The energy efficient home extension: solar now, storage later

A home owner with a passion for sustainable living gathered good people around her to complete a energy efficient extension that is now a favourite space for family members to meet, eat and curl up with a good book.
Looking to downsize after her five children left home, Ita Charlton was certain of one thing; she wanted a home that was energy efficient and required a minimum of fuss to heat and cool it.

Ita Charlton
Ita Charlton on the front veranda of her home

Ita and husband Terry, a psychologist who ran a home-based practice, considered a number of options, including a tree change to a rural acreage, before spotting a solid double brick house just around the corner from their family home.
“We were living in a double storey Californian bungalow that was always cold,” says Ita. “Inside was often colder than outside!”
“We really liked the neighbourhood, all our friends were here, so it made sense to stay in the area.”
The new property in suburban Geelong, Victoria, also suited Ita’s plans for a more sustainable lifestyle, with space on the generous suburban block for fruit trees, veggie plots and a chook run.
“There’s a part of me that’s very corporate and a part that’s very hippy; I’ve always recycled and grown veggies even before it became popular,” says Ita. “We wanted to extend out the back and I always had it in mind that I wanted the new section to be energy efficient but it also had to be very comfortable as we get older.”
The extension deck. Pic: Andrew San Photography

With little knowledge or idea of how to start planning an extension that included a mud room, spacious kitchen, dining nook and living space, Ita turned to her friends and local community and started asking questions.
“My builder I met at church and my architect was a friend of a friend,” says Ita. “Both were great at answering my curly questions, particularly about the orientation of our block, which is west not north facing.”
“I wanted a large window overlooking the garden, so the architect suggested exterior awnings which means we can still have the view and still be protected from summer sun.”
“I also found it really useful to visit sustainable homes on open days and ask the owners about blinds, pelmets, awnings, lights, insulation, thermal mass and permeable surfaces and learn the ‘language’ around sustainable building.”
The result is an extension with a contemporary aesthetic that blends beautifully with the older style of the home, featuring a concrete floor providing thermal mass, double glazed windows, exterior awnings for summer shade and a 3.2kW solar system.
The extension viewed from the kitchen. Pic: Andrew San Photography

Ita also had rainwater tanks installed that provide water for toilet flushing, a reverse cycle air conditioner in the main part of the house and two Shugg windows for cross ventilation with the front door.
“The reverse cycle unit was a last minute addition because we wanted to be comfortable,” says Ita. “We can just heat up the house during the day using energy from the solar panels and we still not have an electricity bill.”
Ita’s builder Stuart Wilkinson says the inclusion of double glazed windows and their positioning in the new extension was a vital part of the build in terms of energy efficiency performance.
“The old building methods and materials just don’t cut it any more,” Stuart said. “Good design that considers the right location for windows and shading means their home will perform to a much higher level.”
The energy efficient extension. Pic: Andrew San Photography.

While husband Terry didn’t necessarily share Ita’s passion for sustainable building, when the builder asked if he could bring along a potential client to view their extension, Terry took the lead in pointing out the energy friendly features.
“Terry wasn’t so on board with my ideas, but he let me run with it,” says Ita. “So it was great to see him talking all the specs with our visitors!”
Clever design by the architect also meant that Ita could keep established fruit trees in the back garden and add raised edible garden beds, shade trees, a compost bin and a chook run with old lawnmower grass catchers as roosting boxes.
Ita says the finished product is a beautiful space to cook, eat and gather the family together around the kitchen breakfast bar which is a recycled wooden door that was taken off the back of the house prior to the extension work beginning.
The panels for the 3.5kW system. Pic: Andrew San Photography.
The panels for the 3.5kW system. Pic: Andrew San Photography.

“Living sustainably is becoming more popular, but I don’t think it’s mainstream yet,” says Ita.
“It just makes sense to me that if the sun is up there giving us power, let’s use it; let’s think about our lifestyles rather than just being consumers.”
“The next step is to install energy storage as soon as it becomes more affordable; it’ll mean we’ll get to spend our money on things we want to, rather than on electricity or water bills!”
Ita and Terry’s house will be open for the Geelong Sustainable House Open Day on 24th October.  More information here.

The specs: The specs: Ita and Terry have a 3.5kW solar system with 12 x 130 watt panels. .

Emma Sutcliffe is a journalist, climate activist & proud owner of an off-grid property in Little River, near Melbourne. As Contributing Editor to One Step Off The Grid she meets other off-gridders, a job that makes use of her considerable skills for nattering & drinking tea. If you’d like to share your story, she’d love to hear from you.


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