In the first of a three-part series, sustainable design engineer and founder of the SpurTopia lifestyle blog Roman Spur shares his case study on how his family created a sustainable lifestyle and lived for less in a Brisbane unit.

For six years my family – myself, my wife Jana and our daughter Lada – lived in a rental property in a Brisbane’s New Farm between 2009 to 2015. We adopted a lifestyle of becoming more self-sufficient while also saving money. We did this by growing our own food, using resources readily available to us and using the urban environment to our benefit.

As a result, we created a more resilient existence without a need of buying as much. More importantly, living in a block of five units, we created a small functional community that shared and looked out for each other.

Sustainable living to us means an enhancement of life, lowering our living expenses and being environmentally aware, without compromising our comfort or incurring extra expenditure. I believe we created a useful example of what sustainable living can be in a rental property. We shared our experience and knowledge with the general public via newspaper articles, radio interviews, TV programs, presentations and workshops.

 Roman and family

Our main focus for the project was creating future resilience in city living. We achieved this by:

  • Using solar power for solar hot water generation and cooking
  • Using all available space e.g. vertical gardening and a concrete yard with a 3D vegetable pyramid created from invented self-watering planter boxes
  • Using local resources (e.g. fruit and vegie scraps from local shops, kerbside items etc.)
  • Harvesting rainwater and reusing grey water
  • Gaining food sovereignty via organic gardening
  • Empowering the local community by sharing and swapping produce
  • Farming urban animals such as chickens and a worm farm (see Brisbane City Council regulations on keeping chickens).

I’ll share some details about these initiatives in both this and future articles.

7 sustainable tips for unit living

A planter box – a cheap and practical option for unit balconies.

Grow your own food

Use a small garden bed of available, or pots, even in a self-watering planter box. Try sprouts, one of the healthiest, freshest and cheapest superfoods around.

Recycle organic materials

Recycle your organic kitchen scraps, newspaper and cardboard in a worm farm or a bokashi bin. Bokashi bin composting is especially suitable for apartment kitchens.

Buy green power

Purchase 100 per cent green power from your electricity supplier. It doesn’t cost a fortune (e.g. extra 5c per kWh), and your power comes from renewable sources of energy.


Give stuff away, get stuff for free from a web-based Freecycle organisation in your local area.

Create a functional community

Get to know your neighbours in nearby units, swap produce, give stuff away, socialise. It’s fun and creates a sense of belonging.

Active transport

Walking, cycling and using public transport are better for the environment (e.g. reduced carbon emissions) and your health.

Live the Five R’s mantra

Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle, where refuse is the first and most important and recycle is the last.

Growing bean sprouts

More at

Next month in Part 2 of this Live for Less series, Roman focuses on how to grow your own food when living in a unit.