A collective effort

Issue 36 Words: Verity Campbell Photography: Michael Burnside
Coburg, Victoria
  • Using tried and true passive solar design features, the north-facing double-glazed windows and doors are shaded in summer by eaves and deciduous climbers, but angled to allow winter sun to penetrate and heat the slab and rammed earth wall.
  • The inclusion of the rammed earth wall and concrete slab in this otherwise light-weight construction was key to this 80-year-old house achieving its high energy star rating. The wall is significant for beauty, texture and thermal mass: “It’s a talking feature of the house.”
  • “In summer you can walk into the back area of the house and it feels like an air-conditioned environment, and in winter we rarely have to turn on the heating.”
  • Deciduous vines will eventually grow across the pergola and provide shading during summer.

With a new rammed earth wall and concrete slab in the extension, this classic Melbourne weatherboard now achieves 6.8 Stars and has gained a new lease on life.

Life is good in this sunny family home in Melbourne’s inner north, but it took a while to get there. After purchasing a large north-facing block with a classic bungalow that had weathered a number of renovations, it was five years before Pam, Nathan and their two children decided what to do with it. Their budget was relatively tight, their scope broad, and they wanted to be hands-on through the process – the right person willing and able to work within those constraints was elusive.

Through a friend they met Eugene Byrne from Byrne Building Projects. Both building designer and certified Green Living Builder, Eugene committed to working with them on the brief to create a thermally comfortable, light and bright home – on budget.

Eugene and his team set to work on the back of the home, with Nathan at the front. Nathan started by installing wall and ceiling insulation; sourced, cut and replaced the floorboards in the study; and oiled the ceiling in the living area, all the windows and doors, and the exposed timber cladding outside. The existing leaky and aluminium-framed windows were replaced with timber double-glazed units, helping to bring the entire house – existing and renovated – up to 6.8 Stars. “This was one of the bigger expenses,” explains Pam, “but we’re so pleased to have done it.”

The couple advises would-be renovators to finish as much as possible while the building is underway. “We really regret not getting the shed, the driveway, and the landscaping done at the same time, rather than let it all drag on,” says Pam.

Meanwhile, in the back of the home Eugene was transforming the inward-looking functions of the home into an expansive open plan kitchen, living and dining room designed to passive design principles with a robust, low-maintenance material palette.

Eugene’s grand design gesture for the home is the tapered eave sweeping skyward, opening this new part of the home to the sun-drenched garden and northern sun. High-level hopper windows ensure heat is vented and fresh air moves throughout. For thermal gain a rammed earth wall lines the southern wall. “It’s a talking feature of the house,” explains Pam. “I think the thermal mass properties of the rammed earth wall and the concrete floor is just amazing. In summer you can walk into the back area of the house and it feels like an air-conditioned environment, and in winter we rarely have to turn on the heating. We’ve saved probably 30 to 40 per cent on our energy bills just in the first seasons we’ve been here.”

Another talking point is Nathan’s custom-designed and built kitchen. Made from salvaged joists, bearers, and studs from the renovation, Nathan has built a kitchen island, cupboards, drawers, and a pantry, as well as the bathroom vanity – a labour of love that endured on and off through the entirety of the renovation, he explains.

But once the project was finished, and the debris cleared out, Nathan set to work on the front garden where the family had established a casuarina and other native plants. This now features as a drought- and flood-tolerant ‘raingarden’. During heavy rain, water from the driveway runs through a subterranean trench under a ‘creek bed’ and funnels past plants through to an existing drainage point in the garden.

Rainy days are now one of Pam’s favourite times in their new home. “We spend time in the house now and really love it,” she explains. With two small kids in the old home they were always wondering what to do to get out of the house. “Whereas here on rainy days it’s really fantastic.”

Eugene is equally ebullient. “I’m really satisfied to have been able to design and deliver a project that was beyond Pam and Nathan’s original expectations and to collaborate with them in a true collective effort.”

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Cover of Issue 36
You can read more about A collective effort in Issue 36 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Design / Build
Eugene Byrne

Project type


House 130 sqm;
Land 426 sqm

Building star rating
6.8 Stars

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