The topic of energy efficiency is hotter than ever these days. All too often, homeowners find themselves faced with winter’s chilly draughts and escalating gas bills that alternate with insufferably hot summer temps and sky-high air conditioning costs. The good news is that energy efficient home designs can make a huge difference in comfort and cost savings. More importantly, they’re planet-friendly. So, whether you’re looking to build a new energy efficient house, renovate in an energy-efficient way, or improve your existing residence with energy efficient home design features, there are plenty of smart solutions to consider.
What is energy efficiency?
Before we dive into design ideas and explore cost saving measures, it’s important to define energy efficiency. There’s a lot to the concept but in short, any efforts to improve energy productivity and achieve the same outcomes while using fewer resources can be considered as important steps toward better efficiency.
With regard to homes, this basic energy efficiency definition encompasses anything that helps reduce bills, protect the environment, or manage the demand for energy.
Swapping out power-hungry appliances and choosing energy efficient lighting are two very simple examples of ways to make a difference. It’s true that these cost-cutting measures are small when compared to those offered by a new energy efficient house design or a robust remodel. However, every little bit of savings puts more money back in your pocket. And, as more people swap out everything from energy efficient fridges to energy efficient heaters Australia benefits on the whole.
Building from scratch: How to design an energy efficient home
The Building Code of Australia (BCA) requires all new homes and extensions in South Australia to meet minimum energy efficiency standards. Specific requirements depend on which of the three climate zones the home will be located. An official energy efficiency assessment ensures compliance in several areas including:
Thermal insulation in walls, roofs, and floors
Adequate measures to reduce energy loads associated with heating and cooling
Appropriate draught proofing and building sealing
Adequate window glazing performance
Proper insulation of services, i.e. piping and ductwork
Appropriate sealing applications for heating / cooling ducts
Adequate air movement / ventilation
Water heater efficiency
The use of renewable energy solutions, i.e. solar panels
All factors should be considered during the planning stage, so it is vital to select a home designer, architect, or builder who has a demonstrated understanding of energy efficient house design principles.
Location, location, location
When creating energy efficient home design plans, builders take every structural aspect into consideration, beginning with the home’s site and orientation. These measures ensure the home’s ability to take the best possible advantage of sun and shade throughout the year.
If you haven’t yet purchased property, a site’s potential for passive cooling and passive solar heating is a factor that’s well worth keeping in mind. This doesn’t mean that your home won’t need an active HVAC system; however, it does mean that you will be able to enjoy a combination of greater comfort and the lowest possible energy bills.
Passive home designs utilise a combination of shading and prevailing breezes to encourage cooler temperatures in summer, while taking advantage of lower winter sun angles to create warmth in winter.
Other key passive home design features include:
Heavier thermal mass built into flooring and walls, which aids with temperature regulation during the summer while storing heat in winter
Insulation everywhere – ceilings, floors, walls, and roo
North-facing windows that capture more sun in winter; shading and eaves that prevent hot, direct sunlight from hitting those windows in summer
Ventilation passageways and convection features that allow airflow between openable windows and louvres while encouraging hot summer air to travel out of the home’s upper level
Internal doors that allow you to keep heat and air conditioning in occupied spaces
Additionally, consider orienting living areas to the north and positioning rooms where you’ll be spending less time in the south side of your home. This is an easy way to take advantage of sunlight during the winter, ensuring that your favourite spaces are bright and warm.
Large homes are wonderfully inviting but keep in mind that small energy efficient home designs will cost far less in terms of everything from actual materials used in construction to energy use. Smaller footprints and smart designs that offer space-saving features built in can readily accommodate an entire family. Good designs enhance liveability, making sensibly sized, space-conscious homes more popular. When planning to build with energy efficiency in mind, it’s important to remember that multi-functionality and comfort can easily outweigh size.
There’s another benefit for those who choose small, low cost energy efficient home designs: With less to clean and maintain, these homeowners find themselves with more time and money to spend on happier pursuits.
Many of the best energy efficient home designs Australia has seen to date have solar PV systems that generate at least some of the energy required for comfortable living. There are net-zero houses that don’t include any gas connections or wood heat options and that use onsite renewable energy to meet annual needs. There are even net-positive homes that generate an energy surplus. These amazing energy efficient homes are relatively few and far between, but as a nation, we’re making great strides.
It’s common for prospective homeowners to feel concern over capital costs associated with building carbon zero houses, however these expenses are offset by savings that add up quickly. Dr, Trivess Moore, an RMIT research fellow at the Centre for Urban Research, has conducted extensive research on the topic. “The additional capital cost of a zero-energy house with passive design at its core is offset very quickly, within five to seven years, over a standard house,” he states.
Building materials ranging from concrete to insulation contribute to a home’s energy efficiency rating, and so do some smaller line items such as simple draught seals, fittings, and appliances that are designed to minimise energy consumption.
Plan to install a sensible combination of windows and exhaust fans to minimise leakage while maintaining healthy indoor air quality. In general, windows are preferred in living rooms and bedrooms. Exhaust fans are normally a must-have feature in spaces where odours and moisture are concerns; i.e., bathrooms, laundries, toilets, and kitchens.
