EPISODE TWENTY TWO

THE WA PROPERTY Q&A PODCAST

What makes a home comfortable with – Sid Thoo

What makes a home comfortable

In This Episode

This week’s episode we chat with award winning architect, educator, and consultant, Sid Thoo.

If you are on the hunt for the next property that is eco-effective, sustainable but within the budget, then be sure to listen to the whole episode. The discussion covers topics such as

  • what makes a home flow
  • how to make an older home more sustainable,
  • the importance of insulating more than just the roof space,
  • why sealing gaps is an important piece of the puzzle,
  • the ROI of solar panels, and
  • the importance of good design in creating a comfortable home.

Sid also shares insights on the importance of conscious design in building better homes.

Chapters

00:46 Introduction

01:36 Sid’s teaching experience and architectural background

02:37 What makes a home flow?

02:56 Understanding the concept of ‘flow’ in home design

04:35 The impact of home design on resale value

06:40 The importance of intuitive home design

09:22 Challenges of open plan design

13:10 Room sizes and how they affect value

24:33 The importance of outdoor living spaces in Australian homes

26:25 Can old homes be retrofitted for sustainability?

27:49 Insulation challenges and solutions

28:26 Top three home improvement tips

28:42 Cavity wall insulation: cost vs benefit

31:54 The role of windows and doors in energy efficiency

42:29 Benefits of ceiling fans and solar panels

42:36 The impact of wall insulation

45:49 The importance of good design

Links and Resources:

Transcript

Peter Fletcher

[00:00:00] Peter Fletcher: Welcome to the WA Property Q& A, the podcast where I explore the ins and outs of buying property in Western Australia. I’m your host, Peter Fletcher, and each week I interview local property experts to help you to develop a deep understanding of the nuances of buying property in WA. From market trends to legal considerations.

No topic is off limits, but before we dive in a friendly reminder, while we provide valuable information, it’s important to note that nothing discussed in this podcast should be construed as personal investment advice. Always remember to seek the appropriate professional advice for your specific circumstances.

Now, let’s get started and unlock the secrets to successful property buying in WA. Welcome to another episode of the WA property Q& A podcast and welcome Sid Thoo.

[00:00:51] Sid Thoo: Thank you for having me. Good to see you Peter.

[00:00:53] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, good. So for as by way of introduction, Sid, you are a registered architect. You’ve been registered for since 2007, I believe.

[00:01:03] Sid Thoo: Felt like it was only yesterday, but yes, since 2007, architect number 2142 in the state of Western Australia.

[00:01:11] Peter Fletcher: 2142. Wow.

[00:01:13] Sid Thoo: Len Buckridge is like 63 or something like that. Maybe not quite that early, but he’s a very low number. Really? Yeah. Was an architect.

[00:01:23] Peter Fletcher: Okay. Well, an architect that’s that’s made a hell of a lot of money doing things that are non architectural, I’d suggest.

[00:01:32] Sid Thoo: Yes. Yeah. He’s certainly left a profound impact on the industry.

[00:01:35] Peter Fletcher: Yes. Yes. Well, I didn’t, well, I actually think I knew that So, you do courses at REWA, you do courses at, or you do some lectures at Notre Dame.

[00:01:44] Sid Thoo: Yep, teaching at Notre Dame University these days, but previously have taught at Curtin, a little bit at Edith Cowan, and also at UWA.

[00:01:51] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, yeah, so you like to share your knowledge. I do, I get around. Yeah, and I think that it, it was at the Rewa course that where I found out about Len Ridge being an architect. Oh, right. Okay. Yeah, I think you might’ve mentioned that. Ah, mm-Hmm.

[00:02:04] Sid Thoo: Okay. Yes. Well, thank you for coming to the course. I hope you learned something.

[00:02:07] Peter Fletcher: Oh, I, it’s easily the best CPD course that they run. Oh, that re were run that, whole Day with you and Chiara and the other guy, Simon, yeah, you know, that whole thing about the R codes and designing sustainability around R codes and all that sort of stuff. It’s bloody good course. I loved it.

Yeah. Thank you. So, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. And today I want to talk about two main sort of streams of conversation. Sure. Number one is what makes a home flow? And number two is how do you make an older home more sustainable?

[00:02:51] Sid Thoo: Yes. Yeah. No problem.

[00:02:53] Peter Fletcher: Yeah. So let’s start with flow.

You know, the questions I’m about to ask,

[00:02:59] Sid Thoo: And I’ve done a little bit of mental preparation. I haven’t written anything down.

[00:03:02] Peter Fletcher: So what makes a home flow?

[00:03:05] Sid Thoo: Okay. So I think flow is one of those words. That can take many different meanings for many different people. Yes. And I think sometimes it’s given a bit too much emphasis and used in a bit of a kind of hand wavy wishy washy kind of way.

Okay. I guess I would probably say what makes a home flow is a home that seems intuitive. So you walk in the door. And the doors in the place where you expect it to be, you arrive in a space that you expect to be in the thing that

you’re aiming for, either the kitchen or the living room or the bedroom, all the spaces are in the place where you think they would, they should be.

I guess in that sense, they connect well nothing seems counterintuitive. If you’d never been to that house before, you should be able to work out basically where the bathroom is and where the toilet is. And, that’s something that I know when I go to parties and other people’s houses.

As an architect, I guess, with my professional background and training, I can usually work out where the toilet is without having to ask, but not always. So, yeah, I guess for me a house that flows is one that just seems to make sense and follows a certain kind of logic. Not to say that it can’t be quirky or have idiosyncrasies.

I think that’s something that’s an important part of a home’s character and aesthetic. But yeah, I guess it is just everything gelling and falling into place and things just seem to be the way they should be.

[00:04:31] Peter Fletcher: The reason I probably should preface this because I’m interested in this stuff, but part of the reason I’m interested in it is because I actually think that homes that flow better, that are intuitive.

I think they sell better. Yeah. And I think that you could almost argue that the resale value of those homes are better as a result of their design.

