Upping the stars

A sustainable renovation to this weatherboard means the family uses the same amount of energy for heating and cooling even though the floor plan is now 40% larger.


Simon works for Sustainability Victoria, so when he decided to renovate his 1958 weatherboard home – with, of course, sustainable features in mind – he knew obtaining an energy rating was the first step.

The Ringwood house cost a pretty penny to heat and cool but the news was worse than Simon expected: it was rated a measly 1.6 stars. What’s more, Simon and his wife, Linda, wanted to increase the floor size of the house to create more space for their growing family.

On the advice of his colleagues, Simon contacted several green builders. Some turned out not to be as green as promised, but in the end Simon and Linda found a green builder “who just really got us and got what we were talking about”.

Windows were double glazed timber with a 12mm argon-filled gap

As the size of the home increased during the renovation, so too did the sustainable features. On the outside, the heavy roof tiles were replaced with a lightweight steel roof that helps to reflect the hot summer sun. The mission brown weatherboards were painted a warm cream colour for much the same reason – and to improve the home’s aesthetic appeal.

Inside, all new windows as well as those that were moved to accommodate the renovation were double glazed with a 12mm argon-filled gap. “The bigger the gap, the more efficient the window is,” says Simon. It might sound huge, but the couple say they don’t notice the difference between their double and single glazed windows. However, they recommend choosing double glazing products manufactured by a smaller company as they found the products offered by larger companies “don’t do much more than normal well-laminated glass”.

The house has been fitted with wall, ceiling and floor insulation that exceeds the original energy report recommendations. All of the exterior walls now have R2.5 insulation fitted except for three walls that aren’t exposed to direct sun. The ceiling is fitted with R4.5 insulation and foil sarking – which was particularly tricky to fit in the old roof space where the original insulation was uneven and difficult to remove – while R2 floor insulation covers the old and new parts of the home.

Simon and Linda planned to renovate their house to an energy rating of 4.4 stars but were thrilled when the finished product achieved 5.3 stars. And the difference is noticeable. “We now run the heating and cooling far less than we ever did,” Simon says.

“We’ve added about 40% extra space to the house but our energy bill has not increased. It hasn’t decreased but considering the amount of extra room I’m quite happy with that.” During a hot summer’s day, the house is on average about 12 degrees cooler than the outside temperature – without the aid of air conditioning.

To reduce their overall eco-footprint, Simon and Linda also decided to boost the home’s water efficiency. Water tanks are connected to the washing machine, three toilets and outside taps – so the family only uses mains water for showering and washing dishes. “For a four-person house we use as much water as the bill says we should be using for one person,” says Simon.

Next, the couple have plans approved to build a second storey. The infrastructure has been put in place for the additional renovation so the roof can simply be lifted off and the additional rooms constructed.

So what will the couple do differently second time around? Surprisingly, not a great deal. They are quick to say they’ll use the same green builder and make the most of similar sustainable building techniques. By the time they add the top storey the cost of the renovation will equate to more than a completely new house, but Simon and Linda are proud of reusing the structure of the existing home and minimising waste.

As for their advice for other renovators? “Do your own research,” says Simon. “Work out what you want, talk to people and get as much information as you can – go to websites and do a lot of reading.” When seeking quotes from builders, the couple says it’s crucial to ask challenging questions about their building practices and beliefs. “Don’t ask them easy questions – ask them challenging questions about their behaviours and their beliefs and make sure they really are aligned with what you value,” says Simon.

Text: Angela Tufvesson

Photography: Roma Samuel

Prepared with assistance from Green Magazine

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Smarter Renovations profile – Upping the stars

A sustainable renovation to this weatherboard means the family uses the same amount of energy for heating and cooling even though the floor plan is now 40% larger.