Renovations — with architect Peter Johns

Renovations are more prone to cost variations than building new.

Melbourne-based architect Peter Johns demonstrates that when it comes to architecture, there are many ways to breathe new life into old bones.

Why renovate? There are plenty of reasons to improve a home. Perhaps your family’s needs have changed. You may need more space or want to use your home’s spaces differently as family circumstances alter. It could even be that your home needs upgrading or enlarging to maintain its serviceability, or to remedy long-term problems. Whatever your rationale, it pays to work through a structured process to get the best advice and ensure your renovation delivers all you desire.

The renovation journey

In even the most meticulously planned renovation, unforeseen circumstances are likely.Renovations are more prone to cost variations than building a new house. This is because you’re building onto an existing structure that can hold all sorts of surprises.

Renovations can be measured in terms of both financial cost and disruption to your lifestyle. So as a first step, consider the potential cost of your renovation versus rebuilding your home. Next, do you and your family stay on site during the renovation? Your presence can constrain the builders and make your life difficult. However living off-site will add to the overall cost.

Next, determine your budget range. If the rationale for your renovation is to prepare your home for sale, check out other recent renovations in the neighbourhood. This will give you a sense of the market. Remember that over-capitalising is just as unwise as under-investing. Once you arrive at a figure from talking to architects and builders, add in a ten per cent contingency fund. In even the most meticulously planned renovation, unforeseen circumstances are likely.

Finally a few words about managing your project. Some home owners opt to act as their own project managers. If you choose this route, be prepared to devote a lot of time to familiarising yourself with the construction process, consent requirements and contract details. A safer alternative is to leave this to your architect.

Putting it right

A renovation is an excellent opportunity to put right defects or other flaws within a home as builders, electricians and other experts will be on the property. You could consider repainting your exterior or re-roof, re-piling or earthquake strengthening. Be sure to brief your architect about these early in your discussions so they can be included in the cost estimate — they can always be removed later if you need to prune your costs.

It's feasible to include contrasting architectural styles.

It’s feasible to include contrasting architectural styles.

Which style?

How you feel about the style of your current home will influence the directions you give to an architect. However try to keep an open mind to your architect’s response. They can often see opportunities that home owners miss because they see the house as it could become, not how it is currently experienced. Here are just some of the directions this conversation may follow:

1. We want the new to look like the old – If your house is in a heritage zone, you may be obliged to keep any renovation or extension in the same style, at least where it is visible from the street. If you are keen for the extension to match the older house, you should look for architects with heritage expertise.

2. Dual personality – A big box has landed in the backyard of an older home. Once inside, you traverse from small, darker rooms to a light-filled open plan living and dining area plus an island kitchen. It is perfectly feasible to include two highly contrasting architectural styles within the same home.

3. Hybrid – Some renovations target an in-between option where the old and the new ‘talk’ to one another. They may share some elements but not others. The new is clearly new and sits comfort- ably alongside the old, but might share similar palettes. Modern joinery might be installed in the older rooms, and new rooms might be influenced by the rhythm and scale of the older house.

When adding to an older dwelling, find ways to capture light and warmth.

When adding to an older dwelling, find ways to capture light and warmth.

Renovating sustainably

Many older houses in New Zealand are poorly insulated. As a result, they require active heating and cooling — a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention energy costs. Therefore care should be taken when renovating an older house to ensure proper insulation extends beyond the extension.

When adding to an older dwelling, your architect should be able to suggest clever ways to capture light and warmth. These could include designing your extension so it receives sun throughout the day. If you’re creating a new living area facing south, you could incorporate highlight or ‘clerestorey’ windows that face north for maximum exposure. You could even space the extension away from the existing house to enable some northern aspect glazing.

Other sustainability tips include reusing components from demolished portions of the house such as strip flooring and windows.

Red tape — navigating the consents process

Bungalow renovationResource Consent requirements can influence the design process in ways you may not expect. Your architect should be able to explain how these affect what you want to achieve. Here is a summary of the main areas that could be influenced:

1. Site coverage – you can only build on a certain portion of your site. This varies by location and relates to the density of your neighbourhood.

2. Permeable areas – to prevent council drainage systems from being overloaded, a set area of your site must be able to absorb rainfall directly. Stormwater from extensions may not be able to be fed into some older combined sewerage systems.

3. Heights in relation to boundary – to preserve the typical style of a neighbourhood and to protect neighbours’ access to sunlight, your extension may need to be designed so that it is lower at the outer edges than at the centre of the building. This can present a challenge if you are on a steep slope and have a neighbouring property on the southern boundary.

4. Maximum height – most councils will allow you enough height for a second storey. However this may be compromised if your property is on a steep slope or your ground floor is raised above ground level.

5. Trees – some native New Zealand trees are protected and may not be pruned or removed without council consent. If you do need to remove or trim a tree, be sure to contact an arborist familiar with local requirements.

6. Parking – councils have on-site parking requirements which can have a big effect on your front yard. Check with your council or architect to determine how these requirements might apply to your renovation.

Written by Peter Johns of Butter Paper Architecture
Project – Bungalow renovation and addition, Auckland, New Zealand 
Photos – Simon Devitt