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Energy-saving guide for Northern Australia

About this guide

This guide is to help you maintain a comfortable and liveable home year round across the three northern Australian climate zones. It contains energy-saving ideas you can adapt to your individual needs and housing situation, while also reducing your energy bills.

With 40% of energy in the average Australian home used for cooling and heating, learning to design and manage your home efficiently can make a big difference.

Our practical, simple-to-follow actions are based on expert advice from people who understand living in the tropics and hot arid areas. Find out how to:

  • design and manage your home more efficiently to take advantage of your local climate

  • make no-cost or low-cost improvements whether you’re a home owner or renting

  • create a more energy-efficient home that is cheaper to run, by considering some longer term investments.

Northern Australia covers around 40% of the country’s land mass and includes a range of communities, languages and dwellings. While the recommendations in this guide will be relevant to many households, they are not tailored to remote and Indigenous housing but could be adapted by individuals and organisations supporting such communities.

The guide includes sections targeting each climate zone.

  • Find your climate zone and check the key design features you need to understand. We’ve included a map and house diagrams to help you do this.

  • Read the information for all zones with essential resources about extreme weather and how to get the most out of your air conditioner.

  • Read the tips for your climate zone. You’ll find no-cost, low-cost and more expensive options.

Design for your climate zone

This section sets out the climate characteristics in northern Australia as well as the house design features that respond best to the region’s conditions. It also shows how to take advantage of breezes to cool your home, and links to resources and information to ensure you’re prepared for extreme weather events.

There are three climate zones in northern Australia:

  • Zone 1: Tropical

  • Zone 2: Sub-tropical

  • Zone 3: Hot arid

A map showing the three main climate zones in northern Australia

Zone 1: Tropical

Very hot, humid wet season (November to April) with high rainfall, followed by a dry season (May to October) with warm, dry sunny days and cooler nights.

From Exmouth in Western Australia, across to midway between Townsville and Mackay in Queensland, the ‘Top End’ of the Northern Territory.

Diagram shows a raised Queenslander-style home with tall trees and broad eaves, tall trees for shade, ventilated roof and louvered windows, with animations showing how breezes can be funneled over, under and through the house to cool it.

Tropical house—key design features

Top tips for tropical design

  • Look for design solutions that maximise shading, such as wide eaves and window awnings, and verandahs.

  • Create covered outdoor living areas to provide additional shade to the home.

  • Shade the entire building in the wet season (the region’s warmer months).

  • Create ventilation through the use of large window openings and louvres, and through the roof space with eave and roof vents.

  • Use light colours for roofs and exterior building materials to reflect the heat.

  • Choose lightweight building materials to avoid heat storage, with controlled use of mass materials such as concrete slabs or brick walls for air conditioned areas.

  • Consider elevated design for underfloor air flow and passive cooling.

Zone 2: Sub-tropical

Hot humid summers with mild winters; cooling breezes.

Coastal Queensland from midway between Townsville and Mackay south to just below Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

Top tips for sub-tropical design

  • Look for adjustable shading and ventilation to promote more comfortable indoor temperatures. Select solutions that block the sun in summer but allow it to enter in winter where needed.

  • Choose narrower floor plans, with ventilation and window systems that can be operated to capture breezes.

  • Consider lighter colours for roofs and external walls to reflect heat.

  • Include insulation in the roof space and ventilate the roof space through eave and ceiling vents, taking care to manage for condensation.

  • Include a well-positioned and shaded outdoor living area.

Zone 3: Hot arid

Very hot, dry summers and warm winter days with cold nights. Low rainfall and dry winds all year round.

Northern central Australia from Carnarvon in Western Australia, encompassing Newman, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Longreach and Charleville as well as the Queensland hinterland west of the Great Dividing Range.

Diagram shows a home in the hot arid zone with concrete slab foundation, living areas oriented to the north, adjustable eaves, windows and doors aligned for natural air flow and tall trees for shade, with animations showing how breezes can be funneled over and through the house to cool it.

Hot arid house—key design features

Top tips for hot arid design

  • Look for appropriate use of thermal mass for building construction: brick walls and concrete slabs are two good options.

  • Select a light-coloured roof to reflect heat.

  • Choose appropriate shading and landscaping to block summer sun from the home and allow winter sun in; this is how you’ll maximise your comfort levels.

  • Evaporative cooling can be an effective way to manage indoor comfort levels.

Top design tips for all zones

Orientation

The first thing to consider when designing any home is its orientation. Ideally the house will be positioned both to take into account the sun’s path throughout the year and to capture prevailing breezes and keep out hot winds. Ideally, living areas and bedrooms should be located away from the hot western afternoon sun; a garage or bathroom is more suitable for this side of the house.

Breezes

Understanding where the cooling breezes come from is important across all three climate zones in northern Australia, as it allows you to take advantage of them in hot weather.

Compass diagram showing North, South, East and West.

If you live near the coast they generally come from the ocean. This means that on the east coast of Australia, cool breezes generally travel north-easterly to south-easterly whereas on the west coast, they’re commonly south-westerly. The predominant cooling breezes in the Top End come from the north-west in the wet season and the south-east in the dry season.

Breeze direction can vary within a few hundred metres due to landforms, vegetation or buildings. Talk to your neighbours or spend time on your house site in hotter seasons to establish the direction of your most reliable cooling breezes. The Bureau of Meteorology also has records of wind data for major locations.

Inland, capturing breezes can be more of a challenge. But while many inland areas often receive no regular breezes, cool air currents can form as cooling night air flows down slopes and valleys (just as water would). In flat inland regions, thermal currents created by the temperature differences between day and night, can also provide useful cooling.

These are often brief and occur later at night or in early morning. This cold air mass can be trapped and stored in your home’s building material, such as concrete and bricks, for the following morning (see Thermal mass).

To become aware of local climate variations and take advantage of cool breezes, air currents and thermal currents you need to step outside regularly—or invest in a temperature gauge or home weather station. This is particularly helpful in conditions where you might fail to notice changes in outside conditions, such as when the air conditioner has been running for long periods.

