How to build an environmentally sustainable house in 8 simple steps.
Silvertop house by Architopia (coming soon)
At Architopia, we're passionate about designing homes that are environmentally responsible. In fact, it's the reason we started Architopia in the first place (read about it here).
The benefits of an environmentally sustainable home have now been well documented. It's better for both our wallets and the environment.
It's a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, most new homes built in Australia today (95% to be precise) are still poorly designed, mass produced, and energy hungry.
So we've put together a simple but comprehensive guide:
'How to build an environmentally sustainable house in 8 simple steps.'
The principles outlined in this guide are time proven methodologies which underpin our design philosophy here at Architopia.
But these tips aren't just limited to Architopia designed homes - apply this advice to a home renovation or use it as a checklist when buying an existing home.
Spread the word far and wide. The more people than know about these design principles, the better!
And remember, this is just an introductory guide - our architectural packages include a more comprehensive set of plans, specifications, schedules, and sustainability details (click here for our pricing and inclusions).
Ok, lets get into it.
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, the building will effectively heat and cool itself. This reduces the need to run energy-intensive heaters and air-conditioners.
2. 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.
Architopia 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 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 by up to 50%! 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. Finish with good draught sealing measures.
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.
5. Solar Panels
We love solar! 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 6.5kw of Tier 1 panels connected to a high quality European made 5kw inverter.
Prior to installation, ask your builder to ensure your panels won’t be shaded by nearby trees or buildings.
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.
7. 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 which 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!
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.