Impossible House 2020

This profile is written and maintained by the homeowner, architect, or builder.

House Notes – Impossible House

Hello! I’m Laura Ryan and these are the plans for my tiny worker’s cottage in Newtown, Sydney. My goal is to transform it into a light-filled, off-grid home.

Watch our video here: ImPossible House Video

Register for the Sustainable House Day Webinar 11am Sunday 20 September here: ImPossible House Webinar

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Why so ‘impossible’?

It’s been far from easy to get to this point. In fact, according to the many architects, solar, water, legal and sustainability experts I’ve engaged with in the last 4 years, the project is near impossible! For a few key reasons:

1. The house is small and dark with difficult access.
2. It’s situated in the inner-city in a high-density area.
3. Space! (Or lack thereof.) It’s easy to be off the grid when you have the square meterage, but we only have 104m2 to work with. The limited roof space severely limits harvesting water and sunlight. The small block also makes it difficult to incorporate solar passive principles into the house.
4. Cost. I want to prove that it can be done for the same cost as a ‘normal’ renovation, or less.

But there’s more

On top of the above constraints (and just to make it even more difficult for the project team), I have imposed these requirements:

• No heating or cooling systems to be installed in the home, but the house has to be warm in winter and cool in summer.
• The electricity and water systems need to be self sufficient.
• We need to salvage as much of the existing property as possible for re-use in the new build.
• The house must look, feel and function like a “normal house”. The inhabitants should not have to make liveability sacrifices.
• Only sustainably sourced materials are to be used, e.g., there is no concrete.

So where have I landed? We will likely start work in early 2021, based on these solutions:

1. I will be self sufficient for water and electricity
None of the water I use will leave my property and I will not be connected to the mains. While I will be plugged into the power grid, I will have a battery and the goal is to never use electricity from the grid, only to put electricity back into the system.

Both the water and electricity solutions are non-standard. They have required engineering knowledge and extreme tenacity and persistence from my water and solar experts: Tony Towndrow from Rootzone for the water solution and Roland from Roland Lawrence Electrical for the solar.

2. My incredibly creative and solution-oriented architect, is also the builder
Paul Adams from Fairweather homes is the backbone of this project and has somehow managed to incorporate all my ideas into one tiny space. The building itself will be built off site and is predominantly made of wood.

3. My designer is not just incredibly talented, she is passionate about sustainability
Denby Dowling is tasked with making sure my home’s fittings, features and materials are sustainable without sacrificing quality or aesthetics.

4. I will have an incinerating toilet
I won’t be connected to the sewerage system.

I invite you to hear our story as we journey along this rocky road. We hope to inspire as well as provide useful tips and information for anyone else who wants to live sustainably in the city. I want people all over Australia (or the world!) to be able to take what I’ve learned on my journey and apply it to their new build or renovation. If I can do it, anyone can!!

Please join us on the day to see the designs for the new renovation and ask questions of the project team:

• Dr Laura Ryan Sponsor, client and homeowner

• Paul Adams (Fairweather Homes
Paul is an architect and director at Fairweather homes and is an expert in pre-fab.

• Denby Dowling (
Denby is a designer and project manager tasked with making sure that the house not only looks great but all the materials used in the build are as sustainable as possible.

• Roland Lawrence (
Roland is our solar off-grid specialist.

• Tony Towndrow (
Tony is our water harvesting and recycling specialist.

• Alicia Rijke (
Alicia is our planning expert

• Councillor Pauline Lockie (
Pauline and the Inner West Council are partnering with us on the project.


Years Open
    • Water harvesting and saving features:
    • Rainwater storage - Above ground
      Rainwater storage - Underground
      Grey water system

    • All-Electric Home?
    • Yes
    • Renewable energy used:
    • Solar PV off-grid
    • Size of PV system:
    • 7.11kW
    • House Size
    • 104
    • Roof
    • Metal (Colorbond)
    • Number of bedrooms
    • 2
    • Number of bathrooms
    • 1
    • Garden / Outdoors
    • Green walls
Newtown NSW 2042
    • Housing Type:
    • Workers Cottage
    • Project Type:
    • Renovation
    • Designer
    • Fairweather Homes

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