The previous owners of Leanne and Adrian’s single-fronted Victorian weatherboard house enjoyed the property over multiple generations for more than 90 years, so they were keen to retain its character while updating the home to modern standards of comfort.
“The person who lived in it before us had such a long history with it and really loved the house, even to its own detriment because he kept it together with putty,” says Leanne. “We wanted to keep the bones of the house but make it comfortable for us.”
Upon purchasing the Northcote home about 10 years ago, Leanne and Adrian renovated the front bedrooms and made basic improvements to the home’s liveability. While the focus was on comfort rather than sustainability, Leanne and Adrian inadvertently improved the home’s thermal comfort with a number of basic alternations. These included blocking a huge west-facing window that the previous owner had installed to prevent summer heat gain, which Leanne says dramatically stabilised the inside temperature during the warmer months.
The rear “lean-to” section of the house – including the kitchen, bathroom and outdoor toilet – sat idle for the next eight years. The couple welcomed their eldest daughter during this time and when the three-year-old bathed at a neighbour’s home and excitedly told Mum afterwards that “it was the most amazing thing – the water came out of the wall and straight into the bath” they knew it was time to complete part two of the renovation.
This time around, Leanne and Adrian set out to create a sustainable, energy efficient house, which they knew would translate to significant improvements in its year-round comfort. Keen to leave their own stamp on the history of the home and make the most of Adrian’s electrical trade – and save on a budget blowout – they chose not to employ an architect.
“It came to the point where we really knew what we wanted to do,” says Leanne. “We didn’t want to tie ourselves to a huge mortgage and we wanted to do a lot of it ourselves. Adrian is an electrician and he loves working with wood, and I wanted to be involved in the process.”
The result is a dramatic improvement to the rear of the house.
To maximise cross-ventilation, the back door was shifted to directly opposite the front door and windows have been repositioned. Rooms were rezoned and doors added to control the flow of air, particularly in the living room which now retains cosy heat during winter.
Budget constraints prevented the use of double glazing but the home’s eves were extended to control sunlight. “It’s about making the most of our position and allowing the sun to come in when we want it to,” says Leanne. “In the winter and summer it’s maximised.
Temperature in weatherboard houses is notoriously tricky to regulate, but Leanne says “going crazy on insulation” was the obvious and best solution. The couple fitted recycled polyester batts in the ceiling, walls and under the floorboards. A concrete slab replaced stilts in the rear of the property, which Leanne says prevents drafts and helps the home to maintain an even temperature.
Because the couple undertook the renovation sans architect, they researched every element of the process. Unsurprisingly, separating fact from marketing fiction and making a final decision for each element of the design was one of the most difficult aspects of the renovation.
In the end, Leanne says choosing products and tradespeople that aligned with their overall renovation ethos – to retain the character of the old home and improve its thermal comfort – was key.
“If you don’t have the means to work with an architect, it’s really about research and knowing what you want to do when you start,” she says. “Be prepared to do the legwork yourself and make sure your tradespeople understand where you’re going with the renovation and what you want from it."
Leanne and Adrian resisted the temptation to increase the floor size of their home and encroach on the large backyard. Instead they chose to keep the space – and an enormous jacaranda tree – for their children to enjoy. We wanted to make sure we looked after the jacaranda and that our family is able to appreciate it,” says Leanne. Given the history of the house, you’d expect they’ll enjoy it for years to come.
Text: Angela Tufvesson
Photography: Roma Samuel
Prepared with assistance from Green Magazine