The story of the home that lay the foundations for Australia’s leading thermal efficiency retrofit company.
We interview Lyn Beinat, CEO and co-founder of ecoMaster, about her own home’s retrofit journey to energy efficiency.
After living in the UK for four years, where homes are built for much colder weather, Lyn and Maurice Beinat returned to Australia on a mission to optimise the energy efficiency of their own home. Drawing on their personal experience, Lyn and Maurice continue to pay forward their expertise to benefit thousands of Australian homes.
We moved ‘home’ (back to Australia) after a 4-year stint in Europe. One of the many differences we noticed was that European homes are built to withstand extremely cold winters. We moved into our 25 year old brick veneer home in Gisborne in June. It was absolutely freezing despite having 3 heating sources (wood fire, central gas heating and electric blow heaters in our sons’ bedroom to stop them from freezing overnight).
Our first energy bill for that winter was $2,500 and we emitted nearly double the annual carbon emissions of the average home. My mum, who moved from Sydney to live with us, moved back to Sydney after a month. She said that even though she loved us she couldn’t stand the cold. Significant action was required!
Q. What is thermal efficiency and how does it relate to energy efficiency?
This is a great question and something that is not yet understood in Australian consciousness. Energy efficiency is about either reducing your energy consumption or being more efficient with the energy you use (do more with less). This can be done by a number of means – changing light bulbs to LEDs, changing to more efficient appliances, using solar hot water instead of electric / gas etc. Many people don’t realise that 40% – 60% of their energy bills can be attributed to heating and cooling their homes.
Thermal efficiency is a sub-set of energy efficiency and is about keeping your ‘conditioned’ air – that is, air that has been heated or cooled, in your home longer. Making your home more thermally efficient means that you can have a much more comfortable home; for a fraction of the heating or cooling energy that you used prior to retrofitting, that is, making changes to your existing home.
Q. Can you walk us through the improvements that you made to your home?
Sure! We started by building a heat chamber and hiring a cool room. Possibly not the first steps that a normal household would have taken! Maurice has always been into serious research and development. I am absolutely convinced he can fix anything.
We tested all of the insulation products on the market, and while that was under way we started with draught proofing. We made all the standard mistakes that everyone makes, using ‘sticky stuff’ around doors and windows and door snakes to stop draughts under the door. It took absolutely no time for the sticky stuff to ‘un-stick’ and for our boys to use the door snakes as weapons.
Maurice went back into research and development mode and started developing door and window seals that would actually work. We installed them at our home and were delighted with the result. Nanna could shut the door (not possible with sticky stuff) and there were no weapons or trip hazards from the door snakes. Our energy bill fell by half!
Next was ceiling insulation, completed in two stages (bulk and then reflective). We used the results of the heat chamber / cool room testing to guide our product selection. That way, we KNEW it would be right! We then worked on retrofitting wall insulation which was messy at the time. We now have a much better way.
Underfloor insulation was the next job. This was made more difficult as our home is on a raised concrete slab; something that appears to be fairly unique to the Macedon Ranges.
Windows were next. Replacing our windows with double glazed windows was just not an option because of the massive expense. There was nothing wrong with them, apart from being single glazed.
Back into research and development! Every single window we have has been retrofitted / secondary glazed in a different way, including the laundry and the garage. That was the start of ecoGlaze (ecoMaster’s own Secondary Glazing System); it took us 5 years to perfect that system and it is now perfect and beautiful.
We changed our halogen lights to CFLs. Pelmets were installed in some areas, and invisible pelmets in other areas. Solar hot water was next – that took 3 years of research before Maurice was finally happy with a solution. He is very clever – we have a wet flu combined with evacuated tubes on a thermosiphon unpressurised tank.
All that meant nothing to me. How I measured the success of that project was that we had loads of hot water and our first year’s hot water bill was just 76 cents – down from over $800.
Then Maurice started to research passive solar hot heating systems. These systems can be good once a home has been retrofitted for thermal efficiency. We installed two different systems and had some interesting learnings along the way.
Solar power was next – we installed 2.6 kW of power which was enough to run our household. Then we added some additional teenagers which ensured that we still had to take power from the grid!
We have also experimented with converting a chest freezer to a highly energy efficient fridge, installing light wells in hallways, CFLs have given way to LEDs, timers on appliances, etc. The biggest energy saver in very recent times was exporting the teenagers! LOL.
Q. What was the biggest mistake you made in the process and how did you overcome it?
Easily it was not having an understanding of the most effective sequence to retrofit. We lucked it quite a few times, but occasionally we were ‘out of sequence’. This showed up when we would complete a retrofit item and feel absolutely no benefit whatsoever because we’d missed a step.
To get the biggest ‘bang for buck’, you need to start with the most significant issue first. Then work in a systematic manner on the next most significant, then the next and the next.
We have learnt this having retrofitted thousands of homes. I think that is what puts people off; not knowing where to start or how to achieve a great outcome. They try something, it doesn’t appear to work, they become discouraged and stop.
Q. Can you describe your home now that your retrofit journey is complete?
Our home is cosy in winter, cool in summer. It is a haven for us and our friends in extreme temperatures. The most significant indicator that our home is truly comfortable was that my mum moved back in with us.
She told me she would move out again if she ever got cold. She never did. Our energy bill hovers around zero; with carbon emissions to match. It’s a great result.
Q. What would be the most important advice you could share with Australian households?
Look at the amount of money, and the level of discomfort in your home. Project that forward for 10 – 20 years and ask if that is really how you want to live and is that how much you really want to unnecessarily pay to your energy retailer.
Consider this, if you decided to sell your home and buy an already energy efficient home, chances are you would spend more (in legals, stamp duty and moving costs) than if you stayed put and retrofitted.
It’s much better living in a home that is comfortable all year and costs hardly anything to run. Anyone looking at bringing home a new baby, raising a family, or about to retire can benefit from having a thermally efficient home.
Q. How has your personal experience informed the success of ecoMaster?
ecoMaster was born from the massive experience we accumulated in retrofitting our own home. It has been an amazing journey. We understand that most households just don’t have the time, or inclination, to do this amount of research.
Being time poor should not be a deterrent to living in a comfortable home that costs heaps less to run. Every household deserves this.
Because we retrofitted our own home, we understand the pitfalls. It took quite a few years of research and analysis before we started ecoMaster. It’s a fairly audacious thing to say, ‘I know how to retrofit your home for energy and thermal efficiency’ but we do! We are confident in our knowledge and we are serious about producing fabulous outcomes for our clients.
Q. How do you envision the future of Australian homes?
There is absolutely no reason why new homes being built should require any heating / cooling. Effective design is easy – the knowledge to build energy efficient homes is already known and understood.
Every existing home, in fact, every building, can be improved; many quite significantly. We can improve our comfort, reduce our energy costs, and seriously reduce our carbon footprint all for less than the cost of stamp duty.”
Secure Your Comfort, Reduce Your Energy Cost
Like Lyn and several other Australian homeowners, you can tread the same path to energy efficiency beginning TODAY. Start off with an assessment of the energy efficiency performance of your home.
Boost your thermal comfort by draught proofing your doors and windows, investing in energy-saving solutions, and by insulating your ceiling, floors, and walls. Not only does an all-home retrofit improve your comfort in summer and winter, it lowers your energy cost for the long term as well.