DIY solutions for enhanced energy efficiency
It’s possible to save energy while you’re planning for renovations or saving toward a new energy efficient home. Some of these solutions are surprisingly inexpensive, while others do represent a larger investment.
Energy efficient solutions you can make in your own home:
Place heavy blinds or curtains on windows. Close them during hot weather as well as cold, windy days when the sun isn’t shining; they’ll help prevent heat transfer between the inside of your home and the outdoors. On sunny winter days, opening the drapes will allow the sun to passively heat at least a portion of your home. Be sure to close the drapes as soon as the window stops collecting solar heat.
Replace old bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs. The newest, most cost-effective LED lightbulbs are more expensive than incandescent lights; however, they last for years and use only a fraction of the energy. You can also do the same with appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers.
Add soft furnishings to cold rooms. Rugs, pelmets, and curtains can help create a cosy atmosphere by adding to your insulation.
Remove soft furnishings from hot rooms, perhaps on a seasonal basis. Exposed tile or simple polished concrete can help by absorbing excess heat, so indoor air feels cooler.
Check for any gaps in window frames and door frames. If you notice a draught, apply an appropriate sealant. This is a temporary measure, but it can help reduce energy cost while you arrange for professional repairs.
Energy efficient appliances
Whether you’re building a new home, renovating your existing house, or searching for ways to save on energy, you’ll want to look into energy efficient appliances. Spending on an energy efficient fridge, freezer, washing machine, or dryer translates to savings later on. While shopping, pay close attention to energy rating labels. The lower the energy consumption score and the more stars you see on the label, the more energy efficient the appliance will be.
When shopping, be sure to compare similar-sized products as you make your decision. The Government requires all new appliances to carry energy rating labels that allow consumers to easily compare running costs. Every extra star on a label means a full 30 percent savings on dishwashers, a 25 percent savings on washing machines and dryers, and a still-impressive 20 percent savings on refrigerators and TVs.
Different types of appliances carry different ratings scales. Air conditioners, TVs, refrigerators, and freezers are rated from one to ten stars, while dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers carry ratings that range from one to six stars.
How to check your appliance’s energy consumption
Be sure to check the appliance’s average energy consumption, too. This is displayed as kWh per year, allowing you to make a side-by-side comparison of different models with energy efficiency in mind. If you’re having a tough time with the decision-making process, you can use the Government’s energy rating site to compare models further.
Renovating for energy efficiency
Whether your primary renovation goal is to lower the cost of energy or to accomplish another goal, it’s a very good idea to keep efficiency in mind. The Houseace design team can help you maximise efficiency in any renovation. Depending on the task and your budget, here are some of the most effective energy efficient house upgrades to consider.
Effective energy efficient house upgrades to consider:
Swap old heating systems for an energy efficient heater or have a heat pump installed to handle water heating and space heating all in one go.
Upgrade to weather-sealed, energy efficient windows or retrofit existing windows with double glazing.
Repair leaky window frames, door frames, and other areas where gaps may be contributing to winter draughts.
Install weather-sealed exterior doors.
Improve ventilation by creating new openings above doors and in non-loadbearing walls.
Install a whole-house fan or have ceiling fans installed.
Have dampers installed on chimneys where they exist.
Replace rangehoods and exhaust fans with models that self-close or have louvres. Install a damper over the ceiling exhaust.
Install, upgrade, or replace insulation throughout the home’s envelope. In areas where colder winter temperatures prevail, focus first on ceilings and roofs, since a full 25 to 35 percent of a poorly insulated home’s heat can be lost via the roof.
Even if your home is properly insulated, have ceiling insulation inspected for gaps. Contractors often find patches of missing insulation in ceilings since new construction projects normally have insulation installed before other trades come in to install electrics, plumbing, etc. These gaps may not be large but they do contribute to poor energy efficiency.
Have energy efficient lighting installed as part of any renovation, ensuring that the lights and covers are in compliance with Australian electrical safety codes. You’ll enjoy a style upgrade along with savings on energy bills.
Install solar or energy efficient hot water service.
Ask about options for external shading. Awnings may be helpful, or your home might benefit from the addition of a veranda.
Consider adding a solar PV system to your home. The cost of solar panel installation is lower than it once was and generating your own renewable energy will go a long way toward reducing your electricity bills.
Install interior doors to zone off different areas of your home for more efficient heating and cooling. This is a very easy way to save money on energy as it prevents you from heating and cooling rooms that are not in use. Hallways and stairwells are two important areas to consider when working to control air movement throughout your home.
Are you undergoing a large renovation? Consider the sun!
If you’re considering a larger renovation, ask about the possibility of shifting living areas to take advantage of the sun’s position. This isn’t always possible due to space considerations however it may benefit you to consider which rooms are too hot during the summer and too cold in the winter, and then ask your designer or architect for help with plotting the sun’s path around your home to see whether any improvements can be made.
Whether you’re building from scratch, looking for energy-efficient home renovations or simply looking to update your home for better energy efficiency, call on Houseace for energy efficient home design ideas and much more.
Click the link for renovation quotes or give us a call on 1300 304 367 to ask us how you can cut costs with inexpensive energy efficient home improvements or renovation ideas. We offer home renovations Sydney and home renovations Melbourne. Head to the homepage to get a complete list of the areas we service.
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