Maree builds a Passive Home | Undercover Architect Member Review

Maree is building a new passive house in a regional town just outside of Wagga, NSW.

Listen as Maree shares more about her new home journey, what inspired her to choose Passive House as her pathway, and the help she’s been able to access through her membership in Undercover Architect’s online courses.

Maree is a member of the HOME Method and Interior Design 101

My name is Maree Stimson, I live in country New South Wales, about an hour from Wagga just in a small town called Temora, with only about 4,000 people. And my journey to start with was to build a family home. 

I discovered the Undercover Architect, which has, over the last two years, moved me forward into the prospect of building a home. So with the Undercover Architect’s help, that’s enabled me to pursue the dream of homeownership and building.

I’ve done three (courses). And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them. And each one brought something new to my knowledge and understanding within the idea of building a home. So they’ve been very beneficial. 

What were your specific challenges and concerns with your home build?

We come from a rural area. Whilst we had some wonderful tradesmen within our town, not being a builder, or coming from a family of builders myself, I just was concerned with what I didn’t know. 

And also, when you’re building a home and outlaying that type of money, you want to get the best knowledge you can, so you’re able to converse, and move forward with building a home. 

So I suppose the biggest challenges was a lack of knowledge in that area. And not knowing what you don’t know. I think that’s the biggest thing. 

What stage is your project at?

Well, it’s quite amazing. Really, I started out … if you were to ask me five years ago, what type of home I would build, it would have been five bedroom, butler pantry, big verandas, everything that opened and shut. 

But as my family evolved and moved out of home, the idea of building a home sort of morphed a little bit. And it moved into what our needs were now and how we can design the house to incorporate needs when our children come home, and maybe grandchildren. 

So I suppose, with working through Amelia’s podcast, we looked at our design, we looked at our footprint, we looked at our orientation, we looked at you know insulation, and we looked at making the environment work for us. So when we do build at our home, we’re not spending a lot of money on things that we can get for free, as Amelia says, like the sunshine. 

So we went into it, or I went into it, with the idea of just building with passive design. And then Amelia had a wonderful podcast on Passive House. So then from there with that information, I moved towards exploring Passive House certification. And I think at the moment, there might be only 19 homes within Australia that are Passive House. 

So from her podcasts and education on what to look for, what to ask for, I was then able to move towards Passive House certification and design for this house.

So at the moment with this house, it’s been quite a journey. Like even just for the year, we’ve been working on making it right and certified towards Passive House. 

So we haven’t even turned over a sod of dirt yet, because we’re still planning very diligently what we want to do and how we want this house to perform for us down the track. So no, I haven’t built anything yet. But we’re certainly getting closer to it. And that’s very exciting.

I think you always worry about the budget, and the cost, and whether you can get what you want within the budget and your timeframe of paying off your home loan. 

So my big problem was the money side of it, in the sense of this is our budget, this is what we need to stick to. So, and that was a living thing. 

The budget was moving all the time in the sense that to get to that budget to stay under that budget, or within that budget, you had to really evaluate how you wanted your house to perform. Did you need the butler’s pantry? Do you need the fourth bedroom? So you really had to be quite honest with yourself to say, what do I need from this house? How do I need it to perform? And what can I give up to stay in the budget? 

So when I went to my architect, I basically said the budget is king. It has to stay within the budget, and basically the orientation is queen. So I suppose to me, it was always staying under budget and achieving what we wanted within that budget. 

That’s the answer I would give, is the budget was always going to be the driving force behind it to start with.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

Well, quite, I just, I came across her online, and just sort of like, you know, when you Google stuff, and other things come up attached to it. And then Undercover Architect came up, and then I thought, ‘Oh, this sounds interesting’. And then I got onto the podcast, love it, absolutely love it. 

She’s so real for one, which is really, really lovely, I think to be able to give a product out to people and know that the person behind the product is real. And it has substance and has, you know, it has an input into the outcomes that she wants us to have. I think that’s really fantastic. 

And now I just, I say to my architect, have you watched the Undercover Architect? I say to my builders, you should watch them, you should listen to Undercover Architect. I say this is what we all should be on – Undercover Architect – because our knowledge is just getting better and better and better. 

