Grand Designs Australia

Sustainability Guide: Building a new sustainable home

"Global warming" "climate-change", and "sustainability" are words we hear regularly these days, but what do they all mean? The answers aren't always clear and the information is often confusing. Most people will agree, however that we're building more, bigger homes than ever before, that they consume vast amounts of energy and water and that we should do something about it.

New homes these days are required by law to be sustainably designed.

Regulations vary from state to state but one thing is common throughout can't build a house without first demonstrating that it will meet the minimum state energy-efficiency requirements.

Energy-efficient new homes require clever design, careful specification and meticulous construction, all of which will create a comfortable building that's also cost-effective to live in. It's not always easy, however and requires the consideration of several sometimes conflicting variables:

• Orientation • Construction Materials
• Zoning • Glazing
• Ventilation • Insulation
• Shading • Heating and Cooling

In an ideal world, every building allotment would have a view to the north and follow the principle of ‘living areas to the north and sleeping areas to the south’ but in practice this can be difficult to achieve.

Sustainability is more affordable if it’s designed into a building at the outset – into the form, layout, construction and landscaping. Home designs and allotment variations can then be considered together to ensure the most energy efficient buildings. For example, it’s much easier to create a ‘water-wise’ home during the design process than by adding grey water re-use systems later.

The best thing to do when you’re building a new home is to do a wishlist of what you and your family want in your home and then discuss with your builder and architect the things you can do in these 6 key areas:
1. Location – What is the position of your home? Discuss privacy, views and your home’s access to the sun.
2. Floor Plan – Is your floor plan the best fit for the block and is it designed to make the most of your home’s access to sun?
3. Heating and Cooling – Consider the size of your household and ongoing running costs when making decisions about the type of hot water system to use (Solar often pays for itself with time). Do you have gas or electric? Can good design features reduce your reliance on heating and cooling appliances? What appliances can you use that are energy efficient?
4. Fittings and Appliances – Does your home make the best use of natural light? What are your lighting requirements? Chart the ongoing running costs of using energy saving globes such as LED. Think about your major energy using appliances in the home – the energy star rating of your fridge, the water star rating of your washing machine and so on.
5. Colours and Finishes – some flooring is more sustainable than others, some paints and varnishes are less toxic and lower in emissions. You can also choose building materials that are either more natural or lower in emissions.
6. Outdoor Living – Don’t forget about your garden when building a new sustainable home! The plan of your outdoor area can help to control the amount of sun your home gets in winter and shade in summer, which in turn can affect your energy usage. Installing a rainwater tank and using native plants can help to save water. You might also consider a grey water system so that you can re-use your waste water.

For more information on the costs of making some sustainability improvements to your home, read our top tips on saving water and energy. The federal government website is also a great place to find information about making your home more sustainable.

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