Typical Areas Needing Retrofit

Typical Areas Needing Retrofit

Eliminating Dysfunctionality and Waste


Housing has been a long troubled issue. Houses more suited to temperate climates are still being built in remote tropical communities, poorly insulated and ventilated, wrongly sited for the sun, little built-in shade, etc. Living in such housing can be stifling. Sometimes, much can be achieved through retrofitting. Internal house layouts may be changeable.  Non load-bearing internal partitions may be shifted. Insulation applied to western walls for cooler bedrooms at night. Roofs and ceilings can be ventilated to remove hot air, etc. All new housing should be designed intelligently and appropriately for insulation, passive air-conditioning, etc.

NSW Health has identified the following Housing for Health priorities for indigenous housing amd placed on their website:

  • Safety – Immediate life threatening dangers, particularly electrical, gas, fire, sewage and structural safety issues are addressed as the highest priority.
  • Healthy Living Practices – After safety issues have been addressed, the prioritised list below of Healthy Living Practices from 1 (most important) to 9 provides a focus for prioritising repair and maintenance:
  1. Washing people – ensuring there is adequate hot and cold water and that the shower and bath work.
  2. Washing clothes and bedding – ensuring the laundry is functional with separate taps for waste for the washing machine and tub.
  3. Removing waste safely – ensuring drains aren’t blocked and that the toilets are working.
  4. Improving nutrition – assessing the ability to prepare and store food, making sure the stove works and improving the functionality of the kitchen.
  5. Reducing overcrowding – ensuring health hardware (particularly hot water systems and septic systems) can cope with the actual number of people living in a house at any time.
  6. Reducing the impact of animals, vermin or insects – on the health of people, for example, ensuring adequate insect screening.
  7. Reducing dust – to reduce the risk of respiratory illness.
  8. Controlling temperature – looking at the use of insulation and passive design to reduce the health risks, particularly to small children, the sick and the elderly.
  9. Reducing trauma – being non-life threatening issues.

These principles are also adopted by the National Framework for Design, Construction and Maintenance of Indigenous Housing including the National Indigenous Housing Guide (2nd edition).

The first four points are considered critical healthy living practices, as they are essential for people to be able to practice healthy living. Most of the works carried out as part of this program focus on safety and these top four healthy living practices.

The Housing for Health process consists of six main stages:

  • Community consultation
  • Feasibility study
  • First survey and fix (SF1) (including training)
  • Capital upgrade
  • Second survey and fix (SF2)
  • Reporting and closure

Intelligent Housing Designs

Intelligent community design includes cluster housing and neighbourhood creation to facilitate good neighbourly relations, free of structural conflicts. Participation in planning and design is encouraged in a sense of shared responsibility. Designs focus on increasing social contact, whilst allowing for privacy and seclusion, and common areas are seen as integral to community well being. Intelligent, sustainable designs to improve many housing facets might include the following:

  • Laying out rooms for comfort, aesthetics and optimum functionality;
  • Aligning with the sun for sunlight or shade in different parts of the house during different times of the day;
  • Sighting for wind and rain protection;
  • Designing for natural lighting, natural ventilation and passive heating and cooling;
  • Large verandahs for open-air shade and precooling house ventilation.
  • Constructing roof overhangs to allow summer shade and winter sun
  • Building in heat sinks and conductors;
  • Beneath-floor ventilation for cooling;
  • Solar and wet-back fireplace water heating;
  • Roof water collection, rain water tanks;
  • Solar, wind and water powered electrical generation.
  • Composting toilets and grey water irrigation.

Low-Cost Self-Building Techniques

Technologies that assist sustainable living include:

  • solar, wood chip and slow combustion water heating;
  • solar, wind, water and small internal combustion power generation;
  • intelligent, insulated house design for passive warming and cooling;
  • bush-pole, mud-brick and straw-bale building;
  • gravity-fed water supplies, drip watering, hydroponics and nurseries;
  • organic and biodynamic, gardening, permaculture, and sustainable agriculture;
  • wet-land conservation and bush regeneration;
  • composting toilets, non-polluting waste disposal and methane digesters;
  • compost production and worm farms,
  • reuse and recycling;
  • health promoting diets and natural healing modalities;
  • wholistic teaching methods.

Sustainable Housing

Electricity Usage

New smart meters can now show individual consumers how much power usage is costing for any appliance at any point in time, enabling greater self-regulation.  Compact Flouros use far less power and lessen night lighting loads. LEDs will soon supercede these.

Reducing Power Use

  • Ventilating skylights
  • Compact fluorescent lights
  • Locating bathroom, kitchen and laundry close to hot water systems
  • Insulating hot water pipes
  • Collecting initial cool water from hot water system for other use
  • Extractor fans to reduce Air-conditioning needs
  • Wall and ceiling insulation

Water Usage

Water is Australia’s great constraining factor, and nowhere is this more apparent that on remote desert communities, where much of the bore water can be of lower quality, often contributing to renal problems. Simple carbon filter jugs, which remove almost all minerals can be used in individual homes to purify drinking water.

In general, water usage needs to be minimised – a brick in a flush-toilet cistern and low-use showerheads can save much water every day. Leaks and spills prevented or captured and used, as dripping taps can waste much water. Recycling grey water in lawns, gardens, compost heaps and flush toilets, etc.  Rainwater tanks can provide drinking water in rural and remote areas, and used for non-drinking purposes in cities where atmospheric pollution can be dissolved in rainwater.

  • Rainwater tanks
  • Dual-flush toilets
  • Low volume shower heads
  • Reusing grey-water for toilets, lawns, flower-gardens and orchard trees

Community Layout

Community layout may be able to be improved by re-allocating or switching usages of buildings where it improves overall community functionality.


Many people today understand the soothing and healing effects of being in natural environments. Trees have many valuable uses, including creating shade, so necessary in dry and hot environments. Creating green spaces with appropriate grasses, shrubs and trees can transform dry dusty areas. Vegetation in remote communities, where water is scarce may require micro-watering techniques.

Bush Regeneration

Bush Regeneration is the rehabilitation of bush, from a weed-infested or otherwise degraded plant community to a healthy community of Australian native plants by restoring and maintaining ecosystems in which natural regeneration can occur.

Bush Regeneration as a field of understanding and a practice was pioneered by Joan and Eileen Bradley in 1971. After noticing that the careful removal of scattered weeds in native bushland effectively prevented reinfestation, they put forward the idea that controlled weeding without replanting was the best method.

The procedure is simple and straightforward:

  • Weed, a little at a time, working from the bush and towards the weeds. By always working where strongest area of bush meets the weakest weeds, infestations are contained and, through incremental progress further into areas of infestation, they diminish as the balance is tipped towards regeneration.

Removing the weeds takes the pressure off the Native plants or spores, which are already in the ground, and can now be allowed to regenerate. Following the proven success of the Bradley method, further activities were gradually included, including:

  • Selecting from plants that have regenerated, those plants to be retained. Dense regenerations can be thinned, certain species may be retained or culled, and culled seedlings can be potted, grown in nurseries and replanted where needed.
  • Reintroducing lost species eg red cedar, where appropriate.
  • Planting better suited species where changes in soil, water, climate, fire regimes etc, make them more appropriate. Eg, planting stormwater drains with normal creek species.
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