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introduction 2 1.1 Fourth edition introduction

If you are building, buying or renovating, Greenhouse gas emissions from home Home energy use
this Technical Manual has been developed energy use (Baseline Energy Estimates, 2008) (Baseline Energy Estimates, 2008)
to show you how to design and build a
more comfortable home that has less
impact on the environment – a home
that will also be more economical to run,
healthier to live in and adaptable to your
changing needs.

This Technical Manual contains specific

information and practical solutions that you can
adapt to your budget, climate and lifestyle.

The ideas and principles outlined in each fact

sheet can be applied to any home. Suggestions Cooking 5% Heating and cooling 20% Standby 3% Other appliances 16%
cover new or existing homes and include villas, Standby 5% Other appliances 24% Cooking 4% Water heating 25%
units, apartments and freestanding houses Lighting 11% Water heating 23% Lighting 7% Heating and cooling 38%
anywhere in Australia.
Refrigeration 12% Refrigeration 7%
Always remember that whatever you do – no
matter how small – it will contribute to your The percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from home energy use depends on the carbon intensity of the energy
own health, comfort and lifestyle. It will also source. For example, the carbon intensity of electricity is much higher than that of natural gas or wood per unit of
delivered energy. Therefore, although heating and cooling is the highest energy use in the home, as natural gas is
contribute to the health and wellbeing of the typically used for heating, it is not the highest greenhouse gas emitter.
environment which sustains us now and which
will sustain future generations.

Our behaviour and the way we build our Other impacts of ill considered building
environment are interconnected. Well designed Building a home using good design design include a loss of community, reduced
homes perform best when used in a way that principles can save energy, water and natural habitat, increased water pollution and
makes the most of their sustainable features. money, while creating a more enjoyable continuing soil erosion.
and comfortable home. It now seems likely that the local patterns of
Adopt a lifestyle that minimises your use of
energy, water and resources. The cost of implementing good design our climate will shift and that we will need to
ranges from a net saving through to a adapt our homes and lifestyles to changing
The most important action you can take now is
significant up-front investment that will be conditions.
to make a commitment to do all that you can
repaid throughout the life of the home and
within your budget. Little things, when done by
increase its value in the future.
enough people create enormous change.
One manifestation of
climate change is an
WHY USE GOOD DESIGN? The big picture increasing frequency of
Australians currently emit more than 550 extreme weather events
The home front million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. such as storms, droughts,
A great majority of Australians live in homes that
About 20 per cent of this is generated through floods and bushfires.
everyday activities such as heating, cooling,
work against the climate, rather than with it.
cooking, lighting, driving the car, running
These homes are energy inefficient, too cold appliances, travelling and from household Sea levels are also expected to rise. All these
or too hot and comparatively expensive to rubbish decaying in landfill. In fact, the average risks lead to higher living costs including
run. Most homes use far more water than Australian household emits around 14 tonnes of insurance premiums.
necessary, and can be made of materials that greenhouse gases per home each year. These technical fact sheets can help you respond
damage our health and the environment. appropriately to any need for adaptation.
The ‘embodied energy’ or energy used
to create and transport the materials and
furnishings in our homes also generate
greenhouse gases.
1.1 Fourth edition introduction 3 introduction

Using THE FACT SHEETS > New Homes from remote islands to inner-city BUILDING A NEW HOME
The fact sheets in this Technical Manual The fact sheets will help inform your decisions
describe practical ways in which you can > Medium Density includes a range of building about where you want to live, how you should
implement principles of good design, whether types that deliver sustainable solutions. orient your home and other important design
you are a property owner, home buyer, builder, > High Density shows that even the most features. The decisions you make at this stage
architect, designer or developer. All are compact inner-city apartments can be will determine everything else about your home.
important and all will make a difference. sustainable. Look at the issues covered by all the fact
The fact sheets are arranged into broad > Renovations demonstrates that almost any sheets and think about which are important
categories or chapters, each addressing existing home can be upgraded to deliver to you. Make a list of priorities to take to an
specific aspects of home selection, design, more sustainable, efficient and comfortable architect or designer for discussion.
construction and renovation. lifestyles.
1. Introduction includes this description of the 12. Your Home Checklist covers the main
Technical Manual. It then gives an overview Your choice of architect
points that need to be addressed in the
of the issues including some of the history or designer is important.
search for a more sustainable home.
and myths associated with sustainability, and Make sure their views are
introduces some key concepts and tools. compatible with your own.
2. Sustainable Communities covers ways Use the Your Home checklist
to deal with a range of issues that are site as a guide to make a list of Once you have agreed on an initial house
related, such as streetscape, community, the things you most want design, use the fact sheets to take an imaginary
landscape and biodiversity. It highlights to achieve. Then find out walk through your home. Think about being in
ways to minimise your home’s impact on its
more about them and how the kitchen and apply the fact sheets to water
building site and the impact of your site on
to implement them in these use and energy use. Can further improvements
the broader environment, as well as how to
deal with transport, noise, sediment control
fact sheets. be made to the plans? Going through this
process for all facets of your design will help
and the problems of challenging sites.
you create a comfortable, economic and
3. Design for Life is about how to make your environmentally sustainable home.
home safe, secure, protected from fire, and
able to adapt to your changing needs.

4. Passive Design deals with design or

modification of a home to make it more
comfortable and reduce energy consumption
in all climates by taking advantage of natural
heating and cooling methods.

5. Material Use explains the environmental

and health impacts of the materials used
to build and furnish a home. Choosing
environmentally preferred materials can
reduce harmful health effects, minimise
waste, reduce embodied energy
consumption and minimise or eliminate other
off-site issues.

6. Energy Use will show you how to reduce

power consumption in your home and how to
take advantage of renewable energy systems.

7.Water Use shows how to reduce the water

you use inside and outside your home
through improved water use efficiency, by
using rainwater and wastewater and by
designing your garden to need less water.

8-11. Case Studies presents real life examples

of homes from all over Australia where
good design principles have been
applied. The studies are arranged in four
Renovation of a suburban house in Marion, SA has achieved lower water and energy use, natural lighting and
high occupant satisfaction.
introduction 4 1.1 Fourth edition introduction


Look at the property and how the home
sits on the block.

> Do the main living areas of the

house face north?

> Is your potential purchase close to the

facilities you want and need such as shops
and schools, or will it force you to drive more
and therefore cost you more over time?

> Does it look like it could be passively

heated and/or cooled?

> Does it have potential for improvement?

Use the fact sheets to assess whether there is

scope for enhancements using good design.

Prioritise the things you want to achieve with PRIORITISING YOUR CHOICES and both are reducing the environmental flow
required to keep our rivers and waterways
the renovation, such as more space, a better Cost is usually the main consideration when
healthy. [See: 7.0 Water Use]
kitchen, more sunlight, reduced energy and choosing what to include and what to leave
water consumption. out. The fact sheets contain advice to suit all > Australian soils are fragile. Soil loss and
budgets and lifestyles. degradation from inappropriate vegetation
Read the fact sheets to find out about what
clearing and excavation is accelerating.
materials might be suitable, what type of glass Creating the perfect sustainable home is
[See: 2.1 Sustainable Communities]
would be best in your windows, what sort of beyond many budgets but there are effective
lighting you will require and how you might options that are free or actually save money. > Air quality is essential for health. Outdoor
reduce your energy bills with better design. Some low cost actions will rapidly repay a small air quality is declining rapidly in most cities.
initial extra investment. Indoor air quality is dependent on outdoor
Think creatively. Do you need to extend or could
air but has the added burden of toxins
you achieve what you want just by modifying Your Home does not prioritise one action
and gases emitted from the materials and
what you already have? A simple deletion (such or strategy over another. Each is important
furnishings in our homes. [See: 3.3 The
as opening up a wall) rather than an addition and can increase comfort or reduce the
Healthy Home]
can often provide the solution you’re looking for. environmental impact of a home.
> Conservation of biodiversity is essential to
We can never be sure what the future may
maintain the ecological systems that sustain
HOME IMPROVEMENTS bring, but an adaptable home will be able to
us now and into the future. These systems
accommodate changes in lifestyle as your
These fact sheets contain plenty of information produce the food we eat and purify the
circumstances change.
that will help you improve an existing home. air and water we need to survive. [See:
Use the fact sheets to find ways to reduce Energy efficient, sustainable homes are rapidly 2.5 Biodiversity On-site; 5.4 Biodiversity
water and energy consumption. increasing in value due to their greater comfort Off-site]
levels and lower running costs. Your home will
> Would a different garden use less water? > Waste is an unnecessary consumer of
be in existence for at least 50 years. Its re-sale
precious resources and can poison our
> How can the energy bills be reduced? value will be increasingly linked to the features
environment when disposed of. It can easily
described in this Technical Manual.
> Can you fit solar panels or replace inefficient be avoided or minimised. [See: 5.2 Waste
appliances with better ones? The following considerations are helpful when Minimisation]
faced with the many decisions that must be
> Is the home well insulated?
made when designing, buying, building or
> Can passive cooling or heating be improved? renovating a home:

This process will give you many great ideas > Reducing energy consumption is an urgent
about making your home more comfortable, priority. Climate change is already becoming
cheaper to run and better for the environment. apparent. This will inevitably lead to rising
prices for energy from non-renewable
sources. [See: 4.0 Passive Design;
6.0 Energy Use]

> Water is in critically short supply in Australia.

Rising demand for household water supply
is competing with the needs of agriculture
1.1 Fourth edition introduction 5 introduction

SUSTAINABILITY & THE A clear understanding of how to operate Governments and regulators
BUILDING sector a home and adopt the lifestyle options
All levels of Government are working hard
recommended in this Technical Manual will
The generally accepted definition of sustainable to implement sustainable reform. In our
significantly reduce the operational impacts
development is ‘development that meets the democratic society, elected representatives
of a home whilst improving comfort, health
needs of the present without compromising the require clear mandates and support from the
and finances.
ability of future generations to meet their own community to achieve this effectively.
needs’ (WCED, 1987, Brundtland Report). Consumers have a major role in making
By raising awareness and providing solutions,
housing more sustainable. Awareness of
In practice this means living in harmony with this Technical Manual will help create the
environmentally sustainable design principles
the natural environment, considering the platform for such mandates and encourage
and expressing these preferences to marketers,
social, environmental and economic aspects community support for reform agendas.
architects, designers and builders will create
of decisions, and reducing our footprint great change.
through a less energy, water and material
intensive lifestyle. Social sustainability is also Marketing agents and developers
important and working towards a healthy and Builders Marketing agents and developers respond
safe community is often interconnected with to market needs. Their success depends on
Australian builders and trades people have
economic and environmental endeavours. their ability to gauge the needs and wants
demonstrated time and again their ability
The building sector which comprises of consumers and meet them with cost
to adapt to new trends, regulations and
consumers, builders, architects, designers, competitive products.
technology. Building more sustainable houses is
manufacturers, government regulators, but one more challenge to which many builders Experience with Newington Olympic Village and
marketing agents and developers all face the have already risen. many other similar ventures across Australia
challenge of developing sustainability in the have shown that the market is more than
Building is a very cost competitive industry.
built environment. ready to embrace sustainable housing and that
A ‘level playing field’ is essential to support
The built environment has in the past and in developers and marketers can supply it.
the builder's role in creating more sustainable
some cases continues to: housing. Quotations should itemise things Developers and marketers also have a
such as insulation levels, shading details, strong leadership role in implementing
> Consume significant amounts of the earth’s
window performance and durability of sustainable reform in the industry.
resources (especially energy).
materials and appliances – these are essential
> Generate polluting toxins and waste. The Your Home Technical Manual will support
elements of a home just like the roof and walls
this role by raising consumer awareness and
and should not be treated as optional extras.
> Create conditions leading to a loss of demand and providing guidelines and technical
soils and biodiversity. information on implementation for architects,
> Interfere with life support systems (eg. Architects and designers designers, builders, and you the consumer.
the water cycle, soil systems and air quality). Architects and designers of buildings bear
> Exacerbate urban sprawl, traffic pollution, much responsibility for the sustainable
performance of the whole industry. They are ADDITIONAL reading
social inequities and alienation.
the first link in the construction chain. The Contact your State / Territory government or
The building sector is working to identify and local council for further information on building
majority of important decisions affecting lifetime
implement avenues of reform that will reduce sustainability and energy efficiency, including
performance of buildings are made during the
its environmental impact and improve social what rebates are available.
design stages.
Architects and designers have a leadership A ustralian Council of Built Environment Design
If economic and social development is to
role in implementing sustainable reform. This Professionals. Environment Design Guide.
continue without destroying the environment
Technical Manual provides guidance and tools
that sustains us, each and every member in the
to create practical, affordable and sustainable A ustralian Greenhouse Office (2005), National
building sector must play their part in finding
solutions. Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2005.
new pathways to sustainable futures.

Consumers Manufacturers  epartment of the Environment, Water, Heritage

and the Arts (2008), Australian Residential Sector
Manufacturers, like builders, provide products Baseline Energy Estimates 1990 – 2020.
Consumer demand for housing has a
to meet regulatory standards or demand driven
significant influence on the market and the
by consumer preferences.
finished product provided by architects, Principal author:
designers, builders and developers. Many manufacturers are discovering that they Chris Reardon
gain a distinct market advantage over their Contributing authors:
Consumers are usually the building operators.
competitors by developing and marketing Scott Woodcock
Many adverse environmental impacts of
more sustainable products. The same is true Paul Downton
housing arise during operation. This is
for designers, builders and developers.
particularly true of energy consumption and
waste generation.

Historical Perspective
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED The new challenge is to use or verandahs designed with vented gables so
FROM HISTORY? our technology to minimise that the achievement of shade doesn’t also trap
hot air.
Sustainable design is not a recent environment impacts, whilst
concept – it’s a recently lost one. continuing to improve the Early colonial buildings in this country often
comfort and performance of included elements of passive design in
The reason we make buildings today is much
the homes we create. response to climate, often borrowing from the
the same as the reason we have always built experience of other cultures. The ubiquitous
– to make safe, healthy shelters that protect verandah that is now so strongly embedded in
us from wind and rain, keep us warm when Indigenous Australians have used common the culture of Australian building originally came,
it’s cold, and keep us cool and shaded when sense siting principles for many thousands of along with its name, from India. Every culture
it’s hot. Over long periods of time, by trial and years. Australia’s original inhabitants understood that has brought its thread into the multicultural
error, people have evolved the tried and proven the need for lightweight shelter that provided weave of Australia has a deeper history that can
solutions that we call vernacular building – shade whilst allowing air flow, yet in the hottest be drawn on for inspiration and example.
and these solutions all contain elements of climates of the country we still build sealed
sustainable design. boxes that trap the heat and then require
massive amounts of energy to drive machinery
Since the time when humans lived in caves and
to cool them down.
enjoyed the benefits of stable temperatures
and natural ventilation with zero mortgage and
environmental impact, we have been refining our
use of resources to provide improved shelter.

Until very recently in human history, this

refinement occurred within sustainable
principles because it was dependent on
available resources and technologies.
These limitations meant that solutions had
to be effective yet still work with the
environment and available materials rather
than transforming and dominating them.

Cheap, accessible, fossil Paul Downton

Paul Downton

energy sources and the Colonial cottage with vents to main roof and
gabled verandah.
proliferation of technology
and new materials have Struggling to find its place in an unfamiliar landscape The following examples of sustainable
encouraged us to solve – Blacksmith’s Cottage at Wilpenna Station, SA. vernacular buildings illustrate how many
building problems differently. simple principles of sustainable design remain
We have become used to the idea that as relevant today as they were thousands of
buildings can be heated or cooled as we years ago. Many of these principles have been
Unfortunately, many of these new methods are
choose simply by burning energy. Without that incorporated into Australian vernacular buildings
compromising the ability of our planet home to
option, you would start to look at how to keep with great success.
sustain us in the long or even medium term.
warm air in during winter and how to vent warm
Despite our technological advances, our air out during summer, and that’s what our
housing needs have remained similar – predecessors did.
albeit with increased levels of comfort and
If you look carefully at some of the buildings
technology. This is because in the last few
that have survived from the early days of
thousand years, humans have evolved very
colonisation, you can often identify elements
little physically. It is our technology that has
that are clearly design responses driven by
changed and it has changed the way we build
climate, even if they are as simple as roof vents,
– not always for the better.

escape from the house during the brief Welsh The earliest green roofs we know of date back
summer, drawing in cooler air at lower levels. thousands of years and include the Hanging
In winter, the small windows reduce heat loss Gardens of Babylon (Iraq) which were what
and the high mass fireplace and hearth absorbs we now call ‘intensive’ green roofs with deep
radiant heat from open fires, re-releasing it later soil. Earth sheltered buildings have been part
to keep the occupants warm during freezing of the Chinese landscape for centuries and
nights. [See: 4.2 Design for Climate; 4.0 during those same centuries Europe’s Vikings
Passive Design] were building their homes with what we now
recognise as ‘extensive’ (thin soil) green roofs.
Ancient cliff dwellings of American Indians in the
[See: 5.14 Green Roofs and Walls]
south western desert country at Mesa Verde
exploit a cliff overhang for passive solar control These sustainable principles of vernacular
Timeless Nepalese dwellings are built to a tried
to not just walls and windows, but the whole architecture stand in stark contrast with
and proven formula that produces affordable,
village. Natural updrafts provide ventilation. the principles employed in the majority of
comfortable, easily maintained dwellings with
Buildings are set into the cliff face and made of contemporary high consumption Australian
minimal embodied energy, that endure century
adobe and rock – high in thermal mass, low in houses built to rely on cheap fossil energy.
after century. Passive solar orientation and
embodied energy. The whole village is passive
shading maximises solar gain. East and west Just as the basic principles of sustainable
solar shaded and in summer provides ideal,
windows are omitted. Roofing is lightweight, construction are not new, neither is the idea
cool sleeping spaces. [See: 4.2 Design for
high insulation thatch of reeds grown on of solar housing but after the first modern
site (estimated R3.0 or better). Walls of rock solar house was built in the 1930s in Chicago,
are high in thermal mass and blend with the Business Week magazine described it as a
landscape. Rendering each year with mud threat to the domestic fuel industry!
guarantees longevity and prevents heat loss by
Meanwhile, research and development in
caulking cracks and crevices. Early Australian
climate-sensitive building has continued.
settlers used similar building methods. [See: 4.5
There is now a vast amount of information
Passive Solar Heating]
available for building energy-efficient, climate-
In Cappadoccia, Turkey, soft volcanic rocks sensitive structures almost anywhere on the
were hollowed out to form 3000 year old planet. The Your Home Technical Manual
thermally efficient homes that are literally part contains a distillation of that information for
of the landscape. Durable, adaptable, and use here in Australia.
taking up no valuable productive land, many
Indonesian vernacular buildings use thatch
are still occupied today. These dwellings
as high level insulation to deal with heat The urgent challenges we face are to:
possess ultimate levels of thermal mass and
gain in a tropical climate. Open gables allow
earth coupling ideal for evening out the diurnal > Rediscover these lost principles.
cross ventilation of the hottest air that would
extremes of the region. They are well ventilated > Select those appropriate to our climatic
otherwise accumulate in the roof space.
via thermal flues in summer. They store the heat and cultural context.
Generous eave overhangs shade the building,
from wood fires in winter and have extremely
further reducing heat gain. These principles > Adapt and combine them with
low embodied energy. Dwellings in Coober
are employed in the traditional ‘Queenslander’ appropriate current technology.
Pedy in Australia use the same principles.
which is also an excellent example of climate
[See: 4.2 Design for Climate; 4.9 Thermal > Use them consistently in the
responsive architecture. The structures employ
Mass] construction of our homes.
low thermal mass materials everywhere above
floor level allowing the buildings to respond
quickly to cooling breezes. [See: 4.2 Design for
Climate; 4.6 Passive Cooling] Most of the principles here are the same
as those in the following fact sheets. Our
The Romans developed the first greenhouses current technology simply makes it easier to
as well as solar-heated bath-houses and apply these principles with an even better
access to the sun was made a legal right understanding for increased comfort.
under the Justinian Code of Law adopted in
the sixth century AD. In ancient Pompeii (Italy) Principal author:
the courtyard homes were built with high Chris Reardon
thermal mass, used adjustable shade and often Contributing author:
supported roof gardens. [See: 4.2 Design for Paul Downton
In Wales, similar construction to the Nepalese
example above was used for centuries where
it also suited the climate. The open first floor
windows in the photograph show convective
ventilation at work allowing hot air to rise and
introduction 8 1.3 COMMON MYTHS

Common Myths
Myths and misunderstandings about which heat only the rooms in use are often
environmental design and features have a cheaper option than central heating which
prospered. They exist as the architectural heats the whole house. An energy efficient
equivalent of ‘old wives’ tales’. This fact sheet house will similarly reduce the size of the
aims to dispel some of the common myths. heating and cooling systems required.


[See: 4.0 Passive Design] [See: 6.3 Lighting]

Myth: If you can’t design the perfect Myth: Light quality and output from
sustainable house there’s no fluorescent lamps is poor.
point bothering at all.
Fact: Fluorescent lamps are a developing
Fact: House performance varies across technology that has improved greatly in recent
a spectrum, from very good to very bad. years. However, compared to incandescent
Incorporating any element of sustainable SolarDwellings lamps there is a much greater range in
building practice will make a difference. quality and performance. A range of colour
Simply specifying the optimal eave widths on temperatures and wattages are available, and it
a project home or renovation may prevent is important to select a lamp appropriate to the
unwanted sunshine overheating your home intended application.
in summer. This step on its own will improve
Myth: Using a ‘sustainable’ design The Australian Government is currently
your thermal comfort and reduce your energy
means that there’s no need to developing a Minimum Energy Performance
bills. All home design includes compromises,
do anything more. Standard (MEPS) for performance and quality of
but try to do what you can to incorporate
CFLs. From October 2008 (proposed) all CFLs
good design features. Fact: Good design is not a license for bad
must meet this standard to be sold in Australia.
behaviour. It cannot compensate for an energy
Myth: Sustainable design and water intensive lifestyle.
Myth: ‘Low voltage’ halogen lamps and
is just for ‘Greenies’.
downlights (12V dichroic) are energy
Fact: Everybody benefits from good home Cost efficient.
design. Occupants from all walks of life now
Myth: Good design costs more. Fact: These lights are low voltage but not
enjoy lower energy bills and improved comfort
energy efficient. While low voltage lights
thanks to good design features. Everybody Fact: Good design in many cases can cost provide more light than ordinary incandescent
on the planet will benefit from reduced less than bad design. Good design is nothing light globes for a given amount of electricity,
greenhouse gas emissions and better use new, extra or onerous. Good design is largely fluorescent lights are far more efficient,
of limited resources. about the intelligent use of space and materials. delivering over four times more light than
The greatest gains are made in planning and incandescent globes using the same
Myth: Sustainable designs orienting the home appropriately and working amount of electricity. Downlights may also
are ‘weird looking’. with the climate and existing landscape. penetrate ceiling insulation, resulting in greater
Fact: Any style of existing home can benefit heat losses in winter. Mains voltage CFL
from the application of sustainable design Myth: The up-front cost of Downlights are expected to become available
principles and practices. Changes to existing efficient fittings is too high. in the near future.
buildings may go unnoticed by the casual Fact: While efficient products sometimes Myth: Fluorescent lamps flicker.
observer. Optimum efficiency building design cost more, most are comparable in cost with
must differ from accepted, inefficient building Fact: Older magnetic ballast lamps may have
standard items of similar quality. They also have
styles, but a well designed home is usually a a noticeable flicker. Modern, electronic ballasts
lower running costs. Most efficient products
good looking home. operate at very high frequencies and usually
are also premium products in terms of features
have no noticeable flicker.
and warranty. In many instances, the most
efficient products are not necessarily the most
Passive solar homes expensive. For example, efficient space heaters
can look like any other.
1.3 COMMON MYTHS 9 introduction

Myth: Turning fluorescent lights off WINDOWS Myth: There’s no point insulating walls,
and on uses more energy than leaving [See: 4.10 Glazing] because all the heat just flows
them on. through the windows.

Fact: There is an ‘in rush’ current when Myth: Large north windows are Fact: Adding insulation to one part of a home
always a great idea. won’t increase the heat losses through other
fluorescent lamps are turned on that is higher
than the current drawn during normal operation. parts. Although windows can be areas of
Fact: Poorly designed, inappropriately glazed or
As this additional current is only drawn for a great heat loss and gain, all insulation makes
shaded north windows can lead to overheating.
fraction of a second, it is always more energy a difference by reducing heat flow. Insulated
Moderately sized north windows are a good
efficient to turn the lamp off when not needed. surfaces stay at a temperature closer to the
idea where winter sun is available to warm your
indoor air temperature and therefore create a
home. Since windows and their shading and
more comfortable environment.
Myth: Fluorescent lamps are bad for coverings can be expensive, reducing window
the environment because they area to an appropriate size can reduce the cost
contain mercury. of your home.

Fact: All fluorescent lamps contain some Myth: Laminated glass is as effective
mercury but this is being reduced all the time. as double-glazing in stopping
Maximum mercury content will be mandated as heat transfer.
part of the MEPS. Far more mercury (and other
pollutants) is released into the atmosphere from Fact: 10mm thick laminated glass is only
burning coal to provide the power for inefficient marginally better than single glazing for
incandescent lamps. reducing heat transfer. It is, however, as
effective as double-glazing in reducing noise

Fletcher Insulation
transfer. If you want to reduce noise and heat
flow, double glazing is the best option.

weather proofing
[See: 4.7 Insulation] Myth: Plastic pipes don’t need insulation.

Fact: Many plumbers believe that plastic hot

Myth: Heavy materials such as brick and water pipes don’t need insulation because
earth provide insulation. plastic feels like an insulator. Although a better
Fact: Heavy materials are generally not good insulator than copper pipes, they still lose a lot
thermal insulators. They do not decrease heat of heat and need to be insulated.
flow like reflective or bulk insulation. Heavy
materials do slow the passage of heat through
the building fabric, and this can be beneficial in
Insulation is often the most
both winter and summer where there are large
Myth: Compact fluorescent lamps temperature differences between day and night.
cost effective way to reduce
(CFLs) are heavy and bulky. heating and cooling bills.
Fact: Some older magnetic ballast lamps were Myth: Mudbrick and cavity brick
heavy and bulky but newer electronic ballast walls don’t need insulation.
units are more compact and lightweight. Heating and COOLING
Fact: Materials with high thermal mass such
as earth and brick are generally not good [See: 6.2 Heating and Cooling]
Myth: Compact fluorescent lamps are ugly. insulators. In most climates these walls will
Fact: Many of the early CFLs were not very benefit from installing insulation. Check with Myth: A few draughts here and there
attractive and were often put into the wrong your designer or architect. don’t make much difference.
type of fitting so the tube was visible. There Fact: Draught sealing around doors and
is now a much greater range of shapes Myth: Bricks are weatherproof. windows can save up to 25 per cent of heat
available, and they are being designed to Fact: Most bricks allow moisture to pass losses and gains in many climate zones.
look better. There is an even greater range of through them. Cavity wall construction was
shapes and sizes of CFLs available overseas, devised to protect the inner wall from being
including ‘sub-miniature’ types to replace damaged by moisture penetrating the outer Appropriate sizing of
small candle lamps – these are becoming brick skin. The outer brick skin is attached heating and cooling equipment
available in Australia. to the inner skin with cavity ties to provide can save on purchase and
strength. Water that penetrates the outer skin running costs.
is shed via a drip groove. Brick is most useful
Growing demand for CFLs on the inside where its thermal mass can help
is increasing the range of stabilise internal temperatures.
choices available.
introduction 10 1.3 COMMON MYTHS

Myth: Roof ventilators will keep Myth: Air conditioning should be set at a
your house significantly cooler. constant temperature (eg. 22ºC) all
year round.
Fact: Roof ventilators do not make an
appreciable difference to house temperatures Human physiology enables us to adapt
if the roof is insulated, particularly if reflective to seasonal and geographic changes in
insulation is installed. If your ceiling is climate. Most people live in houses, drive
uninsulated a ventilator might make a small in cars and spend time outside where the
difference, but insulation is a better investment. air is not constantly conditioned to 22ºC.
There may, however, be other valid reasons In winter 22ºC may feel too hot and in

Mirvac Lend Lease Village Consortium

for installing roof ventilators such as moisture summer it may feel too cold. People living in
removal. hot regions (eg. Darwin) will have a greater
tolerance for heat and may find that a much
Myth: It is much better to have an oversized higher temperature than 22ºC feels right for
heater or cooler because it’s better to them. In winter turn the thermostat down
have them too big than too small. a few degrees, and in summer up a few
degrees. Each degree can reduce energy
An oversized air conditioner not only costs
consumption by up to ten per cent.
more to buy but cannot dehumidify air properly.
It will only run for short periods and not have
time to remove much moisture from the air. Water
Consequently, the occupants feel sticky even Good design is a design
[See: 7.0 Water Use]
when the air conditioner is running. Most air for life, a better quality of
conditioners are less efficient when running at Myth: Water efficient shower roses
life that will directly or
part load, and frequent cycling on and off may don’t give a good shower. indirectly benefit everybody
shorten their life. Oversized heating systems on the planet.
cost more, and will give bursts of heat, followed While many early models of water efficient
by long periods when no heating is occurring. shower roses performed poorly, new models
Occupants are subjected to varying levels of with the 3 WELS Star efficiency rating have
heat and cold, especially when sitting near a to meet minimum quality performance levels Principal author:
window, where the temperature falls faster than specified by Standards Australia. The 3 WELS Geoff Milne
it does near the thermostat. rating is a guarantee that you will get a high
quality comfortable shower while using up to
50 per cent less water.
Myth: A sustainable house’s indoor
temperature will be comfortable
throughout the entire year without
additional heating and cooling.
[See: 2.4 Sustainable Landscapes]
Comfort is very subjective and varies from
person to person. At the height of summer Myth: It is always better to plant native trees
or in a cold winter snap, indoor temperatures around the house rather
may become uncomfortable depending on an than exotics.
individual’s tolerance. The sustainable home will
Non invasive, exotic, deciduous trees can
be uncomfortable far less often than a standard
perform a vital valuable role in regulating
home and require much less energy for heating
the heating and cooling of a home. When
and cooling if needed.
planted to the north of a home they shade
in summer and admit sunlight in winter. Try
to choose varieties that will attract native
wildlife to your garden.