[00:04:55] Sid Thoo: Yeah. It would be nice if we could quantify that. It would be. A bit like how you can’t actually say it, but it has been implied that architect homes are more valuable and therefore will attract a better sale price.

I don’t think there’s any hard data to actually substantiate and quantify that. However, I will say that whether a house is designed by a homeowner, a building designer, a draftsman, or an architect, houses that are designed well, that take into account the needs of their clients, that give consideration to things like thermal comfort, energy efficiency, sustainability, that have good quality finishes, that are sympathetic to their streetscape and their neighborhood.

I think that those things all have a cumulative effect that other people will see and appreciate the effort that’s gone into designing that house. And, you know, I’m sure you’ve had this conversation with your clients and your customers, but I guess sometimes people get a little bit fixated on, Oh, what are the things, you know, what are the five things I need to put in my house to increase its resale value?

And then traditionally would say things like, Oh, ducted air con and engineered stone benchtops. But, you know, there are no, no, now, obviously, and would pick off these kind of really obvious kind of quantitative things that are actually really quite superficial. But if a house is designed fundamentally well, and the plan makes sense, and yes, it may be designed to suit that particular family that live there, but when it’s time for them to move on, and whatever chapter they’re up to in their lives, there’ll be some other kind of family, couple homeowner that will come in and go, yeah, I get it, I like this place, it’s got a good vibe, it feels good, And sometimes they might be hard to quantify exactly what it is that makes that place feel positive and have that good energy.

But yeah, I think people can sense it.

[00:06:35] Peter Fletcher: Because you can always retrofit your stone bench tops and your stainless steel appliances, but you certainly can, you almost can never retrofit a good flow. Good des a good home design. Yeah.

[00:06:47] Sid Thoo: If the floor plan’s yeah, if the, if,

[00:06:49] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, if the floor plan works.

The floor plan will always work, pretty much.

[00:06:54] Sid Thoo: What’s that saying? You can’t polish a turd. You can’t polish a turd, yes. And as an interior design friend of mine said, you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.

[00:07:04] Peter Fletcher: And that often happens in, in, in property. Yeah,

[00:07:07] Sid Thoo: And then you add the bling and you bring in the fancy furniture and you turn all the lights on and you do those things to try and make the house feel a bit more kind of warmly and welcome and comfortable.

But, yeah, I think still, sometimes. You can still tell when a house when bad decisions have been made despite your best efforts to mask or hide them having said that, you know, property is a very fickle industry. It’s fairly volatile. And, we’re in a a very strong demand market at the moment.

And, yeah, I guess even if it’s not a particularly good house or I doesn’t have a particularly good floor plan, you can probably still get a pretty good price for these 10 the way the market’s going. So, yeah.

[00:07:42] Peter Fletcher: Yeah. And on that design issue, you take a home like that? Ivanoff home in is it Ivanoff or I one off Ivanoff.

I Ivanoff home. Yep. I think it’s over in towards Floret. Floret,

[00:07:56] Sid Thoo: yeah. Yep. Okay. The one that burnt down,

[00:07:58] Peter Fletcher: Got burnt down and rebuilt.

[00:08:00] Sid Thoo: I went to high school. With the wife. Right. Yeah. She works for Westfarmers. Both her and her husband work for Westfarmers. I don’t know the husband. She probably wouldn’t remember me.

But yeah, I went to high school with her. Lisa Church.

[00:08:11] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, right. But that home is a great example of design. Yeah. It’s exactly what you’re talking about. You walk in and it’s just like Everything is just feels it’s like it’s in the right spot and it’s I

[00:08:29] Sid Thoo: don’t know if it was an amazing architect. I believe trained somewhere in his education by Frank Lloyd Wright and he was classified as a modernist brutalist kind of architecture.

He did amazing things with bricks and masonry units where he would make these kind of almost sculptural kind of forms. And yeah, still a modernist in terms of his architectural sensibilities and philosophy, but yes, there’s a lot of playfulness and character in his homes. Yeah. It’s hard to design a house like that these days, but look, there’s still a market for it.

And there’s still architects that can cater for those needs. But yeah, no, he was an amazing architect and for someone of such a high international pedigree and reputation to end up in Perth, Western Australia, practicing architecture, the Northern Library was also designed by him. So that’s what I’m checking out, if you’re ever out that way.

[00:09:14] Peter Fletcher: Wow. Okay. Good to know. So I went through a home with a client a couple, but the one I’m thinking of is By all accounts, the home was perfect. It was just the, like the ideal size, the ideal price range. And you walked in and it had this open planned kitchen, meals, family room. And then you started to go, well, where are we actually going to put the dining room, like the dining table,

[00:09:47] Sid Thoo: The three seater lounge, the.

[00:09:49] Peter Fletcher: Where are we actually going to put that? And suddenly it didn’t, it no longer worked. It just. Well, okay, if we’re going to put the lounge here, we’re going to be hard up against the,

[00:10:01] Sid Thoo: enough space to put the dining table there, or you’re going to have to squeeze past that bit of furniture to go from here to there.

Yeah. I think.

[00:10:07] Peter Fletcher: So, what are the red flags here? What should people be watching for? Because these things are like, they’re so easy to overlook when you walk through a home and there’s 50 other groups of people there and you’re under pressure to make a decision and it’s just easy to look at the stainless steel appliances and the stone benchtops and go, Oh, isn’t it so lovely?

And then buy it and then realize I’ve actually bought a shit design. Yeah. Whoops.

[00:10:33] Sid Thoo: So, therein lies the irony of open plan design right where this idea of it being an open plan space we have minimal internal walls you can configure and use the space however you wish theoretically. But if you haven’t thought about how an open plan is actually going to work and where the dining table is going to go and where the lounge suite is going to go.

Just because you’ve got a lot of big open space doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good functional space. And, for example, I guess you take these, these high end architectural ideas, open plan, living, open plan design, and, eventually gets watered down to the mass market. So the volume builders and the product Tom’s the like.

And what you often see is that what volume builders are trying to do is to build the most rectangular or like simple four corners, 90 degree angles home that they can. So basically just build a rectangle and then they just cram everything in because that’s the easiest, cheapest and fastest way in which they can build a home.

