How this family lives beside a main road – without all the noise

Kosnik Envirotecture house

They say your home should be a sanctuary. In fact, constant noise can keep the body’s stress response system constantly activated, leading to a host of physical and mental health issues including stress, poor sleep, and anxiety.

No one wants to live in a noisy home. 

This was one couple’s challenge when they purchased a block of land in the Sydney suburb of Thornleigh sandwiched between a busy road and a train line. 

Matthew Kosnik, his partner Katherine and their two children swapped in a 90 square metre weatherboard house to build a 180 square metre passive home. They previously suffered from mould issues in a home that was “ridiculously” cold in winter and “ridiculously” hot in summer. 

“In our old house we would have condensation, moisture, and carbon dioxide levels off the charts. That’s fairly normal in regular houses. Most houses have mould issues – our house did. But now, we do not have any issues with any of that. We live in a super, ideally comfortable house,” Matthew says. 

Now in their energy efficient home they have a comfortable temperature all year round – and best of all, no acoustic discomfort.

“The detailing of the house means that inside, it is spectacular. You can’t hear anything,” architect Andy Marlow of Envirotecture says. 

“The results were significantly better than the acoustic engineer expected.”

Kosnik Envirotecture house

Low – or no – bills 

For the owners, the tight seal of Sydney’s first Passive House Certified home means that the family can cut costs in energy bills for the four bedroom, two bathroom home. 

In their previous home, “the cost of living was more than the mortgage”, Mathew says. 

“The inside temperature of the house is between 20-25 degrees Celsius. It’s designed to be in that zone over 95 per cent of the time.”

According to the Australian Passive House Association passive house buildings allow for energy savings of up to 90 per cent compared with typical existing buildings and over 75 per cent compared with modern best-practice constructions. 

In this home, this is achieved by setting the eaves to allow maximum winter sun and minimum summer sun. The building has an airtight seal with insulation, ducted ventilation and heat recovery systems. No concrete was used in the build – the owners opted for certified timber instead – which means that the embodied carbon of the build is lower than comparable regular buildings. It has a 17,000 litre rainwater tank, 5.2 kilowatt roof-top photovoltaic panels, and is all-electric, with an induction cooktop.

“There are no fossil fuels anywhere,” Andy says. “It is self sufficient for energy over the year. It ticks all the boxes that houses can tick.” 

“It’s a pretty cool little house. We talk about the technical stuff all the time, but it’s really a beautiful little house.”

Building around nature rather than through it

The biggest challenge of the site, he says, was that there was a massive tallowwood tree geometrically in the centre of the land. 

“It’s a beautiful tree they didn’t want to chop down. So making the house fit without killing the tree was a big challenge. That’s one of the main reasons the house is lifted up on screw piles and there’s no concrete.” 

Kosnik Envirotecture house

A straightforward process 

Not only can the family now eliminate energy costs, there were also far fewer surprises during the building process, delivered by Builder Red Cedar Constructions. 

“The documentation needed to certify a Passive House means that everything has to be planned before construction. It’s a smoother construction process because the design process was so rigorous,” Andy says. 

The family says that the home cost around $850,000 to construct – a cost that Matthew says has definitely paid off. 

“Your house is the biggest investment you will ever make – and the house will probably outlive you. It doesn’t take much of an investment to build a house that’s far better to live in, and far cheaper to live in. 

“You can quantify the energy savings, but you can’t quantify the comfort factor. It makes a great deal of sense to spend a little bit more. That will come back to you in savings through the life of the home. 

“Who wouldn’t want to live in a house that’s cheaper to operate and more comfortable to live in?”

“People need to stop faffing around and just build good houses,” Andy says. 

Kosnik Envirotecture house