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How to build an eco-friendly home

By George Hadgelias

The environment is an increasingly important consideration for many home builders.

Ideally, all new homes would be built with sustainability in mind, while also delivering energy (and hip pocket) savings.

This may not be entirely attainable, however, the good news is many environmental features are not only easy to include as you set about designing and building your home, but most of them won’t cost you the earth either.

Here are some of the key features you might want to consider.

The orientation

It’s something that might not have crossed your mind, but the way you choose to position your new home could have the biggest overall impact on its environmental effectiveness.

Cundall senior ESD consultant Damon Cuming says it’s a notion called “passive design” – getting the size, shape and orientation of a home correct so it doesn’t need large amounts of energy to heat or cool it.

“It’s about trying to get most of the windows to your living rooms and bedrooms facing north, making sure they’ve got the right amount of shading so they’re filtering out the summer sun but not blocking out the winter sun,” Cuming says.

“It’s getting the balance right. If you can get the living areas facing north, that’s a really good start.”

Designing a property with windows on opposite sides encourages a crossflow breeze, which is a highly effective way to obtain a cooling effect without having to turn the air conditioning on, he adds.

Insulation

Insulation might not immediately spring to mind as an environmental feature, but considering it’s one of your main weapons in keeping your home’s temperature stable all year round, it’s important to get it right.

Cuming says good insulation is one of the cheapest investments you’ll make, so ensure your builder doesn’t skimp on it.

“Really push hard on the insulation, because most building designers will put in whatever’s cheap or easy,” he says.

“Insulation is generally cheap, and it doesn’t cost much to go to the next level up. It might be $3 extra per metre, or $5 extra per metre. For the extra comfort you get it’s certainly worth it.”

Solar panels

Think environmental features, and solar panels are probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Cuming says the ever-decreasing cost of installing solar means it should be near the top of the list for all home builds.

“Solar panels are an absolute no-brainer. They keep coming down in price and they’re getting better and better.”

Cuming says solar panels pay off quickly, particularly if you’re a family that uses energy during daylight hours.

“For a family with small kids or people at home during the day using energy when the sun is shining, solar panels really come into their own and make a real difference.”

Water tanks

Rainwater storage and usage is another home feature that has come down considerably in price over the years.

Cuming says it’s one of the easiest ways to make an environmental difference.

“Rainwater tanks are another no-brainer. In terms of recycled water, rainwater is generally the cleanest,” he says.

“You just have them connected up to all your toilets and garden irrigation systems,” he says.

Window shading

Installing all those north-facing windows will be great for natural light, as well as natural airflow, however glass is your home’s biggest thermal weak point, so in the hot summer months you’ll want to block some of that sun out.

Cuming says installing some of the newer (and more attractive) window shades, or planting appropriate plants or trees outside key windows, are excellent ways to keep that airflow but block out the hot sun.

“With smart shading design there are lots of different ways to control the amount of sun you get in your home. You can plant deciduous trees around your house, and you can have adjustable blinds, which you can pull down in summer and back up in the winter.”

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