Mention the two words "project home" to Jenny Edwards and her frustration becomes almost palpable.
Canberra is, of course, full of project homes produced with a cookie-cutter approach; this is the "all-inclusive" price and this is what you get. For uncertain buyers, it's a safe, predictable process.
Four bedrooms? Tick. Bathroom and ensuite? Tick. Two car garage? Tick. Media room? Tick. And the more ticks, the more expensive it gets.
"Project home builders know their type of buyer well so they package and pitch their product accordingly," Ms Edwards said.
"Building a new house is a bit scary for many people; it's full of unknowns and uncertainties.
"Builders are great at what they do and are experienced project managers. They pay attention to detail, infer where detail is lacking and may solve myriad problems that the designer didn't cover.
"But a builder's expertise is building so if you want a great, sustainable, energy-efficient house, the first person you should seek is not a builder, but a designer."
Jenny Edwards is fiercely passionate about smart and sustainable housing design.
As a scientist and the director of an architectural business, she shakes her head sadly at houses in Canberra's new suburbs, pointing out short eaves which bake windows in summer and swathes of surrounding, reflective concrete.
Looking a few kilometres north to Molonglo Valley, the roads are being laid in Whitlam in preparation for thousands of more new homes next year.
The advice of sustainable design experts like Jenny Edwards will be in demand as the the ACT government this week voted unanimously to support a private members Bill from Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur for an independent review of planning for new suburbs like Whitlam.
The review team will look for what changes are required to achieve future "excellence" in sustainable residential design from environment, social and transport perspectives.
The north-south orientation of the block which Jenny Edwards and David Dufty chose for their home in the Molonglo Valley was hardly ideal for winter warmth and sustainability but by applying some clever design ideas, they have made it work beautifully.
Their award-winning sustainable house, with an 8.2 star energy rating, has now become a case study in great Canberra-specific design ideas with dozens of strangers trooping through her doors on open days, continually asking questions.
"With more suburbs coming and so many new houses being built, there's a really strong case for more public education about designing for our city and our climate," she said.
Their house is built of red commons bricks and weathertex, a reconstituted timber cladding. The windows are all PVC and double-glazed which Jenny says are far superior in efficiency to double-glazed aluminium.
One area to which she pays particular attention is sealing the house of drafts. Her team uses a thermal camera and an air blower to detect where the house is leaking.
It costs around $700 to test a house for leaks and could save that much in heating bills over just one winter.
She is a firm believer in reducing house sizes and using the available space in a better way. That's why clever design is so important.
"People worry that bespoke house design is expensive. The truth is: it's not," she said.
"Good design always saves you money in the long run; it creates a more liveable house, and greatly reduces the need for heating and cooling.
"Obsessing over a big house when you don't need one makes no sense."
JENNY'S 5 DESIGN PRIORITIES:
- 1. Engage a designer who will design for your site
- 2. Minimise your footprint and design complexity
- 3. Go for the minimal size house necessary for your needs
- 4. Invest in PVC or timber double-glazed windows
- 5. Invest in thermal mass, insulation and sealing