And then with knowledge, you make better decisions, you know, without the knowledge of decision making is very poor. So yeah, I just found her online and haven’t got off the boat since.

Does all this knowledge help you communicate better with your team?

I wouldn’t say I have all the knowledge. But even a little bit of that knowledge, if you sort of can’t get the answers you want or the response you want, it allows you to then look further into finding more and more knowledge. But certainly with Undercover Architect, and Amelia’s courses and correspondence and Facebook group, there’s just so much information. 

If you’re struggling in one area, the contacts that you have in all those other areas, you know, you’ll find an answer that way. 

And the builder that I have engaged for our house is blown away by the knowledge that I have. I’m not saying I have heaps of knowledge. But he’s like, “I don’t normally get clients like you asking those questions. I don’t think a client would know this. I didn’t know a client would know that.” 

So whilst I said I don’t have all the answers, I certainly have some answers, and some questions and I think that’s a really good thing, that your knowledge base is improving all the time with regard to this, you know, this outlay of a home.

And you know, without Amelia and Undercover Architect and the courses, I probably wouldn’t have the team around me that I have at the moment. And the team is very important. Picking the right people talking to the right people, to help you make the right decisions. And I think I probably would never have gone that far, to have a team, you know, around you. 

But it’s so important, like having the right people around you when you’re doing a building is so important because it just gives you so much more scope and option and understanding of why we do it this way, or, you know why that wall should be there, or whatever the case may be. 

So I think, you know, if I had to advise anyone on anything, it would be to make sure that you have a good team around you, and don’t be frightened of building a team.

Did you consider any other options before choosing Undercover Architect’s courses?

No, I didn’t. I thought she was fantastic from the beginning. Like I just thought she was, she came across really real, which was really lovely and normal. I thought her responses to people, whether via email, or on her question and answer days, I just thought her response was really real. 

And no question was too stupid, basically. Because in your head, you think that’s a great question. But then when it gets read out, you think, ‘oh, gee, that was a bad question’, or that was stupid. But she was so genuine. And I think that’s, I think that’s the wonderful quality that she does have. And I think we see that, is that she’s very genuine. So I wouldn’t go with anyone else. I think she’s great. 

What made you decide to use a paid course vs doing it alone?

I probably took the first one up as a, you know, to test the waters with it, basically, to see what she had to offer with regard to it. 

And I think with doing the courses, it just really hones down each aspect of, whether you’re doing, you’re at a bathroom stage, or whether you’re doing a budget stage, or where you are, those courses really honed down and made you focus on that particular area, at that particular time, to get the best out of it. 

So, I really would recommend it, if it’s possible for people, to take a course on and just see how you feel. 

And like I said, I think I’ve done about three of the courses, and have thoroughly enjoyed all and I thought each one was quite beneficial. 

Is there anything you’re doing differently because of what you learned from Undercover Architect’s course?

Yes, I did a renovation a long time ago, when my husband I first got married and had children, and really knew nothing, absolutely nothing. Nothing about budgeting, nothing about how a build works. Nothing about what the builder is responsible for, or what all the other trades are responsible for. 

So really, I knew nothing about it. With the Undercover Architect, I feel that with my knowledge base, it was better. 

I didn’t know much with that first renovation. But I do know a lot more now. 

So I really feel like I can hold people responsible. So within the tradie group itself, and within my group itself, I know that they’re accountable for certain things that they have to deliver. 

And I suppose that’s what I know now, is that I just don’t have to go out and believe what they have to say. I make them accountable for what they’re saying and what they’re going to deliver are both the same thing. 

And plus, I would never have dreamt of … I have probably would never have dreamt of doing what I’m doing now. Because it’s quite a unique process, the Passive House certification. It’s quite a difficult process. 

And being rural and sort of a remote area, I’ve engaged a builder who’s been building for 30 years and has never built a Passive House. He’s gone off and done a Passive House course, which he’s never done before. 

And we’re really looking to educate our tradesmen in our town if they want to get on board with Passive House, to see what it’s like. So within their industry, within their workplace themselves, that they move that they may say something different and work towards that. 

