A renovation is, for anyone, part joy and part stress. Not only should it tick your style and functionality boxes, but it should be embedded with a sense of longevity and sustainability.
“If you renovate a house sustainably and in a considered way, it makes you pause and think about how your home will be beyond its Instagram-ability,” says Sydney architect Tash Clark. “It’s liberating to think about how you live in a space and what’s important to you.”
Whether you want more space, improved functionality, or a more beautiful home,
renovating and sustainability go hand-in-hand. 1. Flooring
Less is more when it comes to a sustainable flooring choice, says Madeline Sewall from Melbourne-based studio Breathe. “Using less material for a beautiful finish, like a structural concrete slab, is best. With insulation beneath it, you don’t require any additional finishes.”
For an extension with a lightweight floor, look to recycled hardwood floorboards. “We source them from old buildings like churches or schools,” she says. “Never use glue, only nails and screws so that the floorboards can be lifted, disassembled and reused later.”
Carpet feels sumptuous underfoot, but it’s not so luxurious for the environment. “Only look for sisal options and 100 per cent natural materials like wool,” she says. “Avoid blends like wool acrylic that can’t be separated into different waste streams and recycled .”
Less is more when it comes to a sustainable flooring choice. Fireside House by Breathe. Photo: Tom Ross 2. Paint
A house doused in paint containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and harmful solvents is like “living inside a plastic box”, says Clark. “It’s incredibly unhealthy – you can’t breathe!” Exposure to toxic fumes can irritate skin, eyes, and throat and cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness and breathing problems.
Choosing no-VOC or low-VOC paints helps reduce health risks and poor indoor air quality. “I only use natural paint – my favourite range is by Peter Lewis, which is rich in colour and aromatic,” she says. “It’s paint that’s a joy to live with!”
Ensure your new internal spaces are oriented correctly for plenty of natural light. In a windowless room, turn to energy-efficient lighting like LEDs that reduce
energy consumption. Skylights are also effective but should only be considered on a case-by-case basis. “Because they’re horizontal, not vertical, they cop a lot of direct heat, making them a thermal weak spot,” Sewall warns. Ensure your new internal spaces are oriented correctly for plenty of natural light. Warehouse Greenhouse by Breathe. Photo: Tom Ross 4. Heating
Craving a toasty interior? A planet-friendly solution is critical, says Sewall. “Wood-burning and gas options burn coal and fossil fuels whereas electrical solutions, like hydronic heating that run on renewable energy, don’t contribute to global warming,” she says.
A hydronic heating system can be installed in a slab or fitted in an underfloor system in an existing home or extension using wall-mounted panels. Water moves heat from gas boilers or heat pumps through piping to each room, warming it up efficiently.
“For country homes that prefer wood, a pellet stove is a sustainable option,” she says. “It uses recycled pellets made of organic materials with far fewer emissions.”
5. Renewable materials
“Reclaimed material brings texture into a home,” says Clark. “With the cost of materials rising 71 per cent in the last year, any incredible reclaimed materials you find will be fabulous!”
Recycled and renewable materials without an applied finish are perfect for bench tops. “Look for timber and recycled concrete or 100 per cent metal like stainless steel, which contains recycled content and is completely recyclable at the end of its life,” says Sewall.
Because marble is mined and non-renewable, Sewall suggests considering terrazzo that contains recyclable content like brick, rubble, and aggregate. “It’s more sustainable and functions like stone,” she says.
6. Green roofing
Urban “heat islands” occur when an area has hard, sealed surfaces like cement and paving and less green infrastructure, causing it to absorb heat. Installing a Green Roof reduces its effect, especially for city dwellings.
“It’s good for your reno’s thermal properties as it shields the roof structure, which attracts heat,” says Sewall. “A layer of soil and plants provides shade and insulation to the spaces below and increases bio diversity by giving birds and the bees their nutrients.”
Save water wherever you can. Hideout House by Breathe. Photo: Tom Ross 7. Water-saving bathroom
The bathroom wastes more water than any other room. Install a water-saving shower head to prevent less water wastage, and replace your old toilet with a low-flow model that guzzles less water per flush. “Where possible, use rainwater captured on-site for toilets and washing machines, too,” adds Sewall.
Avoid tapware with an applied finish, like chrome or nickel plate. “They add an embodied energy to the manufacturing process, and metal processes are toxic for those making them,” Sewall says. “I love tapware in finished metal, like raw brass or stainless steel, for its organic living finish and beautiful patina over time.”