With the declining state of the environment at the forefront of our minds as designers and the community as a whole, it’s important to find ways to reduce our footprint in whatever ways we can. Implementing sustainable practices in the design of your home will reduce the operational energy consumption of the building – doing good for the environment as well as your water and energy bills!
It is important to note that emissions in the building industry can typically be defined as a result of either embodied energy consumption or operational energy consumption. Embodied energy is created during the construction of the building, as well as the manufacturing and transportation of materials. The key way that we can reduce embodied energy consumption is to design buildings that are durable and adaptable – thereby increasing the life cycle of the building and reducing the need to repeatedly create emissions by producing new building materials. Operational energy describes the emissions produced throughout the life cycle of the building, as a result of heating, cooling or lighting. Today we’ll look at some simple techniques to reduce the operational energy consumption and environmental footprint of your home, whether you’re building new or are just looking to do some alterations.
Correctly orienting your home to best harness natural light and ventilation can greatly reduce the need for mechanical heating, cooling and artificial light. When determining how to best orient a building, seasonal variations in sun paths and wind patterns are taken into account. This is something that we implement as standard practice at Roth Architecture, as we conduct a comprehensive site analysis at the Sketch Design stage, allowing us to determine optimal placement for openings such as windows and doors, and the best way to zone living areas and bedrooms.
Thermal mass describes the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy. Certain materials with a high thermal mass (such as brick, concrete and tile) store heat when exposed to the sun, re-radiating it at night when temperatures drop. Appropriate use of materials with high thermal mass can help to average out diurnal (day/night) temperature swings, effectively regulating interior temperature and reducing heating and cooling bills in the long term. This is a great tool to combat cold winter evenings, but materials of high thermal mass should be adequately shaded from the summer sun.
In Australia, we have an enormous source of renewable energy that is often neglected – the sun! Installing solar panels are a great way of reducing energy consumption even if you’ve already built your home. While a somewhat significant investment at the outset, the average cost of producing electricity from solar panels is comparable to the average cost of electricity from the grid.
Another way to reduce the environmental footprint of your home is to implement grey-water or stormwater recycling systems. Grey-water is water that has been used in wash basins, showers, baths, washing machines or laundry sinks that has been captured for reuse. Both grey-water and stormwater can be redirected for use in the garden or for household uses such as flushing toilets.
Strategic landscaping is another great way to reduce your environmental footprint post-build. Planting trees, particularly of the deciduous varieties, that shade windows and roofs during the day can reduce solar gain and the need for mechanical cooling and can make your outdoor spaces more pleasant during the summer. Additionally, utilising trees, plants and grasses in your garden that are native to the Australian climate can greatly reduce the need for irrigation and save water in this regard.
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