Designing Efficiency

Jigsaw Housing

For many, the process of buying or building a home includes scanning property listings and collecting decontextualised and disconnected bits of data – total square metres, number of bathrooms or bedrooms, and so on; but often, homebuyers find that these numbers do not provide them with the information they truly need to answer the most important question – ‘Will I love living in this home?’

The people of Jigsaw Housing recognise that these numbers often mean little when creating a home that is a joy to live in, and for the last five years have worked to shift the existing paradigm that the best house is the biggest house, instead choosing to focus on innovative, efficient homes, cleverly designed with homeowners’ needs in mind.

The story of Jigsaw Housing began with a small block of land in the northern suburbs of Canberra, renowned for its tightly packed homes, owned by Tom Henderson, Builder and Managing Director. “I wanted to build and was interested in the challenge between affordability and energy efficient housing,” he explains.

Tom’s interest in sustainable, innovative, and energy efficient housing that could be easily replicated on a modest budget paved the way for what would become Jigsaw Housing. Tom found a like mind in Andrew Verri, Architect and Design Team Leader, and Director of Jigsaw Housing, after working with a handful of designers who didn’t quite understand what he was looking to create.

In Canberra, new homes must be built to reach a minimum energy star rating of six out of a potential ten stars. In order to create the most efficient design possible, Tom enlisted the help of Jenny Edwards, Science Team Leader and Jigsaw Housing Director, who was able to apply advanced scientific techniques to improve the efficiency of the design and offered constructive feedback for the team. “After providing advice at the design stage, Jenny then came in at the end of the build to pressure test and thermal image the house for air leaks and insulation gaps, both of which are not required in Australia and fairly uncommon – but we were interested in knowing that what was designed and planned was in fact what we built.”

Having experienced such great success with their first project, the three decided to create a new business together, Jigsaw Housing, to meet the growing demand of Canberra’s population for innovative, intelligently design efficient housing. “When Tom presented this idea of what he wanted to do, it already sat well with what I wanted to do, and there was an opportunity to have different and complementing skills,” explains Andrew.

At its core, Jigsaw is made up of three partners working in collaboration, each providing a specific skill-set to the team. The architect, the builder, and the scientist work together to create some of the most innovative and efficient homes in the Canberra area by pooling and blending their knowledge base in order to create something truly special for clients.

Australia currently builds some of the largest new homes in the world, bigger even than in the United States of America. Many new homes are poorly designed for their climate and suffer from leaks and air leaks, offering a very low level of efficiency, ultimately becoming prohibitively expensive for new homeowners to heat and cool. The trend toward what some have called ‘McMansions’ has left many Canberra home-buyers with few options to build or buy modestly sized, intelligently designed homes.

“I think from the start, we had a very different approach,” says Tom. “We were interested in very well designed, well proportioned homes, very functional spaces where you could easily fit a family into a smaller floor space that is well insulated and takes great advantage of the fantastic free resource that we’ve got so much of here, which is the sun.” Tom, Jenny, and Andrew also knew that Canberra offered a great untapped market of socially and environmentally aware potential home owners waiting for the opportunity to create something different than the standard fare.

The group’s philosophy of design focuses on smaller, smarter houses that employ excellent design to feel spacious. Jigsaw is able to create functional homes with much smaller footprints, which are able to exceed buyers’ expectations in terms of what can be achieved within a particular square metreage.

“Most people have come to expect that a four bedroom, two bathroom home surely has to be 250 square metres, but we can do it in 165 through fantastic design and orientation. The homes feel spacious and light, and are incredibly warm over winter and cool over summer,” explains Jenny.

The company started in late 2010 with the original team of three, but today includes fourteen fulltime staff and several more part-time. “The big challenge has been controlling our growth because of the incredible demand for our services.” The team at Jigsaw is well aware that unchecked growth would cause them to lose their most important quality – the ability to effectively collaborate during the design and building of each project.

