The Sustainable House Renovation – Part 1

As I sit here in my renovated home, I am able to enjoy the changes I made to improve the life of my family and I.

To make it our own though we enlisted the help of family. My father in-law who has now passed away was an architect, so he set off coming up with some plans for us.  He came up with many different options. We pored over them from overseas and having never seen the house – but sustainability was always right up in the top of considerations.

This renovation was a long time coming. When we bought this 1940’s post-war house in Lane Cove we always knew we wanted to make changes. The house itself though was solid and had ‘good bones’, so we knew we wanted to renovate rather than knock it down.

We never actually saw the house as we were living overseas (Abu Dhabi) when we bought it.  My mum checked it out though and confirmed it was a ‘good one’. We were lucky at the time that prices has stabilized in Sydney somewhat and we could put in a bid that was successful.

He was able to research and came up with good options for us. Top of my wishlist at the time was solar hot water and keeping as much of the house as possible to reduce waste and embodied carbon.

But when we priced this up, it was out of our budget and reach, so we decided to live in it first when we moved back with our two children. We managed a few updates like a new kitchen, bathroom, laundry, painting, ripping out carpet, rendering and doing a lot of work in the garden. You’ll see all my gardening posts over the years.

But with a third child and growing kids, it was time to think about what came next. I spent some time looking into opportunities to sell and move somewhere quieter, but as anyone that has lived in Sydney the last ten years will tell you – that’s a pipe dream. So after eliminating that option, it came time again to re-look at the plans that we had. We realized that at the time, we were a family of four and are now a family of five, so we needed new plans.

Through a friend’s connection we found a builder who listened to us and brought on an architect he regularly worked with. Again I made sure sustainability was at the top of the wishlist and went so far as to draw up an excel of all my ‘must haves’. I gave this to the architect at the outset who seemed extremely confused and wasn’t sure what to do about my enthusiasm.

So what was I trying to fix with this enthusiasm?

We also installed solar and tried to look into efficiency measures like LED lights. BUT the house was always uncomfortable. We had tiled floors which were absolutely feezing to walk on in winter. The windows leaked like crazy. In fact some had even cracked. One of the rooms clearly had moisture issues. Our gas and electricity bills were always really high, particularly over winter. Needless to say efficiency and good designs was on the top of priorities.

Some of our wishlist items included:

  • Solar
  • Rainwater tank
  • Double glazed windows
  • Efficient showerheads and toilets
  • Low toxicity materials, paints
  • Certified timber and materials
  • Good construction waste management
  • Reused materials and reusing what we demolish as much as possible
  • Keeping as much of the house as possible
  • Disconnecting from gas – so going fully electric
  • Highly insulated (walls, ceiling, floors, roof)

You can see from this list that there is nothing too crazy on this list. My builder though listened politely, but not only saw dollar signs for variations, but also thought I was being kooky!

So there began the journey of not only educating the builder, but of the battle of realise a lot of my vision.

Stay tuned for more blogs as I take you through the year that was which included Covid lockdowns, supply chain issues and many variations.

Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear your stories and share what lessons you learnt.

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