Whether you’re renovating for resale, rental or long-term liveability, every signal has turned green.
BY May next year, the state government will increase the residential energy efficiency standard from five to six stars.
The star rating system applies to all renovation projects that require a building permit, but varies depending on the size of the alteration. For larger additions the whole house must comply, while for smaller changes only the new part must adhere to the rules.
The state government will also soon phase-in compulsory eco-scorecards at the point of sale and lease. With more and more people seeking energy efficient housing, it’s wise to renovate green to make sure your home doesn’t fall behind.
Here are some principles to follow:
Orientation, glazing and thermal mass
“The primary aim of the renovation should be passive solar performance,” says architect Mark Sanders from Third Ecology in Geelong. “That means getting living areas facing north.”
If your block has a north-facing backyard (or, on a wide block, a north-facing side), you’re in luck.
The task is more difficult if you want to extend to the south. One solution is to design a courtyard between the old and new parts of the home, thereby creating a northerly aspect and allowing the sun into the extension.
Mr Sanders says it’s crucial to combine smart orientation with appropriately shaded windows that allow the sun in during winter, and block it out over summer. “We also try to incorporate a concrete slab to the north, so we’ve got thermal mass to store and re-radiate the heat,” he says.
One result of the step up to higher building efficiency standards may be that designers pay closer attention to the placing and quality of windows. To lift the overall performance, choose fewer, smaller or better windows for the southern and western sides of your home. “It’s preferable to use double glazing,” Mr Sanders says, “or single glazing with decent window coverings.”
Mr Sanders recommends householders commission a star rating of their home early in the planning stage. It’ll help identify weaknesses in the performance of the existing building fabric, and pinpoint how they can best be remedied.
“It’s not a compliance requirement, but we just think it’s an important part of a holistic review,” he says.
He used the process for his own house, a Victorian-era home he lifted from zero to six stars. “That meant insulating the walls and floors and doubling the insulation in the ceiling,” he says.
Wall insulation is essential to achieve high star ratings, and a renovation can provide a rare chance to install it relatively cheaply. Mr Sanders’ method was to cut out a section of plasterboard in the middle of the walls. “We slipped insulation up and down and re-plastered without touching the cornices and skirting boards,” he says.
Heating, cooling and ventilation
There’s a wide range of heating options, and the one you choose will depend on the your house. But according to sustainability consultant Malcolm Wilkie, zoning is non-negotiable. “Heat the living room and close off the areas you don’t need. Bedrooms and hallways don’t need to be heated.”
Mr Wilkie says air conditioning isn’t necessary in a house that has been renovated to provide good orientation, shading and insulation. “If you’ve got the house right, all you need is a little bit of air movement on really hot days, and fans will do that.” Be sure that your windows can be opened for cross-ventilation at night or when a cool change comes through.
When it comes to lighting, Mr Wilkie has one golden rule: “Don’t install low-voltage halogen downlights.”
Despite their popularity, halogen downlights are terribly inefficient, expensive to run and need gaps in ceiling insulation to reduce fire risk.
He suggests pendant fittings or wall-mounted up-lights instead. “It’s better to use bright task lighting only where you need it, like over a reading chair, and not to flood the whole room with light,” he says. “It’s more creative and creates a much nicer ambience.”
Mr Wilkie also recommends that renovators let in as much natural light as possible. With a combination of skylights and roof windows, he says, “during the day you shouldn’t need to have any artificial lighting on at all.”
If you want to save water, time and money, your pipes and plumbing mustn’t be an afterthought. Stuart McQuire, author of Water Not Down the Drain, advises early planning for water tank placement and use.
“If you’re re-doing spouting or guttering, direct it towards a place where you can fit the tank, and get as much of your roof going there as possible,” he says. “Sometimes a renovation opens access briefly, so you might need to order it before you put the frame up.”
Rainwater can be used for the garden, or connected to toilets, the laundry, hot water, or even the whole house – depending on how much you can collect.
“If you want to water your garden, get the biggest tank you can fit and afford. When there’s an extended dry spell, that’s when you’ll appreciate it,” Mr McQuire says. “But if it’s just for toilet flushing or even for the laundry, you don’t need a huge tank.”
Even if you aren’t installing tanks or connecting toilets and greywater immediately, a little extra plumbing up front will leave your options open – and save a lot of hassle later on.
“If you are renovating the bathroom, put the plumbing in so you can run rainwater to the toilet. It’s a lot harder to do once the walls and floors are there. The same thing applies to greywater, because it might be impossible to do later without pulling your bathroom and laundry apart,” he says.
When you choose fittings for the bathroom, laundry or kitchen, look out for the Water Saving and Efficiency Labels and Standards (WELS) scheme. The labels include a star rating – up to six stars – and a flow rate in litres. Good fittings will save you hot water, and therefore, energy too.
For even better hot water efficiency, Mr McQuire recommends householders opt for a solar water heater, if they’ve got a roof that isn’t too shaded by trees or neighbours.
For more tips, see the Your Home Renovator’s Guide.