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Art Deco Homes in Australia

The art deco style first emerged in France prior to Word War 1, and by 1925 was increasingly popular internationally.  It began to appear in Australia in the 1930’s and marked a significant movement away from Villas and Bungalows. The style can be found across Australia

This style of home is characterised by features such as flats roof, stucco cladding, rounded corners, parapet walls, semi-circular walls, recessed porches, casement windows, and external decorations such chevrons and horizontal lines.


Generally, dwellings of this style are solidly built, but their unique features means they are not without their issues. Common issues and maintenance with art deco homes:


Weather tightness

The flat or low-pitched roofs which often include internal gutters means leaks can be a major problem. Other contributing factors include parapet walls, lack of eaves and protection around windows, cracks in the stucco cladding that allow moisture in, and the lack of underlay on walls and roofs. Careful and regular maintenance is required to minimise the damage that these can cause. This should include:

Monitoring the condition of the gutters, and ensuring they are clean of debris


Sealing any cracks in the stucco cladding, and maintaining the paint system


Checking and maintaining the roof cladding


Checking that the subfloor space is dry and well-ventilated.



Insulation

Art deco homes were built without insulation and typically still lack it due to the difficulty of insulating the narrow or non-existent roof space.

Where floors have had underfloor insulation installed, it is likely to be reflective foil fixed to the underside of floor joists or, if installed after 1990, it may be polystyrene sheets fitted between floor joists.

Insulation to the walls is unlikely to have occurred unless the interior or exterior wall linings were removed for major renovation work.


Lead

Lead was used in art deco houses in external and internal paintwork, flashings, valley gutters, heads to nails and waste pipes. Oil-based paints were commonly used up until the mid-1960’s when the hazard it posed became more fully understood. The effect of lead is cumulative – it builds up in the body, leading to lead poisoning. In extreme cases it can result in brain damage or even death.

If you intend to undertake renovations which involve removing layers of paint then the following precautions should be taken:

  • Use drop sheets.


  • Wet sand to reduce dust.


  • Fit a power sander with a vacuum dust bag.


  • Wear a dust mask at all times.


  • Collect dust and debris as work proceeds and bag or contain in a suitable closed container (such as strong plastic bags).


  • Dispose in a place approved by the local authority.


  • Keep children and pets well away from work areas.


Asbestos

All homes built prior to the year 1990 should be assumed to contain asbestos materials. In art deco homes, Asbestos sheets were sometimes used as a stucco substrate, and in later floorings or decorative ceilings which may have been installed.

These materials become a health hazard when they are disturbed and the asbestos fibres are released into the air. Unfortunately the danger is often underestimated because symptoms often do not appear until 15–20 years after exposure.

If you are intending to undertake renovations and suspect asbestos may be contained in the materials we recommend carrying out testing first.

Old wiring

In some art deco homes the original wiring may still be present. At the time of the art deco style, cloth-wrapped rubber insulated wiring (with an earth wire) was used without conduit. This wiring deteriorates over time as the rubber insulation perishes and becomes brittle, posing a significant fire risk. Where this wiring is still present, we strongly recommend replacement, as it poses a fire risk. The presence of this wiring may also have implications on your insurance policy.

Renovations

Art Deco homes can be subject to special building restrictions put in place by local councils in order to protect their special character – we recommend contacting your local council before undertaking any work (photo courtesy of wowhaus.co.uk).


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