Grand Designs Australia

Top 7 Tips for Sustainable Building or Renovating

Building a sustainable home doesn’t have to have expensive bells and whistles. With a few key design principals, a sustainable home can be built at little to no additional costs! 

Chef and restaurateur Dan Zeidan and his partner Vicky Kordatou embarked on a colossal and experimental project to build their dream sustainable home. The home is located on a 10 acre property at Kinglake, an hour away from Melbourne.  This is an area familiar to extreme climate conditions; it was one of the worst hit by the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. 

With the help of eco designer Joost Bakker, Dan and Vicky achieved a zero waste and flame zone rated home made from recycled and recyclable nontoxic materials including straw bale walls for insulation, fire proof magnesium oxide board as cladding and an exterior made up of a metal cage filled with crushed brick for a unique finish. For Dan and Vicky, aesthetics were not the top priority; rather they wanted a home that was functional and coexisted with its environment. The outcome is a home that will withstand and endure the harsh elements of this site and most importantly a home that was designed and built with sustainability in mind.

A sustainable home must respond to the local climate and surrounding environment, remaining comfortable with minimal heating/cooling demands. Here are some simple ways to incorporate sustainability design principles in your home. 


Passive solar design uses the energy from the sun to heat, cool, and illuminate the home, resulting in low heating and cooling bills. There are three key elements:

1. Building Orientation 
Choose a site or home with a good orientation for your climatic and regional conditions, this will
maximise the site’s potential for passive heating and passive cooling. Good building orientation and appropriate room layout will bring warmth to living areas in winter and shade protection and cooling breezes in summer. In Australia, the ideal aspect is for main living areas to face north or north-east

2. Carefully designing the building envelope (roof, walls, windows and floors) 
Careful consideration of window placement and size, glazing type (double or treated glazing), efficient heating and cooling systems, solar hot water, solar panels, green roofs, walls and facades, rainwater capture and greywater reuse can enhance the performance of your home.

3. Existing buildings can also be adapted or retrofitted to be more sustainable.
During a renovation, reorient rooms (where possible) for optimum solar design.  Adding insulation to ceilings, walls and floors, and adding energy efficient lighting and water efficient fittings are also simple, effective ways to improve a home.


4. Green roofs, walls and facades  
These features can reduce stormwater drainage and improve the thermal performance of a building by reducing heating and cooling.  On a larger scale, it can help cool a city, create and preserve various habitats and promote ecological biodiversity which enhances our urban landscape and cleans the air.

IMAGE: CR Land Guanganmen Green Tech Showroom built in 2008 by Vector Architects in Beijing, China is a great example of a green wall application. For more images click here.

5. High Performance windows - when building, window systems are one of the high cost ticket items and selecting the right solution for your home is key.   There are many window configurations on the market, from using low-e coatings, selective transmission films, inert gas fills and thermal breaks to a combination of these for the right application.   Energy efficient windows will make your home more comfortable while dramatically reducing your energy costs and helping to create a brighter, cleaner, healthier environment.

Finally to help you with your next sustainable project and research don’t forget to attend the Sustainable House Day and keep the Sustainable checklist handy for your reference. 

6. Sustainability checklist for designing a new home or renovating a home

  • Locate rooms most used (kitchen, lounge and bedrooms) on the side of the house orientated to the North.
  • Locate rooms to take advantage of winter sun and cooling summer breezes.
  • Consider window size and placement to promote and enhance cross- ventilation to the south, east and west.
  • Thermal mass can be achieved by locating utility areas (laundries, bathrooms and garages) on the south or west where possible, avoid locating sleeping rooms on the west.
  • Structures such as carports or sheds that will block northern sun should be minimised if located on the northern facade.
  • Overall landscape design and plant placement should funnel cool breezes and block or filter harsh winds.
  • Vegetation should be pruned to avoid blocking out winter sun. Planting deciduous vegetation that allows winter sun to penetrate and provides shade during summer is a great option.

7. Sustainable House Day

Since 2001, Sustainable House Day (in collaboration with the Australian Solar Council) has given visitors a chance to inspect houses that have been designed, built or renovated with sustainability in mind. This year’s event will be held on Sunday 13 September from 10am to 4 pm. For more information and a list of participating homes near you, visit

For more information, visit

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Posted by Derek128Report
My wife and I are wanting to build a home together one day, so thanks for the tips on making it sustainable. I like that you suggest carefully considering where you put your window and system placements. The location of the AC or heating unit can make all the difference in my experience, so we'll be sure to plan it out carefully.
Posted by RenovateReport
Great article. Good to see green walls being mentioned and utilized more and more.
For more information or any questions regarding building and sustainability contact us via our website more than happy to help those looking at bettering the environmental aspects of building.