Shading

Ensure parts of the house exposed to hot sun are minimised at key times of the year to reduce the amount of heat entering your home. This applies in summer for the hot arid zone and throughout the year in the tropical zone. For sub-tropical zones some sun can be allowed in during cooler months. You can avoid sun exposure through good orientation and appropriate levels of external sun shading—think eaves, pergolas, sun-hoods or external blinds (see ‘Zone-specific tips’).

Fans

Create air movement and relief from the heat by installing ceiling fans in bedrooms and living areas. They’re cheap to run, around two cents per hour. You’ll get the best results if your ceiling fans are located directly over beds and seating areas. See ‘Stay cool for less’ and ‘Zone-specific tips’.

Dogs sitting in front of fan

 

Extreme weather

Tall trees blowing in tropical storm

Northern Australia experiences a range of extreme weather conditions from heatwaves to fire, flood, drought, cyclones and storm surges. With a changing climate, extreme events may become more frequent and severe. It’s vital for all households to:

  • have a plan in place to help you respond and stay safe during extreme weather events

  • maintain your home to ensure it is structurally sound and manage for potential hazards

  • know what design features are important when buying, renting, building and renovating.

As a first step you should familiarise yourself with local extreme weather planning and preparation advice from your local council and state or territory government. You should also sign up to get local weather warnings and emergency alerts. The Helpful resources section at the end of this guide will help with this.

Top tips for running your air conditioner

To stay cool for less, begin by taking advantage of the climate-friendly features that your home can provide.

Before putting on the air conditioner, follow the climate-specific tips in this guide, including seeking out shady, elevated verandahs and outdoor living areas, and making effective use of adjustable vents, louvres and blinds to manage comfort levels.

Wall mounted air conditioner blowing cold air and being operated by someone with a remote control.

When things get too hot and you need to turn on air conditioning, follow our tips to get the most out of your cooling system and minimise your energy costs.

Fans

Fans are a great first choice for cooling as they can improve comfort levels so you feel about 3°C cooler. They’re also much cheaper to run than air conditioners. As fans cool you (not the room) by creating air flow, arrange seating and other furniture to take advantage of their effect. Pedestal fans are useful in areas where ceiling fans don’t reach.

Running your fan at the same time as your air conditioner may increase it’s effectiveness by boosting the circulation of chilled air in the room. Running the air conditioner at a higher setting for less time will save you energy.

Don’t run your air conditioner too cold

Each degree of extra cooling increases energy consumption by 5 to 10%. To save money, operate the air conditioner at a higher temperature setting, between 25 to 27°C and use a timer to avoid running it when you don’t need it.

Weather monitors

Check outside conditions (you can use a temperature gauge or weather station with an indoor display or alert system) to help decide when to switch off and open up windows, doors and louvres as temperatures cool. The next morning, don’t forget to maintain the cool by closing up again, before the outdoor temperature heats up.

Digital household weather station

Beat the heat

When high temperatures are forecast you can stop your home heating up by turning on your air conditioner before it gets really hot—the system won’t have to work as hard when the outside air temperature is cooler. You can then maintain these cooler indoor temperatures more efficiently by using a timer and by combining the air conditioner’s operation with a fan.

Close the doors

When using your air conditioner, close all doors and windows and shut off doors to adjoining rooms that are not being used. When deciding where to install your air conditioner, choose an easily sealable room that has been insulated. Not only will that help you feel its impact sooner, but you won’t be paying unnecessarily high energy costs by trying to cool your entire home and having the chilled air leak out vents, windows and doors.

Keep it clean

Cleaning your air conditioner filters with a brush, hose or vacuum every two weeks during use, as well as cleaning and dusting fans, will help these appliances operate more effectively, saving you money. Don’t forget about maintaining and servicing your system as outlined in the manufacturer’s instructions. Regular cleaning of fly screens on windows and doors can allow more breezes into your home.

A woman cleaning an airconditioner

Manage for mould

Before opening up your house after using an air conditioner, allow the inside temperature to rise to the same temperature as outside to avoid condensation forming leading to problems with mould. See our mould tips under ‘Tropical’.

Products for cleaning mould

Power off

Appliances use standby power and create heat even when not in use. This includes lights, ovens, dishwashers, computers and entertainment equipment. To reduce the indoor temperature and your energy bills, turn off lights when you leave rooms, cook outside where possible and run dishwashers and washing machines overnight or set a timer to run them in the early morning. By turning off appliances at the wall you can reduce your electricity use by up to 10%.

Go with the stars

When it's time to purchase or replace your air conditioner, look for the most energy efficient system you can afford. Systems are rated from 0 to 10 stars—the more stars, the better.

Cooling and Heating Energy Labels star rating

Cool the room, not the entire home

Non-ducted split systems are the most efficient air conditioning option. These avoid the energy loss that comes from pumping air through the ducts, as well as the wasted energy used to cool your whole house, rather than just the rooms you’re using.

Choose for your climate

Select cooling-only units for tropical climates and reverse cycle (sometimes called heat pumps) for hot arid where both heating and cooling functions are needed. For hot arid climates consider alternatives such as evaporative cooling.

Size is important

Ensure you select the correct-sized system for your needs, taking into account local climate conditions, house and room design and lifestyle. It pays to get a professional to assist you as an incorrectly sized unit will be very inefficient and cost more to run.

Look for inverter technology

Inverter technology enables an air conditioner’s compressor to operate at variable speeds, depending on the output required. It’s now available with most reverse cycle air conditioners, and can reduce running costs, particularly over longer operating periods. Inverter air conditioners generally maintain more even temperatures.

Choose an efficient fan

Fans are cheaper to run than air conditioners, and you can make them even more so by choosing an energy-efficient model (note: fans don’t have star ratings). Power consumption rates of different units vary widely (from 50 to 100W). Those with a lower wattage save energy over time. The amount of airflow is also important. An efficient fan producing 140 cubic metres of airflow a minute typically has a power of 75W. Regular cleaning will help a fan to operate at its best.

Man in a red shirt installing a household ceiling fan to reduce energy costs.

Go solar PV

While installation of a solar PV system requires a considerable upfront investment, it can provide significant ongoing savings on your energy bills, allowing your air conditioner to be powered by renewable energy.

Tropical and sub-tropical living

Tropics

Staying comfortable in your home in the tropics while reducing energy use doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money. Whether you’re in Broome, Darwin or Cairns, there are things you can do for free that will reduce your bill while still keeping you cool.

