Build or renovate a sustainable house

build.pngThe smaller a home’s footprint, the easier it is to achieve high energy efficiency.

Building or renovating your home is a chance to make your life significantly more sustainable right from the outset – aspect, insulation, windows and building materials can all have a substantial impact on your home’s environmental footprint. Designing these features well will set you up for a life with lower energy bills and more comfortable living spaces. And, as always, the smaller a home’s footprint, the easier it is to achieve high energy efficiency.

Orientation

There’s nothing better than a sun-drenched living room on a cold winter’s day. Ensuring your main living areas face north will be a major factor in reducing your home heating in winter. Clever design using simple horizontal devices such as eaves can ensure your northern orientation excludes the summer sun, while still letting in the winter sun. You can also use deciduous trees in front of your windows for the same purpose – they’ll shade your home in the summer and let in glorious sunshine during winter.

Insulation

In Tasmania’s climate, having a well insulated home is a matter of comfort as well as of energy efficiency. Ensuring your walls, floors and ceilings are thoroughly insulated will reduce the amount of heat passing into and out of your home, saving you up to 40 per cent on your energy bills. In winter, it will mean that, once heated, a space will maintain its temperature for longer.

Windows

Windows are another common place for heat loss and gain in a house. Where your windows will be situated is one of the first things you should think about when building or renovating. In Tasmania, north-facing windows should account for about 75 per cent of the wall area, as they let in more winter heat during the day than they lose at night. Conversely, avoid having large windows on the southern side of your house. Double-glazing can also dramatically reduce heat loss, as can thermally efficient windows or blinds.

Building materials

You can be as careful as possible with the above factors, but choosing building materials with high embodied energies can diminish, or even cancel out, much of their impact. Embodied energy is the energy used over a material’s lifecycle, from processing to delivery at your door. Generally, the more processing a material requires, the higher its embodied energy. Try to choose durable building materials that are easy to recycle and locally sourced, such as sustainably sourced Tasmanian timbers.

Building or renovating a home is obviously a huge topic, and we've barely scratched the surface above. The Australian Government's online guide to sustainable homes, Your Home, is a terrific resource. If you're wanting to DIY then check out the resources in Sustainable Living Tasmania's library, including Owner Builder magazine archives. Otherwise, we hope to add a list of recommended professional designers and builders to this section soon, so watch this space!