What is a fibro house?
The term ‘fibro’ is short for ‘fibrous cement sheet’. Around the world during the postwar period, and particularly here in Australia, fibro was an extremely popular building product. This popularity was multiplied by the fact that Australia was actually the largest manufacturer of fibro in the world at that time. Consequently, the material was widely used, particularly in houses.
Fibro and asbestos
The problem with this was that, during this time, most fibrous cement sheet contained asbestos, an extremely dangerous material that has being completely banned in Australia since the early 2000s. When humans breathe in asbestos fibers they can cause a number of different types of cancers, namely mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestos was so commonly used in fibro that it is likely that any house built from fibro prior to the 1990s contains asbestos. That doesn't mean these houses are inherently unsafe or unfit for human occupation, but it does mean the fibro within them should not be disturbed by anyone apart from qualified professionals. Renovations or attempts to remove fibro by anybody else are illegal across Australia.
Renovating fibro houses
With all that in mind, it is worth asking the question – is renovating a fibro house a good idea? Is it worth the effort? The good news here is that it is worth the effort. The obvious proviso is that on no account should such work be attempted by anybody but a licensed professional, following all the various regulations to ensure that if the fibro (or indeed any other materials containing asbestos) are to be disturbed or removed, such tasks are completed according to the letter of the law.
How much does asbestos removal cost?
This price varies according to who is doing the job and the amount of asbestos found on the property. However, for a house of around 1500 square meters you could expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $30,000 to complete the work.
Fibro house renovation ideas - fibro house renovation before and after
The other good news is that when done correctly, renovations can be completely successful and bring some really charming old cottages back to life and set them up for a long future. As such, buying and selling them is not a problem. Here is a selection of some of the best such projects, along with before and after photos to prove this point.
1. Fibro bungalow in Manly Vale
Renovated by its owner, architect Michelle Walker, this five-bedroom house on Sydney's Northern Beaches backs on to bushland. Built, as so many fibro houses were, in the post-war years this house has a northern aspect and therefore gets plenty of natural light and sun. Now renovated and looking great, it has several additions, including a new pool and outdoor entertainment area.
The façade of the house has been completely transformed with cladding over fibro, a new carport, new veranda and more. In terms of materials, the house now has corrugated iron roofing along with sandstone, granite, timber, painted steel, and weatherboards. Considering the location, all these materials are non-flammable and ready for the next phase of the house’s life.
Moving inside, the architect has gone with an open plan for the kitchen and family area. In terms of colour schemes, she has opted to continue the themes used on the house’s exterior.
Before and after shots of the fibro bungalow in Manly Vale:
2. Fibro house in South Windsor
What started as an investment property in South Windsor that was delivering a poor rental yield, has has been transformed into something completely different. In fact, the owners decided to take full advantage of this property’s large backyard and build a two-bedroom granny flat to accompany the original fibro cottage from the 50s.
As the accompanying photos show, this fibro house renovation was a great success. In fact, looking at the house today it is barely recognizable. Importantly, considering the fact that the owners were mainly interested in improving rental yield, it is also a success in financial terms. The money spent purely on the renovation came to roughly $38,000. Add to that the cost to build the granny flat, which was around $70,000, and you have a total spend of approximately $110,000.
The project met the owners’ goals, lifting the property value from around $380,000 to $510,000, and increasing rental yield by almost 100%.
Before and after shots of the fibro house in South Windsor:
3. Sustainable home on the NSW Coast
Once a rundown, 100-year-old fibro shack at Empire Bay on the NSW Central Coast, this home has been transformed into something well worth taking notice of. Designed by award winning building designer Michael Levers, the renovated house has what it takes to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Built with environmentally sustainable materials, the home prioritizes energy efficiency. On top of that, this fibro house makeover was completed with the well-known phrase ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ at front of mind. For example, the home’s original weatherboards can now be found on the kitchen bench and also on the sliding door that leads to the front room.
Similarly, some old trees in the backyard that were about to fall down were salvaged and the timber was put to use in the backyard to become steps and hand rails. There is insulation throughout and double glazing to improve thermal efficiency, and also things like the use of cross ventilation to further reduce energy use.
Before and after shots of the sustainable home on the NSW Coast: