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Bit by bit for better apartment efficiency

Kevin and Jenny’s red brick building started life at the turn of the 19th century as part of the vast Foy & Gibson spinning and woollen mill stretching from Wellington St up the hill to the retail shopfront on Smith St in Collingwood. About 20 years ago, the upper level was partitioned into 12 double-height apartments. Kevin and Jenny’s features a mezzanine with two bedrooms and a bathroom; a kitchen, laundry and study underneath; and a full-height living room with a glazed wall and double doors leading to a semi-outdoor atrium behind the original façade. It was gracious, but not very efficient.

The basics

“When we moved in, the place was so cold in winter and hot in summer,” Kevin remembers. They set out on a series of small projects to improve the energy efficiency and thermal comfort of the space. The first things they did were seal all the doors and windows, and put in a low-flow shower head.

The roof

Unusually for a strata apartment, Kevin and Jenny own their own roof, “enabling us to use it as we see fit – within reason of course.” Sadly though it’s too overshadowed to be a good contender for much of a solar system. They were able to remove the roofing to put in R4 ceiling insulation (where there had been none at all) and paint the roof with white heat reflective paint, which made a huge difference.

Glazing and lighting

They also replaced three very basic skylights with double glazed, openable roof windows to help vent hot air in summer and improve the apartment’s ventilation. And in the darker rooms under the mezzanine, to provide some ambient light they installed three clever solar ‘skylights’: LED panels powered directly by a single solar panel on the roof. “There are no switches,” says Kevin. “The panels get brighter and dimmer in response to the level of sunlight outside, so it’s a very natural-feeling illumination.” All the existing lights in the apartment have also been replaced with LEDs.

Cost-wise, the main improvement Kevin and Jenny made was installing Magnetite secondary glazing on the huge glazed wall, 4.5m wide and 5m high at its highest point. The optical grade acrylic sheets attach using magnetic strips to discreet metal frames glued in front of the original panes of glass, and Kevin says the results have been terrific.

“The internal temperature is far more constant, and it’s more even through the apartment. Before, when you walked towards the glass, the air got noticeably colder.” They use their heater for far fewer hours each day, and very much enjoy the greater comfort and thermal stability. “If you have a lot of glass, it’s worth considering secondary glazing.”

Kevin's tip

Seal all your doors and windows properly and stop draughts. It’s the cheapest thing you can do.

Kevin Cato, apartment owner