Our tips focus on taking advantage of the climate-friendly features already in your home before resorting to the air conditioner and ensuring it won’t need to work as hard once it’s in use. They may require changing some of your household behaviours. If you’re already taking many of these actions, consider revisiting them, especially if you’ve changed living arrangements or are new to the region.

You can also speak to local expert installers and tradespeople about the best solutions. With good design and careful management of your home, you should be able to stay comfortable while saving money on your energy bills.

Sub-tropics

Living in the sub-tropics is similar to the tropical zone; however, the mild winters mean some heating may be required. Whether you’re in Mackay or Coffs Harbour, consider how you manage your home for comfort and energy efficiency.

Follow the suggestions for tropical living, noting the sub-tropical tips as you go.

Simple things you can do now

Catch the breeze

Locate the breeze path around your home and open windows, shutters and doors and situate seating areas to take advantage of this at different times of the day and year.

A floor plan of a long narrow house shows windows and doors in bedrooms and living areas that are laid out in a way that maximises cool breezes.

Cool breezes work best in narrow or open plan layouts

If your home design allows cross ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the room so the breeze can pass through. This only works when outside air is cooler than inside. When it's hot and still, close doors, windows and curtains to keep the heat out.

Take advantage of high windows and vents. As hot air rises it draws in cool night air or cooler daytime air from shaded areas of the building, enhancing the effect of cooling breezes or helping to cool the home when there are no breezes about.

By paying attention to changing indoor and outdoor temperatures you can maximise natural cooling provided by shade and breezes.

Cleaning your fly screens will help to promote the passage of cool air, and can be done with the help of a brush or hose. By circulating air through your home you can also help combat the build-up of mould.

Sub-tropical tip: Closing windows can help prevent heat loss in winter.

Fans

Fans are very efficient and are cheap to buy and run (about two cents per hour). They can improve comfort levels so that you feel about 3°C cooler.

Ceiling fan suspended from a high ceiling overlooking timber floors and grey couches in a living room

Fans cool you by moving air across the skin so need to be close to you. Place furniture to take advantage of their effect, and set up pedestal fans where ceiling fans don’t reach.

If you have high ceilings, consider lowering fans on droppers to avoid pushing any warm air near the ceiling down into the room. You can also use fans to increase the effectiveness of your air conditioner—running the two simultaneously allows you to operate the air conditioner more efficiently by running it at a higher temperature setting for a shorter time.

Shop around for the most effective and energy-efficient fans—noise levels and performance vary.

Sub-tropical tip: If heating, switch your fan to reverse rotation to better distribute warm air through the room.

Get in the zone

The bigger the space you need to cool, the greater the energy use and the higher your energy bill. If you need to turn on the air conditioner, close doors to surrounding rooms and only cool the room you’re using.

Set your thermostat from 25 to 27°C and consider running ceiling fans as well.

Woman programming a modern thermostat for a heating/cooling system

Some air conditioners have a dehumidifying function. This will use less energy while still delivering a comfortable indoor environment in humid climates, especially if it’s used in conjunction with a fan.

Low-temperature lifestyle

Plan activities and physical pursuits around cooler times of the day. Try rising early to walk the dog or do a spot of gardening, and seeking out a shady spot to enjoy a break.

A colourful striped hammock among green foliage and an Australian couple smiling in their garden in front of the house

If you live in an urban area, plan trips to the supermarket or air conditioned spaces to escape hotter parts of the day. In the evenings, head onto the verandah or into the garden and cook the evening meal outdoors.

Night purging

Open up your home in the evenings to allow cooler air from outside to push out warm air that has collected during the day. This is a beneficial way to cool off if overnight temperatures fall below your inside temperature.

A cross-section of a home, where cool air is drawn in from a shaded garden area. Warm air rises to the second storey of the home, where it is drawn out high windows or vents

Convection causes warm air to rise, drawing in cool air.

Many homes in tropical northern Australia feature sleep-outs on the verandah to take advantage of the cool night air and the radiant cooling effect from clear night skies. Whatever your solution, make sure you keep an eye on morning temperatures and close up the house again before the day heats up.

Sub-tropical tip: Ventilation in the roof space lets hot air escape and be replaced by cooler air. This helps stop heat transferring through the ceiling to the rooms below and is particularly important in uninsulated homes.

Solar clothes dryer

Drying clothes outdoors, or in front of a fan during the wet season, will reduce your energy bill as well as avoid the build-up of moisture in the home that can lead to mould.

If you need to use a clothes dryer, spin dry on maximum speed first to reduce drying time and clean the lint filter after each load. Running the dryer on medium heat takes longer than when on high, but will use less energy and can be less damaging to your clothes.

Colourful towels pegged on the clothesline to dry in the sunshine

When buying a new dryer, look for the most efficient model you can afford, and take running costs into account. Heat pump condenser dryers are generally more energy efficient than standard condensing dryers, and may be cost-effective if used regularly. Condenser dryers work by removing moisture from the air before releasing it reducing condensation.

Look for a dryer with an auto-sensing feature that stops as soon as your clothes are dry. To avoid mould and reduce air conditioning load, aim to install your dryer on the verandah or in your carport. Check installation guides for safety information and protect the dryer from the weather.

Quick, cost-effective changes for tropical climates

Monitor the weather

To help read your local weather more accurately, consider investing in a home weather station with an indoor display or alert system.

These range from inexpensive temperature gauges to digital technology that can measure solar radiation, expected rainfall, wind speed and direction, humidity and more.

Digital household weather station

By providing you with a convenient read-out from inside the home, they can help you to respond to outside conditions and manage your home more efficiently; for example, by allowing you to operate blinds and awnings effectively and capture passing breezes as they occur.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting

While they might cost more upfront to buy, LED lighting is much more efficient than other forms of lighting and will save you money on your bill over the long term.

A good quality LED bulb consumes 80% less energy than a halogen light and lasts 5 to 10 times longer. They will also reduce the amount of heat in your home, particularly if you’re replacing halogen downlights which run hotter than other lighting technologies. It takes up to 6 downlights to light the same area as one pendant light—so switching to LED bulbs and pendant lighting can have a real impact.

