An Old Worker’s Cottage Is Reborn Into an Eco-Friendly Home and Learning Center

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By Lucy Wang
A modern Melbourne renovation teaches others how to live sustainably without compromise.

For Leanne and Scott Thompson, living sustainably doesn’t have to mean a life of sacrifice. In fact, the couple prove this with their recently renovated home—known as Melbourne Vernacular—that doubles as an educational showroom for others to learn how green living can be beautiful, comfortable, and financially sound.

The home is topped with Colorbond True Oak Deep corrugated roofing and features double-glazed low-e windows.

The home is topped with Colorbond True Oak Deep corrugated roofing and features double-glazed low-e windows.

Teaming up with Australian-based Altereco Design and a host of other local partners, the couple transformed an old worker’s cottage in Yarraville that dates back 100 years into a modern, eco-friendly powerhouse. 

While the pair was mindful to preserve and reuse as much of the original structure as possible, they also eagerly adopted innovative technologies to cut energy use and carbon emissions.

Cradle-to-cradle certified carpet from the Shaw Group adds a warm layer in the living room.

Cradle-to-cradle certified carpet from the Shaw Group adds a warm layer in the living room.

"Our ambition for the mass adoption of environmentally friendly housing is to prove that a sustainable home is unparalleled in every aspect: style, performance, and technology," explains the couple, who also have created a green consulting business called Melbourne Vernacular, named after the eponymous home. 

"As we work to make this a reality, we believe the discourse around sustainability will change its focus from efficiency, saving, and reduction to one of abundance, beauty, and convenience without cost to the planet."

Filled with natural light and air-purifying plants, the two-bedroom abode boasts clean and contemporary character.

Filled with natural light and air-purifying plants, the two-bedroom abode boasts clean and contemporary character.

 Meticulously restored and expanded, the 1,076-square-foot house follows passive design and thermal mass principles laid out by Altereco Design. 

Cantilever Interiors designed and built the kitchen, which features ECO by Consentino kitchen countertops.

Cantilever Interiors designed and built the kitchen, which features ECO by Consentino kitchen countertops.

The dwelling has a 4.5kW rooftop solar array that produces a net 2.5MW of solar energy per year—enough to power an average two-bedroom home for six months. In addition to energy-saving measures and highly efficient insulation, the fully electric structure can save over $1,000 a year in utilities compared to similar sized gas-powered homes.  

The green roof by FytoGreen helps reduce stormwater runoff and increases biodiversity.

The green roof by FytoGreen helps reduce stormwater runoff and increases biodiversity.

When the couple removed the decayed parts of the original structure, they were determined to salvage and reuse as much as they could. The original red brick from the backyard was recycled into an internal feature wall that acts as thermal mass, while original Bluestone foundation and paving were reused as front paving.

The living spaces are orientated to the north, while the bedrooms have been placed in the south of the home.

The living spaces are orientated to the north, while the bedrooms have been placed in the south of the home.

Recycling also appears in the integration of new materials, such as the ECO by Consentino kitchen countertops, which have been constructed from 75 percent recycled glass, mirror, porcelain, and earthenware.

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The Caroma shower head meets the highest level of Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) at three stars.

The Caroma shower head meets the highest level of Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) at three stars.

A Tivok heat pump supplies hot water and hydronic heating, while all of the heating and cooling technologies—such as the Daikin 5kW reverse-cycle AC unit and Haiku L Series smart ceilings fans—can be monitored, programmed, and automated. 

All materials and finishes were selected not only for sustainability, but also for their effect on health and wellness. For instance, eColour Zero VOC paints were used internally and externally, while water-based sealants were used in all concrete and timber floor coverings.

The extension is clad in Colorbond 'Surfmist.'

The extension is clad in Colorbond 'Surfmist.'

The extension for the kitchen and dining room supports an insulating green roof, which is covered in native "water-wise" plants that are also used in the garden beds.

The native green roof is irrigated using the Rachio smart sprinkler controller, which is set to an automated water schedule.

The native green roof is irrigated using the Rachio smart sprinkler controller, which is set to an automated water schedule.

More than just a home, Melbourne Vernacular is a platform for education and outreach. The community is often invited inside for tours and to learn more about the home design, materials, and smart technology. Upcoming open house events for Melbourne Vernacular can be seen on their website.

Wood Melbourne supplied the Otis timber and brass shower head.

Wood Melbourne supplied the Otis timber and brass shower head.

An edible garden from the Little Veggie Patch Co. is located in the backyard and is nourished with compost.

An edible garden from the Little Veggie Patch Co. is located in the backyard and is nourished with compost.

The Melbourne Vernacular floor plan.

The Melbourne Vernacular floor plan.

 Project Credits:

Building Designers: Altereco Design

Interior Designers: Altereco Design

Photographer: Nikole Ramsay

Kitchen: Cantilever Interiors

Structural Engineer: Raymond Basile