And that’s when open plan designing a large open plan living kitchen dining, but actually it’s just the corner of the building where they couldn’t fit anything else. So they just stuck it all in there. But actually, when you sit down and think about it, that space doesn’t work particularly well.

So, I guess, having purchased a house recently, And being in that situation where it’s a hot market and you have to make a decision quickly, it’s good if you can get that second viewing. If the agent’s got a floor plan available and maybe just have a think about how the space will actually be furnished.

And I guess if you’ve got people setting up the house for the display and the whole moment and the like, you’d think that they would arrange the furniture in some kind of logical sequence. So I guess maybe this one was vacant right yeah which can they can make it even harder to understand how the space is actually going to work.

And yeah, in those open plan spaces, you can sometimes get this kind of big empty void that’s just in the middle there that you can’t put any furniture there. You can’t really use that space. And yet it’s supposed to be some very positive open plan. So yeah, I guess it can help maybe to get some advice maybe from a building designer or an architect or an interior designer to come with you if you can do that.

I guess if you’ve got very distinct pieces of furniture and items that you own, have in mind the size they are, maybe draw them on a bit of paper and then think about how you might actually arrange them in that space when you move in, because we can’t always afford to buy a new dining table or lounge suite when we move into a new home.

And yeah, just working with what you’ve got. Yeah, it’s a very good point that you raised though.

[00:13:04] Peter Fletcher: So, with. Room sizes, room sizes can be too small and once they’re too small, they’re impossible to fix. So there’s a place just around the corner from where I live walk in the family, the dining room, the kitchen, the family room, that was all okay.

And then you walk into the bedroom and they’re. They’re tiny, like you really would only put a double bed or maybe a king single in all of them and you look at it and go, well, how could I fix this up? And you go, I couldn’t. No. Ikea. Yeah. Well, it’s just like, if you wanted to have a queen size bed in those rooms, you’ve suddenly got no room for your bedside tables or your.

You couldn’t open the walk in road doors or all that sort of stuff. So small rooms are a problem, but you can have rooms that are too big as well. Couldn’t, can’t you?

[00:13:59] Sid Thoo: Certainly can. Yeah. And I think it again, comes down to how you actually going to furnish and inhabit that space. So, something I always do as an architect, when I’m drawing a concept design for a client I will always show furniture and I’ll have a rough idea as to the I know the size of a queen bed and I know the size of a king bed and the single bed and what a typical table is.

So I will put that in the space to make sure that they can fit. And I guess therein lies the challenge, right? You don’t wanna make the house any bigger than what it is it necessarily needs to be. So try and keep it compact, but you don’t wanna make it so that it’s feeling cramped and the spaces don’t work properly.

So some design tips for bedrooms if people are building or renovating, I would probably say around about. Anywhere from just over 12 to 16 square meters, I probably wouldn’t make a room much smaller than that. So 4×4 works quite well, you can get 4×3 to work. 4×3. 5 meters is probably a better space. Walk in or built in robes are pretty much a standard thing these days.

And even if you don’t build them in, you plan for how that’s going to fit into the space. So I often work with clients that have limited budgets and so I don’t really like doing those really basic robes where it’s just a bit of wood and there’s a rail kind of screwed to the underside. So I always design recesses for robes that kind of fit systems like the Bunnings one and the IKEA one so that you can go and get one of those flat pack wardrobes and know that it’s going to fit within that space.

I often don’t put doors directly into the corners of rooms. I always try and set them off slightly, because then that gives you the ability to put furniture behind the door. Whereas if you put the door straight in the corner, then the next, the only place you can put a bit of furniture is close to the door, but up against the wall.

And then it blocks the door as you’re walking in. So that can make it a bit awkward. I usually design around queen size beds, so not that every client has a queen size bed and a lot of kids obviously still sleep in single beds, but I will show a queen size bed because I think that’s

[00:15:57] Peter Fletcher: It makes sense to because your kids are never, are not going to be five years old forever.

No you know, and if they hang around after they turn. Twenty? They’re not going to be sleeping in a single bed anymore.

[00:16:09] Sid Thoo: No, no they’re not. So yeah, designing spaces so they can adapt and change over time too. And I guess meeting your needs now while also planning for potential future needs and potential future prospective buyers.

I guess you tend to see those smaller rooms in much older houses where Bedrooms were very utilitarian. It was really just

[00:16:27] Peter Fletcher: especially the eighties where it was, well, yeah, I remember talking to a building sales person, like a user housing consultant. And he we go, wow, the bedrooms are very small.

He said, yeah, they are small and they’re deliberately small because what we’ve chosen to do. Yeah. What we’ve chosen to do is. Is put more space in the living area and less space in the bedrooms because you go to sleep in your bedrooms, you don’t live in there.

[00:17:01] Sid Thoo: Yeah, but how, the way we inhabit houses has changed over time now and anyone with a teenage child would know that they just live in their room.

[00:17:08] Peter Fletcher: It was BS to sell the house, let’s face it, but. That was a thing back in the 80s where bedrooms were designed. One

[00:17:15] Sid Thoo: little trick that I heard, apparently, some of the volume builders used to do, was that they would design these rooms that were too small for, like, a double bed or a queen bed.

But then they would get custom furniture made so that the bed looked like it was a double or a queen bed, but it was scaled down proportionally. So it looked like it was the right size, but if you actually tried to put a real double or queen size bed in there, there was no way it was ever going to fit.

Hopefully that kind of thing doesn’t happen too much anymore, but

[00:17:40] Peter Fletcher: yeah. Oh yeah, that’s bad. Yeah. So that’s bedrooms. What else can you tell me?

[00:17:48] Sid Thoo: About flow? Yeah. Okay. Bedrooms, think about where your wet areas are going to go and this taps into my passion about sustainability and designing houses that are energy efficient.

I often try and keep the wet areas of a house clustered together, simplifies the plumbing, means that you can have one part of the house that’s where all the showering and the washing go, like laundries are back on the kitchens, bedrooms, sorry, bathrooms, like en suites are back on the bathrooms.

