Tag Archives: Sustainability

Optimal House Siting

Optimal House Siting

HOUSE siting
In order for a building to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly in any way, there are many things to consider when searching for a site or placing a house on a site.

Analysing needs and lifestyle – current and future

  • What type of home is needed?
    (house, apartment, villa; is a large garden required, lifestyle options and access to facilities)
  • Does the location suit your lifestyle and can it accommodate potential changes in the future?
    (family addition, retirement, old age, health and so on)
  • Is the site close to public transport, work, school, family members or other social activities?
    (Proximity may reduce the need of a second car. It will reduce car trips, travel time and carbon footprint, consequently protecting the environment, and saving money).
  • Determine the true cost of the location.
    (A site/ home in the outer suburbs may be cheaper, but will this compensate the higher transport cost and the additional times spend on the road or on public transport?)


Study the site and the local climate

  • Seasonal and diurnal temperature ranges
  • Direction of hot, cold and wet winds and cooling breezes
  • Humidity range
  • Effect of local geographic features or climate conditions, like the fall of a site, vegetation or neighbouring properties that might modify air movement and solar access.
  • Seasonal characteristics
  • Orientation of the site, determine where north is. Will the configuration of the site allow for good solar access, and the positioning of private open space and garden areas facing north?
  • Are existing or proposed buildings or trees overshadowing the site?

If you do want to know more about how to place a building on your site and how to arrange your floor plan for optimal solar access please check our other articles.

 

How to Place a Building

How to Place a Building

how to place a building

In hot climates with negligible heating needs, the building should be orientated to maximise exposure to cool breezes. The construction should aim to exclude harsh sun all year around, by minimising window sizes and/ or providing large overhangs or other effective shading devices.
All other climate zones, as well as alpine zones, need to incorporate passive solar heating and cooling. The extent of heating and cooling requirements depends on the climate. To determine if you need mostly passive heating, passive cooling, or a combination of both, you can compare summer and winter energy bills, consult a designer or an architect, or check meteorological records on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website.
In the southern hemisphere, living areas should be ideally orientated within the range of 15°W-20°E of true or ‘solar’ north (20°W-30°E of true north is considered acceptable). Accurate location and direction will enable standard overhangs to prevent overheating in summer and allow lower winter sun to heat the building with no extra costs or effort from the occupants. On the other hand, a poor orientation will result in heat loss in winter and will lead to overheating in summer, by allowing low angled west or east sun to strike glass surfaces. North facing walls and windows should be set back significantly from large obstructions to the north, like trees, fences and other buildings. Keep in mind that they cast shadows two to three times their height in mid-winter. The distance to a single storey building to the north should be minimum 5.5 metres, to a double storey at least 10 metres.

  • If possible, garages, carports and other buildings or structures shouldn’t be placed on the northern side of the site.
  • Consider sharing walls with neighbours, especially on the east or west boundary as it will minimise unwanted heat loss or gain through these walls.

If you do want to know more about optimal house siting and how to arrange your floor plan for optimal solar access please check out our other articles.

How Much Insulation Is Needed?

climate zones

In short: the more the better:

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) identifies eight different climate zones for Australia, but within a zone, there are some locations with slightly different temperature ranges. There can be significant differences between maximum and minimum temperatures in summer and winter and in length and intensity of heating and cooling periods. The house design, the insulation and construction must respond to these variations in order to be able to perform energy efficient.
For simplicity, Victoria is divided in five climate zones, with winter heating as the predominant concern especially in the Temperate Coastal and Cool Inland Zones. Summer cooling is variable but generally less significant. House design in these zones requires attention to better performing insulation, draught proofing, window protection in winter and shading in summer. Likewise, in warmer cities and areas like Mildura supplementary heating is obligatory for thermal comfort. In these regions, it’s advisable to include extra thermal mass, cross ventilation and summer shading, whereas alpine areas may require constant heating for most of the year and cooling requirements are negligible. Consequently, a 6-star home in Mildura wouldn’t comply with the minimum requirements for a 6-star home in Ballarat.

The higher the R-value the better the performance. Consider what insulation is needed in order to build an energy efficient home in a certain climate zone early in the design process. In particular, it’s important to think about the roof insulation. For example, it would be cheaper to use larger rafters in order to fit in sufficient glasswool to fulfil the desired R-value, instead of using thinner expensive extruded polystyrene. Larger rafters would mean that the overall height of the building rises slightly. This is no problem, if the amendments are done early in the design. However, if a town planning permit has already been granted, it’s not that easy any more. It’s necessary to go back to the council with the changes, which can cost a lot of time and money, therefore in most cases, people choose to use the thinner, more expensive insulation instead.