So yeah, we’re sort of, we’re really stepping out there with the Passive House because we are remote, and we rural, and our tradesmen haven’t done Passive House before. It’s quite scary, actually.

But we’ve got a good team around us and I think we should be able to, hopefully, bring it across the line. 

So I would never have done that. I would never even in my wildest dreams have gone this way. I would have probably gone down a standard boxed, you know … wouldn’t have thought about orientation, wouldn’t have thought about any of those things. 

And so this is so different, it’s so much better. The outcomes will be so much better.

Can you explain more about what a Passive House (or Passivhaus) is?

Well, the Passive House is quite stringent, to get certification, it’s quite a stringent model. And a lot of things go into that model. 

So it looks at thermal wrapping of the house for air tightness. It looks at the windows that, uh, that are thermally broken, so they don’t let in the cool, or let the hot or cool air in and out. So the inside temperature stays somewhere around 21 degrees all year round. So you may not need to have that passive heating or cooling. The air circulates within the house through a ventilation recovery system. 

So yeah, it’s just a, it’s just a wonderful, environmentally friendly and healthy house to be in. 

And I suppose what draws me to it is the fact that there’s a scientific basis for all of it. It’s well insulated, we don’t have to … we’re off a farm, so we don’t have to go and find our firewood to heat our house in the winter. So it’s always going to be quite a nice warm temperature. We don’t have to have extra cooling above, perhaps a room fan, or maybe a small split system in the days where we get, you know, very, very, very hot days over 45 to 50 (degrees). 

So I think I’m looking forward to those comforts within the house that we don’t have to explore and get, go and find like, you know, extra wood or, you know, things like that. The house should be quite comfortable and lovely to live in. And I’m looking forward to that. 

I’m looking forward to having a point of difference in the house where we’ve done something quite incredible in this rural, remote setting. 

And we sort of started off journey with the house being able to be duplicated easily for people. Easily for our builders – or easier, not easy, because it’s difficult, but builders can do it. And they can do another house within the town. So our model would be to be replicated easily for people. Not make it hard for people to become Passive House owners within the town. 

And we’re going to be up against it. Because we’re, you know, we are rural remote, you know. People within our group and moving on to other areas. So we’re going to have to do a lot of what we’re doing now, which is zoom or a lot of distance, checking and ticking off the boxes to get what we want over the line. 

But, you know, I think with Amelia’s help and the knowledge that she’s given us, we’re able to you know navigate that road better, I think.

Because it’s going to be quite … I think building a house is difficult anyway. But building a house where we’re at will be difficult, but I think Amelia has given us that ability to navigate that a lot better.

Tell me more about Passive Houses …

So I’m very excited. I hope we pull it off. But like I said, I would never have even thought to do it without Amelia’s guidance, and her podcasts, and energy and information and all the lovely different people that she brings into it as well. They’re very genuine as well, happy to share their knowledge. 

And I think that’s really good because it just, you know, it helps you become more, you know, stronger and active in what you want to participate in, when you’re building your home rather than passive and sit back and do nothing.

How have the courses specifically saved you time or money?

The one I did love was the bit you know, giving you the roadmap and keeping your budgeting and knowing where to go. 

But the one I loved the most was the Interior Design 101 course. 

Because you’ve watched so many TV shows, and you think you’ve got a handle on it, and it looks so lovely, and they gave some wonderful ideas and information with regard to that. And I probably would have thought it’s something I could do myself. 

But really, I’ve engaged an Interior Designer to help me. And just her knowledge in her chosen area, her field of interior design has just helped me, and has taken a lot off my shoulders as well, with regard to what tile would go here, or what would do that, or how big that needs to be, or how far does that tap need to be away. Her knowledge of that has allowed me to do other things, so that the time for that, the time saving in that was quite incredible.

So yeah, that was a really good course.

But they’re all good courses in their own time. Because what happens is with the courses, you do the course and you think that’s terrific, and then you move, you keep moving forward with your ideas and your build, and the next course comes up. And that’s specific to where you are now and you move on and move on.