LED light bulb

As downlights require a minimum clearance around ceiling insulation they can reduce the effectiveness of insulation. This is another reason pendant, ceiling-mounted or track lighting is a better option. Ask a lighting specialist to provide approved covers with your LED downlights to reduce the impact on insulation. Sealed downlights are another option.

Check out our energy–efficiency lighting tips for more information, including links to the Light Bulb Buying Guide, Light Bulb Saver App, Light Bulb Saver video.

Cool pool technology

Pool pumps can account for around 18% of household electricity use. By making smart purchasing decisions and using your pump efficiently you can reduce your running costs. Select a minimum 5 star energy-efficient pool pump at the smallest pump size for your pool—variable speed pumps often have higher efficiency.

Two girls swimming underwater in a pool.

As pool pump labelling is currently voluntary some pumps won’t have a star rating. To get an idea of the true costs of your pump, get your retailer to do a cost comparison between the running costs of an energy-efficient versus a less efficient pump over 3 to 5 years. Follow our tips for running your pool pump efficiently once it’s installed, including using a timer to manage run-time and keeping the skimmer basket and pool filter clean to reduce the load on your pump.

Installing and using a well-fitted pool cover significantly reduces evaporation, pump running times, water bills and the need for chemicals and cleaning.

Plant shade trees and vines

Good shading is vital in hot conditions to reduce the heat entering your home from walls and windows.

Tree shade on the eastern and western sides of a single-storey, older-style 3 star energy-rated home has been shown to bring energy savings of up to 50%.

A Darwin house on stilts, with an extensive and shaded verandah, surrounded by shady plants and trees, is well equipped to cope with the heat.

Shading is particularly important if your home is made of heavier construction such as concrete or bricks which take longer to cool down. Generally, overhead shading is required to block the higher angle sun in summer for north and south facing openings. Adjustable shading from pergolas combats low-angle morning and afternoon sun for east and west orientation of your home. If you intend to install a solar PV system or solar hot water at a future date you’ll need to plan trees to give the sun access to the appropriate area of your roof.

When planting out pergolas, use evergreens to filter unwanted sun. Use drought-tolerant groundcover plants rather than paving to help keep the ground and surrounding surface temperature lower in summer. 

If renting, you may be able to get permission or assistance from your landlord for plantings as it will improve the liveability of the home—our renting guide has some ideas. Fruit trees such as mango may take longer to grow than other varieties, but have the added benefit of providing produce as well as shade.

Sub-tropical tip: Make sure plantings allow sun access to the north. so it can warm your home in the cooler months. Floors made of heavier construction will store heat during the day and release it at night to warm your home.

Longer-term investments

Go solar PV

With new developments in home battery storage, solar energy is becoming even more attractive for Australian households. Our guide to installing solar power has more information.

To assess the benefits get an estimate of how much electricity you use each year and the power you can generate in your particular location. Approach an accredited installer to ask about the right size system. You may be eligible for financial assistance towards the cost of installing a solar PV system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). See our rebates page for any assistance available and contact energy retailers to find out about feed-in tariffs.

Solar panels on a rooftop.

Solar power can significantly reduce your energy bills over time

Switch to an energy-efficient hot water system

Hot water can use 25% of your energy. If replacing your hot water system, take time to research the right type and size of product for your needs. Choose the most suitable and energy-efficient model you can afford to save on energy bills and avoid paying for capacity you don’t need. See our detailed information on hot water.

Heat pump hot water system next to the back door and a flat panel solar hot water heater

For tropical climates heat pump and solar hot water are recommended technologies and you may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). See our rebates page for any assistance available.

Ensure you understand the information on safety and maintenance for your new system. This is particularly important for storage hot water systems that you’re switching back on after a period of non-use. The water needs to be heated to above 60°C for at least 35 minutes before use, killing any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat above 60°C.

Insulate your ceiling and roof

Insulation helps to keep the sun’s heat out of your home during extreme temperatures, saving on your energy bills. 

Insulation can be sensibly and safely added to many existing homes. To take advantage of the improved comfort levels and energy savings that result from its installation, research the correct type and level of insulation for your home and climate or talk to a building professional.

Roll of yellow insulation material with silver foil backing

Reflective batt and foil insulation

For air conditioned home, the use of bulk and reflective insulation in the ceiling and roof is recommended. In the ceiling select R3.5 or higher bulk insulation. Consider the use of multiple layers of reflective foil to create a one-way heat valve effect. For walls, use of bulk and/or reflective insulation is recommended.

Under a sheet metal or tiled roof, a reflective insulation system should be used. A tiled roof should have sarking—a double-sided reflective-foil product under the tiles­ as well as ceiling insulation. Including a foil-blanket system under sheet metal roofing can provide an additional benefit of dampening the sound of heavy rain. Ventilate roof spaces well with fans or whirlybirds and design for condensation removal (see Passive cooling).

Verandah roofs should be insulated with reflective-foil insulation to reduce radiant heat gain, as this impacts on your indoor temperature as well as making outdoor seating areas uncomfortable. Consider installing energy-efficient ceiling fans. Condensation needs to be considered in all roof and wall systems. Seek expert advice when designing and installing your reflective insulation system.

Sub-tropical tip: Roof insulation helps to keep warmth inside your home during the cooler months. Using bulk insulation in external walls is also beneficial.

Light-coloured roofs

The first line of defence in cooling your home is to stop it absorbing and storing the sun’s heat. Light-coloured roofs can reflect up to 70% of summer heat gain, helping to reduce the internal temperature and improve comfort levels.

The easiest time to install light-coloured roofing is when you’re building. However, if you need to replace your roof, steel roofing solutions with new reflective paint technology are highly effective. Research to find an option that suits your budget.

Solar PV panels on a house roof.

Cool steel roofing material with reflective paint technology

Installing a fly roof can shade your entire home, protecting it from radiant heat while allowing cooling breezes to flow underneath.

A diagram of a fly roof

A fly roof can shade your whole home

Sub-tropical tip: A white roof or shading will affect your home’s indoor temperatures during the cooler months. Allowing solar access to north-facing living areas and sealing gaps and draughts will help you retain warmth when you need it. Protect from direct sunlight with adjustable shading to avoid heat gain in the hotter weather.

