Energy Efficient House Designs: Better for You & Australia

If you've been a homeowner in the last couple of decades, there's a high chance you've heard the terms 'sustainable construction' and 'energy efficient house designs' either when building a new home or renovating an existing one.

In the recent years, the construction industry has seen a growing appeal for energy efficient houses, and for good reason too. While maintaining the ecological balance on the only planet that can support life is the main reason for choosing an energy efficient home, financial savings is certainly another.

We'll take a good look at the important elements that make these houses so special. But first, let’s go back to the basics.

What Is an Energy Efficient House?

An energy efficient house is one that uses green energy while reducing dependence on non-renewable energy sources. With their careful planning and design, these houses minimise the wastage of energy, and cut down on the emission of greenhouse gas.

Not only does this contribute to healthier living conditions, but you also end up saving a ton on energy bills.

Sound too good to be true? It isn't. It just takes some careful design consideration.

Design

The end goal for any energy efficient house is to minimise its environmental footprint and implement the best energy-saving practices. For this reason, adopting a generic floor plan is simply not good enough.

That’s because it might not take elements like natural light, climate, and location considerations into account. An energy-efficient home needs to overcome these constraints.

A good design is the first step in building an energy efficient house.

Insulation

One of the simplest and most effective components of an energy-efficient home is how well insulated they are. Not only do these houses keep the heat out in summer, but they also seal the heat in winter, so that you are comfortable throughout the year.

In addition to insulation within your roof, walls and floors, elements that affect how well insulated a home is include window location and size, zoning inside the house, and effective sealing.

The ideal home, in this context, maintains balanced temperatures, keeps the humidity levels low, and has good air quality. This will help control artificial cooling and heating devices, as well as increase the resale value of a house.

Windows and doors alone can impact energy usage by about 40 percent. When top quality, energy efficient products are installed correctly, this number can jump upwards of 80 percent.

Renewable Energy

Energy sources like solar panels play a critical role in reducing the dependency on non-renewable sources and staying resource efficient. These panels use the sun’s light to create energy that can be used by many household appliances.

It is worth noting that even when the initial costs are high, this is an investment that will pay for itself in years to come.

What's the Difference Between Environmental Sustainability and Energy Efficiency?

While these terms are often used interchangeably, energy efficiency is essentially trying to get the same job done with the help of less energy. In houses that make use of sustainable architecture, energy efficiency comes down to matching the energy system with the particular site and the building being built on it.

This is usually done by customising plans related to:

  • Design elements such as the orientation, size, and location of a building
  • Construction elements such as the insulation, materials, and structure of a building
  • Mechanical elements such as ventilation, heating, and cooling systems
  • Electrical elements such as energy efficient appliances

Environmental sustainability, on the other hand, is about meeting our current needs without robbing future generations of their right to resources on the planet. This is long-term planning and it includes working on everyday aspects of living like using:

  • Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems
  • Green technology such as solar panels
  • Rainwater capture systems
  • Reducing waste during the construction of the building
  • Using recycled materials such as recycled bricks

The ideal home finds a balance between both these concepts. Architects that know how to design an energy efficient house are well versed in keeping design concerns in mind both before and during construction.

Eventually, you're left with a home that accommodates for your wants and desired way of living, while practicing sustainability and operating efficiently.

A modern living room made using sustainable architecture.

Why Do Sustainability and Efficiency Matter?

More Australian homeowners and renters are choosing to go green as a matter of social responsibility and worldwide, there is a clarion call for companies to be more eco-friendly. Even sporting teams are supporting sustainability initiatives and laws are being modified to bring this into the mainstream.

The Australian home design industry is seeing major changes because of growing social pressure from the public. Social consciousness, climate concerns, natural disasters and global pandemics, all shape how the up and coming generations of homeowners are being pushed to reevaluate their choices.

And the shift in priorities and building preferences couldn't come at a more critical time. With the building sector accounting for a quarter of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, it is vital that Gen Z and Millennials opt for efficient and sustainable housing.

How to Build an Energy Efficient House: Architopia's 8 Principles

Now that you're familiar with energy efficient architecture, it's time to dive a little deeper and understand what goes into building efficient houses.

For the most part, several intelligent tweaks can address many of the common concerns surrounding energy conservation.

At Architopia, we understand the importance of creating homes in harmony with the environmental balance of nature and strive to maintain it with the help of the eight principles listed below.

Orientation

Orientating your home correctly is a keystone of good design — and it plays a critical role in ensuring your home is both energy efficient and comfortable to live in.

