Environmentally responsible housing doesn’t have to mean living in a yurt in the wilderness. Solaire Properties is a Brisbane developer building luxurious – and sustainable – homes in the city’s most sought-after suburbs.
With innovative designs and sustainable materials, Solaire is creating technologically advanced and eco-friendly homes that are making their presence felt on the market. The sale prices of the developer’s first four builds – in Paddington, Auchenflower, and Ascot – all set street records.
The Auchenflower home, La Fleur, took out the Master Builders QLD Brisbane Housing and Construction Award for Excellence in Sustainable Living. Solaire’s fifth home – Vanquish, located on the adjoining property to La Fleur – is the company’s first to achieve Passive House certification, and is expected to fetch a sale price between $3 million and $4 million.
Sustainability begins at home
Harley Weston, who established Solaire with brothers Paul and James McElhenny in 2017, isn’t necessarily what you’d expect from a property developer. The former geologist and helicopter pilot, now a prolific investor in Brisbane’s start-up community, freely admits he “couldn’t build a kids cubby house out of cardboard boxes”, but says his passion for sustainability was forged from his 15 years in mineral exploration.
“What I learned from all those years of drilling holes in the ground was the absolute necessity of reducing our carbon output,” he says. “And the construction industry is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s an old industry, and one that’s in need of change.
“I had the idea to build a carbon-positive home, but I’m not a builder by any means. At the same time that I wanted to build this house, Paul and James were establishing themselves in property development, so we got together and came up with the Solaire ethos of building properties that look and feel like luxury homes, but are also off-the-grid and fully sustainable.
“Of course, if you ask the big developers that are doing a lot of greenwashing, it’s a ‘sustainable home’ if you just put solar panels on the roof. But that’s like calling your house a ‘smart home’ just because you’ve got Google Home or Amazon Echo… it’s not enough anymore.”
Solaire minimises the carbon footprint of their properties by using zero-waste materials and chain-of-custody timbers that are tracked from the forest to the construction site. Even the high-end, handcrafted Sussex tapware is made from recycled brass. Waste materials from the construction process are also recycled and reused – Gyprock, for instance, is turned into fertiliser for food production just west of Brisbane.
Their homes feature energy-efficient lighting and appliances that only switch on when they’re needed, powered by rooftop solar arrays coupled with battery storage. The batteries are capable of running the house off the grid for several days without being recharged.
“The homes are designed to capitalise on the huge amount of solar gain that we get in Queensland,” Weston says. “They’re also designed to maximise natural cross-ventilation, with large outdoor and indoor living spaces connected by sliding doors to let the breeze in on those perfect Queensland days.”
Setting the standard
Solaire has focused on building premium homes in premium locations that can absorb the cost of their sustainable features. But Weston says the long-term plan is to use their knowledge of sustainable design, supply chain management and responsible waste management to improve the standards of house construction across the board.
“We’ll definitely be looking at affordable housing and homes outside of the inner city,” he says.
“We’re conducting a study with the University of Queensland at the moment to compare the energy performance and outcomes of two of the homes we’ve built side-by-side, and then we’ll have a good look at that data; decide which of the measures we’ve taken have been the most effective; and look at applying them to both larger and smaller-scale projects.”
Weston says the company is also using part of the profits from the sale of their properties to invest in new “triple bottom line” businesses – businesses that evaluate their performance using financial, environmental and social accounting frameworks.
“My advice to the entrepreneurs I work with is not to be afraid to be a ‘triple bottom line’ business,” he says.
“Because the businesses that are doing more than just turning a profit – the businesses that turn their focus towards people and the planet, and have a real sense of purpose – are the ones that will thrive in the long term.”