Many people plant ‘natives’ that are neither

indigenous to nor appropriate for their location.
Some hardy Mediterranean and South African
plants, for example, are often suitable or even
preferable to inappropriate native species.
1.4 Carbon neutral 11 introduction

Carbon Neutral
Our lifestyles and homes have a significant For example:
impact on the environment. To balance and
reduce this trend there is a growing interest CO2 emissions Offset credits are Overall CO2
are calculated purchased through an in the system
in carbon neutral, zero energy and carbon
for an activity accredited scheme is neutral
positive homes. This fact sheet outlines key
considerations for designing such homes. If 1 tonne of CO2 is emitted each
1 tonne of CO2 is absorbed the net result of CO2 being emitted
year, eg. through transportation
Steps for moving towards a carbon neutral + by planting trees or other = by the activity is deemed to be
or the burning of fossil fuels for
sequestration measures carbon neutral
home: electricity generation

> Calculate the amount of emissions and

energy being used. Activities that we think of as 2. The off-set scheme calculates the amount of
> Reduce the demand for energy and activities quite ordinary, like driving CO2 emissions produced by an activity.
that produce greenhouse gas emissions. a car or heating a house 3. The cost calculated in step 1 is applied to
> Improve energy efficiency technologies.
with a gas or electric heater, step 2 to give a cost to offset the activity.
continue to contribute to the In the following example, a cost is attached
> Incorporate renewable energy and use release of CO2.
GreenPower. to carbon to show how an off-set scheme
determines a dollar figure to offset the CO2
> Offset the equivalent amount of emissions in emissions of a domestic flight.
Although CO2 is a small part of the
other areas and activities.
atmosphere’s composition it plays a major For example:
role in creating the greenhouse effect, which
enables the atmosphere to trap solar energy 1. If one tonne of carbon costs $13.75.
and make the planet hospitable to life as
4. Purchase we know it. Increased levels of CO2 have
carbon offsets 2. And one seat on the average short domestic
been shown to relate to global warming and return flight (up to 2600km) generates 0.399
3. Incorporate renewable climate change, and while reduction of CO2 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
energy and GreenPower
to pre-industrial levels is considered difficult
to achieve, any reduction is likely to help slow 3. Then 0.399 tonnes of CO2 emissions from
2. Improve energy efficiency
down climate change and every householder the domestic flight would therefore cost $5.50
can contribute. to offset.
1. Reduce energy use and CO2 emissions
The goal of becoming carbon neutral may be
achieved by carbon offsets. By purchasing
offset credits that reduce CO2 by an amount Carbon offsets need to sequester carbon and
WHAT IS CARBON NEUTRAL? equal to that being produced, the overall take it out of the atmosphere to contribute to
amount of CO2 being emitted into the a carbon neutral result. They may also have
The term ‘carbon neutral’ aims to balance the
atmosphere can be effectively zero, hence other benefits, eg. trees not only absorb carbon
overall amount of CO2 being emitted into the
carbon neutral. dioxide while they grow and trap it for years to
atmosphere, by calculating how much CO2 is
come, they can also help to combat salinity,
being emitted from an activity and reducing the There are many carbon neutral or carbon offset reduce soil erosion, clean underground water
equivalent amount of CO2 in another activity. schemes available in the market that offer to systems and provide habitat for wildlife.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occurring balance or offset the CO2 emissions created
gas in the atmosphere. Before the industrial by our lifestyles and homes. These schemes
revolution CO2 levels in the atmosphere were generally involve three steps:
Reducing energy use is not
consistently between 260 and 280 parts per 1. The off-set scheme attaches a cost to the same as taking carbon
million (ppm). Since the industrial revolution emissions by working out how much it out of the atmosphere – it
human society has become increasingly
dependent on burning the fossil fuels of coal
will cost them to carry out a project that is only reduces the amount of
specifically set up to provide a greenhouse CO2 released.
and oil and as a result human activities have savings or benefit. (eg new tree plantings or
increased the concentration of CO2 in the stopping greenhouse gases from landfills).
atmosphere to more than 380ppm.
introduction 12 1.4 Carbon neutral

Before considering a carbon > Improving the energy efficiency of the home WHAT IS A ZERO ENERGY HOME?
offset scheme, ensure when building, renovating, renting or buying
The terms ‘zero energy’, ‘zero carbon’ or ‘zero
through methods such as:
that the offset scheme is emission’ are applied to buildings that use
credible, and has undergone – ensuring effective orientation and layout to
renewable energy sources on-site to generate
independent auditing. maximise solar-passive strategies
energy for their operation, so that over a year
[See: 4.2 Design for Climate]
the net amount of energy generated on-site
– adding or increasing insulation equals the net amount of energy required by
Although carbon offsetting can provide a way
[See: 4.7 Insulation] the building.
to assist in balancing the amounts of CO2 being
emitted into the atmosphere as a whole, a – sizing and orientating windows
For example, a home that uses 5000kWh
long-term sustainable solution to environmental appropriately [See: 4.10 Glazing]
of electricity for a year may incorporate
problems requires reductions in the amount – providing double-glazing to windows photovoltaic panels that generate 2160kWh
of CO2 being emitted in our homes and [See: 4.10 Glazing] of electricity in winter. This may not be enough
appropriate changes to our lifestyles. – using materials that enhance passive solar electricity for what is needed during winter, but
strategies [See: 5.0 Material Use] in summer 2840kWh of electricity could be
generated, which would be more electricity than
BECOMING CARBON NEUTRAL > Adopting and developing a zero energy home
is needed at this time. If the combined result
– see next section.
The first step in becoming carbon neutral is to of electricity generated on-site for the year is
reduce the demand for energy and the amount Reducing CO2 emissions in our lifestyles can be equal to the amount of energy used for the year
of CO2 being emitted. After reductions have achieved by: (2160 + 2840 = 5000kWh), the building can be
been made offset credits can be purchased considered to be zero energy. Nevertheless,
> Switching to low greenhouse impact transport
equivalent to the remaining emissions. it should be noted that in winter the additional
options like walking, cycling or public
energy needed would still result in carbon
Reducing CO2 emissions from our homes transport – or use the telephone or email.
dioxide being released to the atmosphere
can be achieved by adopting many of the If a car is essential, use a fuel-efficient one.
unless it is also sourced from renewables.
techniques and procedures described in the
> Considering the time and cost of travel from
Your Home Technical Manual, eg. Zero energy homes set out to use renewable
your home location to work, school, shops
electricity generated on-site. Although obtaining
> Reducing the use of electrical appliances and leisure activities. [See: 2.6 Transport]
electricity from the grid through accredited
and switching off lights, appliances and
> Diverting food and garden wastes from landfill green electricity providers should be used and
equipment at the plug when they are not
to composting – when food and garden could be considered as having net zero CO2
needed – especially a second refrigerator.
wastes break down without fresh air they emissions, the intention of zero energy homes
[See: 6.4 Appliances]
create a mixture of gases including the very is that they are relatively self-contained. This
> Selecting smaller energy efficient appliances damaging greenhouse gas, methane. provides occupants with a full understanding
with low standby power use and avoiding of how much space and cost is required to
> Purchasing food, products and other services
unnecessary purchases. [See: 6.4 provide renewable energy solutions on-site and
that have not travelled long distances.
Appliances; 6.10 Home Automation] the benefits of energy efficiency.
> Minimising waste of packaging and materials
> Reducing water use (it takes energy to treat
– ‘refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle’.
and pump water to a home) and reducing
hot water heating by installing water efficient > Reducing the purchase of non-essential
Stricter definitions of ‘zero
showerheads, taking shorter showers and products – ask “do I really need it?” energy’ buildings also take
using cold water for washing clothes. into account the energy used
> Holidaying closer to home rather than flying
[See: 7.2 Reducing Water Demand] in their construction and
to distant destinations.
eventual decommissioning.
> Draught-sealing and weather-stripping to
reduce unnecessary heat loss and heat gain
and setting thermostats appropriately.
[See: 4.7 Insulation]

> Installing curtains and pelmets, external blinds

and shading to reduce the need for additional Carbon Positive
emitted by: reduced by: the overall CO2
heating and cooling. [See: 4.4 Shading] – electrical appliances – clean energy emissions are
– heating (such as: equal to the
> Changing the fuel source of hot water – cooling wind power, overall CO2
systems and home heating. For example – hot water solar power, etc) reductions
switching from electric hot water systems Carbon Neutral
to gas or solar hot water systems. [See: 6.2 Zero
Heating and Cooling; 6.5 Hot Water Service] emission
emissions reductions

Carbon Negative
1.4 Carbon neutral 13 introduction

Limitations of zero energy homes as described designing with consideration of actual energy Maximising energy efficiency allows energy
here, are that they only include the energy to use – which is affected by occupant behaviour. needs to be met with reduced amounts of
operate the home and not other CO2 emitting energy needing to be supplied. Renewable
The basic principles that can be followed for
areas associated with our homes, such as the energy opportunities then become:
designing zero energy homes are described in
manufacture and transportation of building
the Your Home fact sheets and include: > Physically viable with reduced space
materials and energy used during construction.
> Incorporating energy efficiency strategies with
Major benefits of creating zero energy, zero
renewable energy options from the outset of > Economically viable with a reduced amount of
carbon or zero emission homes come from the
the project. [See: 6.0 Energy Use] renewable energy source being required; and
increased energy efficiency strategies that are
necessary to make on-site renewable energy > Choosing a site or location that allows for > Environmentally viable with less resources
sources viable and the immediate awareness renewable energy opportunities and reduces being used to manufacture the renewable
and better understanding of energy use they transportation and food production needs. energy source.
encourage for their occupants. [See: 2.0 Sustainable Communities]
For example:
> Maximising passive design strategies in In the early 21st century a typical Sydney
the design of the home to reduce energy household uses about 5,000kWh of electricity
DESIGNING A ZERO demand. [See: 4.0 Passive Design] per year. Table 1 indicates the types of
ENERGY HOME reductions that could be made to a typical
> Reducing water use in conjunction with
home to reduce energy demand based on an
Designing a zero energy, zero carbon or zero reducing the demand for hot water.
all-electric household with a 2 star rating.
emission home can be complex, as each [See: 7.0 Water Use]
design solution must be tailored to the There are a range of opportunities for
> Selecting materials use appropriately, by
specific location. reducing the energy demand of a home, but
incorporating materials that enhance the
these depend on the specific household. The
This includes designing to the features passive design strategy and have a low
energy efficiency measures in Table 1 are
and qualities of the site, designing for the embodied energy. [See: 5.0 Material Use]
indicative only.
requirements of the building’s use, designing
> Reducing energy use in all areas of the home.
with an understanding of how to incorporate After reducing the energy use of the home,
[See: 6.0 Energy Use]
renewable energy sources on-site and renewable energy opportunities can be
reviewed as seen in Table 2.

Table 1

Reducing Demand

Approx Approx. Approx.

Initial cost energy New savings
Energy Use of an average load assuming Carbon efficiency load assuming
Australian home each year (kWh) $0.15c/kWh emissions Energy efficiency measures savings (kWh) $0.15c/kWh
Heating / cooling 38% 1900 $285.00 20% Improve house energy rating from 2 to 5 star 35% 1235 $99.75
Water heating 25% 1250 $187.50 23% Change to solar hot water system 50% 625 $93.75
Other electrical appliances 16% 800 $120.00 24% Improve efficiency and reduce use 10% 720 $12.00
Lighting 7% 350 $52.50 11% Change to compact fluorescent lighting 75% 88 $39.38
Cooking 4% 200 $30.00 5% Improve efficiency by using a microwave 30% 140 $9.00
Refrigeration 7% 350 $52.50 12% Improve efficiency by 2 stars 30% 245 $15.75
Standby 3% 150 $22.50 5% Turn off most appliances at the plug 90% 15 $20.25
Total 5000 $750.00 3068 $209.88
Note: This example is based on a typical Sydney household which is situated in a temperate climate. These prices are indicative only and will vary depending on location, price and use of electricity.
Source: Global Warming Cool it, (Australian Greenhouse Office, 2007). Baseline Energy Estimates, 2008.

Table 2

Incorporating renewable energy sources (approximate amount of renewables required)

Renewable opportunities Initial load of 5000kWh Approx. cost ($) New load of 3068kWh Approx. cost ($)

Photovoltaics – Grid connected 32m2 $38,265.00 20m2 $23,480.00

Photovoltaics – Stand alone 44m 2

$52,887.00 27m 2

Renewable opportunities 5000kWh = approx. 3500kWh Approx. cost ($) 3068kWh = approx. 7900kWh Approx. cost ($)

Wind – Average wind speed = 7m/s 2 x 1kW turbines $14,000 1 x 1kW turbines $7,000
Note: Costs are indicative only and provide a comparison for the base renewable source only. They do not include installation, inverter (which may cost $3,000 or more), batteries, connections etc. Costs are based
on a 165W panel costing $1,800 and 6 panels being required to produce 1kW peak. Obtain advice from accredited designers for actual amounts of renewable energy required and costs.
introduction 14 1.4 Carbon neutral

positive contributions
that improve the ADDITIONAL reading
on-built environment
Carbon Positive Beddington Zero Energy Development, UK
building Carbon Neutral Emissions Calculator
Carbon Neutral

Zero Department of Climate Change, Australian Government

emissions reductions
building  lobal Warming Cool It
Carbon Negative
emitted by: reduced by: the overall CO2 L azarus, N (2003), Toolkit for Carbon Neutral
– electrical appliances – clean energy emissions are Developments, BioRegional Development Group,
– heating (such as: equal to the London.
– cooling wind power, overall CO2
– hot water solar power, reductions Vale, B and Vale R (2000), The New Autonomous
etc) House, Thames and Hudson, London.

The incorporation of renewable energy is site Carbon positive projects NAHB Research Center (2006), Final Report: Zero
specific and as the tables highlight, the more Energy Home, Amory Park Del Sol Tuscon, Arizona
can also help to address the
energy that can be reduced from the outset,
carbon intensity and damaging TucsonZEH1Report.pdf
the more viable incorporating renewable
energy sources become. To determine actual
impacts of past building  obbs, M (1998), Sustainable House: Living for
amounts and costs for any system, advice from practices and our lifestyles up Our Future, Choice Books, Australian Consumer’s
accredited designers should be obtained. to this point. Association, NSW.

If a zero energy home is achieved and the net

Principal Author:
amount of operating energy is reduced to zero,
Becoming carbon neutral and achieving zero Jodie Pipkorn
measures to become carbon positive could be
energy and carbon positive homes would
considered and incorporated.
reduce some of the impact from our homes and
lifestyles and significantly reduce greenhouse
WHAT IS CARBON POSITIVE? gas emissions. However it is only part of the
solution. Other sustainability aspects – social,
Carbon positive aims to move beyond carbon economic and environmental – along with other
neutral or zero energy and use human activities impacts in the building process need to be
to improve the environment by making considered in a holistic way, if a progression
additional ‘positive’ contributions. toward a sustainable future is to be achieved.
For example, this could be achieved by:

> Producing more energy on site than the

building itself requires and feeding this back
into the power grid.

> Improving a damaged environment and

leaving it in a better condition.

> Releasing water or air from a building that is

cleaner than when it entered.

> Planting on or over a building to a greater

amount than was removed by the building
itself due to its construction.

The contributions that carbon positive projects

can make for the built environment as a whole
are significant, especially because there will
often be situations where zero carbon or
carbon neutral homes are not possible.
1.5 Rating tools 15 introduction

Rating Tools
To reduce the environmental impact of a The energy rating of new single dwellings Rating schemes and tools allow assessment of
building it is useful to be able to measure can be determined by computer software progress towards environmentally sustainable
and quantify its performance and compare provided that it complies with the relevant buildings with very low or zero impacts.
different options. There is a wide range Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB)
of rating schemes and assessment tools Protocol for House Energy Rating Software.
that measure different aspects of building State and Territory Building Control WHAT TYPES OF
sustainability. Administrations should be contacted to TOOLS ARE AVAILABLE
ascertain the suitability of a particular type or
Rating tools fall into two broad types, although
version of software.
WHY WE NEED some combine both approaches.
RATING SCHEMES The Building Code of Australia (BCA)
1. Those that predict performance at the design
provides an excellent example of how rating
Rating schemes allow us to compare the stage, such as house energy rating tools.
tools can help improve the environmental
environmental performance of similar products, performance of homes. In most areas of 2. Those that measure the actual performance
whether they be fridges or houses. This Australia the BCA now requires a minimum of the building, including behaviour and
allows us to make more informed choices as energy star rating for new single dwellings of appliances.
consumers and provides a means to measure 5 stars as assessed by the Nationwide House
progress in reducing our environmental impacts. This distinction between the two types is
Energy Rating Scheme. While this standard
important because it defines how the tools
Rating tools are used as part of rating of 5 out of the 10 stars available is not best
can be used. Predictive tools that have
schemes designed to establish agreed levels practice, the standard is considerably higher
standardised user profiles may be used for
of environmental performance. Australia is than the average performance of homes built
regulatory purposes by providing a comparison
part of a growing international movement prior to the regulation.
between buildings that assumes similar
in the development of environmental rating Minimum standards play an important role behaviour patterns. These tools attempt to
schemes and tools for buildings. These eliminating worst practice but consumers predict the future performance of new or
range from single issue schemes, such as play an equally important role in demanding existing buildings by eliminating the influence
appliance energy ratings, to whole building better practice. of current user behaviour.
environmental assessments.
Tools that provide feedback on how people
Most people are familiar with the energy and Mandatory Disclosure: are actually using a given building are more
water efficiency star ratings found on many Recent studies demonstrate that valuable for examining how occupant
appliances. These help purchasers choose the mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency behaviour might be changed to reduce a
most efficient products in the marketplace and in the ACT shows a very strong correlation building’s impact on the environment, but these
are examples of rating tools that measure a between star ratings and house value – tools cannot be readily used for regulatory
particular aspect of environmental performance. something in the region of 3 per cent for purposes. These tools are particularly useful
Currently most rating tools focus on one key each star. So a $400,000 house increases at tracking improvements to the environmental
aspect of environmental performance, but some value by $12,000 per star which makes management of a building.
consider more than one. energy efficiency a very good investment.
Aspects of building environmental performance
that can be rated include:
A good rating scheme should:
Rating tools have an > Performance of individual appliances and
important role to play in > Encourage innovation by providing flexible fixtures such as refrigerators, shower
helping us achieve more compliance paths and not be overly heads and gas heaters.
sustainable buildings. prescriptive.
> Performance of individual building
> Have the capacity to benchmark higher elements such as windows.
Rating tools provide assessment methods and performance.
> Performance of a combination of elements
benchmarks that can be used to set minimum > Be able to measure both minimum such as the building envelope.
regulatory standards and can encourage better mandated and better performance.
levels of practice that goes beyond those > Performance of a whole building including
minimum standards. Some rating tools help > Integrate the use of current rating tools. all building services.
us to understand better how human behaviour > Allow more impact categories to be added.
affects a building’s environmental performance.
introduction 16 1.5 Rating tools

Building rating tools may cover specific calculations are regional climate data and the > A wider range of construction materials.
environmental impacts in great detail such individual design of the building, as well as > Improved modelling of reflective insulation.
as energy or water efficiency or greenhouse thermal properties of all major materials.
performance. Other tools cover a wider > Integration with the Windows Energy Rating
To enable comparison of the building Scheme (WERS).
range of aspects including waste reduction,
performance, distinct from variables such
the availability of sustainable transport links, > Starbands that recognise performance
as occupant behaviour, ratings are based
building material ecological footprints, and land up to 10 stars.
on standardised assumptions about the
use impacts, but often at a lower level of detail.
occupation and operation of the building. > An easier-to-use interface more suited to
Users should select the tool that best suits their
Performance can be described in terms of newer computer operating systems.
need for design or behaviour feedback.
heating and cooling loads or degree hours,
AccuRate has been widely tested, calibrated
hours of discomfort or indoor temperatures.
and verified to produce consistent results for
HOUSE ENERGY RATING For regulatory purposes, the assessment is all climate zones.
TOOLS (HERS) often expressed as a star rating. The more stars
the better the performance. Star bands are AccuRate Interface
House Energy Rating
Schemes (HERS) set for each specific climate zone to allow fair
in Australia such comparison of buildings across climates.
as the Nationwide
House Energy Rating
Scheme (NatHERS) Anyone can buy and use the
have traditionally HERS software, but ratings
only assessed the thermal performance of used for assessing compliance
residential buildings. HERS tools calculate with regulations can only
the heat energy gains and losses associated be issued by trained and
with the design of the building in a particular accredited assessors.
location, and determine how much artificial
heating and cooling may be required to
maintain human thermal comfort. NatHERS Contact details for Accredited Assessors in your
is managed by the Department of the area can be found at:
Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
HERS software accredited under NatHERS can
be used to assess compliance with the BCA NatHERS
and other regulations. The original NatHERS branded software, not to
Currently available HERS do not include the be confused with the NatHERS Scheme, was
energy use of appliances or the embodied an envelope energy rating tool developed by
CSIRO. NatHERS branded software was the AccuRate, like all NatHERS family software,
energy of building materials, although work is
most widely used of the early HERS tools but requires detailed information about the building
underway to broaden Australian HERS tools to
was replaced by the second generation HERS such as orientation, construction materials,
cover other energy impacts such as lighting, hot
tool AccuRate in 2007. insulation levels, window size and orientation,
water, and major fixed appliances.
shading, overshadowing, ventilation, etc. For
The actual amount of gas or electricity used for an experienced operator, data entry can take
artificial heating and cooling is influenced by AccuRate from 30 minutes for a simple design to more
the behaviour of the occupants and efficiency than an hour for a complex design. AccuRate
Use of NatHERS software over several
of appliances, in addition to the thermal software can produce detailed information
years uncovered limitations in the original
performance of the building. on the building’s thermal performance on an
software, and the governments of Australia
HERS tools are typically computer based due to commissioned CSIRO to overhaul both the data hourly, daily and even monthly basis. AccuRate
the millions of individual calculations necessary. input method and the calculation engine. software can also be run without heating
Shorthand scorecards have been trialed in and cooling energy inputs to show the hourly
Designed to address these issues, AccuRate internal zone temperatures. These functions can
Australia but do not have sufficient rigor or
was released in 2006. It now simulates energy help architects and building designers improve
sophistication to provide accurate assessments
performance more accurately in all Australian the design.
of environmental performance.
climate zones, and work is progressing to
The main software tools in use are: expand the tool to cover NZ climate zones. The basic output is a simple report that shows
how much heating and cooling energy would be
> AccuRate. Improvements include: required to keep the house comfortable, as well
> BERS. > Better modelling of the cooling effect of air as the star rating of the energy performance.
> FirstRate. movement.
AccuRate provides the benchmark for
These tools are based on a HERS calculation > A floor area correction so that smaller houses accrediting other HERS software for use with
engine developed by CSIRO that enables are not penalised in the star rating. the BCA requirements.To be accredited to the
assessment of a building on an hour by > Better internal zoning. NatHERS other software packages are required
hour basis for a whole year. Included in the to give results consistent with AccuRate.
1.5 Rating tools 17 introduction

The case studies in this Technical Manual have > Rated windows in WERS get from 0 to 5 OTHER BUILDING
all been rated using AccuRate. See Case Study stars for both cooling (summer) and heating ASSESSMENT TOOLS
Introduction on page 243 for more information. (winter), depending on how they rank against
the alternatives.
BERS > WERS rates the performance of a window,
not the performance of the amount of NABERS HOME is an easy-to-use tool for
BERS (Building windows used in a design. comparing the energy and water use of an
Energy Rating existing home to that of an average household.
Scheme) is a > WERS complements manufacturer’s existing
The web-based tool is available for anyone
NatHERS family standards for wind, water penetration and
to use. The website also provides diagnostic
software tool based safety (AS 1288 and AS 2047).
tools, the Energy and Water Explorer, to provide
on CSIRO’s calculation engine and > WERS enables windows to be rated and personalised advice. See:
incorporates many of the same improvements labelled for their energy and comfort impact
as AccuRate. BERS has the added feature Because it focuses attention on the interaction
on a whole house, in any Australian climate.
of a graphical data input process that lets between the occupants and the building, rather
designers draw houseplans rather than > WERS complements other energy rating than the technical potential for that building,
typing in all the data. Much of the information and is plugged into NatHERS to provide star NABERS provides a realistic assessment of how
about the building is selected from pictures ratings for houses. a home is actually performing at a particular
displayed on the screen, making data entry point in time as used by those occupants.
Rating of a window for energy performance
quicker and easier. The design of a home is only one factor in its
starts with establishment of basic solar, thermal
performance which is also greatly affected by
BERS is most widely used in Queensland but and optical properties of the glazing unit and
choice of appliances and occupant behaviour.
can be used in all Australian climate zones. window frame. These properties are determined
by a combination of laboratory measurements A NABERS HOME rating analyses 12 months
and computer simulations. of actual energy or water use, and supplies a
FirstRate 5 WERS ranks windows in terms of their whole-
rating out of 5 stars, with 2.5 stars representing
an average household. A 5 star home is very
The FirstRate House Energy Rating software house energy improvement when compared
efficient, while a 1 star home has plenty of
was developed by the Victorian Government to the base-case window (a singleglazed clear
opportunities to improve!
to speed up the rating process. It provides window with a thermally unbroken aluminium
a simple and quick method to assess and frame). The rankings are then used to generate NABERS is not a predictive tool. It
improve the energy efficiency of house designs star ratings for cooling (summer and solar complements, rather than replaces, other rating
and completed homes. control performance) and heating (winter systems that focus on the design stage, such
performance). as HERS. It can only be used for an existing
FirstRate was originally developed as a correlating
home that has been occupied for 12 months
program against NatHERS computations, but Windows that have been rated will carry a
and provides an opportunity to check whether
the latest FirstRate product incorporates the sticker certifying energy rating performance.
the home is performing as well as it has been
full CSIRO HERS calculation engine like the
The three basic steps to select a window using designed to.
AccuRate and BERS branded products.
the WERS rating are:
The NSW Department of Environment and
FirstRate has been the most popular HERS
1. Identify the climate classification for the site Climate Change, who are developing and
software in Victoria, although other NatHERS
(see WERS map on their website). managing the NABERS scheme in agreement
family software can also be used. FirstRate
with the Australian Government, are also
is also popular in Western Australia, South 2. Follow the window selection guidelines for
working on waste and transport ratings for
Australia and the ACT. climate type and identify generic window
homes. See the NABERS Home case study
types that might be suitable.
at end of this fact sheet.
3. Compare the WERS star ratings for the
suitable generic windows with products
recommended by local distributors and make
a selection based on cost and performance.
WERS For more information see
 he Window Energy Rating Scheme (WERS)
ranks windows for their energy performance in
Appliance ratings
typical housing anywhere in Australia. It will tell
you whether a given window is suitable for the Energy and water efficiency ratings are
climate or not. available for many popular household
appliances and equipment and provide good
> WERS is independent of any one
guidance to consumers.
manufacturer and acts as a fair,
rigorous and credible system for testing Rating schemes for energy and water efficiency
performance claims. of appliances are covered in other fact sheets in
this manual. [See: 6.1 Energy Use Introduction;
6.4 Appliances; 7.2 Reducing Water Demand]
introduction 18 1.5 Rating tools

BASIX INTERPRETING RATING Tradeoffs are a part of every home design

TOOL RESULTS and construction process so it is necessary to
The NSW government introduced the Building
consider what level of thermal comfortable is
Sustainability Index (BASIX) from 1 July 2005 In putting the results of rating tools in desired and what overall environmental impact
to establish minimum standards for all new perspective some things to consider are: is acceptable.
dwellings in NSW.
Does the rated performance of an For example, it may be better to build a home
BASIX is a planning regulation that sets individual building element give a true from low embodied energy materials but
greenhouse gas emission and water use representation of its performance in the have a slightly lower rating, rather than use a
percentage reduction targets for new dwellings application proposed?
high embodied energy but low maintenance
when compared to similar sized houses in the
The performance of a building element needs fabric on the building envelope and aim for a
same geographical location. The percentage
to be considered in context. For example, in higher rating. High ratings in one area may not
reduction approach provides an easy to
a warm climate, an unshaded wall of WERS compromise good performance in other areas
understand comparison for users.
5 star cooling rated windows will cause more of environmental impact.
BASIX covers the building envelope thermal overheating in summer than a similar sized
performance, but when determining compliance bank of zero star rated windows with well
also includes a wider range of household designed external shading. An AccuRate,
energy uses such as heating and cooling BERS or FirstRate assessment would reveal
appliances, lighting and water heating. In that the window rating alone does not give the Australian Building Codes Board
complete picture.
common with many multiple issue tools BASIX
uses some existing tools such as NatHERS and B ASIX
appliance energy and water ratings as part of Does the rating reflect all the impacts or
simply focus on a single issue?
the assessment process. B EDP Environment Design Guide
The rating reflects the aspect being rated. DES 23 May 2005 Accurate: 2nd Generation
To assess thermal performance compliance,
For example, an appliance might carry a 5 star Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme.
either: PRO 32 Glazing, Windows, Skylights and Atria –
energy rating but be inefficient in its use of water.
Properties and Rating Systems.
> The simulated heating and cooling loads
In which case would a similar product with a
predicted by NatHERS family software must B ERS Pro
3 star energy rating and high water rating be
be entered; or
the better choice if you live in an area where
> The building fabric must comply with a water is in short supply? F irstRate
set of more restrictive ‘Deemed to Satisfy’ energy-rating-with-firstrate.asp
There is also the energy used in pumping and
treating the water and wastewater to consider.  atHERS
The simulation method provides more flexibility Fortunately, the most energy efficient appliances
in design options. BASIX sets a maximum limit are usually also the most water efficient.
 indows Energy Rating Scheme
for both the cooling load alone and the total
heating and cooling load. The simulation results Does the rating system address relative
must be less than these allowable maximums
scale in assessing the impact?
to achieve compliance. BASIX uses the HERS Not usually. A 400m2 home and a 150m2 home Chris Reidy
assessment to estimate greenhouse gas may have the same HERS star rating. However, Chris Reardon
emission impact based on the thermal loads the larger home will use more resources and Geoff Milne
and the efficiency and type of heating and embodied energy in its construction than the
cooling appliances selected. smaller home. It will also require more heating
and cooling energy to be comfortable due to
its larger volume. Many rating systems such
as NatHERS and BASIX incorporate an area
correction factor to eliminate large house
surface area to volume bias and to encourage
smaller buildings.

