How to build a greener home

Sustainable design and a smart use of natural resources can result in a beautiful brand new build that’s kind on the environment.

If you’re serious about sustainability during your build, we salute you. Not only will you to be taking steps to reduce your ozone omissions, sustainable choices can also be lighter on your hip pocket in the long run. Building green requires careful thought in the initial stages, but the good news is that there are so many options and alternatives available these days. You’ve just got to do your research and reach out to the experts if you need to. “Engage a suitably qualified sustainable designer with experience once you start the design process,” advises Ashley Beaumont, Director, Designer and Builder of Ecoliv Buildings and Beaumont Concepts. “This will help you factor in all of the elements that will impact you living in the new home.” To get you thinking green, here are some points to consider:

Placement on the block

The most important design consideration with your green home is the orientation of your building on the land. You can utilise a lot of natural resources like the sun and wind to control temperature and ultimately cut down on your use of heating and air-conditioning. Will Collins, Director of Arco Designs says, “In the southern hemisphere it is very helpful (but not essential) if the longest part of the house with living rooms faces north. This enables the maximum amount of winter sunlight to enter and warm the house naturally,” he continues, “Wide overhangs help to block out the summer sun, which is only achievable if facing north. The western and eastern summer sun is much harder to control."

Being precise with your measurements can really help you get the most out of the natural environment around you. “Ensure you have your glazing calculations correct (window to floor space ratio). You can overexpose yourself to the north,” says Ashley.

Environmentally-friendly exteriors

When pulling together the design elements of your new home, there are so many things to consider. Start thinking about the following:

  • How much energy is used to make the building and the materials you plan on using?  Keeping a close eye on this will help you consider the environment and your budget. “Use recycled products and minimise the use of energy-intensive materials like aluminium where you can. Sourcing local products helps with petrol miles, too,” says Will.
  • Future-proofing your design can also save you from expensive renovations down the track. Is this a forever home? If so, think about your needs as you age.
  • When considering landscaping, using native plants boosts the environment around you and limits water use. Think about what you want to grow – a veggie patch or planting fruit trees will save you time and money.

Eco-insulation

Insulation is a must-do for any new build, as it makes a major difference on the comfort of your home and ongoing running costs, with a minimal cost to install. What materials should you be looking for? “Some stand out more than others,” says Will. “Sheep’s wool is a very natural, cost-effective product and recycled denim or cotton is a good one to keep an eye out for.” Ashley adds, “We use recycled glass insulation, it’s safe and has a low chemical content.”

Super solar

Solar electricity is great on your back pocket, and can significantly reduce your individual impact on the environment. “Photovoltaics are the panels that sit on your roof soaking up the sun and turning it into electricity.  They are usually connecting to government-controlled supplies, so if it’s cloudy or dark, you draw from that source,” explains Will. “If you have excess energy, it feeds into the system and you may get money back.  However, with the new battery systems like Tesla, the balance is slowly changing and people don’t have to rely on the mains system, which can be prone to blackouts and price rises.”

These battery backup systems are still costly but are slowly reducing in price. “Individual costs vary, but if you’re careful with how much energy you use you could achieve payback within 5 years or earlier,” says Will.

Sustainable windows

Glass windows and doors are the weakest points in the comfort of your house. "Using a product called Low E glass helps a lot - it’s sort of like an insulating layer in your windows,” says Will. "Some window manufacturers offer a thermal break in their frames, but this material can be expensive.”

Blinds can make a big difference, as they can help control the internal temperatures. Ashley suggests investing in manually-controlled blinds. “These devices will stop the heat getting into the house in summer which then requires the occupant to turn on mechanical cooling,” he says.

Saving water

As there are a number of products on the market, you have options-aplenty when it comes to curbing your water usage. Look for the highest-star rated products (see a government-approved list here). Shower-heads, taps and fittings are all pretty straightforward choices, but if you’re interested in relying on a water tank to run your household, your builder or designer can give you the best advice. “We design all of our houses with water tanks to service toilets, washing machines and dishwashers. Depending on your local council, you can service your entire house with water tanks,” says Ashley.

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