As a general rule, habitable rooms (living, kitchen, dining, and bedrooms) should be orientated to the north and east in order to maximise daytime sunlight.

Non-habitable rooms (laundry, bathrooms, toilets, and garage) can be orientated to the south and west as they require the least amount of natural light throughout the day.

By orientating your home (and the rooms within it) correctly, your house can effectively heat and cool itself. This reduces the need to run energy-intensive heaters and air-conditioners.

Orientation is key to good lighting in energy efficient house designs.

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is the ability of a material to absorb and store heat. When utilised correctly, it can help your home maintain consistent and comfortable internal temperatures.

Our designs often use an exposed concrete slab floor as a thermal mass.

In winter, the concrete floor will absorb the heat generated by the sunlight that hits it during the day. In the evening, when the air temperature drops, the floor will retain its warmth — helping your home stay warmer for longer.

In summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, the effect is reversed. The concrete floors are shaded from direct sunlight during the day and the floor maintains its cooler temperature — keeping your home cooler for longer.

Insulation

Insulation is the fibrous material sealed inside the walls and ceiling of your home that acts as a barrier to heat flow. It makes your home function more like an Esky and less like a leaky basket.

Insulating your home properly will help keep it cool in summer and cosy in winter. It’s inexpensive, easy to install, and can reduce heating and cooling bills drastically. We find that using a combination of bulk and foil insulation is an effective and affordable solution.

Insulation is measured by R values. The greater the value, the more effective it will be. As a minimum, ensure your builder installs R2.5 in all external walls, R1.0 in all internal walls, and R4.0 in all ceiling spaces. You should then finish it off with good draught sealing measures.

Ventilation

Ventilation plays an essential role in the heating and cooling of your home.

The size of the home, layout, and window locations all contribute to the effectiveness of air movement and natural cross breezes.

To assist with the natural ventilation process, we locate energy efficient ceiling fans throughout our house designs. During the summer months, fans help draw air through the building. During the winter months, fans run in the reverse direction, gently circulating the warmer ceiling height air back down to ground level.

For most areas of Australia, a well-designed home with sufficient levels of natural ventilation should not require energy intensive air conditioning.

Solar Panels

There's a lot to love about solar energy, especially once you see it in action. It provides homeowners with substantial environmental and economic benefits. For a small upfront cost, you’ll never have to fear energy bills again.

Architopia customers report saving up to $1,650 per year on energy costs — a whopping $49,000 over the life of your mortgage.

For a comprehensive grid-connected solar system, we recommend 6.5 kW of Tier 1 panels connected to a high-quality European-made 5 kW inverter.

Prior to installation, ask your builder to ensure that your panels won’t be shaded by nearby trees or buildings.

Solar panels are a great source of renewable energy.

Rain Water

Rainwater tanks are an essential feature of an environmentally sustainable home — especially in Australia where water can be scarce.

We suggest a ‘charged line’ system which interconnects your rainwater tank and mains water. This system draws from your rainwater tank first, then automatically switches back to mains water when the tank gets low.

Try to position your rainwater tank in a discreet location, close to your bathrooms and laundry facilities. However, remember to check with your builder as there may be site specific reasons which warrant locating it elsewhere.

Hot Water

21% of all energy consumed in the average Australian home is used to heat hot water. So it makes sense to install an energy efficient system from the start.

We recommend choosing a heat pump hot water system that uses the ambient air temperature to heat your water quicker and more efficiently. Heat pumps can reduce year-round energy requirements for hot water by up to 78%. Plus, the small amount of energy that is required to power the unit can be supplied entirely by your solar system.

Simply put, a heat pump hot water system will reduce your carbon footprint and save you lots of money.

Heating

The passive design of your home should mean the need for additional heating is dramatically reduced. Lucky, because heating and cooling is the most energy intensive component of Australian homes, accounting for over 40% of household energy use.

For supplementary heating, we often recommend a small Australian-made wood heater. If you want to up your green credentials, or if you’d prefer a system with a push-button start, consider installing a small reverse cycle split system.

Split systems use heat pump technology making them the most energy efficient form of mechanical heating and cooling.

Your Search for Energy Efficient House Designs Ends Here

There's no denying that the perks of an energy efficient household sound great in theory. However, it takes a keen eye for detail to turn these noble ideas into reality.

If you're looking for energy efficient house designs and plans in Australia, Architopia can help you execute your dream vision without compromising on comfort or quality of life.