Planning a bungalow renovation

Bungalows have a distinctive character that can easily be lost or destroyed – so it's important to understand the home's unique features and common problems when planning a renovation.

ARTICLE Trevor Pringle, PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of BRANZ

Bungalows have a distinctive character that can easily be lost or destroyed – so it’s important to understand the home’s unique features and common problems when planning a renovation.
Bungalows first appeared after the end of World War 1 and were the dominant style in the 1920s. Typically oriented towards the street – with no consideration to passive solar gain – these houses tend to have a central corridor with rooms opening off either side, the living room at the front and service areas at the rear.
Many bungalows are in need of upgrading to improve their energy efficiency and generally bring them up to the standard expected of 21st century housing. Before considering renovation work to address issues such as unsuitable layout, enlarging or adding space, replacing outdated fixtures or simply cosmetic work such as painting and papering, the state of the existing building should be carefully reviewed.

Structural weakness

Structural problems in bungalows may include undersized framing, chimneys and other brickwork with failing mortar, and problems with foundations and subfloor. Renovation work should begin with a detailed survey of the structure of the bungalow. Use a structural engineer to assess structural damage, loadings, the condition of foundations and roof, and possible strengthening measures.
Many bungalows have uneven floors and need to be repiled or levelled. Some have inadequate foundation bracing, insufficient ground clearance, or insufficient subfloor ventilation causing dampness under the building. Bungalow floors should be checked for borer and other damage, and will benefit from underfloor insulation.

Second-hand material may be available to replace small sections of the old-style corrugated roofing, but in many cases the roof may need to be replaced – often for the second time. The use of new long run roofing eliminates the need for end laps, which have a greater risk of deterioration. Marseille roof tiles are still available but may be manufactured to a different size.


Where existing timbers are damaged, a decision must be made whether to retain or replace boards and to what extent. Split, bowed and cupped weatherboards compromise the weathertightness of the building and will need to be replaced. The decision as to whether or not to replace boards must take account of the availability of matching materials to make the repair, and of the risk of further damage to boards during removal. Small splits may be able to be filled with flexible exterior filler.
The original timber species used for the weatherboards and finishing timbers (often native timbers) may not be available or only available in limited amounts, although this is not a problem for painted weatherboards as the timber is concealed by the paint coating. Modern standard timber cladding profiles are metric, not imperial, so an exact match, particularly for rusticated weatherboards, may not be possible.

Thermal efficiency

Bungalows were typically constructed without insulation. Even with modifications, most bungalows fall below current insulation requirements. New work can easily be insulated to the required levels, but it may be difficult to insulate existing walls where existing linings or substrates such as match lining are being retained.
As windows are likely to be single glazed, options for consideration to improve thermal efficiency include removing the existing sash and glass and modifying the sash to accept insulated glazing units, installing insulated glazing units into the sash using a small aluminium section, adding removable secondary glazing in winter, and installing heavy drapes that have a Velcro seal down each side of the window.
Renovation work will generally make the bungalow more airtight, which is likely to make it more prone to internal moisture problems (with moisture generated by cooking, washing etc.). Design solutions must include systems to remove moisture such as insulation, extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms, and heat recovery ventilation systems, which bring in fresh air from outdoors and warm it by means of a heat exchange process that takes the heat from the stale indoor air before expelling it outside.
If there is a musty smell, it may be able to be traced to a damp subfloor and the migration of the moisture through a draughty floor or a leak from an internal gutter or through the roof or wall cladding.

Interior finishing

Standard interior timber moulding profiles such as skirtings and architraves that are now available are in metric, not imperial, which makes an exact profile match impossible. Options for matching interior finishes include removing all existing trim in the room and replacing it (use the removed material to make good or repair in other rooms), having new profiles run to match the existing and sourcing second-hand material.
In some cases, damage may able to be repaired in situ by the judicious use of specialist fillers, or by filling and painting, which means the natural timber appearance is lost but the profile is retained.

You might be interested in reading: How to renovate a California bungalow.

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This article by Trevor Pringle featured in Issue 004 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.


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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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