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Building and renovating for energy efficiency
Often the best time to think about ways to increase the energy efficiency of your home is when you're building a new home or renovating.
This is an exciting time but it can also be complicated and stressful with all sorts of decisions to make. These include decisions about the design of the home, heating and cooling, insulation, outdoor areas and appliances. Your choices at the design and planning stage can improve not only your comfort but can cut your heating, cooling and water costs for many years to come.
There are many experts who can give you advice on home energy efficiency and help with your planning. The following topics will help you to get across the important considerations so you can get started.
Planning ahead will help you avoid pitfalls and extra costs and ensure a better final result.
- Speak to experts for advice. Money spent consulting with design, lighting or energy experts can be repaid many times over. Clever thinking at the design stage can pay huge dividends later on.
- Talk to friends who have renovated—their experiences may reveal great ideas and savings as well as traps to avoid.
- Look at magazines for ideas and inspiration. Building advisory services and home ideas centres are also valuable sources of information. Your Home has comprehensive and detailed information to assist you in building and renovating an energy and water efficient home that is enjoyable to live in and cost-effective to run.
- Do a home sustainability assessment. This will identify areas where you can improve the energy efficiency of your existing home so you can target changes to get the best outcome and value for money.
- Note uncomfortable rooms and discuss with your builder or designer. You may be able to make modifications to improve the comfort level.
- Our information on simple renovations for homeowners and renters provides lots of ideas to help you improve the functionality, comfort and environmental performance of your home without the need for costly major renovations.
Talk to your local council or state or territory government department about building regulations. You may need to comply with energy efficiency and water saving regulations.
Find out the requirements for homes in your chosen location by checking with your builder or local council. These may cover things like building materials, styles, fences and hot water systems.
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 floor plan and appropriate orientation on your block can make a huge difference to the energy efficiency of your home long term.
Consider your floor plan carefully and think about 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.
- Choose a house plan that suits the size, shape and slope of your block.
- Build a home only as large as you need. Any more will cost you more to build, maintain, heat and cool.
- Plan space efficiently. Do you need extra space or can you re-organise what you have?
- Consider longer term needs to avoid expensive renovations in years to come—the more flexible the plan the more easily your home can be adapted to changing needs over time.
- Face your living areas north to take advantage of winter sun. North-facing windows get sun for the longest part of the day in winter and are easy to shade in summer.
- Include windows or openings on more than one side of the living area to allow for cooling breezes. Consider high windows or skylights to get rid of rising hot air.
Building a new home or renovating an existing home provides a perfect opportunity to install a range of energy-efficient appliances. Placement of appliances to maximise efficiency in a new kitchen or laundry is also an important consideration in your design. For example, locating appliances that require hot water as close as possible to your hot water service will help to reduce heat losses in pipes.
Building and renovating homes requires the use of a lot of resources and building materials. Many of the decisions you make about building products will affect the quality and comfort of your home, as well as future maintenance costs. They will also have an impact—consider that up to 40 per cent of the waste going to landfill in Australia is building waste.
Choose long-lasting, durable materials that don't need a lot of maintenance.
Windows, doors and skylights
Windows can let in or leak away up to 40 per cent of your home heating or cooling energy. You can reduce this loss by up to 80 per cent by choosing energy-efficient windows. Look for the WERS (Window Energy Rating Scheme) label on windows. The Heating Star rating shows how well the window keeps heat in. The Cooling Star rating shows how well it stops the heat from entering. Some doors and skylights also have a WERS rating.
Choose double glazing and a timber or insulated frame for a high WERS rating.
Choose windows and skylights that can be opened. Make sure they are airtight when closed. Also think about window coverings like heavy curtains, pelmets, blinds, external awnings or shutters.
If you use timber for windows, frames, flooring or decking, make sure it comes from certified sustainably managed forests. Options include FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) timber or organic plantation pine treated with LOSP (light organic solvent preservative). Many plantation timbers are available for decking, or composites made of sawdust and recycled plastic.
Seal timber floors from air leaks and insulate in cold areas.
The paint colours you choose for your home can have an effect on lighting and heating levels. Use light-coloured interior paints to improve daylight levels inside your home and reduce the need for lighting during the day.
Pre-1970s homes are likely to contain lead-based paints. If you’re removing lead-based paint follow the advice in Lead Alert—The six step guide to painting your home, and Lead alert facts: Lead in house paint has further information about lead-based paint.
Use low-emission paints to reduce toxic fumes. Some paints are now available that contain all-natural ingredients.
Identify building materials and appliances that can be re-used—for example, windows, doors, roofing tiles and dishwashers.
Make sure your builder has a waste and recycling plan in place. Work with them to minimise waste and recycle leftover building materials to reduce landfill.
Buy recycled building products. Not only will this save energy that is required for the production of new materials, it can also lead to considerable savings. Recycled products can also add charm and atmosphere to homes.
Don't forget about your garden or outdoor area when you're building or renovating. In Australia, our gardens and outdoor areas can often add a whole new living area to our homes and improve our comfort and personal preferences. If you live in a mild or warm climate, building a shaded deck can be just as effective—and cheaper—than extending your living room.
- Talk to your builder or landscape designer about how you can maximise your living areas by including outdoor spaces. Look through magazines and books for ideas and inspiration.
- Use plants, trees and other landscape features to provide shelter from winds or harsh sunlight. Evergreen plants can provide permanent shading on west-facing walls in warmer climates. Deciduous plants and vine-covered pergolas work well on the north side to provide shade in summer and let in winter sun. This can reduce your heating and cooling costs.
- Install a rainwater tank, greywater system—they can be above-ground, below-ground or under a deck.
- Install solar-powered lighting in your garden or wrap solar-powered fairy lights in trees. This will add atmosphere to your garden.
- Allow space for an outdoor washing line so you can use the sun to dry your clothes.
- Our guide to outdoor living has more ideas.
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