How to save money and live sustainably at the same time

8 June 2024

  • Kirsten Junor, CEO of Reverse Garbage, and her husband, Steve, transformed a late-Victorian fixer-upper into a sustainable home by reusing materials and focusing on energy efficiency.
  • They sourced affordable materials, like bricks destined for landfill, to retain the home's period style.
  • Having a concrete floor in your home can significantly improve heating and cooling efficiency. Concrete absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, reducing energy costs.

It will come as no surprise that the CEO of Reverse Garbage, in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville loves to talk about reusing materials, sustainability, and simple yet practical ways you can make a difference at home.

“The thing about sustainability is that people think they have to be perfect 100% of the time, but if we all just make a little effort, we can make a difference.”

So, it makes sense that when Kirsten and her husband Steve moved into a fixer upper, they wanted to make it a sustainable home. “For me, it’s not just about the look of the house; it’s about reusing as much as you can and about your impact on the environment,” she says. “Our house proves you can do it [while] looking good.”

They live in a free-standing, late-Victorian house with some non-functional extensions, “There was a space that was 2 m2 and had 6 doors coming off it,” says Kirsten, but when Kirsten and Steve saw it, they knew it had potential. Some parts of the house were kept, others were knocked down and rebuilt.

They sourced as many reusable materials as possible, scouring the country for what they needed. “The [feature wall] bricks are very period to suit the style of the house. When we were sourcing them, they were $17.60 each and we needed like 6,000 of them,” says Kirsten. “That was a ‘no’, after doing a bit of research we managed to find some old stock in Queensland and ended up getting them for 50c each – they were just sitting there about to go to landfill.”  

Narelda Jacobs meets a couple who live sustainably for less on The Brighter Side

Making energy efficient living choices

As well as focusing on reuse, Kirsten and Steve wanted the house to be as energy efficient as possible. They installed solar panels and a battery and have double glazing on the industrial-style windows. There’s also a wide eave running along the back of the house that stops the sun heating up the rooms in summer. The floor also helps with heating and cooling. “The concrete floor is amazing at retaining heat. In winter, the sun is obviously a lot lower, and it warms up the concrete and provides natural heating.”

The result is not only good for the environment, but also for keeping electricity costs down. “We were looking at a power bill of over $600,” says Kirsten. “That’s dropped to half.”

Looking at our solar usage in an app also helps monitor our electricity use. “When you have the ability to watch what’s going in and out, you're actually a lot more conscious of what you're using the power on.”

Kirsten’s energy efficient home tips

Invest in double glazing 

“We have huge doors that go all the way across the back and they’re all double glazed. It can be 40 degrees outside, and it will be 10 degrees cooler inside.”  

Search for reuse materials 

“Reuse is about keeping things out of landfill for as long as possible.”

“There are places like Reverse Garbage all over Australia. There are just so many ways you can find reusable materials. Quite often we can be driving along, and I’ll see something on the side of the road, or when I’m on social media. You can pick up bargains.” 

Make the most of what you’ve got and create your own style

You can’t be perfect all the time, but you just have to make a start.” When it comes to reusing, flexibility can lead to great results.

“If you don’t have enough materials for a project, like bricks or tiles, turn that negative into a positive. Look at what you have around and strive for different reuse ideas”.

For instance, work around it by coming up with a design for your floor or bathroom that mixes different materials and finishes.

For more information on energy efficient solutions for your home visit CommBank’s sustainable living hub. 

Related articles

How your home loan can help make your home energy efficient
Powering up for greater efficiency
Sustainable living with Erin Brockovich
Driving sustainably: The easy, affordable shift to electric vehicles

Things you should know

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