When it comes to renovating any home, the general advice is to live in it before commencing any large structural or cosmetic work. The thought process behind this is simple; the better you know your home, the more informed your renovation plans will be.
This, at least, was the case for Sue Thornton and Brett Stothers, who had rented their home in Preston, Melbourne, for two years before purchasing it from the owners in 2009. When it came time to renovate in late 2018, their 11 years in the old Edwardian gave them invaluable knowledge of the homes strengths, and more importantly, its flaws.
‘After living in the house for so many years beforehand, we had plenty of time to figure out what we wanted,’ says Sue.
At the top of their list was taking a sustainable approach, and together with architect Imogen Pullar and builder Mark Van Handel, of MVH Constructions, they transformed their beloved old home into an energy efficient one. Sue tells us how they did it!
What renovations have you made to the home since moving in?
The house had been renovated prior to us moving in, probably in the late 1990s. We lived in the house with that reno for as long as we could, but the kitchen and bathroom were starting to deteriorate, and other structural issues started to emerge that were going to cost money to fix up, so we knew we had a bigger task at hand. It was time to properly reconfigure the space to make it work for the whole family.
At what point did you decide you wanted to take a sustainable approach?
I think we always implicitly knew we would take as much a sustainable approach as we could. We had an informed conversation with our architect early on about sustainable design and construction techniques for sourcing materials and appliances locally; as well as repurposing or recycling what we could from the original house, and installing sustainable cooling and heating.
Our initial priorities were to have deep awnings and shade in the house design, and installing water tanks for both the household and for the garden. Once we spoke to [our architect] Imogen Pullar about incorporating other passive elements, we were excited to begin!
Where did you start? Was there much research involved?
It’s a lot of research and a lot of luck… Our search actually started with finding the right builder. We researched a few builders (mainly via social media) that were working locally, and started following their journey with houses similar to ours. We looked for builders who were talking about their use of material and constructions, their sustainability approach and their relationship with their clients. Eventually we made a shortlist of the builders we wanted to talk to. From there, we met Mark from MVH Constructions, who we connected with immediately.
Mark recommended a couple of designers and architects he had worked with previously to talk to about drawing up plans and taking our ideas further, and from there we met Imogen, who we also immediately knew was the right fit for us and understood what we wanted. We didn’t have to search further once we met them both.
Can you please outline the sustainable elements of your new home?
The house employs passive design, which considers site orientation and placement of windows, doors to capture natural lights, air flow, cross ventilation and regulates temperature.
We also installed a pergola on the exterior of house to allow for deciduous plantings that create shade in summer and mitigate sun and heat, but allow light to filter through in the winter months.
Plumbing fixtures and fittings were selected based on their high WELS rating to use water/heated water efficiently, and we installed a 5000L water tank to feed the toilets and garden.
We have double glazed windows and large sliding doors with timber frames placed to generate cross air flow and trap heating and cooling depending on the season. And we’re all electric with Induction cooking and heating.
Finally, we used timber panelling inside and outside to sequester carbon and installed new insulation in the walls, floor and roof to reduce heat transfer and noise/dust.
Did the inclusion of sustainable materials/elements impact the budget for the build at all?
No, the sustainable elements and design were core to the budget and the project. We could have skipped these elements but we consider the savings by having reduced energy and water bills more than make up for this.
Were there sustainable elements you didn’t know about, and did end up including?
We previously used gas cooking and ducted gas heating, and have shifted away to induction/electric cooking on the recommendation of our build team/architect as more sustainable options.
Were there sustainable elements you wanted to include, but couldn’t?
We would love to have installed solar roof panels during the build but this is something we now plan to do as a separate add on project. Instead, we chose to prioritise other sustainable elements that were required to be built into the house structure (ie couldn’t be added later) to allow us stay within our budget at the time.
Since upgrading the sustainability and energy efficiency of your home, how do you find living in your home now compared to before?
The house is so much more comfortable in the extremes of Melbourne summer and winters.
What do you love most about this home now?
The flow between the older front part of the house and the new open plan area at the back, the connection to the outdoor space and garden via the vine-covered pergola. I also love the simplicity of the design and the integrated and subtle use of textures, colours and materials makes it a very calm place to be.
We are really proud we have been able to elevate and improve traditional Edwardian design of the house and integrate modern and sustainable elements into the house without it feeling laboured.
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