Our Story

Sustainable Living in a Rental Property 

‘Even in a rental property, we can live a sustainable life within a functional community.’ 

Do I have the power to make a change?          Where shall I start?       How sustainable can I be?

This is our sustainable living story. We would like to share it with you and hope it provides inspiration, information and answers to some of your questions. Bear in mind that we are still on our journey to better quality in our lives.

O U R  B A C K G R O U N D 
Hi and welcome from Roman and Jana. We are both from the Czech Republic. Roman’s profession is a Sustainable Building Engineer, designing buildings in the most energy-efficient and sustainable way. Jana works in childcare, helping to bring up a new generation of bright and environmentally-conscious children. We both love and are passionate about what we do.

A R R I V A L  I N  A U S T R A L I A 
When we arrived in Australia 2008, we travelled around and quickly found out how vast, beautiful and diverse this country is. After a few months travelling, we arrived in Brisbane and Roman started to work as a sustainable building design engineer, while Jana looked for a rental property. Our preferences were driven by the functionality and simplicity of a small flat, close proximity to work, opportunity for growing our food and creating a local community. And we found it – a unit in a block of five units with a big backyard in New Farm.

Our simple one bedroom unit has windows on the north and south sides, which provide plenty of daylight and perfect cross-ventilation, so no air-conditioning is required. Good solar access delivers heat during colder days and eaves provide shade during hot periods. Moreover, overlooking greenery and gardens gives us a visual connection with our external environment. Our energy consumption is very low (2kWh of electricity and about 7kWh (20MJ) of natural gas per day- annually around 3300kWh in total), several times lower than an average Australian household (13400kWh). Purchasing 100% Green Power not only mitigated our carbon emissions, but is easy and convenient to do compared to installing PV on the roof of a rental property, and does not cost a fortune (extra 5c per kWh which is about $9 per quarter).
We manage to reduce electricity consumption to a minimum by choosing energy-efficient appliances (eg: using a laptop rather than a desktop PC) and turning them off when not in use. For a few days during hot summers, portable fans provide acceptable thermal comfort. Hot water is heated by a natural gas boiler. The old type has an ignition light ON all the time which consumes about a third of our total gas consumption. So our plan is to install a solar hot water system – the sun provides over 80% of energy needed - and turn the inefficient gas heater off. We expect to reduce our energy consumption down to 1300kWh per year, which is only one tenth of an average household with nearly zero carbon emissions and without sacrificing comfort and convenience.

E D I B L E  G A R D E N S

Our vegetable garden comprises of four vegie beds, which was originally a pile of rubbish. Soil conditions progressively improved by adding compost (food scraps from the kitchen, grass clippings, leaves), mushroom compost and sugar cane mulch. We gained plenty of knowledge and advice from gardening clubs of which we are members and would strongly recommend to everyone who is generally interested in gardening.
In our garden we grow all sorts of vegetables (tomatoes, capsicums, beans, green veggies and herbs, etc), which provides us with more than we can eat with no need to buy and excess produce for sharing with our local community. More importantly, gardening is so relaxing if you want clear your mind and brings self-satisfaction. Our front yard is becoming a fruit forest, growing mulberries, bananas, pawpaw, passion fruit and chokos on the fence. We utilise a concrete yard for growing potatoes in plastic bags, capsicums in foam boxes and fruit trees in pots. We also established a vertical garden where we are growing mainly herbs and strawberries in milk containers placed in the gaps of a block wall. Our water-wise garden rarely uses town water, instead using collected rainwater and grey-water in wheelie bins from our washing machine, and then using plenty of mulch.

As a welcome addition to our garden we have chickens, bees and a worm farm. Chickens bring a lot of fun, especially for kids, eat kitchen scraps and leftovers, while producing great fertilizer for the garden and tasty golden yolk eggs. Hard working bees are amazing to watch flying in and out, bringing various colored pollen, providing pollination for our and neighborhood gardens, and also produce amazingly delicious honey.

 On a small block of land, Brisbane City Council allows people to keep, free of charge, up to six chickens (no roosters) and up to two bee hives, which need to be registered with the DPI for a minimal fee. Both chooks and bees are easy to keep – it’s not rocket science! We learned from the beginning and all our girls are doing well. Worms in foam boxes eat food scraps and provide worm wee – a brilliant fertilizer, as well as humus for the garden and pot plants.

C R E A T I N G  L O C A L  C O M M U N I T Y 
Our local community comprises of people not only living in our block of units, but also in the local area. Garden vegies and fruit, fresh eggs, homemade bread and cakes are frequently shared and swapped within the community. Also having BBQs in the garden and sharing stories, is a brilliant way to socialize and have fun. We also utilize local shops, such as fruit and vegie shops, where we collect scraps for the chickens and composting, the coffee shop where we collect coffee grounds for growing oyster mushrooms, and for garden fertilizer. All this waste would otherwise go to landfills and create greenhouse gas emissions. Our fresh eggs and herbs are just a small thanks to very kind shop owners. When we need to, we buy stuff from local small shops and farmers markets, avoiding supermarkets. Bringing a sense of belonging, knowing our neighbors and seeing a sparkle in their eyes and a smile is a very important aspect of a real local community for us.

L I F E  S T Y L E 
Our friends tell us that it’s incredible how we are living such a sustainable lifestyle in the city centre. Living a sustainable life doesn’t mean only reducing energy consumption, recycling and growing our own food, but more importantly living a conscious life ‘here and now’, caring about people around us, as well as Mother Earth. We live in such exiting times, so with positive thinking and imagination, along with an open heart, people can achieve incredible things.

L E S S O N S  L E A R N T
  • Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Repair
  • Purchasing 100% Green Power is convenient and does not cost a fortune
  • Growing your own food in a small garden bed, or even in a pot or sprouting, provides not only tasty veggies and fresh herbs, but also fun, relaxation and self-satisfaction 
  • Everything should have a multiple purpose, e.g. Chickens eat food scraps, which produce fertilizer and eggs
  • Functional local community brings a sense of belonging and connection
  • If you need advice or help, please ask us, as we are here to help you if possible

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