Tag Archives: Sustainable House Design

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!

How to locate air-leakage and thermal bridges

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Draughts + air-leakage
Older style buildings commonly have draughts and air-leakages due to unsealed windows and doors, and unsealed vents and exhausted fans, therefore, heat and air can escape. It is difficult to control the air movement. Other sources for draughts are gaps within or around insulation, vented skylights, gaps between floorboards, open fire places, around air conditioners and heaters, gaps around other wall penetrations, such as down lights, pipes, cables etc. .

Thermal bridges
A thermal bridge is an element or part of a building, which allows heat to travel through it more quickly than through other parts and is therefore responsible for unwanted heat loss or gain. A thermal bridge arises for instance when poor insulative materials touch each other, when gaps occur between insulative materials and structural surfaces, and when materials with different R-values/U-values come in contact with each other. These thermal bridges allow heat transfer from a warmer to a cooler material. The main thermal bridges in a building are located at the junctions of floor to the wall, wall to the roof, balconies and window and door frames.

How to locate draughts?

– Are there any visible gaps? For example is light coming through gaps around windows and doors?
– Are blinds or curtains moving when the windows are closed?
A lit candle can be used to check air movement, such as around windows and doors, vents, floorboards, junctions of floor to wall and wall to roof connections

Thermal Mass: material and colour selection

Material and colour selection

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Generally speaking, the more thermal mass the better and the heavier a material, the better its ability to store heat. The optimum would be a masonry home with a reverse brick veneer construction and concrete floors. Or using something like concrete block walls and insulate at the outside, with isolation boards.

If this option is too expensive use as much thermal mass as possible, concrete slab is preferable. In warmer climates the ground is colder and can help to cool the concrete. Therefore the indoor air temperature will be reduced. In colder climates, however, the concrete slab needs to be insulated from the ground in order to minimise heat loss in winter.  When looking a the energy start rating,  insulating the slab on ground can add up to 1 star to your star rating.

If a timber subfloor is requested or required, the focus should be at least on internal brick walls to the north which need to be exposed to the winter sun and are therefore able to absorb and release heat. Other materials that have a good thermal conductivity are water, sandstone, rammed earth and earth blocks, mud brick etc.

Moreover, colours and coverings can influence the performance of thermal mass. For example carpets and timber floors will minimise the ability of thermal mass to absorb and release heat as they work as additional insulation. This can lower the required heating in winter, but it will increase the need of additional cooling in summer, as the thermal mass can absorb less heat. On the other hand, hard floor finishes such as tiles, stone or slate on concrete slab can increase the ability to store heat. Dark colours or dark materials also tend to absorb more heat, however, light-coloured walls are more desirable as they maximise natural daylight. Dark walls will increase the need of artificial lighting, as they absorb light and can make rooms appear smaller. In short, material and colour selection can promote or adversely affect the performance of thermal mass.

One alternative to adding thermal mass as a actual building material is to add something that acts as thermal mass, but is light weight. There is one product on the Australian market, calle BioPCM. This phase change material acts as thermal mass, without the weight actual thermal mass has, and hence standard light weight construction and footings are sufficient, which are usually significantly cheaper than if you are building with brick and or block work.

“BioPCM™ is a lightweight smart thermal mass, providing design flexibility and easy installation for a cost effective and simple approach to integrating sustainable technology into buildings.
BioPCM™ absorbs excess heat during the day and releases this energy back in the evening as buildings cool.”

 

We have used the BioPCM to line the walls of a pantry, to keep it cooler and create some sort of cool – room. And the result was really great. The room always stays much colder then the rest of the well insulated weatherboard home.

 

 

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.

How can thermal mass help in Winter or Summer to regulate room temperature?

summer and winter

 

When deciding on what materials to use for your house many only think about factors such as cost and aesthetics. But when it comes to creating an energy efficient home the performance of a material and its ability to store heat needs to be taken into consideration. Thermal mass will help regulate the indoor temperature in summer as well as in winter and will reduce the need of mechanical heating and cooling.

 

Winter benefits

In winter, thermal mass works like a heater: it absorbs radiant heat from the sun through north, east and west-facing windows, and also stores heat from mechanical heating. The thermal mass will slowly release the heat which reduces the need for heating. Even when the heaters are turned off, the house will stay warmer for longer. Furthermore, the air and the exposed surfaces have the same temperature (Mean Radiant Temperature), which means there are no unwanted draughts, and the Relative Air Velocity is low; these will increase the thermal comfort of the occupants.

