2. The house before starting the challenge

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The nine steps described on Beyond Zero Emissions’ site http://energyfreedom.com.au/ are insulation, rooftop solar, lighting, draught proofing, hot water, in-home displays of energy use, heating and cooling, cooking and appliances, and double or triple window glazing. When we bought our house about nine years ago, there were none of these things.

Our house, in an inner suburb of Melbourne, is an Edwardian weatherboard about 100 years old with  a corrugated iron roof. For a city house, it feels a bit rural, situated close to the Yarra River and surrounded by gum trees, and with a largish backyard facing north to the sun. We moved here from a small terrace house when we wanted a bit more room for growing teenage offspring and space for growing veggies.

It’s a two-storey open-plan family house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a laundry cupboard), two living spaces (one with an open fireplace), kitchen, dining area and two studies. The windows are all single glazed, insulation is old or non-existent and when we moved in there were no energy saving fittings of any kind. However, one good feature is the back of the house faces north and big windows capture the winter sun, making the living areas warm without heating on sunny winter days.

The oven upstairs

While the north-facing windows were great for keeping downstairs warm, it was unbearably hot upstairs on warm days. After the first full summer, and with the kids trying to study for VCE exams, we put in evaporative cooling upstairs as it seemed like the best option at the time. We probably should have fixed the insulation first. And since putting in the rooftop solar (see post number 5) and knowing what we do now about the energy efficiency of reverse cycle heating and cooling compared to other types, we may have chosen differently. All this shows it’s good to have an overall plan of action. The problem is our knowledge, needs and finances don’t always coincide and we tend to make decisions a little bit haphazardly. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Renovation

In early 2013, we renovated the kitchen and bathroom. Both were old and grotty, with rotting chipboard cupboards and no modern appliances. We love cooking and needed more bench space to do it. We also desperately wanted a dishwasher. An architect friend drew up plans for a wonderful design that was much more aesthetic, practical and functional. Initially, we wanted to use recycled materials, but finding a builder prepared to do that proved impossible, despite a lot of research. I’m sure they exist but seem very hard to find. Most builders don’t understand why you would want to reuse old materials, as it’s so much easier (and usually cheaper) to buy and work with new ones. Eventually it got too hard. We became a bit discouraged, and wanted to get the work done, so we compromised and settled for beautiful recycled Black Butt timber bench tops, and reused a couple of old doors, but pretty much all the other materials were new.

Good quality Earthwool insulation was installed in the ceilings and walls (including internal ones) of the newly renovated areas, as well as LED lights. We also had heat-reflecting film applied to the west-facing windows and some of the north-facing ones, and heat-reducing solar blinds installed on all the north-facing windows downstairs.  But the rest of the house had to wait until the piggy bank had a few more coins in it.

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