At Swell Homes, while we love the ‘blank slate’ creative appeal of planning energy efficient, green homes from the very start, there is nothing quite like the challenge of applying our passive solar and sustainable design ethos to existing home renovations and extensions.
We have a broad portfolio of modern new builds, many designed in conjunction with our exclusive design partner Ambient Designs. But what you might not know is that Swell Homes was born from a specialist renovation and extension practice, Mt Hawthorn Period Extensions!
Since we first started doing extensions and renovations back in the 1990s, we’ve increased our knowledge and expertise in energy efficient building materials. We also became an accredited HIA GreenSmart professional builder in 2006. So that’s a decade under our belt now of creating greener, more energy efficient new builds and renovations in Perth.
While the starting point might be different for renovation work as opposed to the greenfield or brownfield new construction, we can make the most of the existing conventional building for mass. Then we introduce new elements that increase insulation and airflow, while at the same time as creating beautiful livable spaces. It’s very important to us as a sustainable building company that we work with our clients and our design partners to adapt and reuse as much of the existing building as practical and minimise waste.
Types of Renovations and Extensions
When looking at our renovation and extension work, they tend to fall into two main categories:
- Adaptive Reuse of Heritage Properties, and
- Extensions and facelifts to modern period homes
Both styles of renovation work have their natural advantages.
Adaptive Reuse of Heritage Properties
Although we have a bit of a reputation for trampling over heritage in Perth and Fremantle, the legacy of previous planning decisions going back decades, these days’ homeowners are rightly very protective of their older heritage properties.
In general terms in WA, heritage buildings date from the 1890s gold boom era (mainly inner city Perth and Fremantle, as well as Guildford) up to the 1940s California Bungalow style. While these styles are quite different, they have in common the high ceilings and large eaves which are a great starting point for solar passive design in our hot climate.
On the downside, we’re also often working with:
- badly planned extensions (sometimes numerous ones from different decades)
- small and closed living spaces not suited to modern living, and
- lack of insulation.
Sometimes we also need to work within the extra confines of stringent heritage listings and difficult to access blocks.
Our adaptive reuse renovation of a South Fremantle heritage property had all the hallmarks of tricky renovation but also the advantages of beautiful old sandstone building crying out to be preserved. Our extension of the cottage saw an upper floor added in composite material to gain both an ocean view and the seabreeze intake of the Fremantle Doctor. The use of lightweight composite construction techniques allowed us to complete this complex renovation within 6 months, minimising disruption to the owners.
On this property we innovated by becoming the first builders in Australia to use Tontine’s R3.2 batts in the walls for added solar protection. Our own convectional detail was designed to minimise the heat gain load on exposed western facing walls through Perth’s fierce summer. The finishing touch was the addition of a new verandah to create shade on the western face of the building, in keeping with the style of the era.
Since the renovation was completed, the property owners have reported that they rarely use their airconditioning apart from in the hottest summer heat waves, and also that the home is far more comfortable on cold winter mornings. Their power bills have subsequently also reduced.
Extensions and facelifts to modern period homes
While renovating turn-of-the-century homes was the bulk of our business 20 years ago, now we are much more likely to be called by clients with 1960s-70s homes. Not so long ago, these homes were far more likely to be knocked down to make way for a new build. However, with 1960s fashion making a resurgence (thanks to Mad Men and the like) Perth people are recognising the particular charms of some of these older ‘modern’ homes.
Homes built after the 1950s in Perth and Fremantle tend to feature lower ceilings and brick veneer, with tiled roofs. Smaller eaves and large picture windows meant that they are were naturally less well insulated from the hot sun. The low rise street profiles also made a feature of garages, as the suburbs had become more sprawling and garages larger. Brick colours were typically paler than the older buildings, with a range of browns and creams being used.As far as the layout went, open plan living was a much bigger priority for these period houses, and there was often a better connection to the garden with sunrooms or decks.
Ozone in Cottesloe was very characteristic of the 1970s home. Almost brutalist in style, the double storey blond home had been designed with no frivolity in mind. However, looking past its plain face, the building still had good ‘bones’ and the owner was not in favour of creating landfill by knocking down and rebuilding. Instead, working with owner and designer Liz Prater, we gave a very substantial facelift to the base property.
With the triplex blocks which this property was part there were additional advantages to maintaining the existing building, in that the original planning decision granted tight setback which would be difficult to gain council approval over again should complete rebuilding occur. As the house adjoined other properties, keeping the existing house avoided additional costs for repairing the roof and walls of the adjoining homes.
Substantial realignment and removal of walls improved the flow of the house and created a seamless transition between new and old elements. A new balcony both provides additional shade and shelter and hides the original tiled roof which is not in keeping with the new glamourous look of the home.
Using travertine flooring in many parts of the interior and exteriors created a seamless flow, making this renovation and extension highly successful and a great selling point for the interior designer owner.
Renovate or detonate?
Adapting and face-lifting a modern period home boils down to a lot more than just ripping out the shag pile carpet. However there are many advantages to keeping the working aspects of your older home while adapting it for modern living and energy efficiency goals. If you are wondering whether your older property can be successfully renovated into a greener, more beautiful home – contact Swell Homes for a chat.