 

Summer benefits


Materials such as concrete and brick are cooler in summer than the surrounding air temperature, so they are able to absorb heat, which consequently lowers the room temperature and the need for additional cooling. At night the thermal mass will slowly release stored heat. Natural ventilation, via open windows, ceiling or exhaust fans, are an effective way to let cool air in and to let heat – collected during the day – out. In extreme hot periods, when it doesn’t cool down at night, air conditioning may be required to regulate the room temperature. The greater the difference between day and night temperature, the more beneficial the thermal.

 

Please be aware, that a standard brick veneer home will not give you any benefits for your indoor temperature, as the thermal mass is located externally, and separated from the indoor climate via insulation

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.

Winter heat loss through Windows

Winter heat loss

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Unprotected glazing and single glazing in particular means the surface of the glass is noticeable colder than the warm air in the room. This lowers the room temperature and produces draughts. The Relative Air Velocity ends up too high and occupants will feel winter discomfort. For this reason, all windows require protection from heat loss in winter. To minimise winter heat loss, it is important to trap a layer of insulation still air between the window and the room. This can be achieved for instance by using internal coverings, such as drapes, Holland blinds, Roman blinds or Australian blinds, and thin or lace curtains combined with pelmets.

 Effect of window treatments on winter heat loss
(According to Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria 2002)

  • Unprotected single glazing: 100%
  • Vertical or venetian blinds: 100%
  • Unlined drapes or Holland blinds, no pelmet: 92%
  • Heavy, lined drapes, no pelmet: 87%
  • Unlined drapes or Holland blinds, pelmet: 79%
  • Standard double glazing: 67% (the higher the U-value the less the heat loss can be)
  • Heavy, lined drapes, pelmet: 63%
  • Double glazing with Low-E coating: 57%
  • Double glazing, heavy drapes, pelmet: 46%

Double glazing
The most effective way to protect windows against heat loss in winter is a combination of double glazing and internal window coverings. However, if internal coverings are inappropriate or not desired, for instance in highlight or clerestory windows, in kitchens or simply where unobstructed views are wanted, double glazing is an indispensable measurement in order to prevent heat loss in winter. Yet double glazing won’t prevent sun coming into the building, which means that the windows need to be protected from harsh summer sun by means of external shading.

Window frames
Another, often underestimated roll in the energy efficiency of a window, is the frame itself, as it can effect negatively on the overall performance. As we talked about in the blog “Adequate Insulation”, some materials, such as metal, glass or aluminium, allow heat to pass through them more easily, therefore they shouldn’t be used for windows frames if at all possible. If metal frames are used, such as aluminium, they should have thermal breaks to reduce the heat transfer. Generally speaking, PVC and timber frames perform better than metal frames.

 

Summer heat gain through Windows

heat transfer

It is important to protect windows with external shading devices, through appropriate window sizing and location, in order to minimise heat gain in summer.

Comparison of heat gains through different treatments for windows in summer

(According to Sustainable Energy Authority Victoria 2002)

  • Unshaded single-glazed window: 100%
  • Standard double glazing as available in Australia: 90%
  • Vertical blinds/open weave drapes: 76%
  • Internal venetian blinds: 55-85% (Effectiveness is reduced as the colour darkens)
  • Internal drapes or Holland blinds: 55-65%
  • Tinted glass: 46-65%
  • Solar control film/reflective glass: 20-60% (Available in different kind of configuration with varying effectiveness)
  • Trees, full shade: 20-60%
  • 1 metre eave over north wall: 30%
  • Roller shutters: 30%
  • External awnings: 25-30%
  • 2m pergola over north wall covered with deciduous vines or shade cloth: 20%
  • Outside metal blind or miniature louvers, parallel and close to window: 15-20%

External shading devices are an effective way to minimise heat gain through glass in summer and keep a building cool. They provide far better protection from heat gain than internal window covering. However, if external shading is not possible, internal coverings can at least reduce the unwanted heat gains. Shading devices should always enable ventilation outside the window, as shading fitted too closely to a window can trap warm air which can be conducted into the house.

Eaves, verandas or pergolas are commonly a part of the building structure, they are durable and do not require ongoing adjustments. It is essential to have a certain distance between the underside of the shading devise and the top of the window. But these fixed shading devises should only be used over north-facing windows, as they lack flexibility and aren’t adjustable. East and west-facing windows need a flexible shading devise that can be completely retracted in order to let the valuable sun through in winter, but to protect from the harsh summer sun. Adjustable shading includes amongst other things canvas blinds, different types of shutters, angled metal slats, louvers or shadecloth over pergolas. Adjustable shading requires action from the occupants, as they have to respond to climatic conditions.

Construction Update St Kilda East – Sips Extension

Demolition has been completed for the renovatinon/extension in St Kilda East. The floor and the existing walls have been stripped and the first SIPS panels are getting installed.

Exciting times!

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The SIPS panels can easily be carried and installed without a crane, safing money during the construction.

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