Would alternative options beyond those

being rated yield equivalent benefits over
total lifecycle?
No rating tool can incorporate every
environmental impact but better ratings
will generally lead to better environmental
outcomes. Whilst accepting the limited breadth
of environmental impacts covered by a rating
tool, try to also consider those aspects
important to the environment that may not be
easy to measure.
1.5 Rating tools 19 introduction

NABERS HOME Rating reveals The NABERS HOME Energy and Water On the other hand, the Campbell’s efforts to
how you can improve your ratings use a full year’s energy and water collect rainwater and use the most efficient
energy and water efficiency consumption, plus the number of people in the showerheads and toilets have earned them
household and its heating and cooling needs a 5 star NABERS HOME Water rating, the
This case study demonstrates how the (using data of the particular climate zone), to highest possible score. Alicia and Jason are
NABERS HOME Energy and Water ratings give the home a rating out of 5 stars. A 2.5 passionate about saving water, and have
can be used to identify opportunities for star rating represents the average home, and a not only managed to collect 100 per cent of
improving energy and water efficiency 5 star home is extremely efficient. their family’s water needs as rainwater, but
around your home. have also recently installed a wastewater
The Campbells received a low rating of
treatment system to recycle all the water that
0.5 stars with their winter heating bills,
is used on-site.
indicating that their household’s energy use
and greenhouse gas emissions were in fact Calculating their NABERS ratings has
significantly higher than the average home. highlighted for the Campbells the importance
When an estimate was made on the basis of of not only careful design when planning a
the summer bills alone, a rating of 2.5 stars home, but also the impact of ongoing, every
was received – bringing the Campbell’s energy day choice of appliances, and the way they
use in line with the average home. Given are used. By also using NatHERS tools,
the extent of Alicia and Jason’s efforts to be Alicia and Jason could identify possible
self-sufficient, and that the summer bills were changes to the building design that may
comparable to that of an average home, these improve the comfort and energy efficiency of
results suggest that there could be areas where the home during winter.
Alicia and Jason Campbell set out to build the family could adjust their day-to-day choices
a home in Sydney’s northern suburbs that To calculate your own NABERS HOME
in the way they use their electric appliances
would eventually be self-sufficient – collecting Energy and Water ratings, go to www.
and save energy.
rainwater and generating its own electricity.
Major investments included a 25,000L While it is important to build a thermally efficient
NABERS is a national initiative, managed by
underground rainwater tank and an array home, it is ultimately the use of appliances that
the NSW Department of Environment and
of 18 photovoltaic panels. The north facing determines the energy use of a household.
Climate Change.
home has been designed to incorporate A thorough audit of energy use in the home
passive solar principles, and is very cool in would help to identify where significant savings
summer. Generous thermal mass, good could be made.
shading, a white roof and a whole-of-house
fan ensure it remains a comfortable 25ºC
throughout the hottest days, without any
need for air conditioning.

Unfortunately the home doesn’t receive

sufficient solar access in winter to heat
the thermal mass, leaving it uncomfortably
cold during winter. After using the electric
underfloor heating last winter, the Campbells
were alarmed by the size of their electricity
bill and decided to calculate their NABERS
rating to see how their household’s energy
and water use compared to other homes. By calculating the household’s energy rating
with NABERS HOME, identifying where
savings could be made and then calculating
their rating again in a year’s time, Alicia and
Jason will be able to see how successful
they have been at improving the energy
efficiency of their household, and help them
to find further opportunities to improve.

Environment Design Guide

the award winning BEdP Environment

design Guide (EdG) is a comprehensive
source of information on environmental
issues in the built environment.

EDG provides reliable, practical information,

allowing practitioners to make educated,

environmentally responsible decisions during

the early phases of design, where the greatest

environmental benefits can be effected with the

least cost.

The guide can be used in conjunction with

the Your Home Technical Manual. You will find

references to EDG throughout the technical

fact sheets. EDG provides more in-depth

discussions and solutions to the issues raised

in the Your Home fact sheets.

EDG is a subscription based journal which has

been growing for 12 years, and is updated

quarterly with 6 papers that cover new

information about sustainability in the built


EDG brings together the expertise of renowned

Australian authors in 250 peer-reviewed papers,

including 45 case-studies. These papers are

EDG is produced by the Australian Council of HoW to SuBScriBE

Built Environment Design Professions (BEDP),
reviewed by practitioners and experts to ensure

the peak body for design professionals, and Sample papers as well as subscription details
they are accurate and accessible.

represents: are available on the web at:

EDG is a useful tool for all design disciplines,
> ACA Association of Consulting Architects.
and covers topics such as:

> ACEA Association of Consulting Engineers Knowledge Services

> Energy efficiency.
Australia. Ph: +61 03 8620 3877
> Indoor environment quality (IEQ).
> AIQS Australian Institute of Quantity Email:
> Life-cycle analysis (LCA).

> Greenhouse gas emission reduction.

> AILA Australian Institute of Landscape
> Water sensitive urban design (WSUD).

> Engineers Australia.

> Salinity.

> IES Illuminating Engineering Society of

> Chilled beams.
Australia and New Zealand.
> Urban planning.
> PIA Planning Institute of Australia.
> Photovoltaic cells.
> RAIA Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
> Phase-change materials.

> Passive cooling.

EDG also contains a glossary of ESD terms and

references to useful websites.

2.1 introduction 21 sustainable communities

Sustainable Communities
Sustainability does not stop at the 2.2 CHOOSING A SITE > Enhances the character and comfort of the
front door. Your lifestyle will have an neighbourhood.
Choosing an appropriate site, or existing home,
impact far beyond your immediate home
and developing it to make the most of its > Encourages people to walk for short trips.
environment. This section deals with the
natural attributes will yield significant economic, > Increases property demand and resale value.
wider implications of the lifestyle choices
lifestyle and environmental benefits.
you make. Understanding the impact of
your choices empowers you to make the The information is in three parts corresponding
best possible decisions about your home with the usual stages of choosing a site.
and your environment. It is the outcome of
> Choosing a locality and housing type.
these decisions that will contribute to your

Mirvac Lend Lease Village Consortium

community and make it a better place. > Choosing a site, existing home or block.

Site issues, defined as the physical changes to > Choosing, designing or altering a home
the land that result from building a new home, to suit your block.
renovating or landscaping, are also important
for the sustainability of your home. Site
issues manifest themselves as modifications
to the local habitat (biodiversity), soil and
relief (topography). Noise impact has also
been included here because it examines the
impact of surrounding land uses on your site. How to enhance the quality of your street:
Design for challenging sites helps address
> Understand the character of your local
sites that pose structural, environmental and
neighbourhood and design your home or
topographical challenges.
addition sympathetically.
Richard Hyde

> Face houses towards streets, parks and

Aim to tread lightly and open space to improve visual access and
security. This needs to be balanced with good
reduce the footprint of your
orientation for passive heating and cooling.
site and lifestyle. 2.3 Streetscape
> Set garages and carports away from the
When you choose a home you are also house frontage to minimise their visual
This section contains detailed information choosing a street and a community. A street impact.
about: is more than a collection of buildings and
> Limit the width of driveways and use shared
> Choosing a Site. trees. Well-designed and cared-for streets
driveways where possible.
encourage connected, inclusive, supportive
> Streetscape. and safe communities. > Plant trees to enhance the quality of the
> Sustainable Landscapes. street.
A good community consists of diverse
> Biodiversity On-site. elements, which blend into a vibrant, functional > Avoid high walls and hedges on the street
and well connected whole. Diversity of boundary as they isolate the home from the
> Noise Control. age, ethnicity and means are all essential neighbourhood.
> Sediment Control. ingredients. In the same way, a good street
> Be a good neighbour and respect your
consists of houses that have their own
> Challenging Sites. neighbours privacy, sunlight and views.
character but fit together in a complementary,
respectful way. A good street improves quality
of life in numerous ways:

> Promotes community interaction.

> Provides a safe environment.

sustainable communities 22 2.1 introduction

2.4 Sustainable Landscapes > Limit clearing outside the building footprint. > Death and illness from air pollution, accidents
Vehicle tracks, workers’ carparking and and sedentary lifestyle.
Sustainable landscaping is about putting back
rubbish dumps should be concentrated in
much of what was in place before development. How you can help:
one area.
Sustainable landscaping is not only about > Avoid car dependency by choosing to live in
> Retain significant habitat trees.
planting natives. It can include food-producing an established area close to public transport
or permaculture gardens and planting > Rehabilitate disturbed areas with saved and other services.
deciduous shade trees to control solar access, topsoil and salvaged plants.
> Walk, ride a bicycle or take public transport
provide habitat and shelter. > Use indigenous (local native) species in the instead of driving.
In dry areas, that were not formerly garden.
> Shop locally and buy locally made goods.
wetlands, planting low water-use indigenous > Maintain links between adjacent bush and
vegetation (xeriscaping) greatly reduces water > Lobby governments for improved public
your garden.
consumption. transport services and comment on
> Avoid introducing environmental weeds into development proposals.
Indoor plants can be used to filter and improve your garden.
indoor air quality. > Work from home.

Vegetation can be used for screening, as a

windbreak and to frame select views.
Do you want to live in an
Urban transport is an important national issue.
The topography of a garden should ideally
About two thirds of Australia’s population lives
environment designed for
reflect the original relief to minimise the
in capital cities. Decreased motor vehicle use
you or for your car?
impact on drainage patterns but bunds can
and increased use of public transport, cycling
sometimes be created to enhance visual and/
and walking are vital to creating a healthy,
or acoustic privacy.
liveable city, now and for future generations.
A sedentary lifestyle is a health risk. A brief
walk to the bus or train each day can improve Noise is ‘disagreeable sound’. The perception
your health and lower stress levels. of noise is therefore highly subjective.

Noise can be managed through careful site

choice such as finding a property that is
buffered from busy roads and industry.

Good design can also assist in managing

external noise impacts. This can be achieved
through site planning and use of appropriate
Edwina Richardson

materials and construction techniques.

Some design solutions:

Edwina Richardson

> Locate quiet rooms as far away from noise

sources as possible, without compromising
2.5 BIODIVERSITY IMPACTS passive solar design principles.
AMB Productions

> Install windows away from noise sources, if

Local biodiversity is the variety of life forms, and
the ecosystems of which they form a part, that > Position noisy areas together and away from
exist on your property. This fact sheet examines quiet areas.
ways to minimise the destruction of biodiversity
Some of the problems of car dependency > Avoid placing laundries, bathrooms or living
and to retain as much habitat as practicable,
include: rooms next to, above or below bedrooms
while accommodating your home.
without adequate sound insulation.
Replanting cleared sites is definitely no > Urban sprawl.
> Provide extra soundproofing for teenagers’
substitute for leaving native vegetation intact. > Depletion of urban spaces.
rooms and locate them away from adult living
Once land is cleared it is almost impossible
> Greenhouse gas emissions. and sleeping areas and neighbours.
to recover the full suite of indigenous species,
remove introduced species and restore > Air and noise pollution. > Locate driveways/garages away from
ecological processes. To minimise biodiversity bedrooms and living rooms.
> Depletion of finite oil reserves.
> Appropriate material selection can reduce
> Loss of valuable bushland and farmland to
> Avoid unnecessary disturbance to vegetation noise levels within the home.
roads and car parks.
and soil.
> Communities fragmented by roads.

> Flooding and water pollution from road run-off.

2.1 introduction 23 sustainable communities

Ask for design specifications for noise levels Principal authors:

before buying a multi residential unit and ask Chris Reardon
your solicitor to link them to your contract as Steve Shackel
a performance measure. This will give you
more options if you discover a problem after
moving in.


Sediment control practices are used on building
sites during construction to prevent sand,
soil, cement and other building materials from
polluting waterways.
2.9 Challenging Sites
Control measures usually require little effort.
Benefits include cleaner waterways, healthier Challenging sites is about addressing physical
aquatic life and reduced clean-up costs and social factors that may constrain the design
to the community. Added benefits to the of your home and increase the environmental
builder include improved site conditions and impact. These constraints generally relate to
wet weather access. Time losses due to the following areas:
waterlogging will also be minimised. > Structural: topography, natural and artificial
Some sediment control measures: structures.

> Divert uncontaminated water away from the > Environmental: climatic, health, visual and
construction site. acoustic parameters.

> Minimise ersoion by minimising site > Spatial: size, shape and volume.
disturbance, stabilising disturbed surfaces > Location: remoteness, proximity, servicing.
and securing material stockpiles.
> Ecology: ecological value, landscaping.
> Prevent sediment contaminated water leaving
the construction site by using a contained It may be environmentally preferable not to
wash area. build on a challenging site because of the
larger impacts that result from addressing its
> Use diversion devices such as channels constraints. On the other hand, such sites often
and earth banks to divert clean stormwater provide exciting opportunities for creating a
away from the construction site. This sustainable home and are worth investigating
reduces potential for stormwater to become for their design opportunities. A number of
contaminated with sediment. approaches are identified that can be applied
Most local councils have written guidelines on to address these constraints and achieve
erosion and sediment control. Ask them for sustainable outcomes.
information pertaining to your area.

Developments likely to create sediment

pollution to land or receiving waters downhill
may need to submit erosion and sediment
control plans for approval by your local council
before work starts.
Richard Hyde
sustainable communities 24 2.2 CHOOSING A SITE

Choosing a Site
Where you buy or build your home has a Work through the above and start the
profound influence over your ability to meet The site choice checklist preliminary stages of looking at your home
your existing and future needs. Where you options. A few weekends spent visiting
The following checklist is intended to guide
choose to live will have a significant impact your choice of site. Answer the following other suburbs or travelling to other areas will
on the environment and your finances. questions: consolidate the process of decision making.
Remember the real estate adage:
> How does the location suit your lifestyle?
Can it continue to accommodate Choosing a Site
changes over time associated with your
‘It’s location, location employment, financial position, health,
A site can be where an existing house or
and location’. recreational focus, family (new and empty apartment is located or where you design or
nest), retirement and old age? build a new one.

> Where will the occupants of your home

Choosing an appropriate site for a new house
go to work, school, exercise, shop, Site evaluation
or choosing an existing home and developing
socialise or get health care? Proximity to
it to make the most of its natural attributes Planning controls can have a major influence
these services minimises car trips saving
will yield significant economic, lifestyle and over your design. Check with your local
time, money and the environment.
environmental benefits. council for easements, setbacks and building
> Can you eliminate the need for a car or restrictions.
The following information has been divided second car? This will save you money and
into three sections corresponding to the usual help the environment. Access to public Decide which climatic features need to be
stages of choosing a site. transport (rail, ferry, tram and bus) or taken into account in order of priority. Assess
siting your house within walking or cycling the impact these features will have on your
> Choosing a locality and housing type.
distance of common destinations can planning.
> Choosing a site, existing home or block. eliminate the need for a second car.
Determine which climatic features to enhance
> Choosing, designing or altering a plan to fit > What is the true cost of a location? and which to mitigate in order to increase
your block. Cheaper housing on the city fringe is comfort and decrease energy use. Decide
balanced by continuing higher transport whether solar access or access to cooling
costs (car price, fuel, maintenance, time). breezes takes priority. Is one or the other more
Choosing a Locality important in your climate?
> What type of home do you need?
and Housing Type
Apartments, villas and detached houses Note the size, orientation and slope of
offer vastly different prices, lifestyle the site. Ensure that the opportunities for
Analyse your lifestyle – current options and access to facilities. A big solar access are appropriate to the climate.
and future garden and four bedrooms may no longer [See: 4.3 Orientation; 4.5 Passive Solar
The decision to buy or build a new home is be appropriate. Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
often driven by inadequacies in our existing
home. These often relate directly to lifestyle. Remember that a low maintenance, less
A new home offers many opportunities to alter expensive alternative to a large yard may
or change lifestyle. Maximise this opportunity by be a safe park, body corporate gym, pool
analysing your existing lifestyle and future needs. or tennis court. Shared facilities reduce
As you start to focus on a particular suburb or environmental impact. Smaller yards mean
higher housing densities which are usually
locality, visit the local council to investigate the
more energy-efficient because facilities and
planning controls governing the site (eg. zoning,
infrastructure are better utilised. In many areas,
heritage conservation, and building restrictions
vacant land for new homes is scarce. [See: 4.13
such as setbacks and height limits).
Apartments and Multi-unit Housing]

Appropriate re-use of existing buildings will

result in energy and materials savings. Avoid
demolition and refurbish wherever possible.
Save money and the environment.
[See: 5.1 Materials Use Introduction]
2.2 CHOOSING A SITE 25 sustainable communities

Assess the microclimate (seasonal temperatures, Compact housing forms are more energy Ensure that a viable plan or housing density
humidity levels, prevailing winds, etc). Observe efficient in cool and temperate climates can be achieved within the size, shape and
how the site terrain and vegetation modify air because there are less exposed external topography of the lot. Steep sites often require
movement and solar access. surfaces for heat to escape through. extensive and expensive excavation and fill. On
these sites, pole homes are usually much more
Longer, narrower housing forms are
environmentally friendly. [See: 2.9 Challenging
preferable in high humid climates as they
facilitate passive cooling.

Site coverage (building footprint) should be

optimised to increase the area available for Considerations for Remote
landscaping. This allows more stormwater and Rural Sites
to be absorbed on site and generally reduces Protecting, enhancing and repairing the natural
site impact. [See: 2.3 Streetscape; 7.5 and built environment is highly relevant to
remote and rural sites. Often the best place to
Building footprint should be balanced with build is a damaged or cleared site.
other impacts such as building height.

As you build your garden

and home environment, you
site design N can ‘heal’ the landscape.
Increase solar access to north facing courtyard
and living areas. Larger more usable courtyards

Before you buy, there are a number of other

important considerations:

Observe the potential for overshadowing, loss Living areas

of privacy and noise from neighbouring areas. Services

Bedroom Bedroom
Shadow impact is influenced by latitude, height
The cost and availability of power, gas,
and spread of trees and may affect the way the
Zero lot lines avoid wasting land phone, water supply, wastewater treatment
house is sited. and solid walls reduce noise transmission and garbage disposal are often overlooked
Identify vegetation that can be incorporated when buying a rural or remote site. These
into open space, used for wind protection services often cost as much as the house
or used as part of the site drainage system. N itself and can cause budget over runs or
Make it a priority to retain native vegetation Inefficient project cancellation. In such instances,
site design
where possible. [See: 2.5 Biodiversity On-site] renewable energy based systems for power
Small courtyard and limited solar access
supply, rainwater harvesting, eco-friendly waste-
Identify rare or endangered plant and animal
water treatment and waterless toilets become
species associated with the site. Your local field
extremely cost-effective solutions. Failure to
naturalist society will be able to help with this. Living areas allow an adequate budget for services often
Investigate the geology and topography of leads to shortcuts with water supply, wastewater

Bedroom Bedroom
the site. Is there a threat of landslide, soil slip treatment and energy supply. These have serious
or creep? Wasted open space. lifestyle and environmental consequences.
Windows have no outlook and allow noise transmission
Assess potential natural hazards such as
bushfire risk and flooding.
Identify any natural site drainage patterns Building to the boundary (also known as zero The construction of access roads onto rural
and determine how they can be maintained. lot line) improves efficiency by maximising the subdivisions can be extremely expensive if
Steeper sites usually generate more stormwater amount of useable outdoor space. Wasted wet ground, steep slopes or watercourses
run-off. space in the form of a narrow side passage are encountered. Maintenance of driveways
can be traded for greater space on the other can also be a considerable and ongoing
side of the house. This is particularly beneficial financial burden.
Efficient land use if the house is built on the south boundary as
it will increase the amount of open space with Good road or driveway design and
Efficient planning and land use reduces
a northerly aspect. [See: 2.3 Streetscape; 4.3 construction will reduce erosion and
embodied and operational energy costs
Orientation] sedimentation, minimise maintenance
for you and the entire community.
costs and guarantee all weather access.
Rectangular lots usually permit the most Good solar access is desirable in all but tropical [See: 2.8 Sediment Control]
efficient land use, particularly small lots climates, but the size, orientation and slope of
(less than 300m2). the block will affect it. Note existing sun and
shade patterns in relation to vegetation and
adjoining buildings. [See: 4.3 Orientation]
sustainable communities 26 2.2 CHOOSING A SITE

Fire Carefully consider the relationship between Be innovative and

the floor plan and the site, whether building adventurous but remain
Bushfire risk is always an important
or buying. Good indoor/outdoor relationships
consideration. A reliable water supply is sympathetic to the character
are a desirable aspect of lifestyle in all Australian
essential. It should not be dependent on grid of the neighbourhood.
electricity as this is usually the first thing to fail
in a bush fire. A large, permanently filled tank Where possible, avoid having your windows
on high ground (for gravity feed) is the best and outdoor living areas facing those of your
solution. Petrol fuelled water pumps are less neighbours.
reliable and may fail at the critical moment.
[See: 3.5 Bushfires]
Size matters
Choosing an appropriate size for your home
Transport is the most important step in controlling its
Motor vehicle costs are often a major drain on economic and environmental cost. Each square
household budget for rural dwellers. They also metre may cost you $1,200 or more to build
have a major environmental impact. and every year will cost more to light and heat.
It makes good sense to think carefully about the
space you need. Some points to consider are:
Choosing, Designing
> Do you need that extra bedroom?
or Altering a Plan

David Oppenheim
> Could you add it later if you do?
Make a checklist of not negotiable and
priority items and do not compromise. > Can you design for multi-functional spaces?
Make the real estate agents and sales
> How many living areas do you need?
people aware of your requirements.
> Do you need more than one bathroom? Would
Consider how your plan interacts with the site.
a well designed three way bathroom suffice? Sensitivity to neighbouring
Orient the home to maximise the benefits of developments
solar access, cooling breezes, summer shading > How much garage space? Do you want
and wind protection. [See: 4.3 Orientation] to devote 20 per cent of your house to
your car? Visual impact
Well designed rooms with clever storage Minimise your home’s visual impact
and carefully considered furnishing patterns by choosing:
can often allow a reduction in size of up to
> Appropriate materials.
30 per cent without loss of amenity.
> A form sympathetic to the precinct.
Poorly designed spaces are often difficult to
furnish due to door, window, heater locations > Appropriate bulk, height and style.
and traffic paths. Poor (or no) design is often
> Non reflective/low glare materials and
compensated for by allowing additional
Source: Amcord

space. This costs far more than the services

of a professional designer without the added > External colours most sympathetic to
benefits of a professionally designed home. the surroundings.

Ask your designer to consider how your Consider the effect your house will have on
furniture (existing or planned) will fit into each your neighbours’ solar access, visual and
room. Do a scale drawing and experiment acoustic privacy and views.
with your furniture placements before buying.
Avoid housing designs that significantly
Consider combining smaller separate living overshadow or overlook the main living areas
spaces into one larger multi-purpose space or garden space of neighbours.
with nooks and crannies for individual activities.
Avoid locating noisy areas (such as pools,
This can give a greater feeling of space while
driveways, service equipment) near the
A home designed to respond reducing floor area.
bedrooms or living areas of neighbours.
to site conditions can Build or buy your home for your needs. Avoid [See: 2.3 Streetscape; 2.7 Noise Control]
optimise lifestyle, improve the mistake of building for re-sale. Be confident
energy efficiency and protect that the home you like will be very saleable to
the quality of the natural people like you, if and when you sell it.
2.2 CHOOSING A SITE 27 sustainable communities

Specific Considerations Protecting the natural

Buying a project home
Your home can change the nature of a
> What is the best plan for your needs
site. Poor siting choices can be destructive.
on your site?
Good choices can enhance or even repair
> How can you alter standard plans to better a damaged site.
suit your needs?
Well sited housing will:
> Is the plan oriented on the block in the
> Retain habitat so that local flora and
best way?
fauna flourish.
> Will flipping or mirroring the plan improve it?
> Protect waterways from pollution including
> How can you correct any shortcomings? stormwater run-off.

> How much will this cost? > Reduce the threat of bushfire to the home.

> Maintain or improve soil and air quality.

Buying an existing home > Protect any valuable natural features

(vistas, ecosystems etc.).
> Does the plan suit your needs?
> Preserve existing culturally significant
Social impact > Can it be altered to accommodate
streetscapes and buildings.
your needs? How much will this cost?
A safe home, in a Neighbourhood Watch (Seek professional advice).
area, overlooking a well lit street or park
can help discourage crime. > Does it have solar access and access
to cooling breezes?
Consider how you can achieve visual privacy
when you want it while being able to interact > Can you prune or remove existing vegetation
with neighbours when you need to. blocking breezes and sun?

Though sometimes desirable for noise > Are outdoor living areas private? Consider
reduction, building a fortress can cut you adding a courtyard wall and new doors to
off from your community. link internal and external living areas.
Consider new planting for visual privacy.

> Consider renovating to achieve passive

heating or cooling. (Get professional advice).
Design or choose your house to respond to
> Where will your garbage and wastewater
the natural topography of the site and minimise
go? Check that the local council has good
the use of excavation and fill. This saves

Suntech Design
treatment systems.
energy, preserves natural drainage patterns
and prevents soil erosion. > Where will your water and energy come from?
Consider adding a rainwater tank or adding a
Excessive excavation can damage the
solar hot water service.
ecological integrity of the site and disturb
groundwater zones. > Check that good public transport is
When choosing a place to live, we sometimes
available and footpaths are installed and well
Investigate the underlying geology as it will visit a place of immense natural beauty, fall in
influence construction costs and energy used love with it and decide to live there, often with
in excavation. little thought of how this action may alter or
even destroy the very features that attracted us.
A geotechnical report is often requested by
your local council or your engineer. If in doubt, Consider how your desires and choices
obtain one. influence market forces and planning decisions.
Support and guide your planning authorities by
Stormwater, particularly overland flows, can
participating in development processes.
create severe problems. Check that the site
is not affected by stomwater entering from
neighbours’ gardens or downpipes before
buying. [See: 7.3 Rainwater; 7.5 Stormwater]
sustainable communities 28 2.2 CHOOSING A SITE

Minimise the impact of your home on the Native wild plant rescue services exist in
Additional reading
natural environment by considering its impact many areas. These groups will come to your
on local flora and fauna, water, soil and air site, remove any endangered plant species Contact your local council for further information on
quality, natural and cultural features. This need to a nursery and return them after construction choosing a site.
not add cost but simply requires forethought is complete (or sell them to others).
and careful choice of site. B EDP Environment Design Guide
The Wildlife Information and Rescue Service
Look for a site where your home will have (WIRES) in NSW, and similar organisations, GEN 1 RAIA Environment Policy (see supplementary
the lowest impact. Surprisingly, these sites will relocate endangered fauna. document).
DES8 Residential Sites – Analysis for Sustainability.
are often under-utilised areas (eg. infill
Flora Fauna impact studies are required DES9 Residential Sites – Sustainable Developments.
development in backyards) or remediated
by many local councils for larger developments.
industrial sites (eg. Newington Olympic Village).  ommonwealth of Australia, Australian Model Code
These should be conducted at a reduced
for Residential Development (AMCORD) (1995), AGPS
Medium and high density developments scale for smaller projects, especially in areas
are often best suited to sites requiring major with high natural heritage values or threatened
remedial work. Higher density means that species and ecosystems.  ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:
the cost of remedial work is shared between Inspirational designs for low-energy housing, Choice
more owners. Books, Australia.
Design for Climate Change
High-impact sites include sensitive bushland K ing, S., Rudder, D., Prasad, D., and Ballinger, J.
areas, flood-prone land, areas with poor Climate change is caused by an increase in (1996), Site Planning in Australia, Strategies for
greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. energy efficient residential planning, AGPS Canberra.
social and physical infrastructure, and historic
conservation areas. Scientific evidence has shown that global
Choose alternative sites or develop carefully warming has taken place over the last century, Principal author:
to minimise your impact. Design or choose and the most of the warming over the last Chris Reardon
a plan or construction system that suits the 50 years is attributable to human activities. Contributing author:
slope and minimises excavation. Future changes are projected to include: Caitlin McGee

> More extreme weather events such

as storms and cyclones.