Improve your windows

The most significant difference in the design of tropical homes is in the size and orientation of windows or openable panels and doors. If renovating, improving windows to increase air flow can make a real difference to comfort, reducing up to 90% of heat gain.

Windows with maximum opening areas such as louvres or sliding windows can be tightly sealed when closed. Check the seals on existing windows and improve them if necessary. Avoid fixed glass panels.

A diagram showing three different types of windows and how they open for breezes. A sliding window allows up to 50% opening. A louvre allows up to 95% opening. A casement window allows the angle of the breeze to be directed.

Louvres and casement windows are best for breeze capture.

A small number of windows on every side of your home will encourage air movement but not access by the sun.

Larger windows or openings should be located on the downwind side of the house and smaller openings on the breeze side. All openings should be well-shaded.

Check with an energy rater or window specialist whether toned or Low e-glass could improve your comfort levels. Consider tinting windows that are exposed to the sun. The choice of windows is a big decision that can have a significant impact on energy use. Your choice will depend on the existing house design so research to find the best window solution

Mould

Bottle of vinegar for cleaning mould and a bucket, towel and baking soda

Clean with vinegar and water (not bleach) to get rid of mould

Mould is a fungal growth that can occur in areas that are damp, dark and poorly ventilated. It grows on a variety of surfaces, including timber and fabrics, wet areas, bathrooms, and kitchens. Rough, porous surfaces are often worst affected. It can damage your home and furnishings.

Mould can have an unpleasant odour and cause irritation and sneezing as well as more serious health risks. To prevent mould, you should aim to control the build-up of moisture and warmth as much as possible.

Reducing mould

Keeping your home properly ventilated and letting the sunshine in are common ways of managing mould.

In addition to moisture and lack of air circulation, mould needs surface dust or dirt. Dust, clean and dry surfaces regularly, including walls, window glass and frames, to stop growth of mould spores, particularly in the wet season.

During high humidity keep air circulating with a fan or air conditioner. Look for models with a dehumidifying feature. In your cupboards or under beds use refillable containers with moisture absorbing crystals.

Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to avoid build-up of moisture. Where possible ensure stoves, washing machines and dishwashers are fitted with an exhaust system.

If you’re renting and have ongoing problems with mould consider purchasing a portable dehumidifier. Run it overnight to reduce energy demand during peak times and to take advantage of any available off-peak electricity tariffs. Our renting guide has tips on getting assistance form your landlord.

Pay attention to dampness on walls, timber, carpet, furniture and fabrics and dry out or clean regularly to avoid mould accumulating.

Install dryers in the carport or verandah where possible. Ensure the dryer is safely installed and protected from the weather. Dryers installed inside should be vented to the outside where practical. Avoid using the dryer during the wet season and dry clothes in front of fans, on a verandah or in a well ventilated room. Condenser dryers that extract the water vapour from the air are a better choice for reducing condensation.

Keep bathroom doors closed when showering and run the fan before, during and after your shower to avoid a build-up of steam.

A bathroom exhaust fan

Run the fan before, during and after your shower

Installing insulation in walls will reduce condensation and mould build-up, and improve your home’s energy efficiency.

When painting, ensure you prepare and clean surfaces carefully to kill any existing mould. Select gloss or semi-gloss paints, as these repel mould more effectively than matt finishes. Mould-killing additives can be added to paints, grout and timber stains or select a primer or paints that have these already added.

To get rid of mould, a solution of 80% vinegar and 20% water on a microfibre cloth is the best approach. Thoroughly rinse the cloth at regular intervals to avoid spreading mould. While bleach can help reduce the appearance of mould, it’s ineffective at killing the spores. See this Choice guide for more tips.

Managing mould with your air conditioner

Operating an air conditioner in a sealed room dries the air as it cools it which can be effective in managing mould. When the inside temperature is lower than the outside temperature, switching off the air conditioner and opening windows lets humid air inside which may cause condensation to form. Keep the room closed until the inside temperature rises to the same as outside before opening it up to access breezes.

Condensation on window from humidity build-up

Condensation can lead to problems with mould

Condensation in apartments caused by differences between outdoor and indoor temperatures due to the operation of air conditioning can be a problem. For example, where a neighbour sets their air conditioner to a lower temperature overnight, cooling the slab floor or ceiling. If the air temperature is warmer inside your home this can allow condensation to form on the tiles, ceiling or metal studs in a plaster wall. You may need to speak to others in your building on how best to manage this situation.

Tropics checklist (climate zone 1)

Things to look for when buying, building, renovating or renting a home in the tropics.

For an existing home

Check the house’s energy rating and past energy bills. Look for maintenance records and manuals for any appliances heating and cooling equipment, hot water and/or solar PV panels.

For building a new home or renovating

View the extensive resources on Your Home, Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes. It includes Design for climate and you can download architect-designed 7 star house plans. These include supporting information to achieve a 7 star NatHERS rating or higher.

A clipboad with a checklist

Building layout and design

  • Does the floor plan provide protection from extreme temperature and encourage air movement, heat release and cross-ventilation?

  • Are bedrooms located downstairs and to maximise sleeping comfort?

  • Is the design for an elevated building with one room deep?

  • Are there well-positioned windows (such as high-positioned highlight windows), roof vents or whirlybirds?

  • Are all walls and windows shaded to block sun and rain?

  • Is there a fly roof to block sun from the whole house?

Construction type

  • Is construction from lightweight materials such as steel or wood?

  • Are roof materials reflective and light in colour?

  • Is it designed and built for cyclonic conditions?

  • If renovating or building, can you minimise heat gain and maximise the effectiveness of insulation by constructing the home without downlights into the ceiling space?

Orientation

  • Does the home’s orientation take full advantage of cooling breezes?

  • Are landscaping, sheds and garages positioned to help funnel breezes over, under and through the house?

Windows

  • Are all (including southern) windows shaded with extended eaves or vertical shading?

  • Is there specialist glass, such as Low-e, tinted/toned or low SHGC?

  • Are all windows 100% openable, such as louvre or casement?

  • Can windows be left open safely at night or modified with security screens to allow night ventilation?

Insulation

  • Does it have appropriate insulation (R3.5 or higher) to minimise heat gain during the day and maximise heat loss at night?