I’m trying to keep them in a central place, minimize, like having distant runs of plumbing going from one to the other. It probably doesn’t make much of a difference to the cost of the build, but it certainly makes it easier to manage and maintain all the time. And yeah, it makes it more efficient to run your whole.

[00:18:30] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, yes, yes, yes, yes. So, as the years progressed, home design seems to have gone in different directions. So back in the 70s and 80s, probably even earlier than that, you had this formal dining room, formal lounge room, or a drawing room, and then you had the, the kitchen. And in the 80s, you started to get these family rooms off the kitchen.

So, you had informal living areas and formal living areas. That pretty much is no longer, no one has that anymore. It’s pretty much gone.

[00:19:07] Sid Thoo: Yep. Now they have home theaters.

[00:19:09] Peter Fletcher: I was just about to ask you that question. Yes. The home theaters are, the home theaters going to become the 19 or the early two thousands version of the formal and informal living area Probably.

[00:19:21] Sid Thoo: Yeah. And again, with the way how a lot of houses get designed by the volume housing market, you draw a rectangle, you fit as many rooms in there as you can. If you have a bit of space left over, you call it a home theater. Yeah. I, I get the whole audio visual. I’m on the big screen TV and the surround sound and the comfy chairs and they look, there’s a place for that.

But come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever designed a house for the home theater. Yes. Yes. I guess the kind of clients that I’m fortunate enough to have that seek out an architect like me often want to design small compact homes that don’t have superfluous space and a home theater is not necessarily part of that kind of feature set that they’re looking for in a home.

[00:20:02] Peter Fletcher: I suspect that it’s going, that home theaters are going to go the way of the dinosaur. And I suspect that that home designers are going to start making bigger bedrooms. And why? Because if you were a teenager, you want your own space with a decent sized bed. A a desk for studying and maybe even a little louy kind of area where your couple of your friends can sit down and watch you play video games.

Yeah. Or you could all play video games together, which requires a larger room and you don’t want to, be necessarily be doing that out in the family room with mom and dad.

[00:20:41] Sid Thoo: I actually designed a house in Swan View for a lovely family. . I have had three young children at the time when I designed the house, this would’ve been back in.

2009 2010 and we have the kind of main open plan living area kitchen dining lounge then coming off the corner of that lounge living area was like a games room when informal lounge if you want to call it and the children’s bedrooms were clustered around that space so it was connected to the rest of the house but it was a distinctly separate space.

That could have a table tennis table in there. It could have a second TV and basically it’s use could change and adapt as the children got older

[00:21:16] Peter Fletcher: architect designed activity room. I’m a god. I’ve seen those before

[00:21:22] Sid Thoo: I think thinking about the way we live in our houses. Hold it certainly brought things into a stock kind of reality where we got trapped in our houses for an extended period of time where basically we don’t go out to do our shopping and that was it.

I think a lot of people realized just how crappy their houses were that the spaces weren’t particularly good and they didn’t quite work the way they wanted when they had to spend all of their time. Inside the house and it’s been great for business for me as an architect because a lot of people now realize that they want to do things to make their home nicer and more livable and yeah, I think it’s also good in terms of raising awareness for the value that good design brings to your home or your renovation.

Because there’s so many things that you can do that aren’t necessarily expensive or difficult things to do that can make that home much more comfortable to live in and yeah, just more livable all around. Are

[00:22:16] Peter Fletcher: there any fads going around at the moment that you that are not going to be here in 10 or 20 years time?

[00:22:22] Sid Thoo: Yes. As to what they are, I honestly couldn’t tell you. Yeah. Try not to get caught up in what the latest fad or trend happens to be. Yeah.

[00:22:31] Peter Fletcher: Certainly from a home decoration, you know, like interior design. Yeah. That’s fad central. Absolutely.

[00:22:38] Sid Thoo: I don’t think it needs to be. And I think it’s a bit shameful and a little bit wasteful that it is this idea that, Oh, I don’t like that decor anymore.

I’m just going to put all out, throw in a skip and do it all over again. Yes. On an interesting side there is that in a lot of retail tenancy, so in the big shopping centers, you sign a lease for one of those retail spaces that have a clause in the contract that requires you to refit. Your store every 5 years.

Yes. And you know if it cost you 250, 000 to do without to a retail like when are you actually going to make any money? Yeah, yeah. And I think thankfully a lot of center managements don’t enforce that, that contract. But yeah, it’s crazy. I You know, there was a, there’s a famous architectural quote. I think it was Louis Sullivan that said, form follows function.

This idea that the form and the geometry of a building should be only and directly informed by the function of its space and the way it’s going to be used. But in truth, in architecture, form follows fashion. And there are things too that are cool at the moment. So. Yeah, one fad that I really hope goes away is black colored roofs.

I think that’s a terrible idea. We often look at. People love Monument. They do. Yeah. Colourbond matte. Yeah. That’s very popular. I think. Yeah. I try not to let those things inform that my design sensibilities and my choices. They probably do at some subconscious level, but I guess I try to always go back to fundamentals.

Just design good spaces that meet the client’s needs, that takes into account the requirements of their brief, that can be built affordably. I hope that building will be around in 50, 70, a hundred years time and that people will look back and go, yeah, that’s still a pretty good house. That’s what I aim for anyway.

[00:24:26] Peter Fletcher: What about outdoor living spaces, because you’re like, it’s all about the inside, but as Australians, we just love living outdoors.

[00:24:36] Sid Thoo: Yeah. And that gets back to your point about flow, this idea of the indoor outdoor connection. Is that a fad? I don’t think so. That kind of makes sense. And I think that’s definitely suited to our climate.

So. Pretty much every client comes to me wanting a outdoor living area that’s directly connected to their kitchen and or living area to have that indoor outdoor flow. And I think that makes a lot of sense when you live in a beautiful climate like what we have here in Perth. The challenge is often to do with orientation and how you make all those spaces work.

