After dismissing the open source housing plan as a pipe dream we had spent a year attempting to find a house to buy. And what we found was almost a nightmare. Massivly expensive land prices coupled with detached houses that almost filled the blocks. (As an aside in Australia we are very greedy for space for example in Germany the average house size is 100 square metres for 3 people, over here we have an average of 227 square meters (2003 census)). All these homes designed in a similar way but all different but looking like a hodge podge on the typical street. Nothing really stylish. And all built to the 5 – 6 star energy rating standard but I suspect not out of any sense of duty or environmental responsibility but just because if you don’t you will find it more difficult to sell the house for a good price, and the quality of the builds, so poor. Units and townhouses we found were built in a similar manner. And the difference between what is affordable and what is possible… To move upmarket to get a house designed and built to have style and to use energy efficiently we would incur a massive expensive, for example from the same site: standard project homes $900 – $1500 / sqm, architecturally designed homes $2500 – $4000 sqm. So the standard is currently 5 star moving to 6 and a designed home 8 – 9. So this means that if you have the money you are able to save money with an efficient home. Although we have a dissenting view from the master builders of Australia which is basically saying the 5 star is enough and the law of diminishing returns applies to going for higher star ratings. Also see note below.
In any event that an architecturally designed home was out of reach and due to land prices and cookie cutter design along with poor implementation it seemed that any new home was not that desirable. Older homes seemed to mostly have poor energy ratings (or were too expensive) and the costs of upgrading to a higher energy rating would probably also be prohibitive, particularly with the already huge mortgage.
So I checked in again to the Open Source Housing site – and found to my amazement that they did seem to have got some land. There were about fifty sites all around the country. The prices seemed amazing but then the catch – the land was only available if all of the chunks were fully subscribed only then could the deal go through and sales could take place. At this point only 17 sites were fully subscribed. This meant that for our site ie the site closest to where we were able to live, we would have to get together the money to purchase a site and then wait until the chunk was fully subscribed – meanwhile paying of the quite large loan repayments – before even thinking about building. This sounded almost impossible. Perhaps if the bank would provide help to this scheme. (Joke).
Additionally due to the lack of local subscribers, the other part of the system, the local collective house parts builders these did not yet exist. Not all was bad news however as there were some builders in areas about 5 or 6 hours car travel distant.
If you recall the Open Source housing system has two main components: 1) purchasing land tracks (chunks) and removing the costs charged by developers and 2) collectively building the house components in a kind of distributed assembly line where these components are pre-designed to fit together and to build efficient homes. Hopefully with enough variability to be interesting. In any case now it was possible to visit some of the builders. No built houses but we could see the components in various states of manufacture and the tools and jigs used to create the components.
* Note: However it seems that it might be possible to do better for around the same cost: for example a house with an 8 star rating, whatever happened to this scheme? Doesn’t seem to have taken off. We can only hope.