Sustainable Home Design

Welcome to part 1 of a 4 part series that looks at sustainable home design. In the series, we’ll cover all the vital information and tips you need to know to make your home sustainable and ‘green living’.

We’re going to cover a number of areas including a low-cost and common sense approach to improving your existing home, the key components of passive design, building a 
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sustainable and energy efficient extension, hiring a certified ‘Green Living’ builder and finally we’ll give you some great tips and advice. We are sure you will find some amazing information to help you make a positive mark on the environment whilst also creating a great living space in your home.

So, what is sustainable home design?

It can mean different things depending on what your perspective and goal is. People often think of it in terms of being eco-friendly; a friend to the environment through the conservation of energy by reducing energy consumption or the conservation of water, particularly in many parts of Australia.

But a sustainably designed home can mean a lot more to a home-owner. It’s a clean minimalist way of living, a lifestyle preference, a healthy environment and to many a way to reduce living costs and increase property appeal and value.

There are also regulations to adhere to when building new homes or building additions to existing homes. In Victoria, all new homes or additions to homes require a 6 Star Energy Rating. More about this in a later post.

In more specific terms, sustainable home design encompasses the following components:

  • Thermal Comfort
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Water Efficiency
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Indoor Space and Amenity.


Thermal Comfort

Thermal comfort is defined as:

…that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.

In other words, it is how comfortable you are with the surrounding temperature; how hot or cold you are feeling. Thermal comfort is one of the major factors in having a healthy and enjoyable life, and how your home is designed and built is vital to ensuring that you are thermally comfortable; nice and cosy in winter, and fresh and chilled in the hot summer months.


Energy Efficiency

Energy is the capacity for a physical system to do work. As an example, if a room in your house is allowed to heat up on a hot summer’s day, for an air conditioner to lower the temperature requires an amount of work. The greater the temperature the more work the air conditioner has to do to make the environment thermally comfortable, therefore the more energy (in this case electrical energy) is required to do that work.

Energy efficiency is about reducing the amount of work required to get the same desired output. For example, if the house was designed so that the room is not allowed to heat up significantly, then the amount of energy required by the air conditioner will be less to achieve the same level of thermal comfort. Hence, we can say that the design of the house is more energy efficient. In fact, whilst using this as an example, it is estimated that about 40% of all household energy is used for heating and cooling. This makes it the largest energy user in the average Australian home.

You can improve energy efficiency by ensuring that your home is designed to minimise the amount of energy required to heat or cool it.

Using renewable energy is another approach to increasing your home’s energy efficiency.


Water Efficiency

Did you know that on average an Australian household uses a hundred thousand litres of fresh water per capita? Consequently, there is a continual push to encourage homeowners to increase the efficiency of water use. That is, to reduce the amount of wastewater – this differs from water conservation which aims to restrict usage.

Like energy, there are simple things that can be done to reduce waste. The most prevalent usage of water in the home is from showers, toilet flushing and laundry. Therefore, reducing shower times, using small flushes and using eco settings on your washing machine will help reduce water use. For outside, it is common to conserve water by collecting rainwater.

New homes, renovations and extensions can be designed to minimise water wastage.  We will go into more details of how in later posts when we look at improving your existing home and how to build a sustainable home extension.


Indoor Air Quality

The quality of the air that you live in, in particular indoors, has a profound effect on your health.  One of the main concerns relating to indoor air quality is in the use of gas cookers and *non-flued gas heaters (which are illegal in Australia). These can be a major source of the pollutants found in a home. Also, as homes are better sealed from the external air there is the risk of pollutants being trapped indoors, in particular from condensation.

As part of the sustainable design of a new home or extension, it is imperative that good ventilation and airflow are incorporated to ensure that the air you breathe remains fresh and pollutant free.

The use of indoor and external plants is another tactic to improve indoor air quality.


Indoor Space and Amenity

By improving the way you use space in your home you can improve not only your living environment but also reduce energy consumption.  In some cases by swapping rooms around and using the strategical placement of furniture, storage and appliances you can negate the need for any additional constructions. We will touch on some ideas to improve space efficiency in your home in the next blog post.

Now you have an overview of what constitutes sustainable design, get ready and look forward to the next part of this series where we will be providing you with specific ways to improve the efficiency of your existing home. We will mainly talk about low-cost and easy improvements that can be done right now.

* According to the BCA (Building Code of Australia) Section 3, anything that burns fuel must be flued directly to the outside air. The result of burning fuels, such as natural gas, is the emission of carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide is odourless and potentially fatal if breathed in where no fresh air is available. Older houses were often very drafty and therefore well ventilated so carbon monoxide emissions were not brought to the notice of consumers. Today, however, deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning are still regularly occurring.