Designing with Mother Earth in Mind

3 STEP GUIDE TO RENOVATING OR BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE HOME

A lot of you with current homes thinking of adding extra space are probably thinking the following:

‘Should I tear down my current home and rebuild it or should I renovate and extend it?’

Tearing down and rebuilding a new home or renovating and extending your current one depends on a lot of factors. Many of them are financial considerations but others depend on personal matters, sustainable solutions and the current condition of your home.

A lot of clients ask me this question during site consultations. You may have inherited an old family home, or bought one in a good suburb, but aren’t sure of what to do. We used to sweat over similar decisions with cars, tv’s and other household items. These are now just cheaper to buy new in lieu of fixing them. Imagine all this extra junk just filling up the planet. Homes are one of the biggest investments we make in our lifetime. It is a judgement call we need to make by exploring all the variables.

Renovate or build new?

From a sustainability point of view, it is always best to renovate and extend an existing home. This is because it will reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. This would always be our recommended course of action especially when it isn’t too costly, since upgrading buildings would give a better rating to the lifecycle analysis of your home. Sadly, some homes cannot be repaired and are best torn down. The right course of action is always a collection of financial, personal and logical decisions.

You will find there isn’t a right or wrong answer most of the time to this question. So, let’s do this step by step

Step 1

Do you have an emotional attachment to this home? How does your partner feel about it? This is what will drive the decision no matter what you think.

Determine this first. Your home should not be determined as a structure that is comfortable and energy efficient.

Consider your quality of life, think about the spaces you want to live in. If it’s something that you wouldn’t be happy living in it for a long time then you may already be leaning towards starting over anew.

For example, my parents are in this position now. We have our family home, mum and dad saved enough money over years to pay for it outright. Both my brother and I grew up there, eventually mum and dad are the only ones living there now. As mum and dad had struggled and toiled for years to buy this property it holds a very sentimental value to them. So, their original decision was, let’s fix this up and keep this value alive. For the last couple of
months we had been planning out how we will restore the family home to its former glory. This is when my parents started to see the road ahead of them. Extremely long one to say the least.

Anyways last month we talked to a builder who had experience in both renovating and building new homes. Mum and dad spoke to him and they walked around and through the home with him and his advice was ‘this will cost you too much to repair and restore. It will be cheaper to build a new home’. Our family home would cost my parents more to restore, take longer to renovate it and less energy efficient. Mum and dad will be left with the same size of a home (too big for just the 2 of them), a lower quality home (newer homes are more energy efficient) and they will be more out of pocket than rebuilding a new home.
So now my parent’s decision is to tear down their current home and build a new one in its stead.

Everyone’s situation is different and conclusions will be different but the process we go through will always be the same. Regardless of your situation understand the 3 different processes, financial, personal and logical.

Ask yourself the following questions

  • Deep deep down, do you want keep this home or tear it down?
  • Are you happy with the current layout of the home?
  • Can you modify the layout of your home to meet your future and current needs?
  • Do you see yourself living happily in this home in the future?
  • Do you want to sell this home in the future?
  • Will this home have a high value if you decide to sell it?
  • Step 2

    Assess the structure of your home. Is renovating your home a plausible option? Consult an engineer or builder to assess the structural integrity of your home before you go too far into the decisions. Make sure that the area you are proposing to renovate or extend is feasible and advisable.

    Step 3

    Think your Renovation through. When renovating what would you need to do to fix the whole home up to ensure it will perform.

  • Walls
    The most crucial factor of a wall is ensuring that it is an air and vapour barrier. If it isn’t then we lose the comfort, durability and energy performance of the home. If there is an air leak the home will be very drafty and expensive to heat during winter and cool during summer.
    Easiest way to fix up your walls is to add insulation. The most effective way to insulate a double brick wall is to use a ‘pump-in loose fill wall insulation’. There are many types of insulation out there. Ensure you check the product’s R-value (this is the measuring unit of a materials resistance against heat flow). The higher the value the greater the heat resistance, which in turn is better for energy savings.
    There are 2 ways to install this insulation. In some homes it’s possible to lift the roof tiles and access the cavity from the top of the wall. Drop a hose pipe into the cavity and the wall will be filled up from the bottom. With a tin roof this would be more costly as you would need to pull up the whole sheet to gain access. In this scenario it’s easier to drill holes in the wall between the bricks and pump the insulation through. Once finished insulating, fill up the holes with mortar again.
    If you like your home and the walls are in a good condition, insulating the existing walls is a good option to choose. There are heaps of savings there – demolition costs, and saving material and labour costs of rebuilding a whole new structure. Older homes are much smaller and have more wall divisions than modern homes. Don’t worry about these as the load bearing walls can be demolished and replaced with beams to create a much more open space.
  • Windows
    Timber windows do not conduct heat and are therefore known as being highly energy efficient. The downside of timber windows is that they require more maintenance than aluminium windows.
    Aluminium frames are more popular because they require little maintenance and are light and strong. Unfortunately, they aren’t very energy efficient, because aluminium is a good conductor of heat. To reduce this from happening install thermal breaks. A thermal break is an insulating material that is placed between the interior and exterior elements of the window frames. This will minimise the transfer of the heat and cold through the frames.
  • Roofs
    Is the roof structure durable and strong? Are your eaves long enough? Replace the roof by dropping new trusses onto the top of the home, if your home is good enough for retrofitting. If the structure is sound, but the tiles are grotty, a tin roof can replace them.
    Always insulate your roof space to increase thermal performance. There is a lot of heat lost during winter as warm air is usually lost through the roof.
  • In the End...

    Hopefully the above steps will help you with your decision on renovating, extending or demolishing and rebuilding your home. Whatever your decision, at the end of the day you should have a home where you’re happy. A home that is sustainable, durable and functional. These goals are easier to achieve when building a brand-new home but are also manageable when retrofitted and designed right.
    Renovations will produce waste, try and reuse as much of it as possible. Offer or sell anything of value that you don’t want. Recycle or throw away everything else as best as you can.

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