  • Is there ventilation in roof spaces (fans or whirlybirds) and good design for condensation removal?

Cooling

  • Is passive cooling maximised in living areas?

  • If an air conditioner is installed is it in an insulated sealable area of the house?

  • Is the air conditioner an efficient model with a high star rating?

  • Is it possible to install whole-of-house fans with smart switching to draw cooler air in at night when there is no breeze?

Zoning

  • Can air conditioned areas and sleeping spaces be isolated to minimise energy use?

Sustainability features

  • Is there energy-efficient lighting with dimmer controls?

  • Are there energy-efficient appliances with thermostat controls?

  • Are there water-saving taps, toilets and showerheads, water tanks, greywater system?

  • Does it have solar PV panels?

Outdoor living

  • Does it include screened outdoor living areas?

  • Are there garden ponds and water features to provide evaporative cooling?

  • Is there energy and water efficient landscaping?

Living local

  • Is the home located close to schools, shops and amenities?

  • Are travel times to work suitable for your family and time of life?

NatHERS house energy efficiency rating label showing a 6.5 star rating

 

Hot arid living

Staying comfortable in your home while reducing energy use doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money. Whether you’re in Tennant Creek, Carnarvon or Longreach there are a range of things you can do for free that will reduce your bill while still keeping you and your home cool in summer and warm on winter nights.

Our tips focus on taking advantage of the climate-friendly features already in your home before resorting to the air conditioner. The actions you need to take in the hot arid zone change with the seasons. It has high summer temperatures and winter temperatures that vary greatly between day and night.

You may need to change some of your current household behaviours. If you’re already taking many of these actions, consider revisiting them, especially if you’ve changed living arrangements or are new to the region.

Simple things you can do now in hot arid climates

Capture cooler air or breezes

Opening windows and vents on opposite sides of the room provides cross-ventilation and helps to manage extremely hot summer temperatures by drawing cooler air through the building.

A floor plan of a long narrow house shows windows and doors in bedrooms and living areas that are laid out in a way that maximises cool breezes.

Cool breezes work best in narrow or open plan layouts

Breezes tend to occur in the late afternoon or early evening so it’s a good idea to open the house up when you come home. You could spend some time in shaded garden areas as the house cools. Close everything up again in the morning before the outside temperature rises. Close doors and windows to exclude warmer winds from entering your home when these occur.

Cleaning your fly-screens will help to promote the passage of cool air. This can be done with a brush or hose. The design of your windows can help catch and deflect breezes from different angles and casement windows are particularly effective for this.

Night purging

In summer, flush hot air out of rooms at night by opening windows and vents to draw in the cooler night air to help cool the thermal mass and keep temperatures comfortable. A house with high ceilings and vents will create convective air movement by giving hot air a place to go during the day and helping draw in cooler air at night.

A cross-section of a home, where cool air is drawn in from a shaded garden area. Warm air rises to the second storey of the home, where it is drawn out high windows or vents.

Convection causes warm air to rise, drawing in cool air.

Night purging cools the thermal mass of a building and works well in hot arid climates where homes are usually designed with areas of exposed internal brick, tile or concrete and temperature changes between day and night are significant. Typically it's 6 to 8°C cooler at night.

Fans

Fans are very efficient and are cheap to buy and run (about two cents per hour). They can improve comfort levels so that you feel about 3°C cooler.

Fans cool by moving air across the skin so need to be close to you. Place furniture to take advantage of their effect and set up pedestal fans where ceiling fans don’t reach.

If you have high ceilings, consider lowering fans on droppers to avoid pushing any warm air near the ceiling down into the room. You can also use fans to increase the effectiveness of your air conditioner—running the two simultaneously allows you to operate the air conditioner more efficiently by running it at a higher temperature setting for a shorter time.

Shop around for the most effective and energy-efficient fans—noise levels and performance vary.

A girl getting cool in front of a portable fan at home

Wind breaks and water features

Take advantage of walls, temporary screens and landscaping that create wind barriers to block unwanted hot and dry winds. Deep, covered verandahs and balconies provide shade, cool incoming air and offer outside living areas to escape to.

Create your own evaporative cooling by planting vegetation in the path of hot dry summer winds. Trees used in combination with water features such as ponds or pools can help cool and humidify the air before it enters your home.

If you have an existing wind break or water feature take advantage of the increased opportunities to cool down by opening up and capturing air movement or breezes.

A diagram showing a section of a house with a central courtyard and a shaded pool. Air cooled by evaporation from the pool flows into the house through large open doors.

Courtyard pools cool your home through evaporation

Shading and window coverings

Unprotected windows can be the biggest source of heat entering your home, up to 90%, so keeping the sun out will greatly reduce your need for mechanical cooling. Make use of existing adjustable shading such as awnings and blinds.

Blinds and curtains can be an effective solution, and are a good way to deal with problems with existing windows. Heavier fabrics and multiple layers of fabric give the best thermal protection.

When installing blinds, look for an insulating fabric and ensure they're well-fitted to restrict air movement around the window to prevent unwanted heat loss or gain. For an energy-efficient option, honeycomb or cellular blinds are an excellent choice as they trap air within cells and act like a double-glazed window.

You’ll achieve even better results by blocking heat from passing through the glass. It’s recommended to shade all external doors and windows if your home doesn’t require winter heating. In regions where heating is needed use passive solar shading to the north to allow winter sun in.

A paved terrace outside a house has rectangular shade sails erected to shade the windows from direct sunlight.

Shade cloth is flexible and can be low cost

Pergolas covered with shade cloth or deciduous vines are a cost-effective way of providing seasonal shading and preventing heat gain in summer. They can be used in combination with plantings of deciduous trees. Growing vines or plants up walls on any side of your house will also provide an insulation effect in summer. If you don’t want to block winter sun, avoid using evergreen vines except on the western side of your house where heat gain is significant.

In winter, adjust shading and open up shutters to allow the sun to heat your home. The Your Home website has more detailed shading information.

Winter warmth

In areas that get cool at night during winter, allow the sun to warm your home during the day by opening up curtains and adjustable shading, blinds and awnings. Adjustable shading on the northern side allows in the lower-angle winter sun that can be blocked out in summer when cooling is required.