Indeed, the company employs a unique collaborative structure which encourages sharing information across three distinct, yet inter-connected, disciplines. At Jigsaw Housing, the Architect, the Builder, and the Scientist work together to create homes designed for the people living in them and the environment around them. From the most particular element of design, right on through to the build or renovation process, the group’s integrated approach streamlines and simplifies the sustainable building process, and the team ensures that clients can expect clear and consistent communication every step of the way.

In order to facilitate a collaborative design process, Jigsaw employs Co-Construct, an innovative online project management and communication tool which allows clients to take part in the whole process from design to construction, with access to design decision and planning, including selections, plans, construction progress, photos, and more. Jigsaw’s approach includes not only internal collaboration; the company also highly values input from the communities in which it builds, gathering authentically applicable data about what people truly want from their homes.

During open-forum meetings, Tom, Andrew, and Jenny met with the people of Canberra to include them in the process of creating the most efficient, appropriate homes for the community. “We asked people what they wanted and encouraged an open discussion about what makes a good home. The common themes were light, warmth, connection to the outdoors, and a good social space.”

They found that people didn’t speak about square metres, but instead of experiences like enjoying the comforting warmth of the winter sun through a window, or fun social spaces to gather in. “What was really valuable in that process was that it was three different disciplines engaging with the community. It’s not just us coming up with the ideas, but simply listening and not being biased, seeing what can be done, and applying it after the community has spoken.”

This process led to the development of Jigsaw Housing’s modular design concept, which the company has used to create a streamlined, efficient process for clients.

By recognising that homes include a number of key components, Jigsaw Housing developed modular building blocks that clients can use to develop homes that meet their particular needs, including bathroom, living, kitchen, dining, and utility modules. “By designing houses in this way, we have flexibility to put these modules together so that regardless of size and block orientation, we can maximise the solar orientation. By working with the modules we can simplify the design and create efficiency in the construction process.”

Once efficient, sustainable design decisions have been made, the group takes pride in its record of constructing high quality, award winning homes, built to last.

To be sure, Jigsaw has shown consistent commitment to leading the industry not only in smart design, but in the use of new methods and materials within standard construction (current building practice), “not changing the way we build, but building smarter”. The company’s construction team and tradespeople possess many years of experience across a variety of skill sets and take pride in providing quality craftsmanship.

As a market leader in ecologically friendly and energy efficient housing, Jigsaw engages sound scientific principles to ensure that each home the team designs and builds for clients meets the often harsh demands of Canberra’s climate. From the design phase through building, the group utilises software and scientific methodologies that take account of home dimensions, orientation, construction methods, and material to determine each home’s heating and cooling requirements.

Using thermal imaging techniques, fan depressurisation, and other processes, Jigsaw is able to provide completed homes that meet, and often exceed, Australia’s highest certification standards. Being able to provide clients with 8 star rated homes means that each home builder can be sure they will have the most appropriate home for their climate.

Moving forward, Jigsaw Housing plans to carefully manage its growth while working toward further consolidation and systemisation of its processes. The company continues to build a solid platform to facilitate continued organic growth to meet the incredible demand of clients for the company’s services. “We don’t want to expand just because we can, we want to build a solid foundation by placing the business building blocks in the right place,” says Andrew.

Though the company’s current focus is the development of stand-alone single residential homes, the group looks forward to diversification into new and exciting markets, such as town house communities (ie co-housing) which will also express Jigsaw’s unique building and design philosophy. “There’s opportunity to affect the way people live and relate together, which can be accomplished in the way these homes are built.”

And ultimately, Jigsaw Housing’s aim is to have a broader impact on the Australian industry, encouraging the trend toward efficiency conscious, innovative design that works for people and the environment. “If we keep doing what we are doing – we are already having an impact on the building industry – we can have that broader impact without having to grow enormously but by simply leading the way and showing what can be done.”

For more information about Jigsaw Housing, please visit

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September 25, 2020, 7:38 PM AEST