So what I often see is, if you’re trying to design a house that takes advantage of the sun and uses it to keep a cool in summer and warm in winter. You might then end up with a living area that faces north, which is a good thing for getting sold again into the house. But then, logically, you put your outdoor living area right next to that living area.

So then that is on the north side of your building. And then people put a covered roof over the top of it because they want to use it all throughout the year. Yes. And they start blocking the winter sun. It’s okay in summer because it keeps the sun out, but then it can make your house cold in winter.

Look, there’s ways to design around that. And the easiest way is to do what’s called a covered solar pergola, where you design it so that it still allows the winter sun in, but it’s covered so that it keeps the rain and the weather out. The key thing there is understanding where the sun’s coming from, designing your building to suit your lot and the orientation of the sun, while also meeting the requirements of your brief.

So working out and thinking carefully about where you might put that outdoor living area in relation to the main living area. For example, you might put it on the east side of your house instead of on the north. Because then you can have a covered area that provides shading from the early morning summer sun.

It gives you that indoor outdoor connection. It doesn’t compromise the northern aspect of your home.

[00:26:18] Peter Fletcher: Is it possible to retrofit old homes to be, like, livable slash sustainable?

[00:26:26] Sid Thoo: Yes, and I think there’s a fair argument to be made that retrofitting of existing housing stock is the most sustainable way forward.

And I don’t know what the exact number is, but I know from past projects where I’ve done, and we’ve done this thing called life cycle assessment, We’ll be trying to work out how much energy and carbon goes into making a building over the lifespan of its building. When you renovate as opposed to demolish and build completely from scratch, you can reduce the total carbon emissions by around 40 to 50 percent.

[00:26:58] Peter Fletcher: I own a 1950s home. Where do I start with making that home more sustainable slash comfortable? Yeah. What’s the, somebody’s starting point?

[00:27:09] Sid Thoo: And what style of house are you in? I think this into a client perspective client meeting. I love it.

[00:27:14] Peter Fletcher: Well, so we’ll call it a an art deco Californian bungalow.

Okay. Right.

[00:27:20] Sid Thoo: Yeah.

[00:27:20] Peter Fletcher: And we’ve got the stucco plaster on the outside and some

[00:27:24] Sid Thoo: kind of fancy windows ornate kind of cornices and the like. Yes.

[00:27:28] Peter Fletcher: All of the above.

[00:27:29] Sid Thoo: Excellent. Beautiful house by the sounds of it. And it’s probably okay in summer, but freezing cold in winter?

[00:27:37] Peter Fletcher: Yes, yes, it’s a bit of, bit from column A and a bit from column B,

[00:27:42] Sid Thoo: yes, yes.

And what have you done to the house so far?

[00:27:45] Peter Fletcher: Well, we put so we put R6 insulation in the ceilings. Okay. What a pain in the ass that is. Right. Because it’s so thick, no one can get

into the roof space now. I had an air con guy come around to do some work and he just looked at me and he goes, oh my

[00:28:03] Sid Thoo: god.

Like a 275 or 300mm.

[00:28:05] Peter Fletcher: It’s about this thick. It’s massive. Yeah.

[00:28:07] Sid Thoo: Did it make any difference?

[00:28:09] Peter Fletcher: I think it has. Yeah.

[00:28:10] Sid Thoo: I think. And that’s the low hanging fruit kind of thing that you can do to improve the. thermal performance of a home, if I were, without knowing the specifics of your house.

Basically, the two main things that I would do, or three main things I would do. Upgrade the ceiling insulation. Yes. Install cavity wall insulation. Seal up all the holes in your house to reduce the drafts and the air movement through the building fabric. Okay. Yeah. Pretty much, they’re the top three.

[00:28:36] Peter Fletcher: Cavity wall insulation is super expensive.

Is it? Well, that’s my experience. I had those guys come around to do to do the, yeah, to do the insulation. And we just looked at the price and went, Oh, maybe we’ll put that on hold for the moment.

[00:28:52] Sid Thoo: Sure. Okay. I’m just trying to think how much, cause I did my house.

And I didn’t use the same company that would have spoken to you. The company that I used is now owned by some other people and I’m not sure if they are the right people to do the job anymore. But I think it was around about 4, 000 to my house, and it was about 3, 000 to do the ceiling.

[00:29:11] Peter Fletcher: Yes, because insulating the walls turns the whole home into a giant esky, doesn’t it?

[00:29:18] Sid Thoo: Yes, but in a good way. Yes. That makes sense. The thing with most of the houses that we built in Western Australia are cavity brick

houses. So they’ve got anywhere from 90 to 100 mm, 110 mm of brick on the outside, a 50 mm cavity, and then 90 to 110 mm of brick on the inside. And a lot of people believed that the cavity in the wall added to the insulation of the home, and that’s why we built Cavity Brick.

But actually the only reason the cavity is there, Is because bricks porous if it gets wet basically the water migrates from one side of the brick to the other and if the outside layer of brick is touching the inside layer of brick, the water will migrate all the way into your building and you have mushrooms growing inside your home and not the kind that you want to smoke or eat.

Yeah, so that’s the reason for the cavity, but the wall has a high level of thermal mass, but not a very good level of insulation. So it can help to keep your home cooler in summer, but I can almost guarantee you it’ll make your house colder in winter because thermal mass basically sucks. The heat yes yes rather than heating the space inside your building the heat dissipates into the walls and then the walls get warm other than the building itself getting warm so it’s not my ideal way of building like you can make it work but basically the way to get cavity.

Brickwork construction to work is to put insulation in the cavity that blow in insulation is probably the best kind to use. Yes.

[00:30:45] Peter Fletcher: Is another option to put a skin on the outside of the brickwork?

[00:30:50] Sid Thoo: Yes. So, another great way to build a wall is what we call a reverse brick veneer where you put brick on the inside and that gives you thermal mass that helps to regulate and stabilize the temperature.

But to stop all the heat from disappearing into the walls in winter, you then build frame construction on the outside of that brick wall, fill that with insulation, put your cladding on the outside, and then basically you have a brick veneer, but the veneer’s on the outside, sorry, the brick’s on the inside, and the cladding’s on the outside.

