Renovating sustainably

Ok this is going to be an ongoing thread where I throw out questions and hopefully we crowd source some opinions, if not answers. Others can also ask questions.

We’re renovating our house (kitchen, bathroom, floors, plus improvements like replacing windows for better insulation). We’re also strongly considering adding a second story. It’s hard to make the decision to do this when everything technically functions and new materials are a big load on the environment, but we’re doing it anyway.

First up is flooring. I’m looking at wood, bamboo, others? I hate, hate, hate tiles as flooring in main living spaces, those are going in the laundry and bathroom only. Is bamboo any good?


I am SUPER EXCITED for this.

I don’t know much about bamboo flooring, but I think flooring was covered in a book I read recently (How to Save Your Planet One Object at a Time) so I will look that up tonight and see if there’s anything I can offer from that.

If/when you want to discuss that, I have some knowledge of double glazed windows since we had those done for our front rooms (RIP leadlight windows, sob).

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My parents installed bamboo all throughout their second floor (except for bathrooms), and it’s beautiful. Depending on the humidity where you live, the boards may need to acclimate in your house for a couple weeks before being installed. They did a dark-stained bamboo and it was somewhat expensive (I think they got a really nice brand) but gorgeous. Seems to be holding up well, with no scratches so far. I really like the texture on bare feet, personally.


My library has electronic access to this magazine:

It’s basically green architecture porn. Sustainability aspects sometimes questionable because it’s a magazine and it’s reason for existing is to flog stuff. But some of it is so sexy.

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Ooh on this, Josh Byrne just announced he’s got a book coming out in September! Since he lives near me there should be heaps of relevant stuff in there.


“Perth has sandy soils and a Mediterranean climate…so I’ve spent years building up organic matter to retain water in my garden”.
(That is what I picture him saying in that book.)


Gah and I read that in his voice with a little video of him playing in my head, too.


This might inadvertently become my renovation journal.

Looks like bamboo might use a lot of chemicals in processing to become floorboards… But actual wood is a lot more expensive, and not necessarily quite as durable.

Floorplan: hoping we can rearrange our large open plan area to fit stairs rather than losing another room or part thereof. With building up, we originally wanted an open area, queen bedroom- sized room and a bathroom. That seemed flexible enough to be study now, parents area later. Now we’re thinking, if money permits, of adding another room and putting in a small kitchenette (like, a sink + power points + bench) so that it could function a bit more as a living space for older kids or allow us to live upstairs and our parents to live downstairs or vice-versa. Not enough to be a fully separate apartment, but enough to allow people to not feel cooped up while living in the same house. Planning for more people in less houses seems like a good idea.

ETA: the name for the concept I’m working with here is “no regret infrastructure”. Thinking of what our needs are now, in the future and a few possible long term needs.


We’re not planning to renovate, but this is very much on our minds at the moment when thinking about a lower-carbon future. I think it’s inevitable that people will end up living in multigeneral homes more.


I just sent an email to my top pick to enquire whether they manage renovations or just plonking an extra floor on top. It will be worth a bit of extra money to have one company manage the whole thing for us.

I think my ideal timeline would be to get the lower floor renovated this year, and then add the upper floor late next year. This doesn’t work with the government’s free money scheme but I suspect we also earnt over their limit. Must get the taxes done.


We have a meeting with the architect/project manager in 2 weeks. I’m second-guessing our need to add an upstairs but very keen to hear what they can draw up for us. I’m happy to pay for a design even if we decide just renovating the current spaces is a much better idea.


We are considering a renovation too.
Sustainability is definitely an interest, though any reno for this particular house means lots of stuff in dumpsters (unless you are a complete and delightful nutjob like Daniel Kanter). I haven’t looked too much into materials yet; right now we are earlier in the process and thinking more about square footage, energy efficiency, heating/cooling, etc. One of the benefits of the bigger renovation is to make it nice enough (and just slightly more spacious enough) that if we sell, the house won’t become tear-down and rebuilt as megahouse taking up the entire garden/lot which has been happening a lot in our neighborhood. Older houses are mostly 1,000-1,800 sq ft with small backyards; new ones are 3,500-4,000 sq ft with zero backyard. The hard surfaces exacerbate the urban heat island and stormwater drainage problems.

There's also the lens of aging parents.

Both spouse and I are lucky to like our immediate families of origin a lot. His parents are starting to have various health issues (more below). In addition to his mom’s mobility stuff, his dad technically beat prostate cancer last year but has a lot of pain sitting for car rides over 20 mins. Mine are healthy so far, but retiring in 2 years once Medicare kicks in. They want to downsize & move out of the suburb with crazy property taxes. My mom is also in the “I’ll drop everything if you need me for childcare” camp. We love them all, enough to want to move them in with us if need be, but living with/near any of them would be a whole 'nother level.


