Sparking joy

Clever spatial planning, high levels of insulation and a switch to all-electric make this stately Melbourne period home more liveable and efficient.

At a glance

  • Period home upgraded and gas supply removed
  • Uninspired 1990s extension transformed for light and park views
  • Energy rating raised from 2.2 to 5.8 Stars

Over the back fence from Sherrin and George’s inner suburban Melbourne home sits a quiet park with a gentle slope down to the train station. However, the 1990s extension by previous owners had the couple and their two children disconnected from the park, the backyard, and the benefits of the northern sun such as natural heating in winter. “The layout was all wrong, with the bathroom and laundry enclosing the back of the home. It was dark and depressing, with no light,” says Sherrin.

A northern outlook wasn’t the only thing on their minds when planning the renovation of the period home. They wanted to lift its energy efficiency from a lowly 2.2 Stars and switch to all-electric appliances, while keeping the hydronic heating, minus the gas. The shift to electric appliances was “bleedingly obvious”, says Sherrin, not only because she is aware of the efficiency of all-electric systems as a renewable energy engineer, but also through the couple’s experience of heating a poorly insulated house with gas. “The house had only R1.5 insulation in the ceiling and in winter the gas heating was on all the time – it was expensive,” says George.

George and Sherrin's renovation and small extension prioritised better energy efficiency and improved connection to the backyard.

Building designer Logan Shield from Geometrica and interior and retrofit expert Megan Norgate from Brave New Eco collaborated on the renovation. “I focused on the shell and Megan the interior, but our philosophies worked together,” says Logan. “We could have done a substantial extension, but instead decided to stay small and be a bit smart with how we laid the house out – the better environmental choice.” The footprint of the updated home pushes just two metres beyond where the closed-in laundry and bathroom used to sit – now replaced with a sunlit living area – and the existing spaces were reconfigured.

“We looked at what inherent qualities the house had and how to use these to add to the amenity of the house,” says Megan, including taking advantage of the generous room sizes and reconfiguring the design to add an enclosed laundry to the dining room. The false ceiling from the 1990s extension has been removed to create greater airflow and continuity throughout the home, with the team settling for a height in between the original and false ceiling. The full-height ceiling has been reinstated in the laundry, though, with a new storage loft in the 3.6-metre-high space as well as drying racks up where the warm air settles.

The new part of the house includes extensive north-facing glazing for increased light and for the borrowed view of the adjacent park. Inside, the laundry takes advantage of the home's original high ceilings for storage space and clothes drying. “The heat collecting up high was the perfect place for drying racks,” says designer Megan.

The design team wanted the borrowed landscape of the park to be glimpsed from the front door, and for light from the rear north of the house to brighten the darker front area. A glazed pivot door was devised mid-build to replace a solid door at the end of the wide corridor, to allow the front and rear of the house to be zoned thermally and acoustically without blocking light and views. Clerestory windows above the rear glass doors further capture treetop glimpses and natural light, and the open plan dining and living space has been delineated with a double-sided ethanol fireplace and joinery unit designed to allow views from the dining area to the rear garden. “We’ve been able to turn it from a poorly planned, awkward extension into something that beautifully opens to the back with northern light,” says Logan.

The decision to replace the floorboards throughout gave an opportunity for underfloor insulation to be installed, and George and Sherrin decided to do blow-in insulation in the original part of the house too. “The blow-in insulation made a massive difference to the Star rating and energy efficiency,” says Logan; the rating is now 5.8 Stars overall, and considerably higher in the north-facing section when it is zoned, according to the owners.

The double-glazed north-facing windows and doors in the kitchen and living areas are protected from the summer sun by wide eaves, and in one case a deep shroud. The window frames are a feature, with powder-coated aluminium outside for greater durability and FSC-certified hardwood inside. Logan explains that the adjustable louvre roof on the updated pergola off the kitchen gives more flexibility to shade the windows over the shoulder months. “The deck is like a cool microclimate when the misting fan is on and the louvres are closed,” says Sherrin.

“We furnished the house with furniture made from sustainable materials and custom made by local manufacturers. The only thing not local is the Fair Trade rug,” says Megan.

The recently installed solar PV system is the final piece in the electrification of the home, sized to be able to run most appliances year-round, even during winter cold snaps. Converting the gas hydronic heating to electric was not straightforward: there was a limited range of electric heat pump boilers available, and the existing radiator panels had to be replaced due to the lower running temperature, but Sherrin and George are happy with the result. A three-phase electricity supply was installed during the upgrade, with plans for an electric car down the track that will also act as a home battery via bi-directional charging.

Megan gives credit to the couple’s persistence in getting better design and energy efficiency outcomes. “It’s really nice when the client doesn’t run out of steam, and Sherrin and George’s commitment has meant it is a well-resolved and comfortable home,” she says.

Brave New Eco & Geometrica
Stan Elder, Elder Constructions
Ascot Vale, VIC (Wurundjeri Country)
House 186m2, verandah 34m2, land 418m2
Energy rating
5.8 Stars
Energy assessor
Tamar Boyd, Blue Lotus Energy Rating

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