There are good reasons to buy your home off the back of a truck.
WHEN Andrew and Tilley Govanstone first saw their house, it was in Vermont, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
“It was ideal,” Mr Govanstone recalls. “It was a classic 1950s Australian home. It had a lot of glass down one side – but it was all facing east.”
But the house’s poor orientation didn’t matter. A few months later, it was delivered to their vacant block in Portland, in four parts. There, it landed on new stumps, with the glass oriented north to best catch the sun.
That was 15 years ago. It cost $40,000 to purchase and move the home, plus rewiring, plumbing and re-plastering costs. “For $50,000 we got a fantastic split-level house. Every day we wake up in there is a pleasure,” he says.
Before they decided to recycle an old house, the couple had drawn up plans for a brand new dwelling. They had previously lived in a passive-solar designed home and become hooked on the comfort, natural light and cheap bills.
They wanted one of their own. “But the reality was that it was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and we didn’t want to spend that sort of money,” Mr Govanstone says.
By relocating a house they could get the orientation right, at least. And it gave them another kind of comfort too.
“We were able to pay it off very quickly,” he says. “We know other people who’ve made the same decision and have been very happy, because they’re not paying for it with their lives: they’re not locked into significant mortgages. It is extremely liberating.”
But it’s not without pitfalls – a lot can go wrong if the dwelling isn’t transported with care. Mr Govanstone suggests asking the moving contractor for the details of recent customers. Likewise, it’s smart to check your council’s rules before you invest too much time.
Under the building regulations, relocated houses are expected to meet the six-star rules, but surveyors have discretion to allow partial compliance where that’s not possible.
If that’s the case, is it still a good environmental choice? Ralph Horne, director of the centre for design at RMIT, says the life cycle benefits of reusing materials are significant. Unless you’re moving it a very long distance, the transport impact will be small in comparison.
For ongoing performance, consider whether the design suits the climate zone in the new location (for example, a Queenslander won’t cope well in Castlemaine) and the appropriateness of the orientation.
“Our studies of new housing in Victoria show you can lose a star of energy rating performance – and pay higher bills – if you point the house in the wrong direction,” Mr Horne says.
Relocated houses usually need to be re-plastered, and that’s a perfect chance to install insulation.
“The costs of the second-hand dwelling are much lower than a new one, and some of the savings should be ploughed into upgrades: adding insulation, sealing gaps and cracks, and adding double-glazing or shading according to the local climate,” he says.
As well as re-orienting their house, the Govanstones laid insulation in the ceiling and walls. They’ve since invested in a 5-kilowatt solar array and begun to replace the old windows with double-glazing. The next items on their list are solar hot water and underfloor insulation.
“With every passing year the microclimate within the house gets better,” he says.