Adding R1.0 insulation can significantly improve the energy efficiency. For example in Melbourne, adding insulation with a R-value of R3.0 to the ceilings and R1.5 insulation to walls can save 12% on energy bills each year and can ensure a higher level of comfort.

One important thing to consider is that the energy requirements as listed in the BCA are minimum requirements only, not best practice. So if someone is telling you to not put any more insulation in as the regulations call for: don’t listen to them. They don’t have a clue.

If you put in anything less, your building would not comply, so if you are after an energy efficient home, why would you be happy to only have the legally required minimum? Rather put in as much insulation as fits into the wall/roof/ or wall and as much as your budget allows.

Keep in mind, while it is quite easy and common to upgrade bathrooms and kitchens every 10-20 years, you will typically not touch the insulation again. So make sure you make your home future proof!

Stack-Effect and Clerestory Windows

stack effect

Stack-Effect

The term “stack-effect” goes back to the chimney. The heat source – in this scenario, the fire – heats up the air. Hot air rises and is discharged through the chimney, as it has a lower density than cold air. This effect can be used to replace air inside a house. For instance, when it’s colder outside the windows can be opened to let in cooler air. Warmer air inside the room will rise towards the ceiling, exiting via high openable windows, clerestory windows and skylights. Warm air inside is replaced by fresh and cooler outdoor air.

Clerestory Window

clerestory is a usually a high wall with a band of narrow windows along the very top. The clerestory wall usually rises above adjoining roofs.

Originally, the word clerestory referred to the upper level of a church or cathedral. The Middle English word clerestorie means “clear story,” which describes how an entire story of height was cleared to illuminate large interiors.

If you want to maintain wall space AND keep a room well-lighted, or if normal solar access is either not possible or restricted consider this type of window arrangement for your home. Clerestory windows are most often used to naturally illuminate large spaces such as sports arenas, transportation terminals, and gymnasiums. But can be a great addition to any home.

 

The Difference between Air-Leakage & Ventilation

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Ventilation
Ventilation is the active process of “changing” or replacing air to regulate temperature and moisture. It should always occur under controlled conditions, by opening windows or with ceiling or exhaust fans, NOT through gaps and air-leakage. Ventilation is important to support the ability of thermal mass to absorb and release heat in order to regulate the indoor temperature.

It is necessary to ascertain where natural breezes are to locate the windows accordingly. Landscaping and other buildings can influence and obstruct air flow; therefore it is necessary to visit and check the site before locating windows. Cool summer breezes in and around Melbourne usually come from south; detailed information can be found from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) web site.
The less gaps and air-leakage occur the air-tighter a building gets. Therefore regular ventilation is mandatory to renew oxygen and discharge odours, water vapour, carbon dioxide and other contaminations.

For instance, in Germany it’s recommended to cross-ventilate every day for a few minutes, even in winter. If the occupants forget to ventilate regularly, water vapour will be trapped inside and will lead to mildew and mould on the walls and the ceilings.

Cross-ventilation
Openable windows and external doors should be located on different sides of the home, with less than 8 metres distance between them to allow for adequate and effective air flow. Cooler air enters the building where the breeze is loctated, passes through the building and exits on the other side. The warm air inside gets replaced by fresh and cooler air.

Thermal Mass and Heating Choices

thermal massIn most European countries, thermal mass is used as a matter of course. Although it takes  longer to heat up a house which contains a lot of thermal mass, it also takes a long time to cool down again. The thermal mass releases constant heat to the rooms and therefore heaters only need to be on a low setting or turned off completely.

Unlike in Australia, split systems and ducted heating are rarely used overseas as they use only convective heat. The main focus lies on radiant heaters as they heat thermal mass. The main form of heating in Europe is hydronic heating, mostly in form of hydronic heating panels, but also as in slab heating. Other sources of radiant heat are wood or gas fire places. Hydronic heating is also way more allergy friendly than ducted heating or split systems. But this is more the subject for a separate blog post.

If thermal mass is combined with effective insulation and has good solar access, the interior is perceived to be comfortable, without the need for additional heating, even if the external temperature is well below 20°C. The combination of thermal mass and well performing insulation is a condition of passive solar design, as well as low and zero-energy housing.

Conclusion
Thermal mass is an effective way to reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling and to increase the comfort and well-being of the occupants. In order to perform at its best, it needs to be located appropriately and sized adequately, with a careful eye on insulation and thermal bridges.

Optimal Use Of Thermal Mass

How to locate thermal mass

optimal thermal mass
Thermal mass needs to be situated correctly and needs to work in combination with passive solar design and good performing insulation, otherwise it can have negative effects and even increase the need for heating and cooling. Thermal mass should be situated on the interior face of the building envelope and must be thermally separated from the outside via insulative materials.

