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Simple renovations for renters and homeowners
Well-designed and carefully planned renovations can improve the functionality, comfort and energy efficiency of your home without the need for major structural changes or expensive additions. Some of the more simple changes can also be carried out while you're renting by gaining approval from your landlord who may be interested in improving the environmental performance and value of the property.
- Improve comfort levels and save money on energy and water bills
- Make your home more spacious without needing to carry out major renovations
- Increase the liveability and value of your home
At a glance
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The reasons for making your home more energy efficient through simple renovations are many. Some of the more obvious benefits include saving on energy and water use, reducing the need for additional heating and cooling, maximising the use of space, and making better use of existing features. Other advantages include the opportunity to:
- modernise and improve the functionality of your home
- benefit from energy and water efficient features and appliances
- take advantage of the existing features of your home—thermal mass, access to natural sunlight and cooling breezes
- minimise demand for new materials and reduce waste going to landfill
- increase the appeal and value of your home
- benefit from any rebates for improving your energy efficiency.
By improving the performance and comfort within the current dimensions of your existing home you can avoid the need for costly major renovations and additions later on. For example, you can transform existing spaces and living areas through the use of room partitions or clever storage solutions to provide multiple functions. Smart energy efficient renovations can also reduce the costs involved with maintaining your home, as well as reducing energy and water bills.
The internet and magazines contain a wealth of clever and affordable energy efficient design ideas to inspire you—making your home more comfortable and better suited to your household's needs. Clever solutions can become a real talking point and add appeal to your home while improving your energy efficiency.
Our suggestions on improving space and functionality, heating and cooling performance and energy and water efficiency will give you options to get started.
Bigger homes cost more to build, maintain and heat and cool—and Australia has some of the biggest homes in the world. You can reduce the need for new construction by improving the use of space in your existing home. When making new purchases choose space-efficient, low impact and clever designs that won't date. Examples include:
- Improve or build outdoor living spaces off existing living areas and kitchens to create an 'outdoor room'. A north facing deck with adjustable shading can provide year round access to the outdoors and greatly extend your living space. If you live in a duplex or townhouse, look at clever ideas to revamp courtyards, patios, balconies and side entrances.
- Inside your home, look at moving laundries into a cleverly-designed cupboard to gain valuable space and access to natural light and outdoor areas.
- Install custom-built storage and cupboards to decrease floor area taken up by conventional storage units. This can also help to decrease clutter creating a greater sense of space.
- Build a clever study nook in a little unused-corner—a built-in bookcase and fold out desk can avoid the need for a full additional office.
- Arrange furniture to increase space and functionality, and plan rooms and spaces around dual functions. For example, office or craft spaces can be cleverly incorporated in less-used dining rooms or spare bedrooms.
- When updating bathrooms and kitchens, choose durable, non-dating finishes made from low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) materials. Consider two or three-way access to avoid the need for additional bathrooms.
- Adding partitions and folding or sliding doors will allow you to divide rooms for various functions and also heat and cool areas more efficiently.
If a growing family or changed circumstances mean you require major building work or renovations down the track, the above changes mean you'll be only adding what you need and getting the best value from your house. Your Home provides detailed information on building and renovating.
Improving heating and cooling (thermal performance) will pay off in higher comfort levels and reduced running costs, making your home more enjoyable year round. For example you can save up to 40% on heating and cooling going out the window by making improvements to windows, doors and reducing draughts.
- Avoid up to 24% of heat loss and gain by sealing gaps and cracks, and covering fan outlets and fireplaces when not in use.
- Increase the energy-efficiency of windows. Install window films with magnetic attachments to mimic the benefits of double glazing—or consider retrofitting magnetic acrylic panels or double glazing in any existing timber window frames you intend to keep. There is a range of glazing options that can help reduce heat loss and gain depending on your budget and the specific needs of your home and climate. For a lower cost option in existing homes there are an increasing number of window films now available to help you reflect ambient heat in summer and retain radiant heat in winter.
- Ensure half the energy that double glazing saves is not lost by replacing poorly insulated aluminium window frames with wood or wood-polymer composite.
- You can also consider relocating or reducing the size of east and west-facing windows.
- Adjustable shading that can be extended in summer and retracted in winter and careful plantings of deciduous trees are one of the most effective options to address heat loss and gain through windows—so do this first and in addition to installing internal blinds. Prune or remove trees that are blocking sun to north-facing windows or sliding doors. If removing consider replacing with deciduous species.
- Install heavy drapes that touch the floor and walls at each side of the window and pelmets on top to prevent heat loss in cooler climates.
- Add insulation to accessible floor, wall and roof sections and when recladding timber-framed walls or replacing roofing.
- Maximise cross-ventilation by retrofitting breeze-catching windows and doors.
- Take advantage of thermal mass and passive heating in cooler climates where appropriate, by removing carpet or floor coverings and replacing with tiles or polished concrete to absorb the heat from sunlight entering your home.
Installing energy and water efficient appliances can have a huge impact on your household bills as well as the functionality of your home—especially when coupled with efficient room design and smarter household behaviours.
- When your hot water system needs replacing, consider installing a solar or energy-efficient hot water system.
- Replace low-efficiency lighting such as halogen downlights with high quality LEDs or other efficient lighting. Sealed, heatproof boxes for downlights that allow for insulation without the fire risk are available from lighting and electrical stores.
- Prune or remove plants or trees that block light and add skylights or daylight tubes to increase natural daylighting.
- Consider installing control systems and smart metering when rewiring.
- Follow our tips for installing an energy-efficient heating and cooling system and go for the highest energy star rating you can afford.
- Choose the most energy-efficient appliances you can afford. Also look for taps, showers and toilets with the highest WELS star rating. Add flow restrictors or nozzles to hand basins and sinks to reduce water wastage.
- Plant drought-tolerant plants and natives, reduce lawn areas. Consider installing a rainwater tank and reusing greywater with a council-approved system for your garden. A garden expert can help you identify likely impacts on plants and soil.
- Do your research. Home renovation resources are widely available. Your Home provides detailed information on how to make simple to more substantial improvements to the energy efficiency of your home.
- Prepare a detailed description and sketches to provide to tradespeople and avoid costly mistakes if you are doing the improvements yourself.
- If the changes are minor and don't alter the structure of your home, most local governments do not require council approval, however it's important to check the planning or building regulations in the planning stages and well before commencing any work.
- Any changes to plumbing, gas, electrical and drainage will require approval and inspection by the relevant authority. Get expert advice on what you intend to do so there are no costly problems or surprises along the way.
- While you may be able to do some tasks yourself, even minor renovations are likely to involve tradespeople. Ensure your chosen provider is licensed and insured to do the work. Some tradespeople specialise in providing energy efficiency options for your home and will be able to provide advice and get across the design, material and installation options important to you.
- Ask for references and draw up a simple contract setting out the work, costs (or hourly rates) and any guarantees or warranties on workmanship or equipment. Seek advice from peak building industry associations.
- If renting, approach your landlord before carrying out any changes. Our renter's guide has further information.