Case study: Nyree and Mark, West Footscray

Over a decade ago Mark and Nyree bought a dilapidated West Footscray weatherboard that no one else wanted. Today it’s a modern family home and when friends come over, they say “I didn’t know you could do that!” in response to the home’s great features. It’s also a comfortable home to live in year-round, which Mark and Nyree have lately proved by getting a Victorian Residential Efficiency Scorecard assessment, giving the home an energy efficiency star rating and making suggestions for how their energy use could be improved. 

The original 1950s home was just 70 square metres and backed onto a very secluded ‘triangle park’, which probably deterred most security-conscious buyers. No matter how neglected that space was back then, with a small child in tow rear access to a park – that’s now a community garden – offered so much potential. The block also had good northern orientation for a future sun-filled extension.

Exhibition St exterior

That renovation and extension took years to plan and budget, and needed investigation into the improvements that would give “bang for our buck,” says Nyree. “People often measure this by the size of the house, whereas our measure was what we could do with our money to improve the energy efficiency and liveability of our home without increasing our footprint.”

“We knew we wanted to live here for a long time so lowering our bills was important, as was having just a bit more space,” says Mark. The old house had just four rooms, a lean-to bathroom and “one heater to huddle around.” Regardless, the family of three, then four, lived in the draughty home for ten years, installing ceiling insulation to help retain some heat in winter and maintain a more comfortable temperature in winter, and a 1.5-kilowatt solar electricity system to lower their bills.  

Scorecard accredited assessor Ratko Mrkogaca says the original house would have had a very low efficiency rating of just 2 stars and was let down by a poor building shell, including no wall or floor insulation and single-pane windows that made it draughty and cold. “The old house was literally freezing in winter and boiling in summer. It was so uncomfortable. I don’t think many people today would have lived in it as long as we did,” says Nyree.

The couple worked with an architect to help plan a redesign and extension. “People told us to knock it down and start again but we didn’t want to see the old house go to waste, the floorboards, everything that’s already here,” says Mark.  

Now the couple are keen to find out how their home rates under the Scorecard after years of hard work, as well as what they can do to bring the house to an even higher level. 

The updated house stands out as a ‘high efficiency home’ according to the Scorecard certificate, achieving 9 stars out of 10 for energy efficiency. “That’s fantastic” says Nyree, “We’re very happy our house rated so highly on such a small budget,” with money saved on the $250,000 project by doing a lot of work themselves and “working with a very understanding and accommodating builder.” As well as a modern design that makes the most of the sun for winter warmth, the house features in-floor hydronic heating in the new section and panel heating elsewhere, a gas-boosted solar hot water system, the existing solar electricity system as well as insulation and double-glazed windows throughout.  

Exhibition St detail

For the family, liveability was more important than size when it came to the extension. “After living in a small dark house we wanted to create a sense of space that looked out onto the environment and the neighbourhood so we could engage with that,” says Nyree. “We didn’t want an inward-looking house designed around the television.”

The redesign has seen a third bedroom and new bathroom created in the old part, and a north-facing kitchen and living area built to the rear; however, the house size has increased by only 10 square metres.  

The new part features a skillion roof that tilts up to the north, with the increased volume making the room feel so much bigger. This tilt also maximises sunshine hitting the concrete slab in winter, generating warmth throughout the room that transfers elsewhere in the house, too. “We set the hydronic heating to come on at 4pm but there are often days in the middle of winter where it doesn’t turn on, the indoor temperature is so warm after a sunny day,” says Mark. This natural warmth suits them well, with Mark from Fiji and Nyree from Alice Springs.  

The north-facing floor to ceiling windows have electric openings up high to flush heat in summer, with ceiling fans to help circulate air. Ratko says that some windows could be exposed to the western sun in summer so recommends external shading, which can be as simple and affordable as bamboo blinds. The family also have plans for a more natural form of shading, with structures ready for deciduous vines that provide shade in summer, but drop their leaves to let in the winter sun. 

The 9 star Scorecard rating reflects the work done to improve the entire house, though. The building shell in the old part was taken from poor to high-rating with floor and wall insulation to help maintain warmth from the mechanical or natural heating systems. The family also replaced all the original windows with double glazed units. Mark sourced a good deal and says the $7000 spent on the seven windows was well worth it. “They’re like a vacuum seal, we couldn’t hear a thing from outside as soon as the windows went in,” he says.

Assessor discusses certificate with householder

The assessment provides over a dozen improvements that would lift the star rating even higher, with scope for even more ceiling insulation, sealing air gaps around exposed beams in the new section as well as a door seal for the bottom of the front door to reduce draughts in summer and winter.  

Some of the improvements were on their ‘to do’ list already while many are new. “The Scorecard has helped us to really target what we need to do to make this house even more efficient. I’m absolutely rapt. I feel like we have a plan now. We have a plan for our house and we can sit down item by item which makes it achievable as well,” says Nyree.

“It is amazing to be in a well-designed home after not living in one, and on sunny winter days the sunlight is just so beautiful. I think the 9 star rating is reflected through our experience because on days like that there’s no need for heating.” 

“And the kids are older now and really appreciate how good design can make our lives better.”

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Page last updated: 19/08/20