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Case studies

The good house redefined
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A modern townhouse


BACKGROUND INFORMATION
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The owners bought a dilapidated suburban home with the intention to build two units on the block. The front unit was erected first and called for a comfortable and energy-efficient four bedroom house with large study and north-facing living areas on the ground floor.

KEY FACTS
point Service provided   Concept plans, permits, interior design,
contract administration
point Project type   New home
point Land location   Whitehorse City Council
point Land size   648sqm
point Proposed floor area   217 sqm (23 squares), including garage 39 sqm
point Budget   $465,000

THE NEW DESIGN
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Orientation: It was decided to locate the garage at the rear so the same driveway and crossover could serve the front and rear unit. The remaining solar frontage was allocated to the areas that were to be used most during the day i.e. the Study, Kitchen and Dining area. Three of the four upper floor bedrooms also face north. The Lounge is south facing but enjoys generous light from the nearby dining area, while a south-facing window located over the couch allows for cool breezes to enter the house where available in Summer. The large north-facing deck is well sheltered from winds and provide an enjoyable outdoor space year round. A canvas folding arm awning extends horizontally over the deck to provide Summer shade. It is fully retractable and out of the way during the nine months of the year where Melbourne temperatures are either cool or moderate.

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Functionality and aesthetics: The house exterior is well articulated with different volumes and materials to create an interesting façade while enveloping the compact living areas. The 3-meter ceilings on the ground floor provide a sense of space without sacrificing energy efficiency, while the upper floor ceilings sit at 2.4 metres which is suitable for smaller room and keeps the overall building height reasonable in a tight building fabric.

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Heating: A layer of trafficable insulation sits over the structural slab on ground, providing necessary separation between the structural concrete and the hydronic water coils. The coils are then topped with an 90mm cement layer which acts as thermal mass and allows for heat distribution in the floor. This setup allows for 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 $450 for the winter.

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Insulation: 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 windows. West-facing glazing was specified with a special transparent coating designed to bounce incoming radiant heat. Walls are insulated to R2.5 and all windows and external doors are thoroughly draft-proofed.

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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. Numerous windows located on the south walls provide adequate cross-ventilation 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 moderates the house temperature. Without any form of air-conditioning, a maximum indoor temperature of 28.5 degrees has been observed on a 41 degree day.

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Conservation: The house uses a minimal amount of hardwoods which have the advantage of storing carbon as any timber, but are sourced from regrowth forests which are not keeping with demand in Australia. The demolished house floorboards were salvaged, sanded and then used to line some of the interior walls. Durable cladding materials such as 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: Taps and shower heads were selected for minimal water consumption (WELS 5 star rating). A 2500 LT rainwater tanks feeds all three toilets and two garden taps.

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