> Temperature increases.

> More frequent droughts and floods.

As homes are designed with a 50 year life

expectancy (the best ones last for hundreds),
it makes sense to choose and design homes
that make allowance for climate change.

General principles include:

> Build well above historic flood levels.

> Design stormwater controls for more

intense rainfall.
Avoid choosing a site where substantial
> Plant gardens that will survive longer
clearing, earthworks or alteration of natural
dry periods.
watercourses is required.
> Generally design or choose homes
Existing native plants and fauna habitat should
appropriate for warmer and more
be retained where possible. Extensive removal
extreme weather conditions.
of vegetation can result in soil erosion and
reduction in soil quality.
2.3 STREETScape 29 sustainable communities

Streetscape is the term given to the >F
 ace houses towards streets, parks and open The following features make streets more livable
collective appearance of all buildings, spaces to allow improved surveillance and – safer, cleaner and more attractive:
footpaths and gardens along a street. access. This encourages better use of public
 nique houses that still fit together in a
The streetscape is the visual identity of space, promoting safety and community
consistent pattern so that no single house is
a neighbourhood and plays an important spirit. The orientation of the house should still
role in facilitating interaction between account for solar access considerations and
residents and creating a community. compromises may be necessary, particularly > Consistent alignment of house frontages.
on west facing blocks.
 egularly spaced tree planting on both sides
 imit the width of driveways and share them of the street to give it identity.
Well designed streetscapes where possible. This allows more of the street
 rivate garden landscapes that complement
encourage connection, frontage to be landscaped and provides a
the street planting.
understanding and community better environment for pedestrians.
spirit among residents. >P
 resent the house rather than the garage
 treets that give pedestrians and cyclists
priority and are designed to discourage
to the street. Generally, set garages and
Houses can be diverse in age, shape or style carports beyond the house frontage to
yet combine to create a community identity. minimise their visual impact. Where possible, >S
 treets in which the width of the carriageway
At the same time, a development that is not use secondary streets or rear lanes for car relates to traffic volume and is not wider than
sympathetic to the existing streetscape can access. This allows more landscaping at the necessary.
significantly detract from the character of the street frontage and establishes a direct visual
neighbourhood. connection between the house and the street
for security.

 lant trees to enhance the quality of the
street. Good tree cover increases property
Mirvac Lend Lease Village Consortium

values and provides improved shade, habitat,

windbreaks, air quality and appearance.

 void high walls and hedges on the front
boundary as they isolate the home from the
neighbourhood. They create a perception
of isolation and impede observation of the
Newington Village.
 ccommodate your neighbour’s field of view.
Utilise appropriate building setbacks and Michael Shaw

building height to retain your neighbour’s view

Community, Streetscape
while maximising your own.
and Planning
When designing a new home or renovation
there are a number of ways to contribute to an What to look for in a street >G
 arages that don’t dominate the street
improved community identity: Streets should be part of our living space and frontage.

> Understand the character of your local a common area for the community, equal to > Driveway crossovers of minimum width.
area, and design your home or renovation the park and the footpath. The road itself is
more than a racetrack. A good street is one in >F
 ences and walls of an alignment, height and
accordingly. Your home should look like
which you can chat with your neighbour without style consistent with others in the street.
it belongs in the neighbourhood. Use
characteristic attributes (for example building having to shout over traffic noise, or worry >P
 avements that are porous or modular where
height, street setback, form and materials) to about your safety and that of small children. possible to encourage stormwater infiltration.
compose your innovative design solutions.
 lear sight lines between house entrances
and the street, providing visual surveillance of
the street to maximise neighbourhood safety.
sustainable communities 30 2.3 STREETScape

> Underground services, as this removes Good streetscape design >L

 ow walls to integrate mail boxes and shield
unsightly power lines and does not impede bins and recycling facilities from the street.
Creating a sympathetic building design and
street tree growth.
additions to fit in with the streetscape does not
> Solar street lights, as this indicates local mean that neighbouring house designs must be
council commitment to sustainable imitated. It implies being conscious of the area’s
infrastructure. natural environment, heritage significance,
density, style and social and cultural mix.

Source: Amcord
Good house design allows
individuality without
detracting from the character
of the street or the amenity
of neighbours.
Envirotecture Projects

Visit your local council for guidelines specific

to your area. Council planners understand
the features that give a precinct its individual >L
 andscaping to enhance the quality of the
character and are trained to help you find streetscape. Plants can be used to screen or
solutions that meet your needs without direct views, provide shade, clean the air and
destroying that character. give visual identity to a street.

 arden planting which considers the rhythm
Streetscape’s Value Solutions include:
and proportion of existing street planting
Attractive and functional streetscapes > Complementary materials and colours. (intervals between trees, height and spread).
increase residents‘ quality of life and their Plant fewer big trees rather than many small
> Roof pitch to maintain consistency
property values. trees.
with the neighbouring houses.
The streetscape should encourage community >P
 lanting species that won’t damage
> Bulk, form and height sympathetic to
interaction and exchange. People who feel footpaths, structures or drainage or invade
the character of the street
isolated from society are more likely to behave adjacent bushland.
in a manner detrimental to the needs of the > Passive visual surveillance to discourage
crime. Provide outlook over the street and >P
 lanting native species which require less
public space from at least one room other water and provide a habitat for native
An effective streetscape should therefore animals. Many local councils provide lists of
than a bathroom or bedroom.
convey a sense of openness and sharing while local indigenous plant species.
offering a degree of privacy.

Elements like trees and footpaths encourage

pedestrian activity, which reinforces social
interaction and provides casual surveillance of
Source: Amcord

the street.

A streetscape that looks inviting is more likely

to encourage people to live there, increasing
demand and property prices.

> Consistent street fencing, which does not

isolate the house from the street. New
Mirvac Lend Lease Village Consortium

fences and walls should balance privacy

requirements with the need for a visual
connection with the street.
2.3 STREETScape 31 sustainable communities

Be a good neighbour > Avoid locating noisy areas (such as pools,

driveways, and service equipment) near the
There are a number of ways to be a good
bedrooms or living areas of neighbours.
neighbour. These include:
Driveways and parking areas should be at
> Offset windows to ensure maximum privacy. least three metres from bedroom windows.

> Protect as much as possible any significant

views enjoyed by neighbouring properties.

Additional reading

Contact your State / Territory government or local

council for further information on streetscapes.

B EDP Environment Design Guide

> Use of landscaping and other devices to
GEN 17 Urban Planning for Sustainability.
selectively screen views. GEN 55 Mental Landscapes – The Forgotten Element
> Protect acoustic privacy by careful siting of Sustainable Design.
and internal planning. Locate bedrooms and DES8 Residential Sites – Analysis for Sustainability.
DES9 Residential Sites – Sustainable Developments.
private open space away from noise sources
such as service equipment, busy roads,  ommonwealth of Australia, Australian Model Code
driveways or active recreational areas. for Residential Development (AMCORD) (1995), AGPS
> Avoid directly overlooking your neighbour’s
main living areas or garden space by  ay, C (2004), Places of the Soul: Architecture and
careful location and design of windows and Environmental Design as a Healing Art, Architectural
balconies. Press, Oxford.

E ngwicht, D (1992), Towards and Ecocity: Calming

the Traffic, Envirobook, Sydney.

Principal author:
Scott Woodcock
Contributing authors:
Source: Amcord

Steve Shackel
Chris Reardon

> Avoid building in a way that significantly

overshadows the main living areas or garden
space of neighbours.
sustainable communities 32 2.4 SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPES

Sustainable Landscapes
The great thing about sustainable do many things including providing practical to replace the productive capacity of the land
landscapes is that they can simultaneously solutions to reducing water use through water taken up by a new building.
address aesthetics and amenity, water sensitive design and as part of a wastewater
Sustainable landscape may be used to
management, air quality, passive design, treatment system.
control salination, help take up carbon dioxide
climate modification, biodiversity habitat
Sustainable landscape design is an approach and contribute to restoring and maintaining
creation and local food production.
to designing and constructing the artificial biodiversity. The location of vegetation can
There are literally hundreds of definitions landscapes that surround our buildings. Ideally influence choices about building orientation:
for ‘sustainable’ but the basic idea is that if these landscapes should maintain themselves a tree may shade part of a site and limit solar
something is sustainable it can keep going and survive by being part of the natural cycles access but be an essential part of retaining soil,
indefinitely. Natural systems have been of the local environment. providing habitat and creating shelter.
operating successfully for millions of years.
In many cases this means finding out what the
Nothing made by humans can do that.
original local environment was like. This is often When choosing a site,
Sustainable landscapes are concerned with difficult, as in our cities and even in rural areas take account of existing
the planning and design of outdoor space. It the landscape was significantly changed after
vegetation for windbreaks,
is important to consider the landscape as an European settlement.
integral part of your home’s sustainable designs.
shading and views.
Sustainable landscape means putting back
The scope of design of outdoor space may much of what was in place before development.
range from revegetation of a large bush block It may also mean introducing things that were Design landscaping to be experienced inside
to the detailed design of small courtyard spaces not there before. and out. Sustainable landscaping can be
intimately linked to a sustainable home. The employed to create shade, or to enhance or
extent and type of vegetation is obviously frame views. It can be attractive to look at and
important but sustainable landscape design can SITE also provide privacy from surrounding buildings.
It can also supply food and help create pleasant
Sustainable landscaping is about more than
areas for recreation. [See: 2.2 Choosing a Site;
planting Australian natives, it is about designing
2.5 Biodiversity On-site]
landscapes to fit the new ecology created
when buildings are constructed. It can include In recent years the definition of a sustainable
food producing gardens irrigated by captured landscape has evolved to include landscape
stormwater and landscaping practices like elements that are literally part of a building.
Edwina Richardson

permaculture. Many extensive green roofs are constructed

specifically to support native and indigenous
Sustainable landscaping includes such
vegetation as part of a wider strategy for
diverse approaches as restoring creeks where
enhancing or replacing the natural biodiversity
This garden has been planted with local wetland plants development has trammeled or annihilated
of a place or region. Often this kind of roof
and attracts frogs, dragon flies and local birds. their previous course, or creating roof gardens

This street needs ... A pump to take An airconditioner to A device to capture A dust catcher and air filter
up stormwater improve the climate carbon dioxide

Shade from ultraviolet radiation Wildlife habitat Something decorative? And low maintenance! This street needs trees!
2.4 SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPES 33 sustainable communities

greening strategy is also geared towards Native birds and reptiles can be protected from WATER
providing habitat for threatened or endangered cats by keeping the cats indoors or in purpose
A house covers ground that was once
species. Depending on their context, function, built enclosures.
productive natural landscape where rain soaked
vegetation types and watering regimes, green
Growing fruit and vegetables is a way of into the soil to support vegetation. Its roof can
walls can be seen as legitimate contributions
reducing our ecological footprint. Most be used to capture rainwater that can then be
to the creation of a sustainable landscape
vegetables and fruit require fertile soils with used to irrigate new vegetation, perhaps even
and may even be integrated into wastewater
good drainage, regular watering and moderate on a roof garden or balcony. Capturing water
treatment systems. [See: 5.13 Green Roofs and
amounts of sunlight depending upon the this way also reduces the release of stormwater
climatic zone. Vegetable gardens can generally to the street. [See: 5.13 Green Roofs and Walls;
be provided in raised garden beds with the 7.3 Rainwater]
Growing plants addition of home made compost and well
Low water-use vegetation or ‘xeriscape’ can
rotted animal manures. Fruit and vegetables
Sustainable landscapes use plants which greatly reduce the need for supplementary
generally require regular drip irrigation.
perform well in the local area. Avoid native garden watering. Indigenous species are usually
or exotic plants that are weedy in your Lawn is a common feature in Australian the best for the low rainfall conditions found in
region. Suitable plants may include native landscapes but it generally requires high much of Australia. [See: 7.6 Outdoor Water Use]
and indigenous plants, as well as exotics levels of water, fertilisers and energy to
Vegetation can even take up effluent via sub-
(non-Australian plants) from similar climatic maintain its appearance. These impacts can
surface irrigation, especially in outer urban and
zones. Plants should ideally perform well be minimised by:
rural sites. [See: 7.4 Wastewater Re-use]
once established on existing soils and existing > Removing lawn and replacing it with a mix
rainfall patterns without the need for excessive The use of water bodies like ponds and water
of groundcovers and non-woody plants and
watering, soil modification and intensive features can be integrated into a sustainable
permeable surfaces such as gravel.
maintenance regimes. landscape solution as part of an overall water
> Reducing the extent of lawn and increasing management system and as part of the passive
What is the difference between ‘native’ and the area of hardy garden beds. climate response strategy for your home.
‘indigenous’? In general terms, native plants are
all plants from Australia. Indigenous plants are > Substituting exotic grass species with
drought tolerant low maintenance native
those specific to a particular place. LANDSCAPE MATERIALS
grasses that retain the appearance of a
A sustainable garden uses a wide range of conventional lawn. Landscape materials account for much of
plants from different structural categories, such the embodied energy in a landscape project.
as trees, screening shrubs, medium shrubs, Synthetic grass products are an inappropriate
Consider reusing existing site materials such
low shrubs, groundcovers, strappy plants choice for sustainable landscapes. Non-living,
as pavers and excavated rocks. Employ
and grasses, climbers, perennials and bulbs. synthetic plant substitutes diminish, rather than
recycled materials wherever possible such as
Structural diversity will encourage wildlife into add to biodiversity. They are products of mining
crushed brick/ concrete, recycled timber and
the landscape and prickly plants will provide and a great deal of water and energy are used
products like recycled glass. Where recycled
shelter for small birds. Ensure wildlife are not in their manufacture.
timber is unavailable use sustainably managed
compromised by domestic pets. plantation timber or timber composite products
in preference to imported rainforest timbers.
Avoid excessive amounts of paving which can
contribute to microclimate heating and reduced
site permeability. Following the saying “only
pave where you sit, stand and walk!”

In a healthy house the inside and outside
are designed to work together. Sustainable
landscaping helps to maintain a healthy internal
and external environment. Vegetation can be
used to filter air from outside whilst indoor air
quality is improved by selection of appropriate
plants – some are able to take toxins like
formaldehyde out of the air. [See: 3.3 The
Healthy Home]

Vegetation can create buffers and filters for

wind and dust control.
Edwina Richardson

A mix of native and exotic hardy plants replace lawn at this Canberra display home.
sustainable communities 34 2.4 SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPES

RESTORATION ECOLOGY only healthy food but reduce your household’s

ecological footprint.
Particularly challenging sites occur where there
is little ecological value or pre-existing ecology In dry regions consider creating a small mini-
has been destroyed. In such cases a substantial oasis which can provide passive cooling to the
contribution to creating a sustainable landscape house. Locate this area on the cooler side of
can be made by restoring as much as possible the building which receives evening breezes.
of the original ecosystem and increasing Incorporate moisture loving plants, a water
the ecological value of the site. [See: 2.9 feature, permeable paving and water harvesting
Challenging Sites] methods in this space.

Such strategies are particularly pertinent to

urban sites where, very often, all the indigenous
vegetation has been removed for development.
The movement to replace elements of original Sustainable landscapes have much smaller
living landscapes now extends to the public energy and water use impacts than traditional
realm. In choosing a site, consider the wider landscape designs but they still require
landscape and neighbourhood environment. management. Native gardens and the use of
Paul Downton

[See: 2.2 Choosing a Site] hardy plants can create environments that
consume little water other than that provided
If you don’t have a large garden space or
by rainfall. Even then, there is no such thing
want to contribute to restoring the landscape
Look for a neighbourhood where sustainable as a maintenance-free landscape. Anything
landscape approaches are encouraged. as part of compensating for off-site impacts,
that has been artificially created for human
consider participating in native landscape and
purposes requires on-going maintenance and
ecosystem restoration projects run by not-for-
this should be factored into the overall picture
A new science of ‘biophilia’ profit organisations like Trees For Life in SA and
of any home design.
Men of the Trees in WA. Many tree planting and
(love of nature) is developing
revegetation programs are also intended to
from the recognition that
compensate for carbon emissions. [See: 1.4
vegetation and natural Carbon Neutral; 5.4 Biodiversity Off-site] ADDITIONAL reading
environments have a
Byrne, J (2006), The Green Gardener: sustainable
measurable impact on our gardening in your own backyard, Viking Press, New
psychological health. York.

 hadwick, D (1999), Australian Native Gardening

Made Easy, Little Hills Press, Adelaide.

ENERGY  en of the Trees

Appropriate landscaping can enhance passive
 ollison, B (1988), Permaculture – A Designers
heating and cooling. Used as an integral part Manual, Tagari, Sisters Creek, Tasmania.
of passive design strategies, windbreaks can
Edwina Richardson

reduce wind chill or the impact of hot winds. Mollison, B (1991), Introduction to Permaculture,
Tagari, Sisters Creek, Tasmania.
Vegetation can cool and filter air as part of a
passive cooling strategy. [See: 4.2 Design for S ullivan, C (2002), Garden and Climate, McGraw-Hill,
Climate; 4.4 Shading; 4.6 Passive Cooling] New York.
This dry creek bed is composed of waste rock
Shading needs to be seasonal and is best excavated from a building site and obtained from a S ustainable Gardening Australia
provided by deciduous plants. Australia has few local landscape supplier.
deciduous native trees (the Toona australis or T hompson, J and Sorvig K (2000), Sustainable
so called Red Cedar is one). Other ‘deciduous’ Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building
CLIMATE CHANGE Outdoors, Island Press, Washington DC.
natives such as Brachychiton lose their leaves
in summer and therefore can not moderate Consider the predicted changes for your region
T hompson, P (2002), Australian Planting Design,
solar penetration to suit passive design. It is and adapt your landscape accordingly. To cope Lothian Books, Port Melbourne, Victoria.
best to assume that most native vegetation with increased temperatures increase shade
protection to homes using trees, large shrubs T rees for Life
will give permanent or semi-permanent shade.
[See: 2.5 Biodiversity On-site; 7.6 Outdoor to shade walls and climbers. Where space is
Water Use] limited use shade structures with climbers to  olverton, B (1996), Ecofriendly House Plants – 50
reduce outdoor and building temperatures. indoor plants that purify the air in homes and offices,
Captured rainwater or treated wastewater Weidenfeld and Nicolson, UK.
Ensure the landscape has sufficient permeable
can be used to irrigate deciduous plants that surfaces to cope with increased rainfall events. Principal Author:
contribute directly to a building’s passive solar Capturing water in rainwater tanks and through Paul Downton
performance. greywater recycling will ensure water is available
Contributing Author:
to sustain plants during drought periods.
Edwina Richardson
Organic vegetable gardens will provide not
2.5 BIODIVERSITY ON-SITE 35 sustainable communities

Biodiversity On-site
Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms The smaller the untouched ecosystems and the Avoid Sensitive Areas
– the different plants, animals and micro- greater the intensity of development around the
Wherever possible, choose a site that has
organisms, the genes they contain, and edges, the faster these destructive elements
already been permanently cleared.
the ecosystems of which they form a part. can cause a loss of habitat quality.
All development can play a role in protecting Growth corridors and the fringes of cities
In some coastal areas the degrading influence
and restoring biodiversity and ecological and towns often support native vegetation.
of residential development may also extend to
processes. Although some of these grassland, woodland,
nearby foreshore and marine ecosystems.
bushland and heathland communities may be
This fact sheet should be read in conjunction
Some ecosystems, especially grasslands degraded, they could contain a wealth of native
with 5.4 Biodiversity Off-site which covers the
and heathlands, are changed significantly by plants and animals. Waterways may still be in
lifecycle impact of your design and material
inappropriate fire regimes. Conflicts between good enough condition to provide habitat for
choices, and 2.2 Choosing a Site.
ecological burning requirements and the need native species.
to protect residential development within or
Some degraded areas may be important
Threats To Biodiversity adjacent to these areas are difficult to resolve.
because they have been earmarked for
Land clearance can pose a threat to habitat restoration.
biodiversity. Residential development, especially Strategic Approach
in growth corridors, city fringes and holiday
Objectives for conservation of
towns often involves the clearing of native
biodiversity include: Identify Site
> Retaining native vegetation and increasing Values and Threats
Even so-called sensitive development poses
its quality and area wherever possible. Identify flora and fauna, potential threats and
risks to the integrity of remaining natural
ecosystems. Habitat degradation occurs with > Recovering threatened communities and ways of avoiding or minimising impacts as
the introduction of pest plants and animals. species. early as possible in the project. The extent
The construction of buildings and roads alters of the development and the sensitivity of
> Preventing rare species from becoming the environment will dictate the amount of
drainage patterns and soil structure, while
threatened. information needed.
altered nutrient levels from run-off and septic
tanks can also cause other long term problems. > Repairing ecological processes. In situations where significant impacts are likely,
Replanting cleared sites is definitely no a flora and fauna survey may be necessary.
substitute for leaving native vegetation intact. A nature conservation consultant may be useful
Once land is cleared it is almost impossible at this stage.
to recover the full suite of indigenous species,
remove introduced species and restore
ecological processes. Adopt Conservation
Design for Find out if aspects of federal and state
Biodiversity Benefit legislation apply and if the planning scheme
contains policies that affect your site. There
Build biodiversity conservation objectives into
may also be biodiversity plans at the state,
your planning and design approach from the
bioregional or catchment level. The planning
outset. You may be able to find innovative ways
department of your local council should be able
to make a positive contribution.
to advise you.
Design to minimise the use of water, land, non-
cleared,Hideaway! Sele recycled materials, toxic chemicals and energy.
a natura secluded bl ctively
escarpme l setting. Spock in These actions can help reduce impacts on
frontage nt views.Off ectacular
private. to state fo sealed roads, biodiversity. [See: 5.4 Biodiversity off-site]
Existing Power and ph rest. Absolute
Gold fo quaint cott one available. ly
ssiking age.Floo
d free.
sustainable communities 36 2.5 BIODIVERSITY ON-SITE

Case Study: Termeil >P

 aying bonuses for best practice by >R
 educing footings in number to minimise
Guesthouse contractors and imposing penalties for impact and hand excavating to avoid
breaches. sedimentation and damage
The guesthouse is located on the NSW by machinery.
South Coast required cabins to be built in
a remnant rainforest area. Recognising that For Termeil Guesthouse, an eight part flora
any development on the site would have and fauna impact study was carried out by a
some impact, the designers and the owners local consultant to identify important species,
set about minimising that impact. existing habitat and wildlife corridors.
A bridge over an existing creek was required A detailed site survey was conducted to
for site access. The bridge site was chosen identify all trees, clearings and contours.
to avoid the removal of trees and the bridge,
designed to clearspan the watercourse, A development plan was prepared on the
used recycled timbers. basis of the flora and fauna impact report.

Wildlife corridors between remnant forest Topsoil was stockpiled at Termeil

and the creek were protected and extended Guesthouse, and used for landscaping the
with new plantings grown from seeds from disturbed areas. Native understorey plants
the site. were salvaged.
Roadways were tightly curved to slow traffic Weeds and other non-native plants were
for wildlife safety. removed from the cleared area where they
had flourished under the broken canopy.

Completed bridge.

Termeil Guesthouse Site and landscape plan

Remnant forest
Existing clearing
The original clearing. and buildings

Termeil Guesthouse was restricted to an Existing clearing

existing clearing which had overgrown with
non-native species.

The development plan for Termeil

Remnant forest
Guesthouse included:
and creek
Car park
> Retaining all native trees, although some
undergrowth was cleared for bridge
> Restricting clearing to a three metre only
radius around the building footprint (note
fire regulations may limit the potential for New
maintaining indigenous vegetation on many corridor
sites). [See: 3.5 Bushfires] Remnant forest
> Incidental activities (parking cars, piling wildlife
materials and rubbish and washing corridor

equipment were restricted to parking areas

and surrounded by well designed sediment Cabins 4 and 5 have pedestrian access only to ensure that new wildlife corridors are not compromised by vehicles.
control barriers.

> Engaging a builder who was sensitive to

the aims and objectives of the project.
2.5 BIODIVERSITY ON-SITE 37 sustainable communities

Minimise Damage On Site Compensating

> Retain as much native vegetation as possible.
the Environment
View the uncleared areas as a resource to be You may like to compensate for impacts on
conserved. biodiversity by contributing to a recovery
program or habitat restoration project. Find
> Avoid unnecessary disturbance to vegetation
out what the biodiversity priorities are from
and soil. Limit clearing outside the building
your state or local government, so that your
footprint. Vehicle tracks, workers’ carparking,
contribution will be as well targeted as possible.
rubbish dumps and wash sites should be

Suntech Design
located away from native vegetation and
Additional reading
> Retain significant habitat trees including
Contact your State / Territory government or local
dead trees with hollow limbs or trunks which
Termeil Guesthouse collected seed stock council for further information on biodiversity in
provide essential shelter and breeding sites your local area.
from the best specimens on site and for many animals.
grew seedlings in their nursery during
construction, ready for planting on > Consider your effects on waterways. Ensure B EDP Environment Design Guide
completion. that silt, lime, cement, paint and chemicals do GEN 3 Biodiversity and the Built Environment.
not wash into drains or nearby watercourses. DES 45 Biodiversity in Landscape Design.
The three metre building zone was
turfed to stabilise soil until fire retardant E nvironmental Weeds, Australian Government
native (to the site) groundcovers became Sympathetic Landscaping
> Rehabilitate disturbed areas with saved
No other landscaping was required topsoil and salvaged plants. Principal author:
around the building site. Kathy Preece
> Consider using indigenous species in the
The result was an instant, low water, garden. There are usually nurseries that
self maintaining garden and significant specialise in native species that belong to
savings in landscaping bills. the area. It is best to use plants grown from
local provenance seed, as they will not mix
The cabin was finished one week after
genes from other areas into the local gene
the builder left the site.
pool of the species. An indigenous garden
Source: Suntech Design requires much less watering and provides a
link between your home and the ecosystem
in which you live.

> Maintain links between adjacent bush and

your garden. Many animals, especially birds,
invertebrates and small lizards, may be able
to use your garden for habitat resources.

> Do not use environmental weeds in the

garden. There are many garden plants that
spread into native vegetation and contribute
to the decline of biodiversity. They are still
sold in most nurseries, so you need to
check with a reliable source.
sustainable communities 38 2.6 TRANSPORT

Some of the most important decisions you Australians produce more Promoting urban villages helps us counter
can make regarding the energy consumed motor vehicle pollution per car-dependent sprawl and its many negative
by your household relate to transport. Where impacts. Some of these impacts are:
capita than almost any other
will you live? Is there good public transport?
country. Twice as much as > Greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise
Will you have to buy a second car?
Europeans and many times pollution.
You may have an energy efficient home but still more than people in Tokyo. > Pollution and waste from manufacturing
be a high energy household if you rely heavily
and disposing of cars.
on your car. Transport is a crucial ingredient in
the good design of homes, neighbourhoods > Communities divided and fragmented
and cities. by roads.

> Cost burden of car ownership and poor

access for non car owners.
Smart cities throughout the
> Flooding and water pollution created by
world are designed to have
run-off from impervious road surfaces.
low rates of motor car use and
Colin Bell Photographer
high quality of life. The same > Loss of valuable bushland and farmland to
can apply to your household. roads and car parks.

> Depletion of finite oil reserves.

> High cost of roads and related services.