It gives you very good thermal performance for a house. So you can do that. I guess the challenge is, though, that when you’re adding to the external perimeter of your building, if you’re already on the boundary, Then adding another 90 to 120 millimeters of framing and planning might then put you too close to the boundary, which then creates a planning issue.

So if your house is in the middle of a big lot, yeah, sure, not a problem, but yeah you might need to just be mindful of the setbacks and the distances from the side boundaries.

[00:31:47] Peter Fletcher: Okay. And so what about what about double glazed windows? Are they worthwhile?

[00:31:54] Sid Thoo: Yes, but they wouldn’t be the first thing that I would do.

Okay. So, and I discovered this working with a client of mine from about five, six years ago, had an old kind of corner shop that had been converted into a house in Mount Lawley, built out of brick around the turn of the century. Okay, in summer, freezing cold in winter, and we modeled the energy rating for their house and unsurprisingly, it was only something like 2.

3 stars out of a possible 10 stars, and it was reflected in her lived experience that it was freezing cold in winter and it needed lots of energy to keep that building warm, and so we tested out different retrofit options for that client to see, okay, well, if we upgraded the windows or added insulation here, there, or whatever, Difference does that make and what we found was is that windows make a very small improvement like maybe 3, 4 of a star in this particular house, but they cost three or four times the cost of doing other things like fitting ceiling insulation or fitting cavity wall insulation.

But yes, everything that you do can improve the building envelope and the fabric and make it more energy efficient, but there’s certainly things that I would do first. Because they either cost less or they will have a biggest, bigger impact on the overall performance.

[00:33:05] Peter Fletcher: You mentioned about getting rid of the gaps, sealing the gaps, how do you go about doing that?

[00:33:11] Sid Thoo: There’s a variety of techniques that you can use. So the junctions are the areas that you need to focus on in an old house. So basically where the floor meets the wall, the window goes in the wall, where the door goes in the wall, where the wall meets the ceiling. It’s almost always at the junctions where you have gaps.

So if you take. The old wooden floorboards that we love in these kind of old, kind of mid-century houses, and they build the wall. The wall will be over here and then the floorboard will finish like 30 millimeters short. Yeah, no, it’s gonna be hidden by a skirting, and that doesn’t matter. True. I’m actually renovating

my kitchen at the moment, so I ripped out the kitchen and I knew that I was gonna discover this, but I saw it as a stuck reality there.

Basically, there were no floorboards where the kitchen cabinets were. Oh, wow. I can see through to the underside of this garden of my home because it was going to be covered by a cabinet. But having a big gaping hole in your floor is. Not going to make for a very airtight home. And if your home’s not airtight, it’s very hard to control the temperature in your space because you’ve got air flowing in and out of all of these gaps and holes and you can’t really stop it.

So I’m replacing all of my floorboards, and then I’ll have a little gap left along the edge of the wall. Then I’ll fill that with what’s called a backing rod. So it’s a little piece of Expanding, it’s not expanding foam, but it’s a little bit of squishy plastic, it comes in a roll, you can buy it at the hardware store beginning with B, and basically you stick that down into the gap, and then it expands out, so you squish it, stick it in, it pushes out, it fills up that gap, and then you seal it up with a mastic or a sealant on top of that.

[00:34:39] Peter Fletcher: And then you put your corner round over the top of that?

[00:34:41] Sid Thoo: Then you put your corner, sorry, your skirting or your quarter round over the top of that, and then you get a nice kind of airtight seal along the edge of your building. So it’s a little bit of extra work, but it’s not that hard to do. Most people could do it themselves.

And it’s just about not taking that attitude of out of sight, out of mind. Oh, if I can’t see it, then I don’t need to worry about it thinking, well, that’s a hole I can plug it up. I can fill that bigger holes. You’d fill with one of those cans of expanding foam. So there’s a part of my floor where after I’ve put the floorboards back in, I’m going to go back in and spray the expanding foam.

And then that will just expand and that expands like four times its original size and will fill up. Okay. Any gaps that are left over. So little things like that, plastering up holes, using the sealants, filling the gaps between your floorboards where the tongue and groove joints don’t come together. If you can see light coming through a bit that you shouldn’t be able to see light coming through, then it basically needs to be filled and sealed.

[00:35:34] Peter Fletcher: What about. In the fifties, they used to put holes in the ceilings, like the little vents in the inner corner.

[00:35:42] Sid Thoo: That’s a way of dissipating the heat. They don’t work.

[00:35:46] Peter Fletcher: They don’t work, yeah.

[00:35:47] Sid Thoo: All they do is allow crap in your ceiling to fall down into your room and everything gets covered in a fine layer of dust.

And they make your house less airtight. So yeah, basically they don’t seal over them, seal over them. So one trick you can do there, you can get different colored mastics. So you can get like a dark gray or a black, and then you get up and you just plug the holes. So you can still see. The architecture and the style of the vent that’s been built into the roof.

Yeah.

[00:36:11] Peter Fletcher: Yeah. If you liked it that much.

[00:36:12] Sid Thoo: Yes. Or go in up in through the roof space, but obviously be careful because it’s electrical wires and plumbing and services up there. And then maybe just cut off a square plasterboard from a sheet. Stick it down over the top and then seal around the edge. And that’s another way of sealing it up.

Yeah, it was this idea that, oh, well, heat rises. So therefore I’ll put some holes in the ceiling to allow the heat to rise up through into the roof and dissipate. And look, that’s true, but that’s not the main mechanism through which heat flow occurs in that space. And certainly they don’t do enough to make any difference to improving the thermal comfort of that room or space.

[00:36:46] Peter Fletcher: Okay.

[00:36:48] Sid Thoo: Can I just add a caveat? Yeah. Where you have vents like that in the outside of the wall, usually below floor level, don’t seal those up. Yes. Need to be left open because they allow for subfloor ventilation, which you need to allow moisture to stop moisture and condensation from accumulating. And it helps to prevent termites, helps to prevent timber rot.