A woman opening curtains and enjoying the view through the window.

You can also dress for the occasion by rugging up with additional layers of clothing and using a light wrap or blanket while sitting for long periods in the evenings.

Close up of the feet of a man, a woman and a girl showing their warm socks.

If you require additional heating, choose the most effective heater for your situation. Reverse cycle air conditioners can provide heating and cooling and have an energy rating label to help you choose the most efficient model. Gas heating has an industry-led rating system. Estimate running costs of your appliances by following our handy formula.

Wood fires

Open fireplaces can provide a cosy ambience on occasional winter nights. However, these only provide radiant heat and are an inefficient way to keep warm. Up to 90% of the heat goes up the chimney, drawing in cold air to replace it. Remember to use sustainably sourced timber where possible.

The most effective forms of wood heating are properly installed slow combustion inserts and stoves. Follow our tips for running this type of heater effectively.

A slow combustion wood stove heating a living room.

Quick, cost-effective changes for hot arid climates

Mind the gaps

One of the easiest and cheapest ways of increasing the effectiveness of cooling and heating systems is by draught-proofing your home. You can save up to 25% on your energy bill by reducing the amount of cooled (or heated) air leaking from cracks and gaps around windows and doors.

Gap filler is a simple, cheap way to fill gaps along skirting boards, while draught-stoppers are useful for gaps under doors. You can also buy covers for exhaust fans and evaporative cooling ducts to use during winter. These are available at most hardware stores.

A woman using a roll of gap sealing tape to seal around a door frame.

A simple way to identify air leaks is to close up your house and hold a lit incense stick around the edges of windows and doors. If the smoke is drawn inwards this indicates an air leak.

A bunch of burning incense sticks with tendrils of smoke.

Paint your roof white

Lighter colours reflect heat and darker colours absorb it. Adding two coats of white exterior acrylic paint to roof areas will reduce heat gain into your home. This simple action improves internal comfort by around 3°C and reduces the need for air conditioning by as much as 20%. White roofs have an impact on energy consumption in winter due to making houses cooler.

A man spray painting a roof white.

Paint your roof white to reflect the heat [Alice Springs solar city]

If your home is not currently insulated it’s a good idea to install insulation before painting. Choose a paint product that will help repel dust from accumulating and clean your roof regularly. If the roof needs replacing consider using steel roofing solutions with reflective paint.

Monitor the weather

To help read your local weather more accurately, consider investing in a home weather station with an indoor display or alert system.

These range from inexpensive temperature gauges to digital technology that can measure solar radiation, expected rainfall, wind speed and direction, humidity and more.

Digital household weather station

By providing you with a convenient read-out from inside the home, they can help you to respond to outside conditions and manage your home more efficiently; for example, by allowing you to operate blinds and awnings effectively and capture passing breezes as they occur.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting

While they might cost more upfront to buy, LED lighting is much more efficient than other forms of lighting and will save you money over the long term.

A good quality LED bulb consumes 80% less energy than a halogen light and lasts 5 to 10 times longer. They will also reduce the amount of heat in your home, particularly if you’re replacing halogen downlights which run hotter than other lighting technologies. It takes up to 6 downlights to light the same area as one pendant light—so switching to LED bulbs and pendant lighting can have a real impact

A LED light bulb switched on.

As downlights require a minimum clearance around ceiling insulation they can reduce the effectiveness of insulation. This is another reason pendant, ceiling-mounted or track lighting is a better option. Ask a lighting specialist to provide approved covers with your LED downlights to reduce the impact on the insulation. Sealed downlights are another option.

Check out our energy-efficiency lighting tips for more information, including links to the Light Bulb Buyers’ Guide, Light Bulb Saver App and Light Bulb Saver video.

Plant shade trees

While they can take a number of years to mature, trees are a great low-cost, low-energy solution. Planting the correct mix of trees and shrubs can provide shade, saving you money on your cooling costs, while also improving air quality and biodiversity.

Tree shade on the eastern and western sides of an older style single-storey, 3 star energy-rated home have been shown to provide energy savings of up to 50%.

Shade is particularly important if your home is made of heavier construction that takes longer to cool down. Trees with high branches are useful for shading roofs, while shrubs can help shade windows.

Deciduous plants allow winter sun to enter your home in winter, blocking it during the hot summer months.

Trees can also be used to filter hot summer winds, cooling them before they hit your home. This is especially effective in combination with water features.

Talk to your local nursery about what species do best in your area and where to plant them as part of your garden research.

Longer term investments for hot arid climates

Evaporative cooling

Evaporative coolers (sometimes known as a ‘swampy’) are a highly effective alternative in hot, dry climates with low humidity such as Alice Springs. They add moisture to the air, are energy efficient and cheaper to run than an air conditioner of similar size, using around half the energy. Central systems are more effective than portable styles. Evaporative coolers use between 4 and 25 litres of water (or more) per hour on hot, dry days. They may not be suitable in areas with water restrictions. Look for a system that monitors water hardness and salinity and eliminates water selectively rather than continuously. Check the settings with your provider when your system is installed.

A diagram of an evaporative cooling unit. Hot dry air from outside is drawn into the unit through a filter which is kept wet by a pump circulating water from the bottom of the unit to drip onto the filter. The now cool humid air is blown out the opposite side of the unit by a fan.

Evaporative coolers work best in climates with low humidity

Evaporative coolers don’t provide a heating function as a standard feature which reverse cycle air conditioners do. They can have gas heaters added to them to allow them to heat as well. Your household circumstances will determine if this is a worthwhile option. For example, whether you have gas connected.

Research to see if an evaporative cooler will provide the right level of comfort for your circumstances. Choose a model with a thermostat, a timer and inverter-driven fan. The option to run some units off a solar PV panel makes them an attractive energy-saving option.

During operation, some windows and doors must be open to allow hot air to escape from the house. To get the best out of your evaporative cooling system, carry out regular maintenance to keep the filter clean. Cover the roof unit and close off ducts in winter to reduce heat losses. Consider getting a professional in every few years to de-scale the pads, check the fan pump, tighten fan belts and adjust the bleed rate.

Light-coloured roofs

The first line of defence in cooling your home is to stop it absorbing and storing the sun’s heat. Light-coloured roofs can reflect up to 70% of summer heat gain, helping to reduce the internal temperature and improve comfort levels.

