Thermal mix: modest Canberra renovation holds and catches the sun | Urban planning

A house many would consider knockout, rebuilding has been given new life as a comfortable, energy-efficient home by an ACT company that says their science-based architecture model can be applied to existing housing stock across Australia.

Prior to the renovation, owners Kathryn and Rachel – who asked for their family names to be kept private – say the house was “always cold in winter and warm in summer”. They decided to upgrade it when they moved from Melbourne to Canberra with their teenage son in 2019. Kathryn owned the house for years and although well located – north and opposite a park – it did not suit the needs of the family.

Initially, the couple was not married to the idea of ​​keeping the home. However, when their research led them to Light House Architecture and Science, Kathryn and Rachel, both archivists, were told it was the perfect candidate for energy-efficient restructuring.

The living room in Little Loft House before and after it was renovated

At the time, the home was 123m2 – with two bedrooms, one bathroom and a small study. With a 3.8-star energy rating, architect Duncan Hall says in addition to being “leaky,” it has suffered from a progression of clumsy, scattered spaces, characteristic of many 1980s project homes. “The kitchen was old school, disconnected from the dining room, and dark. The bedrooms were fine, the wet areas depressed. At the end of the house, the study / bedroom was small and spicy.

“[But] it was solid structurally, in a pretty good nick, ”says Hall. “And it had clear potential. It sat comfortably in the street landscape and related well to the other homes on the street.”

The Light House Architecture and Science design team focused on the thermal activity of the home and rearranged the floor plan, adding 13m.2 universal room and creating better connections to the garden. Completed in 2020, the high-functioning, tightly sealed 136m2 home reached a 7.7-star energy rating – on a budget of $ 400,000.

Lighthouse owner and director, Jenny Edwards, is a construction scientist whose research and simulations inform the practice’s design approach. The Light House team takes 35 projects a year – half are new constructions – using scientific modeling to facilitate processes to drive sustainability and affordability.

As for Little Loft House, one look at the plans told Edwards that the house should be retained and upgraded. “Orientation is number one. Unless the house is structurally really bad, we would always encourage customers to renovate and expand.

“The savings and comfort improvements are very real.”

The backyard at Little Loft House before and after it was renovated

Built on an east-west access, the living room and bedrooms had already enjoyed a northern sun, but it was clearly more one could achieve within a “smaller, smarter, sustainable” setting.

Hall outlined the possibilities on the existing plan, noting the moments that arose from the progress of the sun through the house.

“It was one of the things we really enjoyed about the planning process,” Rachel says. “Duncan said you can grab your morning tea here, have lunch here and breakfast drinks here.”

“A good home can’t just be about energy efficiency. It has to feel and look like a happy home, ”insists Edwards. Her team’s process is holistic, starting with a focus on passive solar features and anti-wind, discarding gas for all-electric appliances, improving function and viability by rearranging and improving the floor plan, then dealing with water storage and landscaping.

In “leaky” Australian homes, a low seal and insulation delivers “the best benefit for your dollar,” says Edwards. Between 46% -61% of a home’s energy can be lost and between 79% -86% of its heat gained through windows. All of the aluminum-framed single-glazed windows in Little Loft House have been replaced with uPVC double-glazed windows with high solar transmission / low emissivity glass.

Insulation was also damaged. “Pre-90s homes don’t have insulated walls,” Edwards says, but rebuilding isn’t expensive. “We took out the entire interior cladding and replaced it with new batters in the walls and increased the ceiling insulation – for less than $ 10,000.”

The inner envelope was also fully sealed, and ceiling vents, ducts and downlights removed.

Taking the home completely electric was the next step – heating, hot water and cooking were all converted from gas to electric. There are now two reverse-cycle air-sharing systems, air conditioning units, ceiling fans and a hot water pump. There is electric underfloor heating in the new bathroom, all the lighting is now LED, and the hob is inductive.

Combined with the draft sealing, the switch to electric reduced energy consumption by 69%.

The family rejoices in the comfort and sense of intimacy that comes with temperature stability in the home. “It feels safe and quiet and stable,” Rachel says.

They also loved the process. Light House presented good / better / best options to guide the choice of fixtures and equipment. “They did all the research,” Rachel says. “Australia-made where possible, the best star ratings, standard bathroom design for example. The model was very transparent. “

Hall’s plan dealt with flow and function. Sitting at one end of the east-west approach, the once-weak studio was transformed with a pop-out addition that draws northern light and sunshine inward. The attic space that inspired the name of the project sits suspended over a daybed. The room has a library wall and a desk. Now, a bench outside the window is a favorite place to enjoy the garden.

The kitchen in Little Loft House before and after it was renovated and upgraded to improve its energy efficiency rating from 3.8 to 7.7.

A study nook, an extra wardrobe and an extra toilet were other gains.

“I think the term I would use is‘ human scale, ’” Rachel says. “It doesn’t feel overwhelming and it’s not ostentatious. Duncan has come up with a design that encourages us to live in a comfortable but less messy way. “

The owners are not the only ones impressed with the project, which won two gongs at the 2021 ACT Institute of Architects Awards: the Derek Wrigley Award for sustainable architecture and the Gene Willsford Award for residential architecture – houses (changes and additions).

Jenny Edwards says the Little Loft House project is a rejection of the “disposable” attitude toward inadequate housing. Instead, it uses standard building materials to keep costs low while achieving thermal excellence – avoiding demolition and landfill.

“This beautiful cottage is 47% smaller than the average new Canberra home and uses 80% less energy,” says Edwards. The project cost – in a “very expensive construction market” – includes significant landscaping, rainwater tanks, all fixtures and fittings and appliances.

Her modeling shows that the same approach would achieve better results in every state of Australia.

“It’s not rocket science … it’s just good design and science, and pretty simple science at that.”

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