Urban Villages
Community ties are strengthened by community
> Car accident deaths and injuries.
To reduce the environmental, social and interaction at meeting places near the village
economic impact of your transport, think centre. Local shops and small businesses Australian cities require five car parking spaces
carefully about where you should live. Avoid the benefit from community support. Natural areas per vehicle on average. In Los Angeles, 70 per
sprawling car-dependent suburbs and choose are protected and quality public spaces created cent of the surface area of the city is dedicated
an urban village with good access to public and maintained. This kind of development can to the motor vehicle.
transport. promote a sense of community and help reduce
car use.
The main characteristic of an urban village is Benefits Of
increased density of development around public Sustainable Transport
transport facilities. Walking, cycling and public Older parts of cities that developed in the
transport are used instead of cars. Road space By walking, cycling and using public transport
pre-car era exhibit many of the good qualities
and car parking are restricted and traffic speed you will benefit in many ways:
of urban villages.
and volume are controlled. > You can enjoy meeting and interacting with
In urban villages, street layout should be simple, people while walking or riding a bus or train.
Problems of
facilitating the easy movement of pedestrians, > You will save money on transport.
Car Dependency
cyclists and buses.
> Your homes, neighbourhoods and cities will
look better.
Australian homes on average
produce around 14 tonnes of
greenhouse gases each year
and more than a third of this
comes from cars.
2.6 TRANSPORT 39 sustainable communities

> A brief walk to the bus or train each day can >W
 ork from home. Avoid the commute every
improve your health and lower stress levels. now and then by 'telecommuting’. It will
reduce your stress levels, add variety to
> Increasing road capacity attracts more traffic,
your work routine and allow you to perform
cancelling the benefits of increased capacity.
some home duties and spend time with
Building more roads is not the answer to our
your children while working. It is good for
transport problems!
your neighbourhood as you can provide
surveillance against crime during weekdays.

TravelSmart Australia
Deciding Where >D
 rive smoothly. Minimise acceleration and
to Live and Work braking. This will reduce noise, air pollution
You can reduce car travel and help create a and accidents. Erratic, aggressive driving
market demand for urban villages by living in an creates a stressful and dangerous city.
established area close to public transport and >M
 aintain your car regularly. You will reduce
other urban services. In deciding where to live Your Day-To-Day
noise and air pollution if you ensure that
and work, you should consider the following Travel Behaviour your car's engine and muffler are operating
questions: The design of your home, choice of effectively.
> Are you within walking distance of public neighbourhood and your day-to-day travel
 hoose a small car. Driving an unnecessarily
transport, shops, schools and other urban behaviour are important elements of your
large and heavy car such as an off road
services? lifestyle.
vehicle in the city wastes fuel and creates
> Can you commute to work without a car? For unnecessary noise and air pollution. Consider
most of us, the work commute is the most renting a specialised car for the occasions
In built up areas during peak when you need to carry a large load or drive
significant component of weekly travel.
periods, trains and bicycles off road.
> Are you close to work? If so you will save can be faster than cars –
 se the most environmentally friendly fuels.
hours of travel and free up time for activities particularly if time taken to Leaded petrol creates more greenhouse
you enjoy. find parking is considered. gases than LPG and ethanol.
> Is your community vibrant? Find opportunities
to participate in community activities. These >S
 hop locally and buy locally made goods.
Here are some ideas for improving your This reduces the extent of your travel and
might range from formal meetings on
lifestyle while reducing the impact of your you are helping to create urban villages
transport issues to local art classes or just
transport needs: by reinforcing local social and economic
chatting to neighbours.
> Use your car less. Where location demands linkages.
> On a street that has light vehicular traffic,
that you own a car, then limit the number
there is generally more social interaction and
of cars in your household. This will reduce
neighbourhood activity.
parking impacts and compel members of the Every year, around
household to plan their trips more carefully. 1500 people die on
> Share car ownership and car trips. You can
Australia’s roads from car
share journeys by taking on passengers, related accidents.
riding as a passenger with others or by
participating in formal ride sharing schemes.

> Combine multiple car trips into a single trip.

With a little planning, this can significantly
reduce the extent of your car travel.
High car use low pedestrian street.
> If buying a new car look for the fuel
consumption label that will tell you how
economical the car is. This label is now
mandatory for all new cars, four wheel
drives and light commercial
vehicles. Choosing the more
economical model will save
you money and reduce your
greenhouse gas emissions.
Low car use high pedestrian street.
Consider a hybrid petrol/electric
car to further reduce your
greenhouse gas emissions.
sustainable communities 40 2.6 TRANSPORT

Working With Your > Comment on development proposals. Your >F

 ront yards without car parking areas create
Neighbourhood local council is also continually approving new a more attractive streetscape. [See: 2.3
and Local council developments that can significantly influence Streetscape]
your neighbourhood. You can comment on
You can work with your local council and how (or whether) developments should be
neighbours to reduce car use and promote a approved in the interests of promoting more
healthier community. This work could include: livable communities. Residential


Designing a House or
Apartment Building Retail Off-street

If you are building or renovating a house or Lively streetscape

apartment, you should consider the following
transport-related design elements: > Siting shops and residences instead of
 void a line-up of garage doors along the car parking at the street level frontage of
street. apartment buildings will retain activity on the
street and enhance the streetscape.
> Minimise the number of on-site spaces. It is
best to eliminate the need for on-site parking
Additional reading
altogether. You can do this by not owning a
> Traffic calming. Widen footpaths, install speed car, or by parking on the street if possible. Contact your State / Territory government or local
humps, roundabouts and landscaped strips. By minimising on-site parking, you will reduce council for further information on sustainable
Introduce local speed restrictions and road the extent of paved areas and extend your transport options in your local area.
closures. These not only serve to slow traffic, garden space. You will also reduce the
but can transform your traffic-ravaged street number of driveways crossing footpaths, E ngwicht, D (1999), Street Reclaiming: Creating
into a friendly and attractive space shared which is safer for children and pedestrians Livable Streets and Vibrant Communities, Pluto Press,
by local residents, pedestrians, cyclists and generally. Sydney.
motorists alike.
 inimise the extent of paving. Driveways B EDP Environment Design Guide
> Organise or participate in street parties, should be kept as short and narrow as GEN 45 Urban Development Accessibility and
markets and festivals. They are fun, allow possible and be only partially paved to Transport in Australia.
residents to reclaim their streets, strengthen minimise stormwater run-off. GEN 46 Changing the Signs, Making Connections.
the community, promote pride of place and DES 16 Transport – Design Strategies, Sustainable
> Locate on-site spaces appropriately. While Metropolitan.
increase opportunities for social interaction.
parking at the side or rear of a house is DES 46 Urban Forms – The Impact of Transports.
> Develop a neighbourhood traffic reduction recommended to avoid an unsightly line
plan. This involves residents reorganising their of garages facing the street, this does Newman P (1999), Sustainability and Cities:
Overcoming Automobile Dependence, Island Press,
travel behaviour to reduce their car use. In add to the extent of driveways and paved
order to reduce car travel by others on your areas (except if there is rear access). On-
street, you must first make an effort to reduce site parking for apartments should also be S treet Reclaimers
your car travel on others' streets. minimised, and while it should be located
underground, this adds to the embodied
> Participate in strategic planning. Local S ustainable Transport, Australian Government
energy of construction.
councils have to consider a wide range of
issues in the decision making process and > Allow space for bicycle storage. This could
a decision that is right for one part of the include a dedicated bicycle storage area Principal author:
community could be wrong for another. or space in the garage. Consider space Kendall Banfield
Councils are continually developing strategic saving, inexpensive options for storing
Contributing authors:
plans and policies that influence transport and and securing your bicycle, such as wall Caitlin McGee
your environment. These include pedestrian mounted bicycle racks. Steve Shackel
and cycle-way plans and car parking policies.
Your participation can help council in its
decision making processes.

> Participate in a local car sharing scheme.

Avoid short car trips – your

car generates 40 per cent
more greenhouse gases per
km when cold. Walk or ride
a bicycle instead.
2.7 NOISE CONTROL 41 sustainable communities

Noise control
Noise can interfere with sleep, rest and Communities usually agree about what noise >S
 hop locally and buy locally made products
conversation and cause fatigue, irritability, volumes are acceptable and what are not to reduce freight travel.
headaches and stress. We all need to but there are several subjective elements
 eport noisy vehicles.
contain and reduce noise in order to enjoy a that determine our response to noise. Our
healthy life. Thoughtful design and practice perception of noise is affected by subjective Work with your neighbourhood, local council,
can reduce the impact of noise on our factors. These include the type of noise, our community organisations and government to
lives and improve the quality of our living mood, the time of day, background noise levels create more livable communities with reduced
environment. and our expectations. traffic noise. Central to this is the creation
of urban villages based on public transport,
walking, cycling, traffic calming and other traffic
Neighbourhood noise Options to reduce noise reduction initiatives. [See: 2.6 Transport]
Common sources of neighbourhood noise Recognising these subjective factors helps
include: us determine when others are creating noise
unfairly and how to respond. If neighbourhood Surveys show that noise is an
> Road, rail and aircraft traffic.
noise is a genuine problem for you there are important environmental concern
> Air conditioners, refrigeration units. some actions you can take: for most Australians. Many
> TVs and stereos. > Choose a quiet neighbourhood. people complain that traffic noise
has the greatest direct impact.
> Burglar and car alarms. > Reduce the noise by talking it over with
whoever is causing the problem, or by
> Household appliances.
lodging a complaint.
> Dogs and other animals.
> Block the noise with barriers, sound absorbent Noise in Buildings
> Industrial premises and backyard workshops. materials and appropriate home design. Non-traffic related noise complaints are rising,
> Music from houses, commercial premises > Minimise your own contribution to particularly in medium and high density housing
and concerts. neighbourhood noise. areas. Many new medium and high density
developments are unnecessarily noisy.
> Road and building maintenance and > Carry out noisy activities during the day.
construction. It can be very difficult or expensive to do
> Inform your neighbours whenever you need anything about a noise nuisance after a house
Sound pressure level is measured in decibels to generate noise, such as a party at home. is built or purchased. Consider potential noise
(dB) and some typical values are given below.
> Design your home to minimise noise transfer problems before you buy, build or renovate.
to your neighbours. Ask for design specifications for noise
Sound level (dB) Perception Example
levels before buying a multi residential unit and
120 Extreme jet take off at 100 m ask your solicitor to link them to your contract
Traffic noise
110 Pop group as a performance measure. This will give you
100 Loud car horn For most Australians road noise is the most more options if you discover a problem after
important neighbourhood noise issue as it moving in.
90 Very loud heavy traffic
affects a high proportion of the population, and
80 Noisy office Part 3.8.6 of BCA Volume Two contains sound
the problem is growing as traffic levels increase.
insulation requirements and technical solutions
70 Loud busy street [See: 2.6 Transport]
for separating walls and floors for single
60 Average office Minimise the impact of traffic noise on your dwellings.
50 Noisy normal conversation home – and your contribution to the problem:
40 Moderate quiet office > Cycle or walk, rather than drive.
30 Quiet conversation
> Buy a quiet car, and drive it less.
20 Quiet room
> Drive slowly and calmly and maintain your car.
10 Very faint normal breathing
0 Threshold of hearing
sustainable communities 42 2.7 NOISE CONTROL

The following design sound levels are The table below outlines what this means in Place screens such as fences, trees and
recommended for an inner suburban house. practice for building elements. hedges between the noise source and your
home. Place driveways/garages away from
Recommended design levels bedrooms and living rooms.
STC Effect on speech perception
(dB) Activity Satisfactory Maximum
25 Normal speech can be heard easily
Recreation areas 35 40 30 Loud speech can be heard easily
Building layout and design
Bedrooms 30 35 Loud speech can be heard but not > Locate quiet rooms as far away from noise
35 sources as possible, without compromising
Work areas 35 40 passive solar design principles.
42 Loud speech heard as murmur
From Table 1 AS 2107
> Install windows away from noise sources if
45 Must strain to hear loud speech
48 Loud speech can be barely heard
Types of noise > Locate noisy areas together and away from
53 Loud speech cannot be heard quiet areas.
There are two types of building noise to
consider: > Avoid putting laundries, bathrooms or living
2. Structure-borne noise rooms next to, above or below bedrooms
1. Airborne noise without adequate sound insulation.
Structure-borne noise, also called impact noise,
Airborne noise comes from common sound
is produced when part of the building fabric is > Accommodate teenagers by providing extra
sources such as voices, TVs and radios.
directly or indirectly impacted. Energy passes soundproofing for their rooms and locate
The noise performance of a building system
through the building structure and creates noise them away from adult living and sleeping
is called the Sound Transmission Class
in nearby rooms. Examples are heavy footsteps areas, and neighbours.
(STC). The higher the STC the better the
(particularly on bare timber or tile floors),
system is at isolating airborne noise. An
banging doors, scraping furniture, vibrations
STC rating of 45 means that the element
from loud music, and plumbing noise. The
reduces the sound passing through it by
Impact Insulation Class (IIC) is used to rate the
impact noise insulation of floors.
Rooms with a lot of hard surfaces can be
very noisy as they readily reflect sound. Soft
furnishings, drapes and rugs can make a
significant improvement. People walking around are
clearly audible
A change of 3 STC (or dB) in the sound level
means a doubling or halving of the sound People walking around are
audible and noticeable
energy. As the human ear does not perceive
sound in a linear way, a 3dB change is barely People walking around audible Noise is a particular problem within medium
perceptible. The table below shows the but acceptable and high density housing, and special care in
subjective perception of sound energy. 62 Walking heard as low frequency thump design is needed to avoid problems. If people
are unable to open windows to keep cool in
Heavy walking heard as low summer they may need to install mechanical
reduction in 70
frequency thump
sound energy cooling.
reduction Subjective > Minimise the need for noisy mechanical
in dB % perception Noise and good design cooling.
3 50 Barely perceptible > Use solid dividing fins between balconies.
Site planning
4-5 70 Significant > Build units around quiet courtyards and face
Consider noise sources such as shops, hotels,
them away from roads.
Sound appears garbage and recycling collection when siting
6 75 to be reduced by buying or renovating your home. > Keep pedestrian and vehicle thoroughfares
about 1/4 away from bedrooms and living rooms.
7-9 87 Major reduction > Avoid placing windows and doors of
neighbouring units opposite or adjacent to
Sound appears to
10 90 be less than half one another.

Screen The BCA Building Code of Australia (BCA)
specifies the minimum STC wall and floor
requirements between adjoining dwellings.
The BCA uses a sound reduction index (Rw)
which is directly equivalent to STC.
2.7 NOISE CONTROL 43 sustainable communities

The BCA specifies the minimum required Rw Walls

(airborne) + Ctr (impact) sound values for
separating wall construction in new single
dwellings (Class 1 building). For further
information please refer to Part 3.8.6 of the
Rw32. Using 10mm plasterboard on
Volume Two of the BCA.
100 x 50mm timber studs at 450mm centres
Exceeding the minimum specifications is highly provides very little sound insulation and is not
recommended, particularly given the trend recommended for occupied rooms.
towards higher density living.

The BCA does not specify IIC, but certain

construction types are ‘deemed to comply’.
Rw42. 100mm low density AAC block with
Rw levels in the BCA only consider individual
10mm adhered plasterboard both sides.
building elements as measured in a laboratory.
Sound transmission properties of the structure
as a whole or on-site construction practices are
not taken into account. These can reduce the
Dense materials will, however, readily transmit
effective value by up to 5 Rw due to flanking Rw45. 90mm calcium silicate brick with
impact noise.
sound transmission paths. adhered 10mm plasterboard both sides. This
complies with the BCA minimum for adjoining Composite construction using combinations
Good design detail and construction practice
dwellings. of light and heavy mass materials are best to
is critical to the performance of both heavy and
reduce noise transmission.
light construction.
Airborne noise is easily reflected. Provide
Pay attention to elements like floor and ceiling
screen walls to shield noise and use acoustic
plates and installation of services such as
Rw50. 90mm solid concrete block with materials to reduce noise reflection.
plumbing and power outlets to ensure the
adhered 10mm plasterboard both sides.
desired performance is achieved.

BCA Rw requirements for walls between

Screen wall to
adjoining dwellings are: shield noise
Rw50. 16mm fire protective plasterboard on
Minimum Rw
staggered timber 70 x 45mm studs at 600mm
Floors above dwellings 50 centres both sides with 120 x 35mm timber
plates and 50mm glass fibre batts.
Walls between a bathroom,
laundry or kitchen and a habitable 50
room in adjoining dwelling*
Floors Acoustic
Other walls 45 material

*These walls must also have a satisfactory level of impact

insulation as outlined in the code

For the BCA minimum requirements for Rw Rw35. Bare 20mm floorboards on
(airborne) + Ctr (impact) sound values for 200 x 50mm joists at 450mm centres, with
separating wall construction in new single one layer of 13mm plasterboard. This provides
dwellings (Class 1 building) please refer to very little sound or impact insulation and is
Table Required Rw airborne and impact Noise
not recommended. source
sound levels for separating walls.

Although the BCA specifies no sound insulation

requirements within dwellings it is important
to consider sound transmission in homes now Rw48. 150mm concrete slab (365kg/m2) with
Glass and noise
that multiple TVs, stereos and bathrooms are 10mm of plaster.
common. A 3mm single glazed window has a very low
STC, and windows can let in a lot of noise,
The Rw ratings of some typical wall and floor
open or closed. The potential sound reduction
construction methods are outlined here.
from a highly insulating wall can be substantially
reduced by poor window design.
Heavy dense materials, such as Rw50. IIC 50. Bare 20mm floorboards on
concrete, are generally better 200 x 50mm joists at 450mm centres, with Double glazing and laminated glass are both
two layers of 16mm fire protective plasterboard effective at reducing noise.
for sound insulation but a
on furring channels and resilient mounts, and
range of lightweight solutions 100mm batts. Using carpet and underlay will
are also available. increase the IIC to 70.
sustainable communities 44 2.7 NOISE CONTROL

The table below shows the percentage noise reduction compared to 3mm glass. Note that these
AC Unit
percentage reductions are not the same as STC values.

Voice noise reduction % Traffic noise reduction %

Glazing type (Single) Glazing type (Single)
6.38mm laminated 13 6.38mm laminated 24
10mm glass 24 10mm glass 38
10.38mm laminated 29 10.38mm laminated 43
Glazing type (Double) Glazing type (Double) Unsuitable location for air conditioning unit.

4mm /12mm space /4mm 19 10mm /12mm space/6.38mm laminated 46 Wall

10mm /12mm space/6mm 34 6mm /100mm space/4mm 57
6.38mm laminated/8mm space/4mm 46 AC Unit

Source Pilkingtons Note: Thicker glass generally does not improve thermal insulation.
For a combination of sound and thermal insulation use double glazing. [See: 4.10 Glazing]

Other noise abatement tips using double layers of plasterboard ensure

the joints overlap and offset joints on opposite
Suitable location for air conditioning unit.
sides of the wall.
PVC pipe
> Provide extra sound insulation for noisy rooms
75mm batts Sound insulation > Make sure outdoor noise sources (AC units,
such as laundries. Use acoustic mounts or
pool pumps) are not going to be a nuisance
pads for clothes washers and dryers.
for neighbours. If pumps can’t be placed
Plasterboard > Avoid hard floor surfaces that are above far enough away, build a noise reduction
ceilings without good sound insulation. Use enclosure.
Timber stud cork, carpet or impact absorbing finishes
> There are laws governing noisy air
instead of bare timber or tiles.
conditioners that may annoy neighbours.
> Low density coverings such as carpet will have The best solution is to buy the quietest air
Sound insulation little effect on STC but will greatly reduce both conditioner suited to your needs. Install it as
impact noise (increasing the IIC by about far as possible from your neighbour or in a
PVC pipe 20 points) and internal sound reflection. well shielded location. Most air conditioners
in Australia have a label that specifies the
> Proprietary noise reduction underlays can be
amount of noise they make. The smaller the
75mm batts used to increase both STC and IIC ratings
Acoustic mount number of dBA on the label the quieter the
of floors. They are ideal for reducing sound
air conditioner. Get specialist advice from the
transmission on existing floors within a home.
> Plumbing and waste pipes should not pass supplier or installer.
close to quiet rooms orPower
should be adequately > Use built-in robes as sound buffers between
soundproofed. AStudrange of sound insulation bedrooms.
products exist for plumbing and waste pipes > Solid core doors are more effective sound additional reading
in walls and floors. insulators than hollow core. Use door closers Contact your State / Territory government or local
or foam/plastic strips on door frames to stop council for further information on noise control in
doors banging. residential areas.
> Reduce sound reflection transmission
Stud through gaps with draught sealing strips. A ustralian Building Codes Board (2007), Building
Staggered outlet Codes of Australia Volume 1 and 2, AGPS Canberra.
timber studs joins
Outdoor noise sources
> Site noisy areas like swimming pools and Principal author:
outdoor living areas away from neighbour’s Geoff Milne
Plasterboard windows.
> Hard exterior surfaces such as concrete Kendall Banfield
paving reflect sound rather than absorb Chris Reardon
> Pay special attention to details that might it. Softer surfaces are more desirable,
affect the integrity of sound insulation such particularly in higher density housing, as
as power points and plasterboard joints. they absorb sound. Permeable surfaces
Power outlets should be offset and placed also reduce stormwater run-off. [See: 7.5
in different sections of the wall cavity. When Stormwater]
2.8 SEDIMENT CONTROL 45 sustainable communities

Sediment Control
Sediment control practices are used COUNCIL REGULATIONS Extent, nature and duration of the soil
on building sites to prevent sand, soil, disturbance. The greater the disturbance, the
Most local councils have guidelines on
cement and other building materials greater the risk of erosion and sedimentation.
sediment control. Ask them for information.
from reaching waterways. Even a small
Climate and season. Rainfall (intensity and
amount of pollution from a site can cause A sediment control management plan may
duration) and high winds will influence erosion
significant environmental damage by killing need to be submitted to council for approval
and sedimentation.
aquatic life, silting up streams and blocking prior to work commencing. This should
stormwater pipes. address the location, design, scheduling and Size and location of the site. Sediment
maintenance of sediment control measures control on small sites is often harder to
Sediment control usually requires little effort
and details of site rehabilitation. implement, especially if the slope is towards
and results in:
the street. Consult your local council. Large
The need for sediment control is influenced by:
> Cleaner waterways and healthier aquatic life. vegetated rural sites may not always require
Soil type. Clay soils are more likely to cause specific controls.
> Reduced clean-up costs to the community.
environmental harm, while sandy soils are more
> Improved site conditions. likely to cause traffic hazards and drainage
The objectives of sediment control are:
> Improved wet weather working conditions. problems. Exposed subsoils generally cause
more problems than exposed topsoils. >T
 o divert uncontaminated water away
> Reduced wet weather construction delays. from the site.
Slope. The steeper and longer the slope,
> Reduced losses from material stockpiles. the greater the potential for erosion and >T
 o minimise erosion by minimising site
> Fewer mud and dust problems. sedimentation. disturbance, stabilising disturbed surfaces
and securing material stockpiles.
> Fewer public complaints and less
chance of fines. >T
 o prevent sediment contaminated water
leaving the site.
sustainable communities 46 2.8 SEDIMENT CONTROL

MINIMISING SITE DISTURBANCE On larger sites a diversion channel may be used Drainage

to divert uncontaminated stormwater around

Prevention is better than cure. Careful design
the disturbed area. Construct the channel
and an efficient construction sequence will
uphill of the disturbed area with a bank on Perimeter bank
minimise disturbance to the site. This will save
the lower side. Regularly remove sediment
money and reduce environmental impact.
from the channel.

Line the channel with erosion control mats or

turf to prevent soil erosion or use check dams Stockpile

constructed from sand or gravel filled bags.

Richard Stringer Photographer Uncontaminated stormwater from the channel Sediment barrier

should discharge to the stormwater system.

In some cases discharge onto non-erodable
areas of land is permissible. Check with your Use biodegradable erosion control mats to
local council. Do not allow discharge into protect exposed earth. These are particularly
neighbouring properties. useful on high risk soils and steep sites where
there is a delay in building or site rehabilitation.
Roof drainage must discharge to the
Design to avoid excessive cut and fill, stormwater system, unless rainwater is being
unnecessary clearing of vegetation and to harvested. Complete the final stormwater 3. Prevent sediment-contaminated
preserve existing site drainage patterns. Clear drainage system before the roof is installed. water leaving the site
only those areas necessary for building work to Connect using either temporary or permanent
occur. [See: 2.2 Choosing a Site] Use barriers to trap coarse sediment at all
downpipes. [See: 7.3 Rainwater]
points where stormwater leaves the site, before
Preserve grassed areas and vegetation
it can wash into gutters, drains and waterways.
where possible. This helps filter sediment
from stormwater run off before it reaches
2. Minimise the potential Install sediment fences down slope of the
for erosion disturbed area, usually along the lowest site
the drainage system and stops rain turning
boundary with the ends returning uphill. Inspect
exposed soil into mud. Construct a single vehicle entry/exit pad to barriers after storms and remove sediment.
Delay removing vegetation or commencing minimise tracking of sediment onto roadways. Stockpile extra sediment fence on site for
earthworks until just before building activities Use a 150mm (minimum) layer of 40mm emergency repairs. See Sediment Control
start. Avoid building activities that involve soil recycled aggregate or crushed rock. A raised Devices.
disturbance during periods of expected heavy hump across the entry/exit pad can be used to
direct stormwater run-off into a sediment trap Regularly sweep adjacent streets and gutters
or lengthy rainfall.
to the side of the pad. clean – do not hose them. Relocate sediment
on site or dispose of it suitably. Remove
HOW TO IMPLEMENT Site boundary accidental spills of soil or other material
sediment control
S S Maintain kerbside vegetation in a healthy state
Install sediment control measures before Fa
ll as it can function as an additional filter for
commencing any excavation or earth moving. 21
sediment. Do not use nature strips or footpaths
Regularly maintain them until construction is
for parking or stockpiling unless unavoidable.
complete and the site is stabilised.
Council permission is required.
Three important steps to take are:
Cut brick, tile or masonry on a pervious surface
1. Divert uncontaminated Drainage such as grass or loosened soil within the
Stock pile
stormwater away from property boundary. The same applies when
cleaning equipment. Waste concrete, paint and
the work area Sediment
Stabilised entry/exit
with flow control hump
other solutions used on site should be properly
Avoid contamination of stormwater with disposed of so they do not contaminate
sediment. Use diversion devices to reduce Sediment control layout on a compact urban site. stormwater. [See: 7.5 Stormwater]
the volume of stormwater reaching the
disturbed area. Protect materials that may erode, particularly
sand and soil stockpiles, with waterproof
On compact urban sites avoid overland flow coverings. Contain waste in covered bins or
through the work area by installing the final traps made from geotextile fabric.
stormwater drainage system as early as
possible in the construction process. Before Locate stockpiles of building materials away
installation of the final stormwater system, from drainage paths and uphill of sediment
install an up-slope perimeter bank and catch barriers. Divert run-off around stockpiles
drain connected to a temporary drop pipe, to unavoidably located in drainage paths using a
take uncontaminated stormwater directly to the perimeter bank uphill.
stormwater system. On steep sites, line catch
drains with turf or geotextile fabric.
2.8 SEDIMENT CONTROL 47 sustainable communities

SEDIMENT CONTROL DEVICES Filter trenches Turf lawns are commonly used to stabilise soil
but their high water consumption can be an
Geotextile fabric Filter trenches act as a continuous filter for
environmental burden. Native ground cover
polluted run-off in flat sandy areas. They are not
sediment fences plants do the same thing with considerably
appropriate in areas with clay soils.
lower water use. Avoid replacing native
These are generally the most efficient
Run-off is captured in the trench and drains to a vegetation with turf.
barrier for building sites.
gully pit through a gravel filter. Locate trenches
Disturbed area 2000mm downhill from the disturbed area, generally
along contours, with a minimum grade of 0.5
per cent. Restrict access over trenches to
prevent them clogging. Regular maintenance is
max 700mm


Geotextile sediment fence

Undisturbed area
Vegetated filter strips
These are useful as a secondary measure,
generally not as a substitute for sediment Mulch (straw or other material) can be used on
Constructed from geotextile fabric attached barriers. Strips of turf or vegetation are used to open garden beds to protect soil and support
to posts, these fences trap sediment but trap sediment, acting as a buffer zone between plant growth. Mulch spread to a depth of
allow water through. On small frontage sites the site and the gutter. The nature strip is often 75-100mm minimises soil and water loss and
with limited access, use steel posts and wire used for this purpose. controls weed growth. Mulch may be less
tied fences that can be readily unhooked for
suitable on steep sites and in high wind areas.
unloading of materials.
Stormwater inlet traps Temporary, quick germinating grasses such
as rye and oats can be used to stabilise soil
Straw bale sediment fences Stormwater inlets are not usually found in
until slower growing plants can be established.
residential building lots but may occur on larger
Secure straw bales with two stakes per bale. This method is only effective after the grass
development sites. Construct a temporary filter
Butt the bales close together and set them into seeds have germinated and established a root
fence around on-site stormwater inlet grates.
the ground as shown, to prevent water from structure.
Wrap geotextile fabric around posts fitted at
flowing under or around them. each corner of the drainage grate. The base of Semi permeable paving can be used to stabilise
the fabric should be embedded in soil. areas of the site. Avoid excessive use of
hard surfaces that prevent stormwater being
absorbed. [See: 7.5 Stormwater]
Off-site sediment traps
Biodegradable erosion control mats are useful
For safety and efficiency, sediment barriers when revegetating steep slopes.
should not be located outside property
Integrate landscaping strategy with sediment
boundaries, particularly on roads. Anything
control. For example, diversion channels and
placed on a road requires the permission of the
trenches that filter sediment can be used
road owner, whether it is the local council or
with rubble in the base to create a deep root
the developer.
Straw bales do not filter sediment from planting opportunity.
Sediment barriers in front of roadside
stormwater as quickly as geotextile fabric and
stormwater inlets are rarely effective and usually
may not be the best solution on sites with high
just result in the sediment being washed down
volumes of run-off. Re-use bales as mulch to ADDITIONAL reading
the street into the nearest gully inlet.
stabilise soil after construction.
Contact your State / Territory government or local
As a last resort use off-site sediment traps,
council for further information on sediment control.
made from sand or gravel bags of geotextile
Aggregate perimeter fences fabric. Ensure they do not fully block the gully
inlet. Check daily and remove accumulated B EDP Environment Design Guide
Aggregate perimeter banks can be used as an
sediment. DES 52 Erosion and Sediment Control
alternative to sediment fences on flat, sandy
sites with lower volumes of stormwater run-off.  ousing Industry Association, Site Management
Guide For Residential Builders.
1000mm Post-construction
and erosion control classification/Greensmart/Resources.aspx
40-75mm Aggragate
Stabilise the site as soon as possible after
construction, or while the last trades are Principal author:
Flow finishing, to minimise the potential for ongoing Caitlin McGee
Sandy soil
soil erosion. Contributing authors:
Grant Witheridge
Chris Reardon
sustainable communities 48 2.9 CHALLENGING SITES

Challenging Sites
A challenging site sets particularly STRUCTURAL Storm water run-off
stringent constraints on the design of your
Structural constraints apply to the physical Steeply sloping sites increase storm water
home. The conditions that provide those
factors of the site that include topography, run-off both above and below the surface.
constraints may include both physical
natural and artificial structures. This can create a major constraint on building
and social factors. This fact sheet outlines
and consideration needs to be given to
a number of strategies and techniques Topographic conditions relate to geological
both the site slope and ground conditions in
available to address the design challenges conditions that have been created over time.
relation to the hydrology.
of constrained sites. Three key factors are:
Strategies for environmentally responsive
It may be preferable not to build on a > Site slope (fall).
design include:
challenging site because of the environmental
> Ground conditions.
impacts that result from site constraints. On the > Directing storm water run-off to
other hand, such sites often provide exciting > Storm water run-off. appropriate destinations.
opportunities for creating a sustainable home
> Collecting and utilising run-off for
and are worth investigating.
Site slope landscaping.

