Plan your reno well, from design to details.
IF YOU’RE thinking about a green renovation, you need the right advice. Where should you begin?
There are many websites and workshops to help you turn the right sod. For an overview of the issues, the Your Home Renovator’s Guide is a great place to start. Also, you can still book in for a free home sustainability assessment through the federal government’s Green Loans program.
Architect David Hallett, from Archicentre, says the first step is to choose between moving, building or renovating. “Increasingly, people are deciding to knock down their house and build a new one on the same block. Renovating is often a more sustainable alternative, because you’re not building a whole new dwelling.”
Archicentre is the building advisory service of the Australian Institute of Architects. It runs regular free seminars on home renovation, covering topics such as design, construction and permits. The next one will be on June 15, in Hawthorn.
The organisation also offers a ‘design concept’ service. “It’s a feasibility study for people who want to know what’s possible,” he says. For between $1000 and $2000, an architect will visit your home, draw up concept plans and, most importantly, give you a cost estimate.
Over the last five years, Mr Hallet has observed among clients a growing appetite for sustainable add-ons. “But by and large,” he says, “people haven’t fully grasped the value of passive solar design.”
He recommends would-be renovators learn the basic concepts – such as placing living areas to the north to admit winter sun, minimising windows to the south, shading west windows and insulating heavily. “You can add solar panels or heavy curtains later, but you can’t add passive solar design. You have to build it into the house.
“It’s sometimes challenging with a renovation, because you can get buildings that face exactly the wrong way. That’s where the fun starts, and where good design skills come in,” Mr Hallett says.
Judy Glick agrees. Last year, she led the renovation of the EcoHouse at CERES Community Environment Park. “I can’t emphasise enough the value of clever design,” she says. “You can achieve what you want without making the house larger.”
The EcoHouse is a 1920s weatherboard home, relocated to the Brunswick East site in the mid-1980s as a sustainability education facility. The recent makeover set out to prove that older homes could be retrofitted to be sustainable, affordable and appealing. It included an internal reshuffle to create an open-plan kitchen and living area, as well as a refurb of fittings and furnishings.
Wherever possible, Ms Glick opted for local, natural, non-toxic, second-hand, renewable or recyclable materials. “You can examine the environmental impact of every decision, from the broad to the very fine,” she says.
But that’s an agony of issues to grapple with. To make things simpler, she recommends seeking out products bearing the Good Environmental Choice Australia tick. “If you get guidance from third-party accreditation, you can make decisions without having to go through all the research yourself.”
The EcoHouse is open every Saturday morning, from 10 am until 1 pm, with staff on hand to answer questions. “We have before and after photos, so you can see what it looked like,” Ms Glick says. “It’s a fantastic place to start, and to see what you can achieve.”