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What does a sustainable house look like?

Simple, old-school design features can help make your house more sustainable and energy efficient.

When designing a family home, there are plenty of lessons on sustainable design to be learnt from Melbourne-based architect.

Sarah Rickard of Re-Architecture shares some of her insights.

“Early Australian architectural design was all about passive heating and cooling, which is why heritage properties remain popular today,” says Sarah.

“The fantastic thing is that those ‘old-school’ design features can be applied to any building style, from traditional homestead to modern minimalist.”

If you’re planning an energy-efficient home, pairing some of these design features with an efficient photovoltaic (PV) solar system – which basically means the system converts sunlight directly into electricity – is one of the best ways to increase your energy star rating and green up your home’s credentials.

Here are Sarah’s four tips to help passively heat and cool your home, keeping it as sustainable as possible while perfectly complementing a solar system.

1. House positioning

Spend time on your block to see where prevailing winds, light and shadows come from. You’ll passively warm those high-use areas by facing your living areas north.

Allow adequate roof space in your house to install solar panels. They mounted theirs on the garage roof, ensuring it was clear of large trees and north-facing to capture maximum sunlight throughout the day.

2. Window placement

Winter heat loss occurs through windows, so size and placement are important. Double-glazing is also beneficial and becoming more popular, meaning it’s cheaper than ever.

Her home is traditionally styled, with a wrap-around verandah to shade rooms from the harsh summer heat, so it’s a good idea to place eaves or a verandah over north-facing windows, so they’re shaded during summer.

We’ve also planted deciduous grapevines against the pergola at the back of the house to provide additional shade.

3. Natural ventilation

Work out which direction summer breezes come from, then place doors and windows to capture and direct them through the house. Great ventilation reduces the need for air-conditioning, reducing your electricity costs considerably.

Where Sarah lives is very flat with prevailing winds from the northwest, so it’s relatively easy for her to cool the house by opening two or three windows at opposite ends. Ceiling fans also help circulate the air.

4. Insulation

Exterior wall and ceiling insulation are a given, but you can also consider insulating between the zones of your home. Her bedrooms are at one end of the house and living areas at the other, so by insulating the bedroom zone, they could keep them at a comfortable temperature, even though we might have doors open elsewhere. Good insulation can add a couple of stars to your energy rating!

There’s a wealth of information online to assist you with your new home plans and showrooms, expos, and home shows you can visit to get professional help. Check out Green Homes Australia and Sustainability Victoria for information to get started.

Want to know what 10-star home efficiency looks like?

Discover what it takes to build a 10-star energy efficient home.

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