Sustainable Homes

An Unbelievably Energy Efficient 100-Year-Old Workers’ Cottage!

It’s one thing to construct a new house in accordance with modern sustainability standards, but renovating an existing heritage home to meet this same criteria is another task altogether. While many designers and builders will advise completely demolishing and starting over, the owners of this Yarraville house were keen to honour their home’s history – without compromising on sustainability.

With the expertise of Altereco Design, this workers’ cottage in Yarraville has been totally transformed with recycled materials, and is powered predominantly by solar. Prepare to be inspired!

Amelia Barnes
Supported By Bank Australia

The sleek, contemporary K2 kitchen system by Cantilever, incorporated into this stunning renovation by Altereco Design in Yarraville. Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Inbuilt storage and seating maximises the footprint of this renovated cottage. Photos – Nikole Ramsay.

K2 kitchen system by Cantilever, interior design and renovation by Altereco Design. Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

The extension makes use of recycled red bricks – making use of reclaimed materials, and adding thermal mass. Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

A ladder in the backyard allows for easy access to the green roof! Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

The green roof and solar panels. Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

The charming heritage frontage of this 100 year old home! Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Amelia Barnes
14th of July 2020

If you thought you couldn’t renovate a period home to an energy efficient standard, think again. This 100-year-old workers’ cottage has not only been beautifully updated, it now achieves a 7.4 star NatHERS (Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme) star rating, thanks to an impressive suite of new sustainability features!

The owners, Scott and Leanne Thompson, didn’t lay eyes on the property until auction day, and despite its ‘terrible, terrible condition’, they bought it anyway. With its northern orientation and proximity to public transport, they were confident they could transform the home into something special for their growing family.

Given the age and condition of the existing house, many professionals advised completely demolishing and rebuilding. However, Scott and Leanne were keen to retain as much of the existing building fabric as possible, especially after Scott coincidentally discovered that the house had previously belonged to his grandmother’s carer. Elements such as a rear lean-to and outhouse (the only toilet on the property!) had to go, but around half of the original building was able to be salvaged and restored.

As the owners of sustainability consultancy Melbourne Vernacular, it was always Scott and Leanne’s intention to incorporate energy-efficient design features into their home. The pair engaged Altereco Design to help achieve this mission, and in turn spark wider conversations about the possibilities of sustainable design through action. ‘Our big goal was to try and prove that sustainability and interior design are one and the same – they’re not separate,’ says Scott. ‘We wanted it to perform as best as it could, but we also wanted to create something that was really appealing visually.’ The sentiments are echoed by the design team at Altereco. As James Goodlet, director and founder of Altereco, explains, ‘What we’ve found is if we actually focus on the health of the occupants and their comfort, then as a byproduct we’re actually creating very sustainable outcomes.’

One key element that adds to this property’s sustainability credentials (while maximising outdoor space on the relatively compact 186 square metre site) is the incredible green roof featuring native, water-wise plants. ‘That 30 square metre green roof – if we were to buy a block that much bigger, that would have cost us $50,000 or more, whereas to build that green roof didn’t cost nearly as much,’ says Scott. The green roof is also able to be appreciated internally via highlight windows in the bathrooms and hallway. ‘It’s created this amazing outdoor space that isn’t shaded by other houses or fences, it has a really cool outlook, and it provides insulation for the house,’ Scott says.

Most importantly, though, is the home’s emphasis on energy efficiency. Having a 4.5kW solar system and no gas connection significantly reduces the home’s energy use, and saves the family about $1500 a year on utility bills. This has enabled Scott and Leanne to make considerable savings over the course of this project, and they’re keen to highlight the financial benefits of sustainable home design. ‘People think that if you’re building sustainably there’s somehow going to be a sacrifice – whether it be in cost or aesthetics – but Bank Australia offers a no compromise situation,’ says Scott. ‘Banking with them has made it all so affordable.’

In partnership with Bank Australia, we’re bringing you this series on Sustainable Homes. Bank Australia’s Clean Energy Home Loan offers a discounted home loan rate if you buy or build a home that exceeds a 7-star NatHERS rating. Find out more here!


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