A steep site generally has a gradient in excess > Minimising interference with sub-surface
The design and construction of a home for
of 30º. The slope of a site has an impact on hydrology.
a challenging site raises three questions:
the type of home that can be built, ie flat land Early identification of artificial and existing
1. What are the characteristics of this house types (slab on ground) are good for environmental effects is crucial.
type of site? flat sites whilst hillside houses (such as pole
framed houses) match steep sloping sites. This Artificial structures on or below the site ground
2. What difficulties does this type of site
typology aims to minimise the amount of cut level are best identified early in the site selection
create for the homeowner, builder or
and fill needed to accommodate the slope. The and site analysis phase. The consequences
slope may also be non-uniform with some parts of artificial structures can be as important
3. What principles can assist in addressing steeper than others, sometimes with a cross fall as for pre-existing natural structures. In
these difficulties in order to reduce with the slope running diagonally across the site. particular this includes environmental issues
environmental impacts? Steep sites require careful consideration of the such as waste, pollution and services whether
contours for an appropriate design response. subsurface or overhead. Costs of mitigating
existing environmental conditions can create an
Delivering sustainable outcomes Three environmental strategies often used on
unintended design challenge; early identification
steep sites are to:
This is about examining ways to deal is critical for effective site planning and later
with difficult constraints whilst minimising > Balance cut and fill. construction work.
environmental impacts. >A
 void retaining wall being higher than one metre.
The following constraints provide a useful > Build along contours.
starting point:
> Structural: topography, natural and artificial
Ground conditions
> Environmental: climatic, health, visual and Ground conditions influence the type of
acoustic parameters. foundations and disturbances to the site.
Different soil conditions present different
> Spatial: size, shape and volume.
constraints dependent on the design
> Location: remoteness, proximity, servicing. requirements for rock, sand, clay or wetlands.
> Ecology: ecological value, landscaping.
The most challenging and difficult ground
conditions are clay and wetlands due to the
instability associated with the conditions found
where sites contain this type of material. Rock
on the other hand presents the most stable
ground condition but large environmental
penalties occur with building basement
structures in these conditions. Hillside housing offers its own challenges.
2.9 CHALLENGING SITES 49 sustainable communities

ENVIRONMENTAL Challenging sites occur where the topography A ‘tight site’ is where there is little flexibility in
and other factors negatively impact on the the fit. The shape of the block and the building
Environmental constraints result from the
climate – eg. reducing the effects of natural program determines building responses and
variability of a site’s biophysical conditions and
heating or cooling. Where two mesoclimates environmental factors. This can lead to the
include climatic, health, visual and acoustic
overlap, for example cities in coastal areas, the need for specific design solutions to overcome
benefits of one can be negated by the other. issues of poor orientation, circulation and
Four main environmental strategies apply: access (See Howard Street case study at the
Microclimate conditions are the effects of
end of this fact sheet).
> Undertake and integrate climatic analysis in local and adjacent structural conditions on
site selections and site planning. the mesoclimate conditions of temperature, Options to be considered for mitigating the
humidity and airflow. Challenging sites occur effects of a tight site include:
> Look for positive local effects of the
where these microclimate conditions negate
‘mesoclimate’ – eg. nearby hillsides to > Reducing the physical building footprint.
climatic effects used in passive design. For
the west providing shade from the late
example when adjacent buildings overshadow > Increasing the number of building levels.
afternoon sun.
the site and limit solar access in winter.
> Consolidating blocks.
> Set priorities for key environmental factors
such as solar access and air flow that can A way of increasing plan flexibility with tight
generate solutions. Other environmental parameters sites is to reduce the ratio of the building’s
(health, visual, acoustic). ground floor area to site area (building footprint).
> Address environmental problems at source
Effective planning that eliminates waste
where possible rather than on the site. These include identification of excessive noise,
space helps to optimise a building’s footprint.
pollution and smells. Identification of these
Exposure to extreme climatic elements Increasing the number of storeys reduces the
parameters can be difficult as the phenomena
occurs where the site is directly affected by building footprint on the ground and releases
may be intermittent, for example noise from
the full force of wind, water and sun (macro site area allowing optimisation of orientation,
an air conditioner may only occur during hot
climate conditions) without moderation from circulation and access. Where these measures
nights, air pollution may only occur with a
the structural constraints described above fail, it is often better to consolidate blocks to
particular wind direction.
(ie local topographical or artificial structures). make a larger spatial context.
Opportunities exist to address the constraint
by careful examination of the meso and
microclimate of the site, and by studying the
local history of extreme weather conditions. Spatial challenges occur when there is not a
proper fit between the size, shape or volume Location challenges occur when remoteness,
Vulnerability of the site to extreme conditions
of the block, the building program and proximity and servicing become design
can create a significant impact on site planning
environmental factors. Strategies to address constraints. Remote sites may have limited
and building location. Life threatening events
spacial challenges include: access to building services (gas, water,
such as flooding, storm damage (adjacent
trees) and fire create measurable risks. electricity and waste disposal) and to other
> Keeping the building footprint to 50 per cent
Minimising risks involves careful site planning networks such as road, rail, bus and pedestrian
of the site area.
and ongoing maintenance. Sites that are mobility. A significant constraint on the design
exposed to 100 year flood levels as well as > Make every metre count for greater planning of a sustainable home may result from it being
storm and fire paths, should be identified and flexibility. located in a protected area.
planning measures adopted. > Consider the building as a ‘volume’ on a Remote sites are those located at a distance
The mesoclimate is the resultant modification tight site. from main population centres which creates
of the regional climate by topography and challenges for the supply of materials and
> Consolidate blocks rather than undertaking
other local conditions. There are five main services. Increased energy is required for
mesoclimates: transportation of construction materials, and
the availability of skilled tradespeople is often
> Coastal – sea breeze/land breeze effect,
which moderate regional extremes; storm Shape of block limited.
exposure is an important consideration.
The subdivision of land for building in Australia
> Flat open country – subject to accelerated usually results in rectangular blocks of land. Services accessibility
wind speeds, minor changes in topography Non-rectangular geometries of small area are
The lack of access to services leads to greater
can have significant effects. often constraining. These often result from
reliance on building autonomy and the need to
subdivision of an existing block into two blocks.
> Woodlands and forests – differential solar provide services on site. Additional technologies
access and airflow, higher humidity. ‘Setbacks’ are the clearances between the for water, energy and waste disposal are
> Valleys – differential solar access and site boundary and the building walls required needed on site. Ironically this can lead to a
temperatures dependent on location and by planning rules – creating non-orthogonal better environmental solution.
elevation. geometries on a block and preventing
construction in those areas. ‘Setbacks’
> Cities – elevated ambient temperatures, constrain the height and location of walls above
differential solar access and airflow, increased
the ground and have a profound influence on
the building volume and spatial configuration.
sustainable communities 50 2.9 CHALLENGING SITES

Pedestrian and vehicular access Habitat conservation Challenging sites occur where there is little
ecological value or pre-existing ecology has
Challenging sites may prevent easy access Maintaining existing habitats is a central issue
been destroyed. Increasing the ecological value
of vehicles and pedestrians. On sloping on sites with high ecological value. This involves
of the site as part of the landscaping plan is an
sites this can involve steep access roads or establishing an inventory of existing species
obvious strategy. Such a strategy is particularly
large amounts of cut and fill to gain access. and examining impacts of site planning on
applicable to inner-urban sites. Strategies that
Access for disabled pedestrians requires a the species distribution and viability of habits.
increase biodiversity range from restoration
slope of no more than one in one so steep Establishing areas for habitat conservation
of indigenous species to the establishment of
sites may need excessively long ramps for becomes a central strategy, in which case it
permaculture gardens. [See: 2.4 Sustainable
access. Provision of a lift may be a cost- becomes crucial to reduce the noise and light
effective option in these situations. pollution impacts of the home on these areas.
[See: 2.5 Biodiversity On-site]
ECOLOGY Goulding J, Lewis O and Steemers T (1992), Energy
Site ecology constraints include issues of Restoring ecological value Conscious Design: A Primer for Architects, BT
Batsford, London.
ecological value and landscaping and arise from The process of subdivision often results in the
the challenges of dealing with the interrelation removal of existing flora and fauna. Inner-city  yde, R (2000), Climate Responsive Design, Spon
of living organisms on a site where humans are Press, UK.
sites rarely contain even remnant vegetation.
one of the resident species. Flora and fauna Measures to restore ecological value are then  yde R, Watson S, Cheshire W and Thompson M
studies are needed when sites may have high needed. Reintroducing the local gene pool of (eds) (2007), ‘Green Globe Design and Construct
ecological value and endangered or unique Standard’ in The Environmental Brief, Routledge, UK.
the soil is an imperative. If the soil from the
species are part of the habitat of the site. How site’s clearance has been stored it can be
to restore ecological value can become the reintroduced across the site. Consideration of Principal author:
primary challenge. subsurface and surface hydrology is needed Richard Hyde
Catherine Watts
Environmental strategies for changing sites with to re-establish catchments and enhance
high ecological values include: catchments of water flow across the site.
Depending on the site, the creation of wildlife
> Establishing a habitat conservation area. pathways can allow animal movement across
> Monitoring ongoing impacts of construction. blocks and provide flora food sources for both
humans and native animals.
> Monitoring activities that may disturb the

Case Study: Howard St Fremantle, WA

The brief was to design a passive
solar, energy efficient home on a
tight, urban infill block. The long
narrow block with an 8m frontage,
was orientated 45º to north, with
the northern façade facing the street
and garage access only possible
to the front. Solar access was
compromised due to an existing two
story neighbouring building and the
block was bordered high parapet walls
on both sides. The brief posed quite a
challenge for the designer.

To overcome the obstacles the front living room wall of the home was angled to face directly
North and a saunders ceiling with tapered ranking gable windows was incorporated to
increase solar access. Air volume was minimised and thermal mass introduced on the floor
and vertical internal walls. This ceiling and window configuration effectively almost doubled
solar heat gain, which is then able to be stored in the vertical thermal mass.

Two internal courtyards were introduced to allow further solar gain. Combined with carefully
selected shading for summer protection the courtyards also assist with airflow in summer to
naturally cool the home.
Source: Solar Dwellings – Energy Efficient Homes
3.1 INTRODUCTION 51 design for life

Design for Life

Sustainability does not only relate to the > At least one bedroom should be accessible > Ensure that privacy locks on bathroom
environment, it is also about the community, to family members who may experience doors can be opened from the outside in
future generations and the quality of life for physical limitations. the case of an emergency.
individuals. Design for Life involves designing
> In multi-level housing, accessible living spaces > Provide energy efficient outdoor lighting
or renovating your home for the present but
should be provided on the ground floor. along paths.
also ensuring it is adaptable to opportunities
and challenges that may arise in the future. Security measures such as those promoted
Considerations such as safety, security, by ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental
3.3 The healthy home
changing lifestyle choices and responses to Design’ can be followed to ensure peace of mind
natural disasters are all important for the long This fact sheet discusses the likely sources of when at home or when away. Security can be
term viability of your home. indoor air pollutants and possible associated improved through maintaining the integrity of
conditions. It also provides guidance when doors, windows, sky lights and roofing; through
This section contains detailed information about: considering a new build or renovation. landscaping that avoids dark corners and hidden
> The Adaptable House. recesses and provides an open interface with the
Common sources of indoor air pollutants
street and through community surveillance.
> The Healthy Home. include:
> Safety and Security. > Building operation and construction material
> Bushfires. (eg lead, aesbestos, combustion systems). 3.5 Bushfires
> Household products (eg sprays, polishes, The potential for bushfires is an integral
air freshners). part of Australia’s bushland. The functioning
of our natural environment requires and
3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE > Human indoor behaviour (eg passive
accommodates fire. Therefore, buildings sited in
smoking, interaction with pets).
An Adaptable House is one which is able to this environment similarly need to cope with fire.
respond effectively to changing household There are many ways to manage indoor air
Consider the following when designing for a
needs without requiring costly and energy quality issues in the home. This fact sheet
bushfire resistant property:
intensive alterations. The average household provides further guidance.
is becoming both smaller and older and > Preventing fire ignition sources.
an increasing number of people are living > Avoiding fuel load that could contribute to
independently in their later years. 3.4 Safety and Security
spread or intensification.
The balance between home and work also Many domestic accidents can be prevented
> Creating fire barriers that permit safe
places altering demands on our houses as with better building design. Most domestic
movement for people and reduce fire
many people choose to work from the office. accidents occur in the bathroom and kitchen.
advancement and propagation.
There are many actions that you can take to
A single space may act at different times as a
improve home safety through design, fittings > Creating site surroundings and using construction
nursery, home office, teenage retreat, study or
and behaviour. The actions contained in the elements to reduce fire load on buildings.
bedroom for an elderly relative.
fact sheet particularly seek to protect children,
Designing an Adaptable House would consider the elderly and the disabled. Meeting the specifications for bushfire
the following: resistance can be at odds with some
Safety tips include: sustainability goals. Environmental design
> Easy entry and access from both street and emphasises the use of local materials with low
> Round bench edges and corners.
car parking in all weather and light conditions embodied energy and toxicity and high recycled
including appropriate layout for garbage cans, > Eliminate cross-traffic routes through the content. Meeting bushfire needs can call on
garden beds and letterboxes. work triangle (area between stove, sink different priorities. For example, recycled timber
and refrigerator). often does not meet non-combustion rating
> The interior of the house would allow for easy
movement between spaces, for example, > Use slip resistant flooring and avoid steps requirements, fire resistant paint embodies
through slight widening of internal doors and in bathrooms. toxins, steel and other non-combustible
passageways. components have high embodied energy. This
> Install fail-safe mixing valves on both the
fact sheet provides further guidance on design
> The kitchen should not limit a person’s bath and the shower.
decisions for bush-fire prone areas.
independence for example, lower
workspaces to accommodate wheel chair Principal author:
users or non-slip floor finishes. Ramola Yardi
design for life 52 3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE

The Adaptable House

A HOME FOR CHANGING NEEDS with a physical limitation whether they are a by everyone. A similar benefit is found in using
primary resident or visitor. lever-type door handles and rocker electrical
An Adaptable House is one which is able to
switches; incorporating the most usable fittings
respond effectively to changing household For those with limited mobility, reduced vision or
at the time of construction reduces the need for
needs without requiring costly and energy other disability, the ability to perform common
later retrofitting. A Universal House will ensure
intensive alterations. tasks such as carrying shopping into the
rooms and services within the home are of
home, cooking a meal, using the bathroom
When building a new house many people a size and type which is usable by as many
or accessing items from high shelves may be
anticipate spending a number of years, if not people as possible.
unnecessarily limited by the physical design
decades, living in their home. Others may
of a home. As the needs of individuals are When homes are retrofitted with ramps,
conceive of a shorter stay. Whatever the
specific to their personal circumstances there handrails, and other devices to provide
intention, any new home is likely to have to
is no single solution to designing for an aging enhanced usability an institutionalised
accommodate changing needs over its lifetime.
or disabled occupant but a number of design appearance can result. Universal design does
Australian demographics are changing rapidly approaches exist: not propose special features for the aged or
with average households becoming both disabled but instead promotes normalised
1. The ‘Universal House’ which is usable by as
smaller and older, with an increasing number solutions to access and usability for the majority
many people as possible without the need
of people living independently in their later of people through the use of standard building
for specialisation.
years. The balance between home and work products and practices. For example, designing
life also places altering demands on our houses 2. The ‘Accessible House’ which meets the an entry without the need for steps removes
as many people choose to work from home Australian Standard AS1428.1-2001 Design the need for the later addition of a ramp and
offices. A single space may act at different for Access and Mobility and is able to handrails for wheelchair users, while improving
times as a home office, a teenage retreat, a accommodate wheelchair users in all areas current access for children’s prams.
family study or a bedroom for an elderly relative. of the dwelling.

3. The ‘Adaptable House’ which adopts the THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE

idea of a ‘Universal House’ and in addition
An Adaptable House is able to be easily adapted to become an In addition to being designed to be usable
accommodates lifestyle ‘Accessible House’ when required. by most people, the Adaptable House has
changes without the need provision for additional modifications should
to demolish or substantially they be required to meet the specific needs of
THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE an occupant. This may include the modification
modify the existing structure
of kitchen joinery to meet changing physical
and services. Universal design has been defined as the needs, alterations to the laundry and bathroom
design of products and environments so to increase access and usability, the increase of
that they are usable by all people, to the lighting levels in response to sensory disability
Similarly, an adaptable dwelling might be
greatest extent possible, without the need for or the introduction of support devices such as
designed to easily enable a reduction in size
adaptation or specialized design. The intention grab rails and/or additional security measures.
over time through the division of a large family
being to simplify life for everyone by making
home into two smaller housing units, offering
more housing usable by more people at
residents the opportunity to continue living
minimal extra cost.
within a familiar environment. Australian Standards provide
Household needs vary over time in relation to
A Universal House uses building features, guidance for designing houses
physical capabilities. Everyone can expect to
fittings and products in combination to to accommodate varying
experience temporary or permanent variations
increase usability, benefiting people of all degree of physical ability
ages and abilities. For example, a doorway or over time.
in their physical capabilities in their lifetime
passageway is more easily navigated by users
due to injury, illness or age. The Australian
of mobility devices such as walking frames,
Bureau of Statistics reports that the percentage
wheelchairs or even a children’s pram if it is
of individuals with a disability increases
slightly wider than typical.
significantly with age, rising to more than half for
people aged over 60. Due to longer life spans With regard to fittings, people with limited hand
and higher proportions of older people in our function find screw-type sink taps more difficult
society, it is more likely that every home will be to use than lever-type taps which can be used
required to respond to the needs of a person
3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE 53 design for life

> Is it desirable to make provisions for the

future accommodation of an ageing or
occupant or one with a disability? (if yes, then
ask your designer to adopt the Australian
Standard for Adaptable Housing)

Adaptable housing solutions

can also be considered in
smaller projects.

Minor alterations to bathroom or kitchen plans

can integrate many desirable adaptable housing
features with minimal additional cost, making
significant savings when adaptations are required
in the future.

The following section provides initial advice

as to how spaces within and around a home
may begin to accommodate both universal
and adaptable housing principles. Essential
features prescribed by the Australian Standard
A typical house plan (above) often requires the Another floor plan (above) provides larger wet areas for Adaptable Housing (AS:4299) and required
expensive relocation of wet areas such as bathrooms for improved accessibility, and these wet areas are dimensions set by the Australian Standard
and kitchen if the house is to be extended. located to allow for future extensions with only minor
changes to the existing dwelling. Design for Access and Mobility (AS:1428)
may vary over time as these documents are
periodically revised.

Starting with the requirement that all houses BENEFITS TO THE OWNER
are accessible to visitors using wheelchairs
these standards then require the house to The Universal House and the Adaptable House
be able to adapt, becoming accessible to an remain appropriate to occupant needs over a
occupant using a wheelchair. Although the greater period of time. This reduces the need to
need to accommodate a wheelchair user is relocate to alternative housing which can lead
unlikely to be experienced in every home, to dislocation from existing community ties.
space requirements are set for wheelchair use They are also attractive housing options for the
as they represent the most difficult scenario for greatest number of people and therefore provide
circulation and access. By providing enough a sound investment for resale and rental.
space for wheelchairs, people with walking Design for adaptability enables rapid
frames, children’s prams, trolleys and other response to changing life needs which can
equipment can be better accommodated. be quick and unexpected. It also increases
AS4299 recommends that adaptable features the building’s serviceable life span prior to
designed into a dwelling be documented remodelling, with associated financial, energy
with ‘before’ and ‘after’ drawings clearly and material savings. ACCESS AND ENTRY
demonstrating the features which have been An Adaptable House should:
included. This avoids the reliance upon
DEVELOPING A DESIGN > Provide easy access from both the street and
recollection and enables the information
In the early stages of designing a new house or car parking spaces in all weather and light
to be readily passed on to contractors or
renovation consider what type of use may be conditions.
subsequent owners. Compliance with this
standard enables a design to be certified as desirable and discuss your choices with your > Avoid stairs and use ramps only where
an Adaptable House, clearly identifying and architect, designer or builder. Consider: essential.
recognising its adaptable features. Whether > Dimension both ramps and stairs in
> Is it likely that the house will be
or not a designer is seeking certification, this compliance with AS:1428.
extended in the future?
document provides useful information.
> How might the use of space change > Construct access paths from well drained,
over time? solid, non-slip surfaces that provide a high
colour contrast to surrounding garden areas.
> Is it desirable for the house to be visitable
by elderly or disabled friends and relatives? > Light pathways with low level lighting directed
(if yes, then ask your designer to adopt the at the path surface, not the user.
Australian Standard for Adaptable Housing) > Protect paths and entries from weather.
design for life 54 3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE

> Avoid overhanging branches and plants

which may drop leaves causing potential
For security, the house entrance needs to be
visible from the entry point to the site or the car
parking space. The entry itself should provide
a level, sheltered landing dimensioned for
wheelchair manoeuvrability and be adequately
lit for visibility from inside the home. Entry door
locks and lever handles should be fitted at
appropriate heights and be able to be used
with one hand. Avoid any obstructions or level
changes which limit access by a wheelchair
user or provide a tripping hazard to others.

The interior of a house should allow easy LIVING SPACES COOKING SPACES
movement between spaces. Often, this simply
Living spaces should be comfortable and As a person’s physical abilities change over
involves a slight widening of internal doors and
accessible to all residents and visitors. To time the kitchen is one of the main rooms
passageways. Ideally, easy access should be
accommodate a range of activities and tasks it in the house where the impact of physical
provided throughout the entire home but it may
is advisable to install thermal conditioning and limitations is felt. Detailed documentation for
be considered necessary only in some portions
services to suit a variety of furniture layouts. designing kitchens and joinery for wheelchair
of the home such as between living spaces,
Australian Standards recommend: users is widely available, however even among
kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom.
wheelchair users people’s maximum reach and
> A minimum of four double electrical outlets.
Internal doors with a minimum unobstructed strength vary greatly, as do kitchens designed
width of 820mm and passageways with a > A telephone outlet adjacent to an electrical specifically for individual disabled users. The
minimum width of 1000mm are appropriate outlet. design of a kitchen should not limit a person’s
but any additional width is beneficial. Doorway independence and ought to be adaptable to
> Two TV antennae outlets, all located at
width is measured from the face of the open accommodate specific individual’s needs.
appropriate heights.
door to the opposite frame. Circulation space
To accommodate a wheelchair user or other
around doors to allow wheelchair access > Clear circulation space within the room of
seated occupant, portions of the work surfaces
is required, with special attention given to at least 2250mm diameter for wheelchair
should be constructed at a lower level than
providing enough space to reach and operate manoeuvrability.
those for standing users with leg room provided
the door lever. As door types and room In homes accommodating an elderly or under work benches. To enable such changes
configurations vary, reference should be made disabled resident it is advisable to provide an to occur easily kitchen joinery can be installed
to AS:1428 for dimensions. additional living area separate to the bedroom using modular components which allow for easy
Electrical outlets are best located at a and main family areas which provides an removal or modification of individual components
minimum of 600mm above the floor. For light opportunity for personal space. This may be rather than the reconstruction of the entire joinery
switches and other controls the ideal height located inside or outside the home in an area layout. Such components should be installed
range is 900-1100mm. The use of two way protected from weather. after the non-slip floor finish is completed to
light switches at each end of corridors and avoid replacement at a later stage.
where spaces have more than one entry is
desirable. Lighting design needs to respond
to the specific uses of different spaces with an
even distribution of light to avoid shadows and
light fittings located over work surfaces where
specific tasks are undertaken. It is advisable to
ensure that lighting can be adapted to provide
higher lighting levels when required due to
visual limitations.

Window sills should be low enough to allow

unobstructed views to the exterior from
standing, sitting and lying positions where
appropriate. Where different floor surfaces
meet these need to be level and fitted with
appropriate cover strips to avoid tripping.
3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE 55 design for life

Depending upon the user either top or front

loading laundry appliances may be preferred. In
either case, provide:

 minimum circulation space 1550mm deep
in front or beside appliances.

 aps located to the side, not the back,
of any laundry tub.

 ufficient storage shelves at a maximum
height of 1200mm.

Access to external drying areas should

consider mobility issues and the need to use
clothes baskets and trolleys.

The kitchen should also be designed with safety If separate bathroom and toilet facilities
considerations in mind including: are preferred at the time of construction MULTI-LEVEL HOUSING
an adaptable approach might be taken to Although single level homes seem an obvious
> Location of appropriately sized work spaces
achieve the same outcome, such as the use choice for accessible housing, two or more
to the side of all appliances such as the
of a removable wall between the toilet cubicle storey houses and apartments can also be
cooktop, oven, microwave and refrigerator.
and bathroom. To reduce the amount of work suitable for adaptation. The ground floor of a
> The relationship between the cooktop and the required at adaptation such a wall should be multi-level house can be accessible to visitors
sink to allow easy transfer of pots for draining. installed as a non-load bearing partition after with a disability or even accommodate an
the floor and wall finishes are completed. occupant with a temporary disability. In addition
> Contrasting colours between bench tops
Similarly, any items such as vanity cupboards, to providing access between living, kitchen
and cupboard fronts to assist the visually
toilet bowls, or shower screens which may and bathroom spaces, the inclusion of an
require relocation or modification should not be accessible bathroom and a space appropriate
constructed integral with the initial construction for use as a bedroom on the ground floor
SLEEPING SPACES but installed as removable fixtures after all ensures maximum flexibility.
surrounding surfaces are completed.
At least one bedroom in the house should be
accessible to a person using a wheelchair and One of the most common adaptations
be sized to enable manoeuvring within the employed in residential bathrooms is the
space. The location of an accessible bedroom installation of grab rails to provide support and
should take into account who is likely to use stability. So that these can be installed without
it, be it a family member with a temporary the need to demolish sections of wall to insert
physical limitation, visitors of various abilities support points it is recommended that 12mm
or an ageing resident. Additional services such structural plywood be fixed to any stud wall
as two way light switches, telephone outlet, framing behind the finished wall materials.
additional electrical outlets and TV outlet are When designing a bathroom remember it
recommended to ensure maximum usability may be used by people either standing or
and security. seated, as this will inform leg space around
hand basins and the location of items such as
mirrors, electrical outlets and controls.
In the design of all wet areas such as toilets,
bathrooms and laundry, ensure:

> Adequate sizing for access and circulation.

> Location of storage for easy and safe use.

> Installation of non-slip surfaces to minimise


At the time of construction either an accessible

or visitable toilet should be included for use by
visitors. If possible, include a bathroom that
provides full accessibility for a wheelchair user,
ensuring the bathroom and toilet are able to be
used by residents with limited mobility or with
the assistance of a carer.
design for life 56 3.2 THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE

additional READING

Australian Standards
AS4299-1995 Adaptable House.
AS1428.1-2001 Design for Access and Mobility.

A ustralian Network for Universal House Design

 aster Builders Association (2001), Housing for Life:

Designed for Everyone

S elewyn, G (2000), Universal Design, Architectural

Press, US.