Add 1st floor half bath

Our only bathroom is on the 2nd floor of this tall, skinny townhouse. It hasn’t been a problem in the past, but last year my in-laws moved an hour away (after 10 years living on a ranch in rural New Mexico!). My MIL has arthritic knees and can’t really climb stairs anymore. She tries to downplay the pain, but it hurts. With a half bath and a sleeper couch, they could come for overnights. This is a straightforward, $3-8k project including demo of an old chimney.

And extend 2nd floor

The main body of the house is 3 stories, but the kitchen is a poorly built 1-story extension off the main floor. This would extend the 2nd story over the kitchen, adding one more room for office/flex/Spore/guest, and improving insulation/HVAC everywhere.

And extend 3rd floor including another full bath

This would support a potentially widowed parent moving in longer term, though only if they can climb stairs. Very expensive and not terribly flexible.

Build a family/friends commune

Last weekend I was exploring and found a 10-acre wooded for sale just barely inside city limits. It’s zoned for 6 houses, across from a 300-acre nature preserve that runs a forest nursery school, 0.5mi from an extensive riverfront bike path… one foot in the city and one in the woods. Build a few homes, parents can hike to their hearts’ content even if they can’t see well enough to drive, shared shop building, maybe a rental apt above it… Yeah, this would be nuts.

We had an architect and a design/build firm come out, with the idea of hiring one to do schematic design for all 3 options. Then we will use those to get construction estimates and pick a path. The architect has about 6 yrs experience, recently started his own practice focused on tiny townhouses like ours, and came in at $2,500 for this prelim design work. This would likely get built by the contractor who did a great job on our backyard for a fair price. The design-build firm has 20 yrs experience and a lovely track record; they are freaking craftspeople but might be too expensive both for design and build. They’ll get back to us with the quote this week.


We have on hand, cash to fully pay the architect PLUS 20% of estimated construction cost of the renovations. That seems like a pretty good place to start this process. I’ve also earmarked where we can get further funds.

Just contacted the bank our current home loan is with. We may refinance to a more ethical bank during the renovation process as our fixed portion finishes before construction starts, but I want to be sure someone would lend the extra money to us first.

I reckon ethical borrowing is included in the process of an ethical renovation.


We have engaged an architect! We were going to change our 3x1 to a 4x2 but decided on a 5x2, at least for the concept design. Weeeeeeeee! Time to send a large deposit!


We are having our interiors surveyed tomorrow, and outside will be surveyed in the next fortnight. Currently waiting on our council to send through our house plans - 15 business days (3 weeks) for them to send them after you’ve requested them, and apparently they like sending on the very last day :roll_eyes:


We have Plans! The big feature is that we’re going to combine all the equator-facing rooms into one large open plan area, to maximise solar passive heating/cooling benefits. The rest of the rooms will be either side of a hallway that runs north/south, and we can close off this “private wing” with a sliding door so we’re only managing the temperature in the main living spaces most of the time.

It’s been suggested that we redo the roof into a skillion roof, to get even more out of the winter warming and have beautiful high ceilings. I’m currently looking at a lot of pictures of these on Pinterest, as I’m unsure how I feel about having a ceiling that isn’t flat.

We were going to go upstairs, but the designers came up with a plan that puts our extra bedrooms at the far end of the yard that isn’t great for gardening anyway.
That means moving the carport and redoing the driveway, which I wanted to do anyway to improve drainage and add ground cover plants in a central strip.

Keeping everything on one level also saves a lot of money, so we can do the fancier roof changes and should have money for solar panels straight away. I’ve spoken to the hubby, and once I explained how we can swap from gas for some things to electric for everything, he was quite happy to drop that bill.


Yes please.

Do you have to replace the actual roof? I looooove the blue colourbond roof a few houses near me have, but our roof is fine :roll_eyes:


Blue? I didn’t know there was a blue. I’m a huge fan of the sage green but I might be able to convince Ponder to go colourbond if he can have it in blue!

Yes, we’ll need to replace at least part of the roof and while I’m not hugely familiar with residential construction, I think we’re changing enough bits that a whole new roof will probably make the most sense.

(Of course there would be blue coz there’s 20+ colours but I forgot this might be a way to convince Ponder on colourbond)


How exciting! I lived in a modernist house with a skillion-type roof for two years. The windows tucked under the sloped roofline made for really nice daylight.