My Sustainable House Renovation: Demolition

We started the design process in earnest in 2017, but due to financial constraints stopped, then picked it up again in 2018. Our initial plan was to go up another storey, but we had a hard budget which meant that after spending many many thousands of dollars on plans and approvals, we had to re-start. It was obvious that the two-storey option was super tight from a financial point of view and we would have had to sacrifice all of our sustainability aspirations. So back to the drawing board (literally) it was.

I spent a long time thinking of what I could do then to maintain as much of the existing home as possible, while reducing the size to help meet budget and environmental goals. With new plans drawn up we went into full gear and looked to lock in dates for construction to begin. But something else happened in early 2020…..a global pandemic hit and we needed to pause. We needed to mentally gather ourselves because going into lock down and living in fear was not the mindset that is conducive to risky big plans. But with the situation in Sydney easing and us sensing some form of ‘normality’, we hit the ‘Go’ button in October 2020.

Moving out was hard work. We had over the years accumulated so much which I was not going to have space for funnily enough. We threw out way more than I was hoping to do, but eventually the house was ready for the builders to move it.

The first step was demolition and this was the first and most important lesson that I learnt about construction.

Bye Bye house. Note some of the 1940’s curved features. There used to be some ‘fancy’ brick work too

I went through painstakingly identifying walls to keep, walls to remove. It was this desire to keep as much of the embodied energy in the home that forced most of the design decisions. Well little was I to know that it meant diddly squat! But before I get to that, the demolition did show up some unique 1940’s features like windows which were hidden behind some joinery and a little nook in the wall for when milk was left by the milkman!

Post-war 1940s window feature

As for the rest of the demolition, well it kept going and going until I came back one day and there was pretty much no house left at all! Imagine my sustainable heart sinking.

Where did my house go?

This is also about when two big variations came in. As I am on a sloping block, the house was built on piers. Most of the brickwork was 80 years old and much of the lime mortar worn down, away or non-existent. So my builder convinced me that this was not on and that I should remove the piers and start again. I eventually gave way also because as there was no house left anymore, it allowed me to slightly alter the location of some walls to make my daughter’s bedroom and the kids’ bathroom slightly bigger.

You would have seen from my wishlist in Part 1 of these posts that avoid, reuse and recycle was really high on the list from a materials and waste point of view. The reality became that much waste was generated and while my builder meticulously separated and recycled, nothing was maintained, nothing was reused. Not that I didn’t try. I gave lists and excel spreadsheets and marked what I wanted to reuse. Things like my solid timber front door, kitchen sink, toilets, taps, showeheads. These items were removed and sat in the front yard, but eventually ended up somewhere too. So this was another lesson – if I wanted to keep stuff, I had to go myself, remove it straight away from the site and store it. I simply assumed the builder would keep  things on site until he needed it again.

It was also just as well that I had mentally let go of a lot of my garden because all of the garden beds around the house were destroyed, so a lot of money and love including a massive frangipani tree ended up in those skip bins too.

 What was I doing while all of this was taking place? I was living 10 minutes away in a pretty grotty small home, though visiting regularly to my builder’s chagrin. I was working (mostly from home because of Covid, and trying to keep on top of spiralling costs)!

With demolition finished within a few months, we moved onto construction. But then something else was been happening in Sydney the last few years – La Nina. Stay tuned for my next post on how that affected things.