Thermal mass should be located throughout the building to maintain comfort in summer, but the main focus should be on north-facing rooms. Good solar access is obligatory as the low winter sun needs to be able to enter the building and to strike the thermal mass. The more glass area, the more thermal mass is required.
Thermal mass is extremely important for multi-storey buildings, as warm air rises and therefore the rooms tend to overheat easily. Unfortunately most upper storeys are usually built in lightweight construction, as this is cheaper and easier to build. It is important, however, to incorporate as much thermal mass as possible, for example concrete floors or internal brick walls.

When using thermal mass in upper storey buildings careful attention has to be paid on the details. For instance that there are no structural thermal bridges, which can lead to unwanted heat transfer between the outside and the upper level concrete floors. But also the floors itself need to be insulated, to avoid heat rising up and heating up the upper levels. Insulating concrete floors isn’t a legal requirements, but highly recommended, if you do want to enjoy the thermal benefits and not the negative side effects of thermal mass.

In our next article we will speak about material and colour selections.

What is Thermal Mass and why should we use it in construction?

thermal mass

Although the term ‘thermal mass’ is not commonly used, there are many examples where we experience it and appreciate its benefits. The most impressive is the ocean: in winter, when there is less sunshine and the average air temperature is low, the water is chilly and only the tough ones might enjoy a swim! In spring, the sun will slowly heat up the water so that finally in summer it will have a comfortable warm temperature. Water has a great capacity of storing heat – it will stay constantly warm during day and night, and even in winter, it can be significantly warmer than its surrounding air temperature due to its ability to absorb solar energy. Water demonstrates the principle of thermal mass. How does it apply to construction?

 

Thermal Mass, Why Is It So Important for Construction?
Thermal mass is the ability of storing and releasing heat to help retain a constant indoor temperature. It is an effective way to improve thermal comfort in a building and plays an essential role in saving energy. Thermal mass inside a building will absorb heat when the surroundings are warmer than the mass, will store the heat and radiate it slowly when the surroundings are cooler. It can actively be used to regulate temperature, therefore, reducing the need for mechanical heating and cooling. Heavy materials, such as concrete and brick have great thermal storage capacity, whereas lightweight construction materials, such as timber and insulation cannot store heat. Generally speaking, the heavier a material the better its ability to store heat.

If you want to know more about thermal mass please also read our further articles about this subject.

Window Energy Rating Scheme

 

Untitled1The Window Energy Rating Scheme (WERS) is a program implemented by the Australian Window Council Inc. (AWC) with the support of the Australian Greenhouse Office. The windows are evaluated with stars, the more stars, the better the performance. If buying windows, always check the label before making a decision.
A single-glazed window with a typical aluminium frame has U-values ranging from 7.9 W/m²K to 5.5 W/m²K (according to the indicative ranges of whole glazing element performance values in the BCA). These U-values will make it hard to reach a good energy rating for a building/ built an energy efficient home.

Keep in mind, the lower the U-value the better performing a window. Double glazing windows with timber framing in Australia usually range between a U-value of 3.8 W/m²K and 2.5 W/m²K.

Sealing and weather-stripping
However, a good U-value is no guarantee for a well performing window. The installation of doors and windows needs to be done according to the manufactures guidelines. All gaps must be sealed and weather-stripped carefully in order to perform to the specified U-value. Unfortunately, the energy rating just states the material U-value of the window and not the end product and common practice often shows incorrect installation leading to thermal bridges around the windows.

 Windows And Double Glazing Overseas
Whereas most countries in Europe require double glazing and even recommend triple glazing, it is not standard in Australia yet. Unfortunately, double glazing is still more expensive than single glazing in Australia, in Europe it’s actually the other way around. Due to the fact that single glazing is not allowed any more, no one is producing it on a large scale making it quite expensive. Double-glazing on the other hand is a standard, and although better performing than common double-glazed windows in Australia, they are available for about a quarter of the price. For instance, the minimum required U-value for windows in Germany is currently 1.1 W/m²K. I trust that with time, double glazing will become more affordable and will become mandatory in Australia to achieve good passive solar design.

Up until then, you, as the client, has to make informed decisions about what glazing you are buying. You can’t just trust a manufacturer stating their glazing is energy efficient. They have to prove the performance to you by showing you the actual u-value of the window system.

What to look for when buying windows?
YES, double glazing is worth its money. It is the best method to reduce heat loss in winter, as long as it is applied, installed and used properly. The window size should respond to the location and the climate, the insulation around the window needs to be snug fit, in order to prevent thermal bridges. Appropriate window frames need to be used and furthermore, adequate internal and or external covers needs to be applied. All these measurements need to work together, otherwise a window is nothing more than a hole in the wall and will be the major contributor for unwanted heat gain and loss, therefore preventing energy efficiency.