website is the house above with 48 solar panels on roof

Courier Mail Feature for 'HOME MAGAZINE'

Home Trend Section- September 10-11, 2005


1. Thanks to Mr Mark Cranitch (photographer), Courier Mail Newspaper (joint copyright holders of the images) and Ms Cindy Lord (Reporter) who have kindly permitted me to reproduce/display a sample of the images and the extract 'Sun Seekers' reproduced on this web page. All relevant images have been duly acknowledged.

2. The images and report were a feature in the Courier Mail "Home Magazine" dated 10 September 2005. The "Home Magazine" article was written to support the ANZSES (Australia & New Zealand Solar Energy Society) Solar House Day 2005.

3. The house was opened for Solar House Day 2005 and over 130 interested visitors attended.

Sun Seekers

by Cindy Lord, Courier Mail

When you think of people pursuing the dream of self-sufficiency you usually picture them living a modest, even austere, existence. You certainly don't expect them to be living in a luxurious, million-dollar canal-front home decked out with the latest in hi-tech home wizardry and appliances.

But when retirees Fred and Jeanette Birkbeck decided to build their solar dream home on Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, they weren't about to scrimp on anything.

Rather than downsize their lifestyle, they upsized their solar system to support their needs. With 48 rooftop solar panels (double the norm), and two sunken 26,000 litre water tanks, the couple are now totally self-sufficient.

Before they moved in, their house was generating so much solar power Energex claimed their meter was faulty.

"They told us we were exporting more to the grid than any other house in Queensland and it couldn't be right", Fred says. " The house is designed to be cost neutral, but it pays for the ambulance levy and we receive a cheque for $5 to $7 each quarter. In our retirement we'll never have to pay another electricity bill".

The rammed earth house is one of the dozens of solar houses around Australia that will be throwing their doors open to the public tomorrow as part of Solar House Day.

A former electrical engineer, Fred spent three years designing the passive solar house with Murwillumbah-based architect Justin Twohill.

"He was the only architect we could find who understood what passive solar was". he says. "A lot didn't want to know or it was too hard for them".

The Birkbecks wanted a solar house that was comfortable, easy to live in, easy to maintain, and at a constant temperature all year. "We had built what was considered a solar house in Tweed Heads in 1980 but it had a lot of deficiencies", Fred says. "It was a ranch-style, with a wide veranda which didn't let the sun into the right places".

That first attempt led Fred to push his next solar design to the limits.

The solar system cost about $100,000 (including a government subsidy of $10,000) with Fred doing the installation himself., but the key is the house design. "I've been passionate about passive solar design for 40 years", he says.

"I hate the cold and I hate being hot and I didn't want air conditioning. If you orientate your house the right way you have free heating in winter and free cooling in summer".

The 220 sqm home is built in two halves - a guest wing and another wing with living spaces and master bedroom that works like a one-bedroom house.

"It's an open and airy space and no matter where you are you can see the sky". Jeanette says.

The living spaces have a long, rammed earth wall on the south. Glass windows and doors face north and look into two courtyards. A open hallway of vitrified Italian tiles has been laid in front of the glass. They absorb heat during the day and release heat at night, acting like a built-in heater.

Other methods of harnessing and controlling the sun are double insulation, a vergola roof over the patio and motorised awnings and blinds.

A huge sliding door and louvres allow cross ventilation.

Managing all these devices is not labour intensive either - the house was totally smartwired at a cost of about $60,000.

"Every morning, at precisely sunrise, the system detects it and lowers the blinds automatically". Fred says.

The 30cm rammed earth walls help keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter. They are 60 per cent decomposed granite, 40 per cent road base and about 5 per cent white cement.

The roof is also critical to the passive solar design - steeply angled to the exact angle of the sun at winter solstice (midday June 22). This allows the sun to shine through the clerestory windows and heat the rammed earth wall.

In summer, when the sun is high, the roof angle prevents the sun entering the house. The panels are also angled to track the sun.

Under the roofline, clerestory windows help hot air escape in what is known as a venturi effect - a slight vacuum that pulls cool air into the house as hot air rises.

(c) Courier Mail and Cindy Lord.

A few of the Courier Mail photos below:

Sun/reading room with outlook onto canal:

norr sun room

The most comfortable room in the house! The sun/reading room with outlook onto canal. Note timber louvres which provide great ventilation from the canal area - always cool on a hot day. (c) Courier Mail & Mark Cranitch (

Winter sun heating rammed earth wall:

norr winter sun1

Note the entry of solar energy during late August (spring season when this photo was taken) warming the rammed earth wall on the southern side of the house. Due to passive solar design, direct sunshine is absorbed during winter days and slowly released at night. Sunshine entry is precluded from 23 September through to 23 March.(c) Courier Mail & Mark Cranitch

Winter sun heating floor tiles:

norr winter sun2

Solar energy warming the dark floor tiles right along the northern side of the house. As in the previous photo, this absorption of solar energy only occurs in winter. Yes! free heating. (the tiles are actually a very dark grey similar to the tiles that are shadowed). Note the narrow slot on the left of the Blue Gum timber ceiling which hides drop down blinds that extend to floor level. These blinds extend along the entire glass wall and windows.

Touch Screen Control Panel:

norr touch screen

Wqll mounted, menu driven C-Bus touch screen can program and control every light, blinds, irrigation, mood lighting facilities and other systems with a simple touch on the appropriate button.

Fred & Jeanette Birkbeck


Note: Banner at top of page displays an aerial photograph of our passive solar house overlooking a deep-water canal that has direct access to the Pacific Ocean.