Building for energy-efficiency

Building for energy-efficiency

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Published by TOP4 Team

If you’re building a new home, now is the time to bring together the benefits of great design and energy-efficiency. Clever thinking at the design stage can pay huge dividends later on.

By understanding the opportunities and taking advantage of local conditions to make your home function as efficiently as possible, you can improve not only your lifestyle and comfort levels but cut your heating, cooling and water costs for years to come. Best of all, many energy-efficient design features cost no more than conventional features. Some, like double-glazing or solar power, do cost more upfront but you are rewarded by greater comfort and lower operating costs.

If you maximise your home’s energy-efficiency by using passive design techniques you can greatly reduce your reliance on mechanical heating and cooling and the need for artificial lighting during the day. It can make a huge difference to a home’s sense of comfort and liveability.


Clever positioning of your home on the block allows you to take advantage of winter sun and minimise summer heat, saving on heating and cooling costs. A well-designed floorplan and appropriate orientation on your block can make a huge difference to the energy-efficiency of your home long-term. Work out which orientation is best for your climate zone.


Most Australian homes need heating or cooling at some time of the year. On average this accounts for about 40 per cent of household energy use. However, a well-designed home can reduce this considerably. Depending on your climate, you might be able to remove the need for mechanical heating and cooling together.

There are many ways you can ensure your new or revamped home is cheaper to run and remains comfortable year-round. Planning your home using passive design principles is the least expensive way to heat and cool without having an environmental impact.

For passive solar heating you should plan carefully to maximise northerly orientation of daytime living spaces, including appropriate areas of glass on northern facades. Insulation, thermal mass to store heat and floorplan zoning based on heating needs are also important.

For passive cooling, a sound envelope design is important for reducing heat gain during the day and allowing lower night-time temperatures and air movement to cool the home. A good architect can help you maximise exposure to cooling breezes and increase natural ventilation through a range of methods. Use of light-coloured roofs and walls to reflect more solar radiation and reduce heat gain can also be highly effective.

Other key passive elements for your climate include good orientation and shading, insulating the ceiling, walls and floor, glazing windows and installing skylights.


Insulation acts as a barrier to keep your home arm in winter and cool in summer. Ceiling insulation saves up to 45 per cent of heating and cooling energy. You could save up to 20 per cent of your heating and cooling bills if you insulate the walls. Get expert advice when looking into wall and underfloor insulation because electrical and plumbing fixtures, as well as the best types of insulation, all need to be considered.

The appropriate level and type of insulation will depend on your local climate and whether it is needed to keep heat out or in (or both). Insulation must cater for seasonal as well as daily variations in temperature. It should also be used in conjunction with passive design principles to maximise the benefits and avoid potential problems. For example, if insulation is installed but the house is not properly shaded, built-up heat can be kept in by the insulation, creating an ‘oven’ effect.


One square metre of unglazed ordinary glass can let out as much heat as a single bar radiator heater can produce. If you’ve got a little extra money to invest in making your home more efficient and more comfortable, double-glazing windows could be for you.


Size matters: Consider your floorplan carefully and what you really need. Larger homes will cost more to heat, cool and furnish. Good design can make smaller spaces appear much bigger and provide a more comfortable setting, as well as increase the value of your home. You’ll also have more room for creating a garden and outdoor living spaces.

Hot water heating: An average household can use around a quarter of its total energy on heating water, so it’s important to install an efficient system that suits your needs — either a solar, gas or heat pump hot water system. Consider household size, available energy sources, climate, space and access when choosing your hot water system.

Lighting: After designing your home to maximise natural lighting, installing efficient lighting is one of the easiest and most cost-effective things you can do to reduce energy use. By installing energy-efficient lighting technology such as CFLs or long-lasting LEDs you could halve your household lighting costs. Good lighting is about more than just light levels. The same level of light can provide effective or ineffective lighting. A lighting designer will be able to help you design more effective lighting, but make sure they know you want an energy-efficient system.


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