 C State University (2006), Universal Design in


 ace, R (1998), Universal Design: Housing for the

Lifespan of All People, US Department of Housing
and Urban Development.

J oseph Rowntree Foundation Lifetimes Homes


F riedman, A (2002), The Adaptable House: Designing

Homes for Change, McGraw-Hill, New York. 

Principal authors:
Jasmine Palmer
To facilitate multi-level access, floor plans > Allow for raised garden beds for elderly or Stephen Ward
should allow for the future installation of vertical disabled gardeners in the initial garden layout.
lifts or staircase lifts. A future vertical lift requires
> Locate car parking close to the entry with
space for a hole through each floor adjacent to
at least one covered parking space sized to
circulation space on all levels – initially the hole
enable wheelchair access.
in the upper floor can be filled in or the space
can be utilised for storage until adaptation is > Make garage doors electronically operated.
required. A stair lift requires ample space on top
> Allow future secure space for storage and
and bottom stair landings.
recharging of a wheelchair or other mobility
device such as a scooter.
SITE > Ensure that garden and fence layouts do
Activities such as mail collection, rubbish not compromise security by limiting visibility
storage, car parking and enjoyment of outdoor through the site.
spaces must also be considered in designing > Ensure that house or unit numbers are clearly
for full accessibility: visible from the street.
> Make rubbish bins and recycling storage, > Use movement activated sensor lights.
letter boxes, clotheslines and garden tool
storage accessible via paths, as described
under ‘Access and Entry’.

> Provide access and circulation space to

external occupied areas such as patios and
terraces as described in ‘Living Spaces’.

> Provide private, sheltered areas with access

to northern sun in winter that is visible from
inside the home.
3.3 The Healthy Home 57 design for life

The Healthy Home

Most of us spend more than 90 per cent of Whether a source of air pollutants causes an
our lives indoors. It is worth thinking more indoor air quality problem or not depends on:
closely about air quality in our homes.
> The type of air pollutant.
This fact sheet discusses the likely
sources of indoor air pollutants and the > The amount and rate at which it is released
possible associated health conditions. It from its source.
provides advice and actions that you can
> The degree of ventilation available in the
take to protect the health of people living
home to remove it from indoors.
in your home. This fact sheet will also help
you make better-informed decisions about Common sources of indoor air pollutants
health and indoor air quality issues when include:
discussing a new build or renovation
> Building operations and construction
with your architect, designer, builder or
building material supplier.
> Household products.

> Various human indoor activities.

Some groups of people in the community are
An ounce of prevention is more vulnerable to pollutants than others.
> External factors (from outdoors).
worth a pound of cure. These include:
A person is most commonly exposed to air
pollutants when they breathe in an air pollutant > The very young.
or allergen. Exposure to an air pollutant by
> The very old.
swallowing or through the skin may occur in
some circumstances. The body has a range of > Those with pre-existing respiratory or
defences against airborne substances (eg skin, cardiovascular disease.
liver, immune system). Some defences keep > Those who are sensitised to a substance.
substances out of the body; others overcome
substances once they enter the body. > Some of these groups are also more likely to
spend more time indoors than the general

What you do in the home Before jumping to conclusions about

can make the single biggest whether or not your home is making you
difference to the health of the ill, look for clues and patterns, such as:
indoor environment. eg. avoid >D
 o you notice any change in your
smoking indoors, don’t let dust health before and after a particular
build up, don’t leave the car change in the home environment?
Indoor air quality and running in the garage and be > Is there any change in your health
health wary of all fumes – if it smells after particular activities, like dusting or
Poor indoor air quality may cause a range
bad it probably is! cleaning?
of health effects from mild and generally >D
 o your health problems occur at the
non-specific symptoms such as headaches, Generally, the greater the amount of pollutant same time each year?
tiredness or lethargy to more severe effects (exposure), the greater the health response.
such as aggravation of asthma and allergic >D
 o your health problems get better
The duration of exposure is also important. If
responses. Most of these conditions can also if you and your family are away from
low-level exposure occurs over a long period of
arise from a number of different causes other home for any extended periods, such
time (perhaps many years), the total dose may
than the quality of the air in your home. as holidays?
be large.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about
any of these health conditions.
design for life 58 3.3 The Healthy Home

Potentially hazardous Pollutant Major source(s) Health effects

air substances
Nitrogen dioxide gas combustion chronic respiratory disease
There are many different types of airborne
substances. Exposure to most substances Carbon monoxide kerosene, gas and solid fuel aggravation of cardiovascular
indoors is generally low and of little or no health
combustion, cars idling in enclosed disease, poor foetal
garage, cigarette smoke development
consequence. This section summarises some
important types of pollutants and allergens that Formaldehyde pressed wood products, consumer eye, nose and throat irritation
might be found in Australian homes. products, hobby, crafts

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) new building products, cleaning eye, nose and throat irritation,
products, office equipment, headache, lethargy
Lead consumer products
Lead is a concern when small particles or Passive smoke tobacco smoking eye, nose and throat irritation,
fumes are swallowed or inhaled. Many older aggravation of asthma, chronic
respiratory disease, lung cancer
building and household products contain lead
but newer products no longer do. Items such House dust mite allergens dust mites in bedding, carpets, aggravation of asthma, nasal
as old paint, flashing, old plastic pipe and, furniture inflammation, eczema
fittings, electrical cabling and glazed pottery
Mould spores bathrooms, damp rooms, window aggravation of asthma, nasal
can contain variable amounts of lead. sills, indoor plants, poorly ventilated irritation and inflammation
Contact with lead can arise from home
renovation activities, particularly when stripping Lead in indoor dust pre-1970s paint, hobbies and poor childhood intellectual
old paint, through some hobbies (eg lead- renovation development
lighting, making fish sinkers or pottery glazing) Pet dander cats and dogs aggravation of asthma and
or coming into contact with contaminated soil. hay fever
Care should be taken when renovating. Avoid
sanding, abrasive blasting or burning paint
containing lead. Do not burn old painted wood Combustion products > Always follow the appliance manufacturer’s
in fireplaces or in barbeques. instructions — seek advice from the
Combustion products include smoke (small
manufacturer, supplier or your gasfitter/
soot particles), ash and gases that can get
plumber if you have any concerns.
Asbestos inside your home from fireplaces and heaters
burning wood, coal, gas or kerosene, gas > Ensure doors connecting garages to the
Asbestos was used widely in the construction,
cooking appliances, tobacco smoking, outdoor house are tightly sealed.
car and textile industries because of its
air, exhaust from cars in garages, and hobbies, > Minimise running time for vehicle engines in
strength and ability to resist heat and acid.
such as welding and soldering. garages.
It is no longer allowed to be used in building
products for the home. Combustion particles are so small they behave > Never use an appliance if it is damaged or not
almost like a gas — they can enter or leave a working properly.
Asbestos-containing products were rarely
home very easily. When you breathe them in
labelled. Products like cement sheet, roofing
they travel into the deepest part of the lungs. > Do not use a gas oven or gas cooker to heat
sheet, some textured paints, vinyl floor tiles,
Under certain circumstances these particles a room.
pipe lagging and fire-resistant boards and
and gases may cause ill-health or, in extreme > Do not use barbeques or camp stoves
blankets bought for the home before the mid
cases, even death. indoors.
1980s may contain asbestos.
To maintain good air quality when you have
Generally, home building products containing
combustion sources:
asbestos are not a health risk but if asbestos is Volatile organic compounds
disturbed to produce fibres or dust, asbestos > Vent products to the outdoors (via a flue,
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are
fibres may be released into the air and inhaled. chimney, exhaust fan or rangehood) where
chemicals containing carbon that evaporate
into the atmosphere at room temperature. They
> Keep flues and chimneys clean, and make often have an odour and are present in a wide
Always seek professional sure any permanent ventilation openings are range of household products, construction
advice about managing not blocked. materials and new furnishings. Household
asbestos in your home. products that contain VOCs include paints,
> Service heating or cooking appliances
Accurate identification can varnishes, adhesives, synthetic fabrics, cleaning
regularly to ensure they are working properly
be difficult, and immediate and are not leaking gases into your home.
agents, scents and sprays. VOCs can also
removal is often not the occur as a result of personal activities, such a
best option. > Ensure plenty of fresh outdoor air is coming smoking.
into the room(s).

> Make sure insulation has not obstructed a

heater flue or ventilators in the wall or roof
3.3 The Healthy Home 59 design for life

When used in building products or other indoor Questions for a Healthy Design
items VOCs slowly make their way to the Home
surface and ‘offgas’, into the surrounding air. How effectively does the home’s design use
Most offgassing occurs when products are new natural ventilation?
and/or freshly installed, after which it lessens Planning Good design and orientation can encourage
dramatically over time. breezes and convection currents to draw stale
What was the home site previously used for?
Only a few specific VOCs have been studied air out and fresher air in. If windows are closed
in detail and little is known about the health The land on which you intend to build (or have for security or noise reasons, install fixed wall
hazards when VOCs mix with each other and built) may have chemical residues from previous vents to ensure adequate ventilation. Strike a
other pollutants. The level of VOCs in the home industrial or agricultural processes. Talk to local balance between the need to introduce fresh
can vary greatly, not only over time but also long-term residents about the land’s former air, maintaining comfortable room temperatures,
from room to room, especially if new VOC- use. Visit the planning section of your local and acceptable energy conservation. [See: 4.3
containing products are frequently introduced. government. Get advice about legal searches Orientation; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
that might show how the land was used.
Strategies to reduce VOC exposure in the
home take two forms: Does the home’s design keep moisture
What about current and future industrial or to a minimum?
> Stop or reduce the use of products that agricultural development?
contain VOCs. In brick homes, if a damp-proof course has not
Check how emissions from existing or future been fitted or has been broken, moisture may
> If the product is necessary, ensure adequate
industries might affect your home. The migrate from the ground into the wall. High and
ventilation when using it.
closeness of a main road, bus depot, airport, prolonged periods of humidity can increase
> Open doors and windows whenever orchard or industrial plant can affect the in moisture within the building. Avoid mould
possible and practicable. amount of airborne pollutants entering your growth by lessening moisture levels in your
home. Check with your local council about home.
Air fresheners, cleaning sprays, polishes, spray
deodorants and other toiletries are major likely future land use in your area.
sources of VOCs and should not be used Will building security compromise health
excessively in non-ventilated areas. Building Does the home’s location make best outcomes?
products are another source of VOCs. When use of the local climate?
selecting such products you should: Closing doors and windows may improve
Local topography, proximity of trees, and security but it reduces air exchange. Install
> Look for building products that are pre-dried nearness to water all influence air temperatures security products that allow you to feel secure,
in the factory or are ‘quick-drying’. and wind patterns around your home. A home but also allow you to regulate the air flow
> Use surface coating products that are water on top of an exposed hill will be affected between indoors and out.
based or classed as containing zero or low differently to the same home in a deep valley, or
levels of VOCs. on an urban block with houses nearby. Design
Is mechanical ventilation a good idea?
to enhance natural ventilation and shelter in a
> Seek advice from the supplier or manufacturer, way that takes account of your home’s specific Most Australian homes rely on openable
particularly if the information displayed on the windows and doors (and in older homes fixed
location. [See: 2.2 Choosing a Site; 4.2 Design
container is not clear — ask for the product’s wall vents) to provide ventilation. Ducted air
for Climate]
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). systems may heat or cool recirculated indoor
> Ensure rooms are fully ventilated when adding If buying or moving to an established air, but don’t introduce fresh air from outdoors
new furnishings or resurfacing walls and home, will major renovations be needed? or remove pollutants. Seek advice from a
floors, until the odour reduces considerably or specialist engineer about mechanical ventilation
disappears. The materials used in some old homes, as well systems. Evaporative cooling systems increase
as the activities associated with renovation, indoor humidity and may increase levels of
can increase the health risks for renovators mould or dust mites. Make sure all units are
Four steps to better air quality and anyone else in the home during the work. regularly maintained. [See: 6.2 Heating and
Assess the risks and manage them through Cooling]
1. Eliminate – Identify the source of air
safe work practices and clean-up.
problems and wherever possible eliminate
through better product selection and Does your home ‘design out’ termites?
design. Will the main types of plants in the area to
which you intend moving make your hay Termites are part of Australia’s ecology.
2. Ventilate – If too little fresh air enters In the past, environmentally persistent
fever worse?
a home, pollutants can accumulate to organochlorines were used to kill them but
levels that can pose health and comfort Ask a local plant specialist about the main local these are now banned due to health and
problems. vegetation types within 1 kilometre of your environmental concerns. The replacement –
new home. Moving to the new home without organophosphates pose less of an ecological
3. Separate – Separate problem materials
investigating its surroundings might lead to hazard and have less potential for long-term
from occupants by using air barriers or
future health problems. health risks. Specially designed physical
sealers such as coatings.
barriers, like mesh or crushed rock, reduce
4. Absorb – Indoor plants can be used to
the need for extensive and repeated chemical
the quality of the indoor environment, as
well as for their beauty.
design for life 60 3.3 The Healthy Home

Can the dust be easily removed from the Unvented mobile gas heaters are considered Is the floor properly cleaned?
rooms? by some researchers to pose a health risk
Poorly cleaned carpets become reservoirs
and have been associated with more frequent
The visible and invisible dusts in your home are for dust and microbiological pollutants. Clean
respiratory symptoms. If use of unvented
made up of many substances. While most of carpets regularly to minimise health risks. Invest
heaters is unavoidable, buy only low-NOx
the dust will be benign, there may be a small in a vacuum cleaner with high filter efficiency
(nitrous oxide) appliances, and don’t operate
proportion that, if inhaled or swallowed, could (HEPA filters) and mechanical pile agitation.
them in confined spaces for long periods of
trigger a health response. Design and furnish Carpets should be professionally cleaned every
time. Ventilate the heated area with fixed wall
your home with easy to clean and washable 18 months. Seek professional advice about
vents (compulsory in some States). Ensure
surfaces and/or fabrics. the best way to clean your carpet — methods
regular maintenance and servicing by a licensed
will vary depending on the type of carpet, its
gasfitter. Older heaters (pre-1990) are more
Carpeted floors? ‘backing’ and any underlay present, and the
likely to produce higher NOx values than new
level of traffic and type of use. Smooth flooring
If new carpets are fixed with adhesives, these heaters. Consider replacing your old model with
should be cleared of dust before wet mopping
may contain VOCs. Underlay can also be a new, flued (vented) model.
so that the water does not simply spread
a source. Ask to see carpets promoted by the dust. Avoid cleaners that use fragranced
manufacturers as ‘low emission’ products. Is there a sealable door between the garage products as they include VOCs.
Make sure your supplier unrolls the carpet in and the rest of your home?
a well-ventilated area and lets it air for several
The exhaust from conventional petrol and diesel How well does your vacuum cleaner capture
days before it is delivered and installed.
engines contains many pollutants, including fine particles?
Trapped dust and microbiological pollutants millions of very fine particles and a variety of
Most modern mobile vacuum cleaners are
can be a problem if they are released from the toxic gases. Such engines should not be run
good at picking up and retaining visible
carpet into the air, or may be a direct problem in confined spaces (like a garage) for more
dusts. However, many struggle to remove all
for crawling babies and young children playing than a few seconds, unless there is very good
the particles trapped in carpets, and most
on carpets. ventilation. Do not allow contaminated air from
machines let very fine particles pass through
the garage to circulate through your home.
the filter/bag, back into the room’s air.
What about tiled, vinyl, linoleum or polished Choose a garage that stands apart from your
floors? home. If it is attached, make sure the linking If your health or that of your family seems
door is well fitted and able to be securely sealed to suffer after floors have been vacuumed,
Smooth floor surfaces, like ceramic tiles, vinyl consider a central vacuum system which expels
against leaks.
linoleum or polished wood, can be easier air outdoors. Alternatively, purchase a high filter
to clean. Before specifying such products, efficiency (HEPA) vacuum cleaner, preferably
check whether there are likely to be any VOCs In-use/maintenance with mechanical pile agitation (they cost more).
present, either in the product itself or in other If you are particularly sensitive to allergens, wear
products used to lay it (like adhesives) or to seal Do the kitchen, laundry or bathroom a face mask during vacuuming and for a short
the floor covering (like varnishes and paints) and windows remain damp for more than fifteen period afterwards.
for maintenance products, such as cleaning minutes after cooking or washing?
fluids and polishes.
Depending on your home’s original design or Are doormats located at all entrance points?
the impact of recent renovations there may Carried on footwear, pollutants including lead
Is a wood-burning heater your best option?
not be enough ‘air changes’ to quickly remove particles from vehicle exhausts or contaminated
Poorly installed or badly maintained wood- cooking odours or moisture. The kitchen, soil, can enter your home and become part of
burning heaters and stoves can be a major laundry and bathrooms should have exhaust the breathable dust load. Doormats can reduce
source of fine combustion particles and fans to vent moist air to the outside. Ask your the amount of material brought into your home.
gases from leaks and from opening of the fan supplier about energy efficient models. In
door for refuelling. Before installing a wood- the absence of exhaust fans, and where it is
burning heater or stove check that your local safe to do so, open kitchen and/or bathroom
government allows them. Compare safety and windows to ‘flush’ the air after cooking,
efficiency claims of competing manufacturers. washing clothes and bathing.
Ensure the flue or vent is properly designed and
installed and is regularly maintained. Only burn When was the kitchen exhaust fan or range
well-seasoned wood. [See: 6.2 Heating and hood last cleaned?
A well-sited kitchen exhaust fan and/or range
hood that vents to the outside may remove
Are gas appliances vented to the outside?
many of the particles and gases that arise when
Buy appliances that vent their combustion cooking on gas stoves, but fat droplets settle
products to the outside (gas cookers should within the vent. These deposits build up over
Paul Downton

be vented to the outside by an exhaust fan or a time and can become both a fire hazard and a
range hood). home for fungi and bacteria. Wash exhaust fans
and range hoods regularly.
3.3 The Healthy Home 61 design for life

How good a fit is the ‘fitted kitchen’? Are you looking after your compost heap What precautions are you or your painting
properly? contractor taking when sanding back
Cockroaches seek tight spaces to squeeze
existing paint?
into. With food, water and a snug place like Compost heaps need regular maintenance
the little cracks and crevices common in and should be located well away from living Rubbing existing paint with an abrasive, such
poorly fitted kitchens — cockroaches couldn’t areas. Unless the heap is managed correctly, as sandpaper, creates a lot of fine particles.
be happier. Plug all gaps between kitchen not only will it attract unwanted vermin, such This is a potential health risk, both when the
units, walls and floor. Ask your local hardware as rats, mice and cockroaches, but it may also particles are in the air (where they can be
supplier about the types of non-toxic gap increase the numbers of fungal spores in the inhaled) and when they settle on a surface
sealants available. air close to your home. Most gardening books (where children or pets may swallow them).
and nurseries provide good information on how The risk increases if the paint contains more
The wood you intend to burn: has it been best to look after your compost heap. than very small amounts of lead or other
chemically treated? metals. Contractors know how to capture the
Has the potting mix been stored in a cool dust before it travels any distance through
Do not burn chemically treated wood, indoors or into your home and should take care in
or out. Do not burn wood with varnish, paint or cleaning up residues. Without appropriate
other visible chemical treatment, like creosote. Sealed bags of soil potting mix have been equipment, vacuuming of lead paint dust is
Avoid burning ‘CCA (chromated copper known to contain high levels of the bacteria not recommended.
arsenate)-treated’ wood. If in doubt, don’t responsible for legionnaires’ disease. Store
burn. Well-seasoned, clean wood is best for unopened bags in a cool, dark place. When
burning in heaters and stoves. opening a bag for the first time, do so in a well-
ventilated area and avoid breathing the dust. additional READING
Thinking of buying new fixtures made of Wear a face mask.
Asthma Australia
pressed wood products?
Most modern furniture is made wholly or partly A ustralian Environmental Labelling Association
from plywood, particleboard or medium-density
fibreboard (MDF). The resins in these products
B EDP Environment Design Guide
can off-gas formaldehyde for many years. PRO 4 Chemical Risks in the Built Environment
Australian manufacturers produce low-emission – An Introduction
products and are marked low formaldehyde
 ’Alessio, V. (2002) Allergy Free Home A Practical
emission LFE (E1) or LFE (E0) and their Guide to Creating a Healthy Environment, New
emissions are certified through product quality Holland, Sydney.
assurance programs. Some imported products
 aterial Safety Data Sheets
may have high emission levels. Check the
origin and emission class with your retailer or
S pengler, J, McCarthy, J and Samet J (eds) (2000),
Paul Downton

contact the Australian Wood Panel Association.

Indoor Air Quality Handbook, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Do the new soft furnishings have low gas T he Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology
and Allergy
Many soft furnishings contain foams or other
T otal Environment Centre
synthetic. These can release various unhealthy
gases over time. Some manufacturers are Renovation
working to reduce off-gassing. Ask suppliers Principal author:
for details about the chemicals used in the Does the paint you intend to remove This fact sheet has been adapted from Healthy Homes:
product, particularly VOCs, and their advice contain lead? A guide to indoor air quality in the home for buyers,
on possible health effects. Try to find products builders and renovators; Department of Health and
Lead paint is most likely to be found in homes
with low-emission labels. Ageing, 2003.
built before 1970. Paints containing up to
50 per cent lead were commonly used on the
Is that fragrant product such a good idea? inside and outside of houses built before 1950.
Most liquid cleaning agents, many personal Up to the late 1960s paint with more than
hygiene products, air fresheners and perfumed 1 per cent lead was still being used.
toiletries contain VOCs. Some people’s health Regulations have reduced the levels of lead
rapidly deteriorates after smelling or coming in paint to 0.1 per cent.
into contact with one or more of these types of Commercial home test kits are available from
product, even for just a few seconds. some hardware stores. For more reliable
results, use the services of an analytical
laboratory. If you do find lead in or around
your home, phone your state or territory public
health unit for advice.
design for life 62 3.4 SAFETY AND SECURITY

Safety and Security

Good building design can help achieve Kitchen safety > Locate microwave ovens above the eye level
a safer and secure living environment. of children or at back of a bench to prevent
The majority of domestic accidents occur
These design features can be incorporated them gazing into it. Have the microwave
in the kitchen and bathroom.
upfront in the design and contruction checked regularly for microwave leakage.
phase or through ongoing modification and Apply the following general design tips to
maintenance. This fact sheet should be read reduce the likelihood of accidents:
in conjuction with 3.2 The Adaptable House, Bathroom safety
> Design for unobstructed access to the
3.3 The Healthy Home and 3.5 Bushfires. > Use slip resistant flooring and avoid steps.
work triangle (the area containing the
stove, sink and refrigerator). > Provide handles and bars near baths, in
SAFETY > Eliminate or reduce cross traffic through
showers and adjacent to toilets for elderly
and disabled users.
Most accidents occur in the home. The design the work triangle.
of a house, construction methods, materials, > Design and install child resistant cabinets for
> Protect hot plates with a guardrail or deep
finishes, applicances and maintenance all medicines and hazardous substances.
setback and use fire resistant finishes
influence home safety. This section provides an adjacent to and above the cook top. > Comply with Australian Standards that specify
overview of safety issues relating to:
minimum distances between water sources
> Round-off bench edges and corners.
> Kitchens. (baths, basins, tubs) and power points.
> Bathrooms. > Design heatproof benchtops or inserts either
side of oven and grill for rapid set down of hot
> Fittings (doors, windows and hot water
dishes and trays.
> Outdoor areas.
> Fire risk prevention.
Storage cupboards
Pipes and surfaces under sinks to be
for occasional use,
insulated. ‘P’ traps are preferred to improve
with hinged doors
the leg space for wheelchair users

Approximately 2100mm
Natural ventilation, above the floor
light and a
pleasant outlook Sliding doors to

1200mm max
above floor

Slip resistant floor

Courtesy Robert Moore , ‘Housing for life’

extended to walls Power point: Provide

one double power
point within 300mm
of bench front
1.55m distance between
opposing benches

Underbench module that

Wall oven at bench height Storage space for
can be removed to become
with a fold down door trays, cutting boards
a food preparation area for
and towel rack
a person in a wheelchair
3.4 SAFETY AND SECURITY 63 design for life

> Comply with the BCA requirements for > Consider latch rather than knob type handles Wiring and electrical
outward opening of sanitary WC doors or for ease of use by weak or disabled people. > Carefully plan the provision of power
install sliding doors or use hinges that permit outlets. Insist on an electrical layout plan.
doors to be removed from the outside. Many Floors, stairs and ramps
It will save you later inconvenience and
heart attacks occur in WCs with the victim > Use ramps instead of stairs where possible. may save your life.
blocking inward opening doors.
> Observe optimum rise to run ratios for stairs > Install earth leakage devices and circuit
> Ensure that privacy locks on bathroom doors as shown in the figure below. breakers to all power outlets.
can be opened from the outside in the case
> Ensure that stair rails and balustrades comply > Provide adequate power points and circuits.
of an emergency.
with BCA minimum standards. Balustrades This eliminates the need for power boards,
> Provide a night light or movement sensitive with maximum 125mm gap between which can overload circuitry. It also reduces
light switch in the passage for safe access to balusters must be provided where finished the need for cords to trail across walkways,
the toilet at night. floor level is higher than one metre above the where they can trip or electrocute.
ground level.
> Ensure that the switchboard can be easily
Fittings > Avoid changes of level within the house and accessed at night. Safety switches should be
between the house and the outside. Where used on indoor and outdoor circuits.
Hot water changes of level are necessary, ensure that
> Instantaneous hot water systems should have they are clearly visible with colour change in Heaters
their thermostats set at 50°C or less to help floor covering. > Ensure fan heaters have a safety switch
prevent scalding. to cut power off if the fan stops or heater
> Hot water storage systems should be set to
Use non-slip, impact absorbing
at 60°C to inhibit growth of harmful bacteria > Never leave a heater unattended.
such as legionella. Incorporate a fail-safe
floor surfaces where possible,
mixing valve on both the bath and shower to
especially on stairs or ramps > Position the heater to avoid intake blockage

avoid scalding. [See: 6.5 Hot Water Service] and in wet areas. or material falling on it.

> Pets may lie close to heaters and accidentally

> Install a tempering valve or an outlet shut-off
knock bedding, mats and other materials
valve in your existing system to reduce the Windows onto the heater.
flow of water to a trickle if it’s too hot. When
> Design windows with easy access for
cold water is added and the temperature Ceiling fans
opening, closing and cleaning. Windows
becomes safe, the valve opens and the flow
should comply with requirements of the Position ceiling fans at least 2.4m above floor
returns to normal. This can prevent accidents
Australian Standard 1926.1-1993 in situations level to reduce risk of injury.
if you have small children or elderly people in
where the window provides access from a
your home.
building to a swimming pool area.
Outdoor safety
Doors > In areas of a building that have a high
> Install self-closing (but not self-locking) potential for human impact grade A safety > Plant light coloured plants along the edges of
screen doors at external entrances. glazing should be used. Glazing in high paths to make them clearer at night.
human impact areas should be marked to > Provide solar powered or movement sensitive
> Internal door handles should be one metre
make it readily visible according with section outdoor lighting along paths, especially near
from the floor so young children cannot of the BCA.. steps or bends. Use energy efficient lighting.
open them.
> Ensure that all new glazing complies with [See: 6.3 Lighting]
relevant Australian standards and bears a > Provide safety fencing around pools
manufacturer’s stamp certifying compliance. and ponds in accordance with BCA and
state regulations to prevent access by
STAIR RISER AND GOING DIMENSIONS (mm) unsupervised children.
Stair type Riser (R) Going (G) Slope relationship
(see figure below) (see figure below) (2R+G)
MAX MIN MAX MIN MAX MIN Fire risk and prevention
Stairs (other than spiral) 190 115 355 240 700 550
Spiral 220 140 370 210 680 590 > Use fire resistant materials, linings and
finishes, particularly in kitchens.

> Install smoke alarms and regularly ensure that

R R batteries are fitted correctly and still charged.

> Equip the home with fire extinguishers.

> Consider installing a domestic sprinkler

G G system.

