4 Jan 2012

Building a Sustainable Home

Posted by bcsands

Sustainable homes are built with the environment in mind – taking advantage of renewable energy, recycling and other practices to minimise our day-to-day impact on the environment.

While older homes can be retrofitted to take some of these things into account, a new home can literally apply best practices from the ground up, starting with the orientation of the home on its plot. A good passive solar design creates a comfortable temperature year-round by taking advantage of solar energy and the wind, and includes considering the local climate, the block on which the house is to be built, how the different areas of the house will be used and the surrounding environment. The basic aim is to allow the house to absorb as much solar heat as possible in winter, but to ensure it also stays cool in summer by restricting heat access and maximising cooling through natural ventilation.
The ideal temperature range that can be maintained in a good passive solar design is from 18 to 28 degrees – comfortable in both summer and winter.

Having designed the orientation of the home to maximise natural heating and cooling, the materials of the home also need to be considered. The thermal mass of a house impacts on its ambient temperature, so all the materials used in its construction need to be chosen with care.

For example, a simple concrete floor is an effective material to absorb weak winter sun – a properly designed solar home will take advantage of the low angle of winter sun to allow it to penetrate deep into the house – and radiate it out again later in the day when the ambient temperature cools. This effect is lost if the floor is covered with carpet or timber. Double glazing can keep heat in winter, and angled louver windows can help to block sun while maximising air flow. Good insulation is one of the most obvious inclusions, as are solar panels, rainwater tanks and water-efficient appliances.

At furnishing stage, the accessories chosen should also promote a consistent ambient temperature. Blinds and curtains can be manipulated to allow sun in or out. Pelmets serve a practical purpose in blocking draughts and preventing heat from escaping.

Externally, landscaping can also have an impact. Shade from well-chosen and located plants and trees can help cool a home in summer. Using native plants cuts down on water use.  Louvered patio roofs or removable shade sails can be used to reduce summer heat, but still allow plenty of sun into the home in winter.  Shading ‘hard’ landscape features such as patios and tiling during extreme heat will cut down on the amount of heat radiating around the outside of the home. ‘Green walls’, planted with creepers or a more ambitious vertical garden are beautiful and also help to stabilize temperatures around the home.

The end result of a carefully thought out sustainable house is an energy-efficient home that is comfortable to live in, while minimizing use of heating or cooling. For the owner this means both huge savings and the knowledge that they are supporting the environment.

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