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An Ultra Energy-Efficient Makeover Of A Victorian Country Home

Sustainable Homes

We’re always inspired by sustainable design, but there’s something particularly impressive about upgrading an older home to meet modern performance standards.

This particular period house in Victoria’s Hepburn Shire has been reworked and extended, with a new highly energy-efficient addition. Once a cold and poorly appointed space, the property now facilitates year-round comfort without relying on traditional heating or cooling systems.

We asked MRTN Architects how they did it!

4th August, 2020

This period cottage in Victoria’s Hepburn Shire has been reworked and extended, with a new highly energy-efficient addition by MRTN Architects. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The interior is lined with salvaged timber boards and plywood imparting a warm glow to the living spaces. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

A two-way fireplace allows heat to spread evenly throughout the extension when (rarely!) required. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Post-occupancy testing shows the house maintains a natural temperature between 18 and 26 degrees for 93 per cent of the year. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The level of energy efficiency can be put down to the home’s orientation, extended eaves that shade the house in summer, improved insulation, and internalised thermal mass in the concrete slab.  Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Timber adds texture and warmth while reducing the need for painted finishes. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

North-facing windows allow a generous flood of sunlight into the house all day. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The cohesive use of similar materials and colours on all surfaces helps to elongate the space. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Odd-lot tiles from the ‘70s and ‘80s sourced by the client feature in the kitchen. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Roof eaves ensure the harsh summer sun can’t quite make its way into the house, while the winter sun is welcomed in all day. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The aesthetic is reminiscent of Japanese architecture, which influenced the entire design. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Brick pavers salvaged from a neighbourhood skip now feature on the bathroom floor! Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The owners of this house, Martin and Cheryl. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The renovation and addition connects this house with its garden for the first time. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The dark timber cladding of the extension contrasts with the original cottage. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The home is located in Victoria’s beautiful Hepburn Shire region. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Energy-efficient appliances, solar panels, and a heat pump hot water system further add to the home’s eco-friendly credentials.  Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Conceptually the new addition has been designed as a long ‘shadow’ of the original cottage. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Amelia Barnes
Tuesday 4th August 2020

 ‘Quality design by its nature will incorporate a vast array of sustainable design attributes simply as part of good practice.’ – Antony Martin

The owners of this home, Martin and Cheryl, purchased the property in Victoria’s Hepburn Shire over two decades ago. While the couple loved its period charm and history, they described the original home as pokey and basic, with a consistent cold draft in winter. After 20 years, it was time to renovate.

The idea of demolishing the original cottage was initially proposed, but Martin, Cheryl and their architect, Antony Martin of MRTN Architects, soon agreed this would be better retained and extended. ‘We established the optimal siting for a home was in the existing location, so proposed instead to retain the original Victorian cottage, and only demolish a series of increasingly shoddy lean-to additions,’ says Antony Martin.

Conceptually, the new addition has been designed as a long ‘shadow’ of the original cottage, constructed with contrasting dark, timber cladding. North-facing windows invite in natural light and warmth, while harnessing the site’s previously overlooked views.

Martin and Cheryl have gone to great lengths to integrate recycled materials throughout the extension. Bricks from demolished rooms are now used as outdoor paving, odd-lot tiles from the ‘70s and ‘80s feature in the kitchen, and brick pavers salvaged from a neighbourhood skip now make up the bathroom floor! ‘Every tile is a testament to the client’s commitment to salvaged materials and low embodied energy,’ says Antony.

When stepping inside the now-completed home, its sustainable qualities are immediately evident. The near air-tight interior creates a distinct feeling of stillness, and natural light beams in through all directions. Every architectural decision makes sense, and serves a distinct purpose, from the reading nook bathed in the perfect amount of afternoon sunlight, to the two-way fireplace that allows heat to spread evenly throughout the space.

Timber cladding lines the walls and ceiling of the new extension, adding texture and warmth to the interiors while reducing the need for painted finishes. The aesthetic is reminiscent of Japanese architecture, which Antony explains influenced the entire design. ‘This project was designed shortly after returning from my first trip to Japan, where I had been deeply influenced by the traditional architecture I had seen there,’ says the architect. ‘The clients have also frequently visited Japan, as their son lives and works there, so they were also keen to explore ideas about the materiality, built form and landscape connections that are so evident in Japanese architecture.’

Most impressive about this home is its performance. Post-occupancy testing shows the house maintains a natural temperature between 18 and 26 degrees for 93 per cent of the year. ‘Pretty remarkable given how cold and hot this part of Victoria can get!’ says Antony. This level of energy efficiency can be put down to the home’s orientation, extended eaves that shade the house in summer, improved insulation, and internalised thermal mass in the concrete slab. Energy-efficient appliances, solar panels, and a heat pump hot water system further add to these eco-friendly credentials, resulting in an 8 star NatHERs energy rating.

It is clear that both Cheryl and Martin value living sustainably to a great extent, with their electric car parked out front, and their passionate commitment to creating an eco-friendly home. Not only is this home a simply wonderful place to be, but its running costs are slim to none, and its positive impact on future generations – immeasurable!

This story is part of our series on Sustainable Homes, brought to you in partnership with Bank Australia.

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, or have made ambitious green upgrades in the last 12 months. Find out more here!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net