So yeah, those ones you need to leave unsealed.

[00:37:08] Peter Fletcher: Yes. So that’s the stuff below. Floor level. Yep. In the subfloor. What about the vents? So if you’ve got a gas heater, you, you’re required to have

[00:37:17] Sid Thoo: You are. Don’t seal them up. Don’t seal them from a regulation point of view. Yes. And a lot of people are moving away from gas these days.

Yes. And there’s a lot of data to show that basically burning hydrocarbons in your living room as some form of heating leads to asthma, allergies. various other health outcomes, carbon monoxide poisoning. Cause not all of that gas will burn properly. And if the building breathe or it doesn’t have vents to allow some of that to be mixed in with fresh air from the outside, you can dramatically reduce the indoor air quality.

[00:37:48] Peter Fletcher: What trades person would do all that if you were a bit. Handyman challenged as I am

[00:37:55] Sid Thoo: You’re not the first person to ask that and I actually struggle to think of someone who might do that and I almost think that maybe I should start doing it, it’s not hard to do and I, like I’m working with a client now who has a house in Kensington and I’m probably going to go around and like spend an afternoon with them at some point and say, okay, this is how you do it and get one of them.

They’re going to finish off doing it themselves. Carpenters should be able to do it, particularly finishing carpenters, the ones that do all the nice little trims, right? But everyone’s so busy these days, and a lot of them aren’t used to doing it, even though they know how to do it. I think it’s, there’s almost a need for a kind of new sub trade of people that can go through and do these, these energy efficient retrofits.

[00:38:33] Peter Fletcher: So for anyone out there listening, here’s a side hustle for you.

[00:38:37] Sid Thoo: Yeah, and if you can, or if you’ve got the skills already, get in touch. I’d love to. To meet you and yeah, I recommend you to people.

[00:38:42] Peter Fletcher: Yeah, I reckon I could recommend them to at least one person as in myself.

[00:38:47] Sid Thoo: I made a YouTube video where I put door seals on my front door.

Yeah. To show people how to do it. And I had like 39 people watch the video. Yeah.

[00:38:55] Peter Fletcher: Yes. You’re famous. Now, and on the matter of seals, doors are pretty leaky, aren’t they? They are, yeah. And windows.

[00:39:04] Sid Thoo: Yes. Good doors and windows, like new ones, they built within the last kind of 10, 15 years, they should be fine, because they were so

[00:39:10] Peter Fletcher: I’ve got a 1950s home, remember?

[00:39:12] Sid Thoo: Right. Okay. Yeah. So yeah, retrofitting your existing windows is probably a good thing to do. There are companies out there that specialize in timber window repair from that era of home. It’s a very expensive exercise though. So, you have to think about again, bang for buck, low hanging fruit, like that will make a difference, but it will probably make a smaller difference than say, spending money on putting the ceiling insulation in instead.

[00:39:35] Peter Fletcher: Yeah. I know we lose a lot of, you can feel the air blowing in around the front door.

[00:39:41] Sid Thoo: You can hear it, but you can definitely feel it. Yeah. Yeah. I once woke up in a house I was living in, in the middle of the night. And there was someone whistling in my room and I worked out it was actually a hole in the frame of the window, like just sealed.

And the ironic thing is they put in a UPVC double glazed window, but I haven’t been installed properly. Yes, there’s a little gap in the corner. Yeah.

[00:40:01] Peter Fletcher: So I, I installed some, went to Bunnings and, bought some of these, strips that you put.

[00:40:07] Sid Thoo: Yeah, so Ravens make them, and then another company called Morday make them.

[00:40:11] Peter Fletcher: They fell off. Right. What am I doing wrong?

[00:40:14] Sid Thoo: Probably having cleaned the surface properly. So you need to use a bit of sugar soap maybe a bit of alcohol, wiped it down, get all the dirt off. The adhesive won’t stick basically, unless it’s a clean surface.

[00:40:24] Peter Fletcher: Someone needs to come up with a side hustle.

Yep. And do this stuff.

[00:40:30] Sid Thoo: Watch this space, we’ll come back to you on that. I’ve had this conversation with Chiara Pescevici from Green Gurus. Yeah, yeah. There is definitely a need. Yeah, so if anyone’s keen, please get in touch.

[00:40:39] Peter Fletcher: Yes, yes. So in terms of priorities, it’s. Ceiling insulation, number one.

Number two,

[00:40:48] Sid Thoo: Cavity wall insulation.

[00:40:49] Peter Fletcher: Cavity wall insulation.

[00:40:51] Sid Thoo: You say it’s expensive, but I say it’s worth it. Okay. I lived in my house in Bayswater for one summer. Yes. And basically I had to have the aircon on.

[00:40:59] Peter Fletcher: So they blow this air, this stuff in, don’t they?

[00:41:02] Sid Thoo: Yeah, they do. Yes. So, they have this machine that’s called a hopper.

And they fill it with a granulated insulation. So it’s like the stuff that the bats made out of, but it’s been broken up into little chunks. And basically this hopper chews it up and spits it out and it gets sucked in through a tube and they stick it in the wall and they blow it in and they drill holes in your wall every 600 millimeters apart.

So it does have an impact on the aesthetic of your home. They do patch it afterwards, but like, if you’re thinking of repainting your home, do the cavity wall installation first, they can patch it up and then you can repaint over it and people will be none the wiser.

[00:41:33] Peter Fletcher: And if somebody comes along later and wants to run a, an electrical cable up through the, is that still possible?

[00:41:42] Sid Thoo: It is. Just do your electrician a favor and tell them that you’ve got cavity wall insulation. Yeah. I forgot to tell an electrician who came in and did some work on our house that we had cavity wall insulation. It just took him longer to get his chase through and to pull the cable through and I said, sorry about that.

Just charge me for the extra time. So the insulation is compacted in that space, but it’s not so compacted that you can’t still run a conduit or a bit of wiring.

[00:42:04] Peter Fletcher: Right. Yeah. So they just need to know that it’s there.