Solar PV panels on a roof and light coloured roofs

The easiest time to install light-coloured roofing is when you’re building. However, if you need to replace your roof, steel roofing solutions with new reflective paint technology are a highly effective. Research to find an option that suits your budget.

Insulate your ceiling and roof

Insulation helps to keep the sun’s heat out of your home during extreme temperatures and traps warm air inside your home during cold days. This can save you up to 40% on your energy bills.

A roll of yellow insulation material with foil backing.

Insulation can be sensibly and safely added to many existing homes. To take advantage of the improved comfort levels and energy savings that result from its installation, research the correct type and level of insulation for your building type and climate or talk to a knowledgeable building professional.

The use of bulk and reflective insulation in the ceiling and roof is recommended. In the ceiling select R3.5 or higher bulk insulation. For walls, use of bulk and/or reflective insulation is recommended.

Under a sheet metal roof or a tiled roof, a reflective insulation system should be used. A tiled roof should have sarking—a double-sided reflective-foil product under the tiles—as well as ceiling insulation. Including a foil-blanket system under sheet metal roofing can provide an additional benefit of dampening the sound of heavy rain.

Verandah roofs should be insulated with reflective-foil insulation to reduce radiant heat gain, as this impacts on your indoor temperature as well as making outdoor seating areas uncomfortable. Consider installing energy-efficient ceiling fans.

Condensation needs to be considered in all roof and wall systems. Seek expert advice when designing and installing your reflective insulation system.

Insulating elevated floors with polystyrene foil-faced rigid board insulation, or similar, resists upward heat flow and condensation in summer and colder air flow on winter nights.

Go solar PV

With new developments in home battery storage, solar energy is becoming even more attractive to Australian households. Our guide to installing solar power has more information.

To assess the benefits, get an estimate of how much electricity you use each year and the power you can generate in your particular location. Approach an accredited installer to ask about the right size system.

You may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a solar PV system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). See our rebate pages for any assistance available and contact energy retailers to find out about feed-in tariffs.

A solar pv system on a roof.

Switch to an energy-efficient hot water system

Hot water can use 25% of your energy. If replacing your hot water system, take time to research the right type and size of product for your needs. Choose the most suitable and energy-efficient model you can afford to save on energy bills and avoid paying for capacity you don’t need. See our detailed information on hot water.

For hot arid climates, heat pump and solar hot water are recommended technologies and you may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). See our rebate pages for available assistance .

Ensure your installer recommends the most appropriate system for your climate, for example, a solar hot water system that is able to withstand occasional sub-zero temperatures. Periods of low temperature (under 5°C) can effect heat pump performance but this is unlikely to be a significant issue in hot arid conditions.

An evacuated tube and a flat plate solar hot water system.

Evacuated tubes (left) and flat plate (right) solar hot water systems

Ensure you understand the information on safety and maintenance for your new system. This is particularly important for a storage hot water system that you’re switching back on after a period of non-use. The water needs to be heated to above 60°C for at least 35 minutes before use, killing any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat above 60°C.

 

Hot arid checklist (climate zone 3)

Things to look for when buying, building, renovating or renting a home in a hot arid zone.

Woman getting a home energy audit from a qualified assessor.

For an existing home

Check the house’s energy rating past energy bills. Look for maintenance records and manuals for any appliances, heating and cooling equipment, hot water and/or solar PV panels.

For building a new home or renovating

View the extensive resources on Your Home, Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes. It includes Design for climate and you can download the architect-designed 7 star house plans. These include supporting information to achieve a 7 star NatHERS rating or higher.

Building layout and design

  • Is there a compact floor plan with features to protect from extremes of temperature, such as high windows to encourage air movement and solar chimneys?

  • Does it allow for heat release through well-positioned windows (such as highlight windows) and cross-ventilation, and night purging through roof vents?

  • Can any windows be left open safely at night or modified with security screens to allow night ventilation?

Construction type

  • Does it use materials with high thermal mass such as concrete, bricks and tiles?

  • Has heat gain and loss been minimised through insulation?

  • If renovating or building can you minimise heat gain and loss and maximise the effectiveness of insulation by constructing the home without downlights into the ceiling space?

Orientation

  • Are living areas north facing?

  • Can winter sun enter the living space?

  • Is the northern shading adjustable (to block summer sun and allow in winter sun)?

Windows

  • Is there specialist glass, such as low-e, tinted/ toned or in areas to north high SHGC glazing ?

  • For areas with winters, is double glazing fitted?

  • Is there summer shading on all east and west-facing glass?

  • Is there shade on south-facing glass (if north of the tropic of Capricorn)?

Insulation

  • Is there bulk and reflective insulation in ceilings (R3.5 or higher)?

  • Does a metal deck roof have a combined batt and foil reflective product directly below the roof, as well as a bulk insulation above the ceiling?

  • Is all insulation in ceilings and walls designed to control condensation?

  • If the design includes elevated floors, are these insulated?

  • Are there well-sealed internal spaces to manage inside air temperatures between night and day and across the seasons?

Heating and cooling

  • Is evaporative cooling installed in living areas?

  • If air conditioning is installed, is it an efficient model with a high star rating?

  • Does the design allow for passive solar heating in winter through exposed thermal mass?

Zoning

  • Can air conditioned areas and sleeping spaces be isolated to minimise energy use?

Sustainability features

  • Is there energy-efficient lighting with dimmer controls?

  • Are there energy-efficient appliances with thermostat controls?

  • Are there water-saving taps, toilets and showerheads, water tanks, greywater system?

  • Does it have solar PV panels?

Outdoor living

  • Does it include screened outdoor living areas that allow winter sun penetration?

  • Are there garden ponds and water features to provide evaporative cooling?

  • Is there energy and water efficient landscaping?

Living local

  • Is the home located close to schools, shops and amenities?

  • Are travel times to your place of work suitable for your family and time of life?

 

NatHERS house energy efficiency rating label showing a 6.5 star rating.

 

Helpful resources

More on this website

Extreme weather preparation in your state or territory

Australian Government

Northern Territory Government

Queensland Government

Government of Western Australia

New South Wales Government

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