Sustainable building design ideas
Using local resources, harnessing solar power, capturing rainwater, and reaping the benefits of passive and active design principles – these are the hallmarks of a sustainable building. Also known as green building design, it basically refers to any physical structure that uses construction and planning processes, which are ecologically responsible and resource-efficient.
Above image courtesy of Robson Rak Architects & Interior Designers
All over world, homeowners are uniting in a common objective to live more in harmony with nature by creating dwellings that reduce their impact of the built environment on both human health and the surrounding landscape.
Using local resources
Where possible, using local materials sourced sustainably, responsibility and efficiently – be it in a new build, renovation or fit-out – will have a significant impact on your home’s green credentials.
Solid, impervious to water, load bearing and long lasting – these are just some of the reasons why rammed earth is used to build eco-friendly structures. One of the world’s oldest construction techniques, it involves compacting clay (usually cement), gravel, sand and silt between flat panels to produce a finish that is as striking as it is sustainable.
Rammed earth is especially revered for its thermal mass, which is its ability to absorb and retain heat. It takes a lot of energy to heat and cool your home, so rammed earth is a great choice if you live in an area where temperatures fluctuate between day and night.
Because rammed earth structures utilise locally available materials, this relatively bespoke building technique has a low embodied energy and generates minimal waste.
Using the sun as a renewable energy source means you only have to draw electricity from the grid when you need it.
Solar heating seizes the sun’s natural energy via a series of tubes (known as the collector), which are usually located on the roof of the house, garage or shed. The amount of heat absorbed and the subsequent increase in temperature depends on three key criteria: the size or area for the collector and the number of tubes per square metre; the location of the collector; and the quality of the control system.
Under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, eligible systems such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are entitled to a number of incentives, depending on its size and the region in which it is installed.
To further reduce your reliance on power from the grid and lower your power bills even further, check out the new Tesla Powerwall, a residential battery that captures and stores energy through the solar panels on your roof for future use whenever you need it.
Tesla’s intelligent system works with a solar panel installed on your roof and an inverter that converts current electricity from solar panels into the alternating current used by your home’s appliances, lights and devices (just like emergency generators do). Furthermore, up to nine Powerwall home batteries can be stacked up together – just like regular batteries – to create a robust and reliable power source.
We don’t need to live in a drought-prone region to appreciate the valuable resource that is water. Designed to capture and store rainwater collected from roof areas, rainwater-harvesting systems reduce your reliance on municipal potable water (and therefore your water bills) and provide an alternative supply during water restrictions.
You can now buy water tanks in a range of sizes, shapes and colours, with companies like Stracto finally coming up with stylish designs like the slimline Aqua-Mod model. Ideal for homes, units and townhouses where water storage space is limited, it fits flush against walls and under eaves.
Additional water-saving measures for the home include: checking for leaking taps and toilets; using greywater (domestic wastewater) on the garden or indoor plants; adopting water efficient behaviour like turning the tap off when brushing your teeth; and switching to WELS-rated showerheads, taps and bathrooms fixtures.
Responding to local climate and design conditions not only reduces your energy bills but also enhances your connection to the local environment. Known as passive design, it essentially focuses on renewable sources of energy including the wind and sun to generate household heating, cooling, lighting, and natural ventilation.
One fundamental component of sustainable building design is the selection of appropriate siting. Location, orientation and landscaping of a building affects everything from local ecosystems to the transportation systems used to bring in raw materials. Understanding which one of Australia’s eight climate zones is a first step in understanding the processes that go into passive design.
When it comes to orientating your home to improve its overall energy efficiency, maximise north-facing living areas, avoid west-facing bedrooms, locate utility areas on either the west or south side, plant shade trees to block harsh winds, and promote cross-ventilation by installing smaller windows on south, east and west-facing walls.