When Danielle and Nathan bought their Victorian Queen Ann style house dating back to 1892 they knew period charm would come at the expense of thermal comfort. The Thornbury house was dark, cold and rated a measly one star for energy efficiency. Plus, it was clear the four original rooms and lean-to containing the kitchen and bathroom, courtesy of a later renovation, wasn’t sufficient for their growing family.
So the couple set about making the most of the home’s original building envelope to create a sustainable home for their family to enjoy for decades to come. “We wanted to live in a healthy, light-filled but hard-working house,” says Danielle.“We wanted to retain as much of the original fabric of the house as we could and not increase its footprint – on the environment or on our block of land.”
The striking steep pitched gable roof – and14-foot ceiling – was the key to creating more floor space without dramatically reducing the size of the garden. Working alongside Positive Footprints designers, Danielle and Nathan managed to keep three of the original rooms intact, and the fourth original room is now a laundry and bathroom with a staircase leading to a new upstairs area built into the existing roof space.
"We added a new kitchen, dining and lounge room downstairs,” says Danielle. “Upstairs consists of an open plan bedroom, living and study space with an enclosed bathroom and a small room behind the chimney. We also have a large upstairs patio garden, allowing us access to the solar hot water panels, constant sunshine and views.”
The house sits close to the land boundary on a small inner-city block, which made it tricky for sunlight to penetrate. The couple solved this problem by matching the roof pitch at the new back section of the house to the original street-facing façade – which can’t be altered because of heritage guidelines.
Tall north facing windows catch sunlight overthe neighbouring houses, which heats the kitchen and living spaces through thermal mass retained in the original double brick wall and new concrete floor, which is made from 60% cement replacement materials. “The thermal mass produced by retaining all of the original walls of the house – in some places they are three bricks thick – along with the concrete floors means we do not have to use our hydronic heating as often,” says Danielle.
During the warmer months, external blinds block sunlight from the north facing windows and heat-shifting fans transfer warm air from the new upstairs rooms to the two cooler downstairs bedrooms to create a comfortable temperature in the house. Windows are double-glazed and the walls are fitted with insulation.
The couple are thrilled that the house is now rated five stars. “We love the house and feel that we achieved everything we set out to,” says Danielle. “We now have a toddler and another child on the way and the house has proven to be adaptable and hard-working.”
In the wonderful world of hindsight, the couple would probably put the backyard water tank in a different place or underground to allow more space in the garden. They also would have liked to incorporate a pergola into the outside design to save on the installation of external awnings.
So how can budding renovators achieve a similar result? Danielle recommends doing lots of research and visiting sustainable open houses to “talk to as many builders and home owners as possible”.
The couple also recommend custom-made pieces created from sustainable materials as a great way to personalise a renovation. “One of our greatest thrills was in having our kitchen and bathrooms made using timbers from places we have visited or worked in by very talented people who enjoyed the process as much as we did,” says Danielle.
She says the couple found moving out and letting professionals manage the renovation confronting but “totally worth it”. However, they say saving some small projects for themselves helped them to feel involved in the renovation process.
It‘s easy to get the builder to do everything; however, we – although perhaps not so much my husband! – found great satisfaction in designing and building the external deck, paving and mosaic pathway, and building vegetable patches and planting out the garden,” says Danielle. “It also meant all of our friends helped along the way, which was fun!”
Text: Angela Tufvesson
Photography: Rhiannon Slater and Positive Footprints
Prepared with assistance from Green Magazine