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Case studies

The good house redefined
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A cozy home for retirees


BACKGROUND INFORMATION
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The owners raised their children and lived most of their married life in a ranch house in country Victoria. With some of the children and grand-children now in Melbourne, they decided to move closer to them and spent a couple of years looking for a dilapidated property that they could afford near the city. They settled on a narrow block of land with the view to knock down the old brick home and build a new comfortable home to live in in their retirement years. They planned to incorporate a larger bedroom with kitchenette and Ensuite on the ground floor to accommodate visiting relatives for possible extended stays. They intended to bring a bit of the country to the city and wanted a large North-facing upper floor deck to allow for an alternative vegetable growing area.

KEY FACTS
point Service provided   Concept plans, permits, interior design,
contract administration
point Project type   New home
point Home location   Darebin City Council
point Land size   363 sqm
point Proposed floor area   148 sqm (15.4 squares) over two storeys.
point Budget   $465,000

THE NEW DESIGN
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Orientation: while the site was 45 metres deep, it was only 8 meters wide. This coupled with a North-facing backyard meant that the new house was inevitably going to have longer walls on the East and West orientations than on the North or South ones. Our strategy was to double the solar frontage by designing a two-storey home and to create another solar frontage on the ground floor by incorporating an intermediate courtyard which would double as a second outdoor living area. North orientation was allocated to the areas that were to be used most during the day i.e. the dining and living areas and the main bedroom. Two bedrooms are South-facing but also face East which is always a desirable orientation for a bedroom. The Kitchen enjoys opening skylight and also direct access to the courtyard located on the East. The stairwell itself, while being on the Western boundary, is endowed with a large triangular window facing North which brings Northern light right to the centre of the home.

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Functionality and aesthetics: the composite timber battens cladding the boxy volume at the front of the house were carefully selected to be completely maintenance free and offer a contrasting material to the steel clad two-storey pitched-roof structure sitting behind it. The narrow site had us juggle the two-storey height carefully in view of wall height restrictions near the side boundaries. To reduce the wall height, the roof was pitched only 2.1 metres above the upper floor, but the raked ceiling and the steep roof angle allowed us to quickly reach an acceptable ceiling height of 2.4m and over. This strategy helped us create architectural interest on the first level as well while containing the home within a compliant building envelope.

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Heating: a layer of R2.0 trafficable insulation sits over the structural slab, providing necessary separation between the structural concrete and the hydronic water coils. The coils are then topped with a 90mm cement layer which acts as thermal mass and allows for heat distribution in the floor. This setup allows us to provide a dynamic response to the thermostat and also ensures that footings are not unnecessarily heated – an unfortunate side effect of located heating pipes directly in the structural slab. A high energy efficiency gas boiler is used with an overall heating bill of about $400 for the winter. As per the owners’ wishes, the upper floor is not heated, with only a fan heater in the bathroom.

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Domestic Hot Water production: an air to air Sanden heat pump teamed with a 250LT steel tank is used to produce hot water electrically at the fraction of the cost of a straight electric hot water system.

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Insulation and Windows: an R.6.0 combination of formaldehyde-free insulation and reflective sarking is installed in the ceiling space while double-glazing units with 14mm gap and Argon gas filling are fitted to all timber windows. West-facing glazing was reduced to a minimum and specified with a special transparent coating designed to bounce incoming radiant heat. Walls are insulated to R2.7 and all windows and external doors are thoroughly draft-proofed. Floor insulation as above.

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Ventilation and shading: eaves and overhangs feature on all sides of the house but south and provide suitable shading from the high summer sun. The windows located on the south walls provide deep cross-ventilation to the whole house and create a continuous air flow at night. On a hot summer day, doors and windows are best left closed to ensure the concrete floor stays cool and plays its role moderating the house temperature.

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Conservation: A portion of the bricks used in the demolished home were retained to build the new wall on boundary as well as form garden paths. The roof hardwood structure and the remaining bricks were sent to recyclers. The house uses a minimal amount of new hardwood which have the advantage of storing carbon as any timber, but are sourced from regrowth forests which are not keeping with demand in Australia. Durable cladding materials such as composite timber, corrugated iron and cement sheeting (either grooved or paneled to eliminate cracking joints) require no maintenance and no or minimal painting.

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Indoor air quality: low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) water-based finishes for walls, floors and timber were used throughout.

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Water: the house is made ‘grey-water ready” which means that grey and black water pipes join outside rather than under the concrete slab so that the grey water supply can easily be tapped into if desired at a later date. Taps and shower heads were selected for minimal water consumption (WELS 5 star rating). Twin rainwater tanks of 2500 LT each feeds all three toilets and four garden taps.

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Bike Racks: two wall-mounted bike racks under a small roof cover were installed at the side of the house to facilitate easy access to bikes and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

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