And then you get to thinking about, I’m not going too bad here, I think I can go start thinking about paint colours. And so then the interior design course comes up, and then you get lots and lots more ideas. 

So each course sort of comes in at a really good time, when you’re thinking and dreaming about where your house is and how far you’ve moved along with the build of your home.

How did the course help you avoid mistakes and dramas?

Well, I think the budget, that’s the big one, I think it’s knowing, knowing and sticking to your budget, I think. So that was quite good. Because I think we can sometimes go beyond our budget, and with our hopes and our dreams and our wishes for our house. And I think once you sort of put that in, it really nuts down what you want. 

And I think she also talks about, you know, not over building … rooms and spaces that we don’t need, or making rooms and spaces work better for us. So that was really good, because then you can really nut down on your plan, what you really need and avoid the mistake of building too big. You know, maybe I need a room, maybe I need this, I could, oh, that would be lovely.

So it really makes you think when you do put a budget in and she was very big on the budget and getting the budget down. I think it really nuts down what you want in your house and how you want it to perform. I think that was quite big. 

And then the other thing was, just because you might have a lovely view to the west, you don’t want to – you don’t want to put your home facing west, if you can get away with it. You want to use the orientation and the beautiful sunlight that we have here in Australia to compliment your house. 

So, you know, rather than making rookie mistakes like that … little mistakes that you know, you may not even think about. These courses stop you from making those mistakes and getting a plan to do it right, so then you can move on to the next best step as well. 

So it’s about getting the information, so you can do it right. And then you can move on to the next thing and do it right. And that’s really important, because it’s such a process to build a home. It’s a lot of money, a big process.

Each step you want to do it right. Because once you know, it might be hard to reverse those mistakes, if you don’t have that plan in place already.

What has been the best thing about the Undercover Architect’s course?

I would say that the best thing after doing the courses and listening to the podcast was probably just what I said before – was really knowing what you want from your house. I think that’s been one of the best things. 

And the more information that Amelia has given us, through the courses and her podcasts and interviews, really nuts down what you want, I think. And then, from there, was making that big step to go towards Passive House. Yeah, I think I think that was fantastic.

She did a podcast with a lady from Passive House: architect, builder, and homeowner, and it was so interesting, and sort of just opened your eyes to another level of building. And I think that’s been, that was the biggest thing. One of the biggest things, I think, was to get that end product of the house just right, just spot on.

What would you say to anybody considering doing the course?

I think sometimes when you do testimonials, you don’t tend to believe what the person has to say, because you don’t think it’s real. 

But what I can say is, is that the Undercover Architect, Amelia, are very genuine and real. 

She has a great desire for people to move through building a home, renovating a home, getting the best out of their house for themselves and their family. 

And I would say, if you are thinking about it, or you’re on the fence, do it. Just go in, do the courses, you will get so much out of it. 

And then as you move through the process of planning your home, you’ll do another course. And then you’ll get so much more out of it. And then every stage of the build that you’re doing will become more clear for you. 

And you’ll feel more confident. And you’ll just hold your ground when a problem comes up. You won’t panic about it. And this is what the courses do. And the podcast does. 

It just gives you the confidence to stand your ground, have a think about where you’re going, have the knowledge to move forward, and then move forward confidently towards the end build. 

So if you’re sitting on the fence, get off it. That’s what I say.

Anything else you would like to share?

I just know that without the Undercover Architect, I wouldn’t be where I am now with the house and the house design. 

I wouldn’t have engaged with the people and the team that I’ve engaged. I wouldn’t even I wouldn’t have even have had the idea to think about it. 

So without her help, I just wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t have the confidence to take this, this completely strange Passive House build, back in the country with all newbie Passive House people. I just would never have had the confidence to do that. 

And I’m very grateful for Amelia and her courses. Because I hope one day, we’ll be having another chat, you and I, and I’ll be saying “why don’t you leave France and come over to Australia and come and stay at my house. A lovely Passive House in the rural setting”. 

And I think once that’s done, I’ll be, I’ll be very very pleased with myself. But you know, she gives great confidence in moving forward. 

Better design. Better homes, all the rest of it. 

Yeah, she’s wonderful.
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