[00:42:07] Sid Thoo: Yeah. And allow extra time for them to work their chase or their cable down through the cavity.

[00:42:12] Peter Fletcher: Right. Yeah. Okay. Good to know. Yes. So then it’s, we’re talking wall insulation and then.

[00:42:19] Sid Thoo: Sealing up the gaps. Sealing up the gaps. Yep. What’s next? Probably ceiling fans, so Ceiling fans?

Okay. Oh, back to the wall installation. Yes. Sorry. No worries. Do you have to do all walls?

Ideally, yes. Okay. But some walls might be too

difficult.

So if you have a west facing wall, would you, would you, like, you do the south and west facing wall?

I would do the entire perimeter of the building. The way heat flows is, it will always find the weakest point. So if you have a wall, and there’s a window in that wall. Basically the heat will flow predominantly through the window because the window is the most conductive surface.

Yes. If you have a building with four walls and two of those walls are insulated and two of them aren’t, you reduce the heat flow through those two walls that are insulated. But then you have disproportionately greater heat flow through the walls that are uninsulated. So you only get a marginal improvement because you still have more heat flow coming through.

Yes. Yes. So, I think that’s the key thing there, that really you wanna do the entire improvement of your building if you Mm-Hmm, .

Mm-Hmm. . Yeah. Okay. Okay. So, sorry to interrupt there. That’s all right. So we’re back to ceiling fans. Yeah. What about PVCs on the, on the

roof pvs photo vol texts? Yeah.

Yeah. Okay. So they won’t do anything to improve the thermal comfort of your home? Mm-Hmm. . Except that don’t make it cheaper for you to run your air conditioner using the energy from the sun rather than. Power that you’re burning from a coal fired power station on the grid. They’re definitely worth doing.

Though, and look, the payback is, you know, within five years with the way things are going, electricity prices are just going to keep on going up. And electricity and solar PV, renewable energy is, is a no brainer. I think there’s something like almost 2 million houses now in Australia that have solar PV.

So, yeah, I guess you just need to think about the condition of your roof. So I haven’t done it on my house, for example. I’ve got this old terracotta roof. And the tiles are fretting, which basically means whenever I go up into the ceiling, there’s a thin layer of red dust sitting on my insulation bats because they’re basically falling apart from underneath.

So I know my house needs to be re roofed, so I don’t really want to put solar panels on my roof before it’s re roofed.

And when you re roof, are you going to re roof in Colourbond?

I may have to. I was trying not to. Why? I thought I would like to keep, I’ve got a Californian bungalow built in 1938, and I was hoping to keep that same aesthetic.

You can make it work with a color bond metal deck roof, but yeah, it’s obviously not quite how the house was originally designed and intended, but it is quite expensive to get a house re roofing tiles. We had one quote and it came in at 35, 000 plus GST, so. I looked at that particular system because they owe that company also had a roof solar tile that was the same size the roof tile so rather than mounting the solar panels on top of the roof tile you could integrate it into the laying of the roof but it was already 35, 000, 38, 000 to do the roof without the solar tiles, that’s going to have to go on the back burner for now, even architects don’t have endless pots of money.

Oh, come on, no, of course they don’t. I think that’s about all we’ve got time for. We could talk about this for days. Because, yeah, no, that’d be awesome because it’s, I think that to my way of thinking, good design and great finish makes a really comfortable, good home.

Like if you can get those pieces right, and then if you can get the comfort, livability, sustainability piece right.

And I would argue that all comes on the good design. Yeah. And you know, the funny thing about design is, design is a conscious act, right? You design and set out with the intention of designing something.

And I don’t believe anyone ever sets out with the intent to design something badly. It often is the result of a compromise process or a misunderstanding of the client’s brief or poor communication between the client, the architect and the builder. makes a design bad. So I think we all start out with the best of intentions.

And I think it’s just about taking a holistic view, looking at going beyond the stainless steel appliances and the stone bench tops, but thinking about how long is this house going to be around for? How am I going to live in it? How can I make the best out of the space? No, I don’t have an unlimited budget, but where should I spend my money to get my best bang for buck when you take into account all of those things and you have an informed client and knowledgeable architect and a skilled builder working together and collaboratively, then you’ve got your best chance for success.

Sid, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and with us. Like, it’s just super, super valuable and thanks for all the work you do at REWA. I, you know, I don’t speak on their behalf, but I do know that I’ve attended those courses and for any agent that is listening into this podcast, be sure to go and attend your courses because they are just terrific.

Now, for people that want to reach out to you and get you to start designing something, building, doing something for them. Too

busy.

I was speaking to a client today, she was almost in tears because I said I didn’t think I was going to be available to take on a project. So we found a way I can potentially still help her. So I am stupidly busy at the moment, but I do want to help and I’m always happy to have a chat. And a lot of it, you’re incredibly generous with your time.

Well, I think the more people know, and the more you share that knowledge, then the better we are. I’m a firm believer that a rising tide floats all boats. So,

yes, but I’m just going to do what you didn’t want to do and say that people should visit sid2, s i d t h double o, dot.

Yep. Just. com. Or if you just Google my name, Sid Perth Architects, I’ll come up.

Yeah. Just ignore those photos from when I was young, those naked photos. It was a long time ago and I needed the money.

Well, and if you can also find a Sid’s Only Fans account.

You are my subscriber. One

and only, Sid. One and only. Thanks, Peter. It’s been a pleasure. All right, Sid. That’s been great. And until next time, this has been Peter Fletcher on the WA Property Q& A Podcast.

And that wraps up another episode of the WA Property Q& A. We hope you found our discussion valuable and gained some valuable insights into the world of property buying in Western Australia. Remember, while we strive to provide useful information, It’s crucial to consult with the appropriate professionals before making any investment decisions.

Don’t forget to tune in next week for another exciting episode where we continue to unravel the mysteries of the WA property market. If you have any questions or topic suggestions, feel free to reach out to us. Until then, happy property hunting, and remember to seek the right advice for your personal circumstances.

Thank you for listening.