125mm sphere must not pass through treads

Source: Building Code of Australia
design for life 64 3.4 SAFETY AND SECURITY

House fires can often be low fencing to

> Fit the main entry doors with viewing ports to
prevented through careful allow identification of visitors.
define territory and
bay windows
design and maintenance. allow good street
maintain outlook
> Direct infrared activated security lights toward
observation likely access/egress areas to illuminate
potential offenders.
> Favour furnishings and floor coverings with > Avoid or modify trees, carports and lattices
fire retardant properties. Ratings are available that can act as ‘ladders’ to upper storeys.
for many items and include flammability adequate lighting
> Ensure that external storage areas, laundries,
indexes, spread of flame indexes and smoke
letterboxes and communal areas are well lit
generated indexes. Various construction
and observable from inside.
systems have fire ratings that determine
how long they will withstand a fire and retain > Clearly delineate property boundaries using
habitable room
structural integrity. Ask your local council for provides outlook
gardens, distinctive paving, lawn strips,
full details. able to view visitors at to street ramps and fences.
front door before opening
> Fences and walls should be low and/or
open to improve observation and maximise
Security Target hardening sunlight. Vegetation should not obscure
The view that crime prevention and security is building entrances, windows and other
Improve building security standards. Locks and
only a matter for law enforcement agencies is vulnerable areas.
security screens should be installed to deter
no longer true. Individuals, neighbourhoods,
thieves. Doors, windows and halls should be > Ensure that entrances are clearly private and
local authorities and planners can all play a role
made more secure, and the quality of exterior well illuminated.
in reducing the incidence and fear of crime.
doors, door frames, hinges and locks must be
> Install sensor lighting or timed lighting that
Appropriate design of individual dwellings high. Exterior lighting and alarm systems can
can be controlled from within the dwelling.
and their relationship to one another and to add to security.
the surrounding neighbourhood can all play > Join or establish Community Safe House
a part in preventing crime. This approach is programs in your area.
often referred to as ‘crime prevention through Access control
> Provide pleasant, well-defined pedestrian
environmental design’ and there is a lot of Use real or perceived barriers to discourage routes overlooked by neighbouring houses
evidence based research to show that it works. intruders. Real barriers include a picket fence, and employ traffic calming measures to slow
a brick wall or a hedge. Perceived barriers can cars and encourage pedestrian activity where
be created by a flower garden or a change in possible. [See: 2.3 Streetscape; 2.6 Transport]
Many burglaries are level or design between the public space of a
footpath and private front yard. > Set buildings back from the verge to create a
opportunist crimes. A burglar perception of semi-private space.
only needs to spot an open (The above has been adapted from Geason
window or an unlocked door and Wilson, 1989). > Encourage casual use of public and semi-
private open spaces during evening hours so
or gate to make their move. See also the quick tips below: they can be ‘animated’ with legitimate activities.
> Install an intruder alarm system according to
The principles for crime prevention through the Australian Standard (AS 2201.1, Intruder
design for individuals and neighbourhoods alarm systems Part 1: Systems installed in additional READING
include the following: client’s premises).
 eason, S. and Wilson, P., (1989), Designing Out Crime:
> Display security system notices prominently. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,
Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
> Select a security system with low standby
power consumption. Many systems use S A Department of Justice, Crime Prevention through
Outdoor spaces should be designed to foster a excessive electrical energy over a year. [See: Environmental Design
stronger sense of ownership and communality. 6.1 Energy Use Introduction]
In apartments, for example, residents need > Design or modify your home to eliminate dark UK Association of Police Offices – Crime Prevention
to feel that public spaces such as halls and Initiative, Secured by Design
corners, narrow pedestrian walkways and
elevators belong to them. hidden recesses.
> Design balconies and windows to maximise Principal author: Scott Woodcock
Natural surveillance natural observation of vehicle and pedestrian
Contributing authors:
Surveillance should be a part of the normal Stuart Waters
> Ensure that perimeter doors and windows are Geoff Milne
and routine activities of individuals and
of solid construction and fitted with quality Chris Reardon
neighbourhoods. It can be enhanced by
deadlocking devices.
positioning windows for clear sightlines so streets,
footpaths and play areas can be watched. > Glass should be reinforced with shatter
resistant material to prevent entry.
> Ensure that skylights and roofing tiles can not
be easily removed from the outside.
3.5 BUSHFIRES 65 design for life

This fact sheet outlines essential design
issues for buildings in bushfire prone
locations. The potential for bushfires is an
integral part of Australia’s bushland. The
functioning of that natural environment
requires and accommodates fire. Buildings
sited in this environment thus similarly need
to cope with fire.

Bushfire is a fact of life in much of Australia.

Long hot summers dry out the vegetation.

The vegetation holds oils and flammable fibre
which, along with the fallen leaf and bark
debris, create a substantial fuel load.

High temperatures, strong winds, airborne

dust, and ignition sources from natural and
human factors combined can then trigger and
propagate fire.

Building sustainably emphasises certain

preferred outcomes including the use of local
base fuel loads which aid the spread of fire. Ignition
Flammability arises also from detailed features
materials with low embodied energy and with Ignition can be from natural and manmade
such as leaf size and form.
recycling and low toxicity attributes. causes.
Climatic factors that contribute to ignition and
Meeting bushfire needs can call on different > Natural ignition sources include lightning from
propagation of fire by drying out vegetation
priorities: recycled timber often does not summer storms striking ground features.
meet non-combustion rating requirements,
> Human instigated fire can begin from solar
fire resistant paint embodies toxins, steel and > Long dry summers.
heat concentration onto manmade debris
other non-combustible components have high > Low rainfall.
such as glass shards or bottles concentrating
embodied energy. Meeting the specifications
> High temperature. heat to ignition.
for bushfire resistance can be at odds with
some sustainability goals. > Windy days.
> Direct human ignition of vegetation is an on-
Bushfire develops in stages from ignition going concern.
through fire spread, growth, travel and changes
For intense bushfire prone in intensity. Bushfire resistance aims to:
places, bushfire resistance Fire progression
> Prevent ignition.
comes first in building After ignition, the small initial fire travels through
> Minimise fire spread.
construction decisions. In direct fuel load, principally ground debris.
> Combat flame growth and intensity change.
other locations, sustainable > Ground slope and wind assist the spread
and bushfire resistant The goal is to minimise destructive effects. of fire.
construction choices can mix. The attention throughout is on minimisation of
adverse impact on people and property. > Density of fuel load permits increasing fire
Fire Progression
Mechanisms of fire spread
The Australian landscape has features that
instigate and propagate wildfire.

Indigenous vegetation contains oils in timber

and leaf that at higher temperatures form
flammable vapour and feed flame. Vegetation
debris such as bark, leaf and fallen limbs form ignition spread growth fire front fire ball
design for life 66 3.5 BUSHFIRES

As the fire enlarges, this permits flame The vertical spread of vegetation across the > Long term wetting of ground, mulch, ground
spread through debris and vegetation, both layers from grass to understorey and canopy cover and plants with wastewater or garden
in the understorey and canopy, giving the enables fire to change in flame form and height, water sources.
fire additional height and moving it toward with independent fire travel at each level of this
> Active fire fighting in the garden as well as on
intensification. vegetation mix.
the building.
Fire grows by:
At time of fire approach, water delivery and spray
> Burning debris dispersal. Design priorities to the garden similarly reduces fire intensity, in
To deal with the fire behaviour outlined above, particular via airborne burning embers.
> Direct fire front heat radiation.
a design approach to bushfire resistance within Water spray is delivered on ground and
> Direct flame onto further vegetation. the property focuses on: vegetation to retain a wetted condition, with
> Preventing fire ignition sources. reciprocating stand sprinklers creating a water
Growth droplet curtain to reduce fire approach intensity.
> Avoiding fuel load that could contribute to
Increasing fire intensity and growth then permits spread or intensification. On-going maintenance is integral to such
fire propagation through living vegetation site development issues with on-going debris
> Creating fire barriers that permit safe reduction, and ensuring serviceability of water
from burning debris and direct flame, with the
movement for people and reduce fire delivery including stand pipes and sprinklers
increased fuel load including vegetation oils
advancement and propagation. which need to be effective at time of fire. See
boiled off and vegetation dried ahead of the fire
front by direct radiation. > Creating site surroundings and using illustration below.
construction elements that reduce fire load on Development for passive bushfire resistance
Development of intense fire front includes
buildings. can include creating changes in landform in
creation of individual fireballs of oils and embers
propelled ahead of the main fire line advance. These are each expanded on in text and the direction of potential fire approach. That
These fireballs permit spot fires separate from diagrams. type of mound can provide both shielding from
the fire front, causing either independent fires or direct radiant heat in the fire front, and deflect
accelerating the fire front advance. the core fire front flame or fire ball above the
Site issues building form.
The intensity of fire impact on buildings can In the same way, the fundamental siting of
Fire propagation
be reduced by the features in the surrounding the building in relation to natural landform and
The speed of fire front advance is contributed land area. stands of vegetation determines the likely fire
to by the ambient weather, notably dry high intensity at the building face.
Reducing fire approach and intensity is
temperatures and wind. See illustration below.
contributed to by site development, its on-going Positioning below the crest of rising ground
Ground level fire propagation is increased by maintenance, and fire fighting tasks on the day: can reduce fire heat intensity on the building
changing ground slope and vegetation. Wind face compared with siting on the hill top. Siting
> Selection of high water bearing and fire
behind the firefront and upslope can accelerate behind existing dense vegetation can be a
resistant plant species.
fire spread, as can wind swirl around landform position where fire approach slows and fire front
obstacles together with downslope and dry radiance is reduced. The positioning of wind
ground conditions. break vegetation and out-building clusters can
also contribute in this role.
Fire Propagation

heat wind slope vegetation

Fire protect site

pre-wet plants sprays deflection mound

3.5 BUSHFIRES 67 design for life

Landscape Legislation Adjacent open structures (pergolas and decks)

may contain combustible elements or ember
While vegetation is often considered as Development legislation includes minimum
traps. These building elements should be
contributing to fuel ignition source and fire requirements for bushfire resistance of building
structurally separate from the building and not
spread fuel, in selected circumstances it can be construction. The Building Code of Australia
penetrate the building exterior.
part of fire barrier design. (2.) sets performance goals (Part F2.3.4) and
defines accepted standard construction (Part In the building itself, common construction
Vegetation can form part of a fire barrier if it:
3.7.4). junctions need to be sealed against ember
> Holds moisture throughout summer. entry and flame access to the structure.
Requirements vary according to the location’s
> Creates a continuous screen from assessed fire risk (medium, high, extreme). The junctions are:
understorey to canopy. An individual building site is assessed according > Roof ridge and flashings.
to Australian Standard 3959 (3.) that sets out
Water delivery and its capacity to be retained
assessment methods and bushfire resistant > End flutes of roof sheet at the gutter line.
on surfaces can also contribute.
building elements. > Eaves junctions to fascia and wall.
Plant criteria which reduce fire potential include:
Advice and formal assessment is performed > Openings to cavities in walls and under
> Leaves with moisture and mineral content, by the approriate regional Country Fire suspended floor voids.
and low oil levels. Services or Country Fire Authority. For some
locations, the state government provides Openings are potential fire entry sources.
> Leaves with fine form and dispersed foliage
mapping for the general bushfire prone Embers can enter through gaps in openable
category of various regions. portions, and flame can enter through glass
> Dispersed foliage clumps or clumps clear broken by fire radiant heat.
The following summarises thinking about fire
of the ground.
resistance in building construction drawn from Construction to resist this includes:
> Limited foliage volume. the sources above. > Seals placed in junctions between frames and
> Low dead foliage content. exterior claddings.

> Bark which is tight fitting and continuous Building envelope > Seals around frames in openable sashes.
rather than presenting recesses in which
Beyond reducing fire intensity as described > Bronze mesh flyscreens covering openable
embers can lodgement.
above, the building itself is built to be fire sections of doors and windows.
> Plants that create debris with fine form and resistant. Detail construction to the building
> Flyscreens covering open drainage and perps
make a compact litter. exterior seeks to avoid ember entry and
(open vertical joints for ventilation required by
combustion commencement through
other legislation seeking to avoid damp and
construction with non-combustible materials,
vermin in buildings) in walls.
Approach paths to buildings surfaces and sealed construction junctions.
Non-combustible materials include sheet and
Occupants wanting to evacuate the property Complicated roof shapes generally offer more
masonry materials (steel, fibre cement, brick
during bushfire need fire safe paths on the places for embers to lodge and make it more
and stone). Manufacturers continue to evolve
property. These are also essential for access difficult to seal the roof. Keep roof forms simple.
treatments to provide fire resistance to timbers
into the property for fire fighting and to provide
but some paint coating options may contain
defensible spaces during fire fighting.

Attributes of paths and defensible spaces


> Pathway width, slope and surfaces able to

be negotiated when conditions are bad and
visibility is affected by smoke and flame.

> Paths that avoid going toward high fire

intensity areas.

> Widths and turnarounds that accommodate

the needs of fire fighting vehicles. external structure seals eave seals roof ridge seals

> Avoidance of adjacent and overhanging

vegetation that might be a fire source
or create barriers by collapsing across

vent seals window seals shutter screen seals

design for life 68 3.5 BUSHFIRES

chemicals and combustion toxins. In some

additional READING
jurisdictions (South Australia) some dense
timber species (turpentine, blackbutt) are A ustralian Building Codes Board (2007), Building Code
accepted as adequate for use in some bushfire of Australia, Vol 2, Part 3.7.4 Bushire Areas, AGPS,
risk categories.
Improving fire resistance to glazing can include
using toughened glass that is less prone to
heat load breakage as it requires 450°C surface Ramsay G and Rudolph L (2003), Landscape and
building design for bushfire areas, CSIRO, Melbourne.
temperature to physically fail.
S chauble J (2004), Australian Bushfire Safety Guide,
Further fire resistance can be achieved Harper Collins, Pymble, NSW.
beyond minimum requirements with fixtures
T imber Development Association
including shutters over openings either of non-
combustible or fire rated construction.
Y ates A et al (2002), ‘Special conditions – gardening
Some fire entry points may be unexpected. in fire-prone areas’ in Yates Garden Guide, Angus and
Services ducts, conduits and pipes need to Robertson, Pymble, NSW.
be non-combustible both where externally
exposed and 300mm down into the ground. Principal author:
Emilis Prelgauskas

Ageing and decay of materials, construction
and finishes can reduce building resistance
to fire.

Burning embers can lodge in the resulting

cracks in surface and material depth of those
external surfaces, giving a foothold for fire
damage to the building exterior.

Movement of non-combustible linings away

from structure and services can expose
previously protected material that may then be
prone to damage by fire, providing a fire path to
the building interior.

Routine maintenance beyond debris removal

includes repair to building surfaces and
openings to maintain bushfire resistant

> Fill cracks and gaps as these develop.

> Maintain exterior surface finishes intact.

> Remove ember lodgement and entry places.

> Maintain seals (ridge, eaves, flashings).

> Maintain flyscreens.

4.1 INTRODUCTION 69 passive design

Passive Design
Passive design is design that does not 4.3 Orientation In climates where no heating is required,
require mechanical heating or cooling. shading of the whole home and outdoor
A home that is well positioned on its site
Homes that are passively designed take spaces will improve comfort and save energy.
delivers significant lifestyle and environmental
advantage of natural climate to maintain
benefits. Correct orientation assists passive This fact sheet explains how to choose or
thermal comfort.
heating and cooling, resulting in improved design climate and orientation specific shading
Incorporating the principles of passive design comfort and decreased energy bills. solutions for all types of Australian housing.
in your home:
The information is presented in three parts:
> Significantly improves comfort. 4.5 Passive Solar Heating
> Principles of good orientation.
> Reduces or eliminates heating and Passive solar heating is about keeping the
> Orientation for passive solar heating.
cooling bills. summer sun out and letting the winter sun in.
> Orientation for passive cooling. It is the least expensive way to heat your home.
> Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
from heating, cooling, mechanical The fact sheet explains how the following key
ventilation and lighting.
4.4 Shading elements of passive solar heating are applied.
Building envelope is a term used to describe > Northerly orientation of window areas.
Shading of glass is a critical consideration
the roof, walls, windows, floors and internal
in passive design. Unprotected glass is the > Passive shading of glass.
walls of a home. The envelope controls heat
single greatest source of heat gain in a well
gain in summer and heat loss in winter. > Thermal mass for storing heat.
insulated home.
> Minimising heat loss with insulation,
Its performance in modifying or filtering climatic
Shading requirements vary according draught sealing and advanced glazing.
extremes is greatly improved by passive design.
to climate and house orientation.
> Using floor plan zoning to get heating to
Well designed envelopes maximise cooling where it is most needed and keeping it there.
In climates where winter heating is required,
air movement and exclude sun in summer.
shading devices should exclude summer sun
In winter, they trap and store heat from the
but allow full winter sun to penetrate.
sun and minimise heat loss to the external
This is most simply achieved on north facing
Passive solar houses can look
walls. East and west facing windows require like any other home but they
The fundamental principles of passive
different shading solutions to north facing are more comfortable to live
design, explained above are relatively simple
windows. in and cost less to run.
and can be applied to the various climate
zones, house types and construction systems
in Australia.

To explain all of these combinations in sufficient

detail, information has been divided into
separate fact sheets as follows:

4.2 Design for Climate

This fact sheet provides an introductory guide
to the main climate zones in Australia as well
as the key passive design responses for each
climate. It also explains the conditions required
for human thermal comfort and how passive
design assists our bodies in achieving comfort.
Solar Solutions
passive design 70 4.1 INTRODUCTION

4.9 Thermal Mass

Externally insulated, dense materials like
concrete, bricks and other masonry are
used in passive design to absorb, store and
re-release thermal energy. This moderates
internal temperatures by averaging day/night
(diurnal) extremes, therefore increasing comfort
and reducing energy costs.

Topics covered include:

> Where and how to use thermal mass.

4.6 Passive Cooling > Thermal mass solutions for different

climates and construction types.

Ron Cottee
Passive cooling is the least expensive means
of cooling your home. It is appropriate for all > How much thermal mass to use.
Australian climates.

This fact sheet explains how to design and 4.10 Glazing

modify homes to achieve summer comfort and 4.12 Apartments and Multi-unit
minimise or eliminate energy use for cooling. Windows and glazing are a very important Housing
component of passive design because heat
Four key approaches are examined: loss and gain in a well insulated home occurs Apartments and multi-unit dwellings offer
mostly through the windows. additional challenges and opportunities for
> Envelope design for passive cooling.
passive and sustainable design compared to
> Natural cooling sources. With good passive design, this is used to individual dwellings.
advantage by trapping winter heat whilst
> Hybrid cooling systems. excluding summer sun. Cooling breezes This fact sheet examines the multiple design
and air movement are encouraged in summer opportunities available.
> Adapting lifestyle.
and cold winter winds are excluded.
Principal Author:
4.7 Insulation Chris Reardon
4.11 Skylights
Insulation is an essential component of
passive design. It improves building envelope Well positioned and high quality skylights can
performance by minimising heat loss and heat improve the energy performance of your home
gain through walls, roof and floors. and bring welcome natural light to otherwise
dark areas.
Topics covered include:
This fact sheet explains how to position skylights
> Insulation types and their applications. to gain the maximum benefit.
> Recommended insulation levels for
different climates.

> Strategies for cost effective insulation solutions.

4.8 Insulation installation

This fact sheet explains where and how to
install insulation, providing detailed examples
of a range of insulation solutions for various
construction types.
4.2 DESIGN FOR CLIMATE 71 passive design

Design for Climate


High humid summer, warm winter

Tennant Creek Townsville
Latitude 20

Mount Isa

Exmouth Alice Springs Longreach

Newman Rockhampton

Carnarvon Warburton
Charleville Maryborough

Coober Pedy BRISBANE

Bourke Main characteristics:
Kalgoorlie-Boulder Coffs Harbour
Eucla Ceduna Broken Hill Tamworth
PERTH Whyalla Highly humid with a degree of ‘dry season’.
SYDNEY High temperatures year round.
Albury-Wodonga Minimum seasonal temperature variation.
Lowest diurnal (day/night) temperature range.

Key design responses:
Employ lightweight (low mass) construction.
Maximise external wall areas (plans with one
room depth are ideal) to encourage movement
zone Description Australian Climate Zones
of breezes through the building (cross
1 High humid summer, warm winter Australia’s broad range of climatic conditions ventilation). [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
2 Warm humid summer, mild winter have been grouped into eight zones, for
Ceiling fans should be used where required.
3 Hot dry summer, warm winter simplicity. The main characteristics affecting
envelope design for human comfort have been Site for exposure to breezes and shading
4 Hot dry summer, cool winter
listed for each zone along with key responses. all year. [See: 4.3 Orientation]
5 Warm temperate
6 Mild temperate Choose the climate zone for your site from the Shade whole building summer and winter
7 Cool temperate map and refer to the appropriate section for an (consider using a fly roof). [See: 4.4 Shading]
8 Alpine overview of the climate and how to respond to
Use reflective insulation and vapour barriers.
it in passive design terms.
[See: 4.7 Insulation]
This fact sheet provides an introductory
The BCA defines eight climate zones for
guide to key passive design responses for Ventilate roof spaces.
thermal design within Australia. The designer
each main climate zone in Australia. This is a
or builder should be aware that the design and Use bulk insulation if mechanically cooling.
simplified overview only and should be used
construction requirements of single dwellings [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
in conjunction with more detailed information
differ for each climate zone.
presented in subsequent fact sheets. Choose light coloured roof and wall materials.
There are many definitions of Australian climate
An explanation of the conditions required Elevate building to permit airflow beneath floors.
zones. The zones used in this guide are defined
for human thermal comfort and how our Consider high or raked ceilings.
by the Building Code of Australia.
bodies achieve it is included at the end of
this fact sheet. Use this overview, and the highlighted Provide screened, shaded outdoor living areas.
references to other fact sheets to access Consider creating sleepout spaces.
This fact sheet will guide you in choosing the
more detailed information as you proceed
passive design features most appropriate for Design and build for cyclonic conditions.
through the various stages of designing,
your needs, site and climate.
purchasing or altering your home.
passive design 72 4.2 DESIGN FOR CLIMATE


Warm humid summer, mild winter Hot dry summer, warm winter Hot dry summer, cool winter

Main characteristics: Main characteristics: Main characteristics:

High humidity with a definite ‘dry season’. Distinct wet and dry seasons. Distinct seasons with low humidity all year round.
Hot to very hot summers with mild winters. Low rainfall and low humidity. High diurnal (day/night) temperature range.
Distinct summer/winter seasons. No extreme cold but can be cool in winter. Low rainfall.
Moderate to low diurnal (day/night) temperature Hot to very hot summers common. Very hot summers common with hot, dry winds.
range. This can vary significantly between
Significant diurnal (day/night) range. Cool winters with cold dry winds.
regions eg inland to coastal.

Key design responses: Key design responses: Key design responses:

Use passive solar design with insulated Use passive solar principles with well insulated
Use lightweight construction where diurnal (day/
thermal mass. [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] thermal mass. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar Heating;
night) temperature range is low and include
4.9 Thermal Mass]
thermal mass where diurnal range is significant. Maximise cross ventilation. [See: 4.6 Passive
[See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] Cooling] Maximise night time cooling in summer.
[See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
Maximise external wall areas (plans ideally Evaporative cooling or ceiling fans should be
Consider convective (stack) ventilation, which
one room deep) to encourage movement of used if required.
vents rising hot air while drawing in cooler air.
breezes through the building (cross ventilation).
Consider convective (stack) ventilation, which Build more compact shaped buildings
[See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
vents rising hot air while drawing in cooler air. with good cross ventilation for summer.
Site for exposure to breezes. [See: 4.3
Site home for solar access and exposure Maximise solar access, exposure to cooling
to cooling breezes. [See: 4.3 Orientation] breezes and cool air drainage. Protect from
Evaporative cooling or ceiling fans should be strong, cold winter and dusty summer winds.
Shade all east and west glass in summer. [See: 4.3 Orientation]
used if required.
[See: 4.4 Shading]
Shade all east and west glass in summer.
Shade whole building where possible in
Install reflective insulation to keep out heat [See: 4.4 Shading]
summer. [See: 4.4 Shading]
in summer. [See: 4.7 Insulation] Provide shaded outdoor living areas.
Allow passive solar access in winter months only.
Use bulk insulation in ceilings and walls. Consider adjustable shading to control
Shade all east and west walls and glass year solar access.
Build screened, shaded summer outdoor
round. Auxiliary heating may be required.
living areas that allow winter sun penetration.
[See: 6.6 Renewable Energy]
Avoid auxiliary heating as it is unnecessary
Use garden ponds and water features
with good design. Use evaporative cooling if required.
to provide evaporative cooling.
Use reflective and bulk insulation (especially Avoid air-conditioning. [See: 6.2 Heating
and Cooling]
if the house is air-conditioned) and vapour
barriers. [See: 4.7 Insulation] Use reflective insulation to keep out summer
heat. [See: 4.7 Insulation]
Use elevated construction with enclosed floor
space, where exposed to breezes. Use bulk insulation for ceilings, walls and
exposed floors.
Choose light coloured roof and wall materials
Consider double glazing.
Provide screened and shaded outdoor living.
Use ponds and water in shaded courtyards to
provide evaporative cooling.

Draught seal thoroughly. Use airlocks to entries.

4.2 DESIGN FOR CLIMATE 73 passive design


Warm temperate Mild temperate Cool Temperate

Main characteristics: Main characteristics: Main characteristics:

Low diurnal (day/night) temperature range near Low diurnal (day/night) temperature range Low humidity, high diurnal range.
coast to high diurnal range inland. near coast to high diurnal range inland.
Four distinct seasons. Summer and winter
Four distinct seasons. Summer and winter Four distinct seasons. Summer and winter exceed human comfort range, variable spring
can exceed human comfort range. Spring and can exceed human comfort range. Spring and autumn conditions.
autumn are ideal for human comfort. and autumn are ideal for human comfort.
Cold to very cold winters with majority of rainfall.
Mild winters with low humidity. Mild to cool winters with low humidity.
Hot dry summers.
Hot to very hot summers with moderate Hot to very hot summers, moderate humidity.
Key design responses:
Key design responses:
Use passive solar principles. [See: 4.5 Passive
Key design responses:
Use passive solar principles. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar Heating]
Use passive solar principles. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
High thermal mass is strongly recommended.
Solar Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
High thermal mass solutions are recommended. [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass]
Use insulated thermal mass. [See: 4.9 Thermal [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass]
Insulate thermal mass including slab edges.
Mass] Use high insulation levels, especially to [See: 4.7 Insulation]
Use high insulation levels. [See; 4.7 Insulation] thermal mass. [See: 4.7 Insulation]
Maximise north facing walls and glazing,
Maximise solar access in winter. [See: 4.5 Maximise north facing walls and glazing, especially in living areas with passive solar
especially in living areas with passive solar access.
Passive Solar Heating]
access. [See: 4.3 Orientation]
Minimise east, west and south facing glazing.
Minimise all east and west glazing. Use
Minimise all east and west glazing.
adjustable shading. [See: 4.4 Shading] Use adjustable shading. [See: 4.4 Shading]
Use adjustable shading. [See: 4.4 Shading]
Use double glazing to insulate windows. [See: Use double glazing, insulating frames and/or
4.10 Glazing] Use double glazing and heavy drapes with heavy drapes with sealed pelmets to insulate
sealed pelmets to insulate windows. glass in winter.
Minimise east and west wall areas.
Minimise external wall areas (especially east Minimise external wall areas (especially east
Use cross ventilation and passive cooling in and west). and west).
summer. [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
Use cross ventilation and passive cooling Use cross ventilation and night time cooling in
Use convective ventilation and circulation. in summer. [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling] summer. [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
Site homes for solar access and exposure to Use convective ventilation and heat circulation. Site new homes for solar access, exposure
cooling breezes. to cooling breezes and protection from cold
Site new homes for solar access, exposure to
Draught seal and use airlock entries. cooling breezes and protection from cold winds. winds. [See: 4.3 Orientation]

Draught seal thoroughly and use entry airlocks. Draught seal thoroughly and provide airlocks to
No auxiliary heating or cooling is required in
these climates with good design. No auxiliary heating or cooling is required
in these climates with good design. Install auxiliary heating in extreme climates.
Use reflective insulation for summer heat.
Use renewable energy sources. [See: 6.2
Use bulk insulation to walls, ceilings and Use reflective insulation to keep out Heating and Cooling; 6.6 Renewable Energy]
exposed floors. summer heat.
Use reflective insulation to keep out heat
Use bulk insulation to walls, ceilings and in summer.
exposed floors.
Use bulk insulation to keep heat in during
winter. Bulk insulate walls, ceilings and
exposed floors.
passive design 74 4.2 DESIGN FOR CLIMATE

ZONE 8 Climate Sensitive Design Human Thermal Comfort

The importance of climate sensitive design The main factors influencing human
can not be overrated. comfort are:

> Temperature.

> Humidity.

> Air movement (breeze or draught).

> Exposure to radiant heat sources.

> Cool surfaces to radiate for cooling.

Sound building envelope design will moderate

all of these factors except humidity.

To do this effectively, envelope design should

Main characteristics: All round shading is appropriate for tropical climates
only. This style does not work in warm, cool or cold be varied to suit the climate. It can significantly
Low humidity, high diurnal range. climates. improve comfort levels whilst reducing heating
and cooling bills.
Four distinct seasons. Winter can exceed
human comfort range. Humans are comfortable only within a very
narrow range of conditions. Human body
Cold to very cold winters with majority of
temperature must remain at a constant 36.9ºC.
rainfall. Some snowfall.
The body generates heat – even while at rest.
Warm to hot, dry summers, variable spring and We must lose heat at the same rate as it is
autumn conditions. produced or gain heat at the same rate it is lost.
The diagram below shows the various ways by
which our bodies achieve this.
Key design responses:
Use passive solar principles. [See: 4.5 Passive
Solar Heating]
Eaveless cold climate designs (borrowed from Europe)
High thermal mass is recommended but must do not work in Australia.
be well insulated. [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass]

Use high levels of insulation. [See: 4.7

Steve Szokolay
Insulation] Many homes are built
Insulate thermal mass including slab edges.
without eaves to save as
little as $2,500. Builders
Maximise north facing walls and glazing, may then add an air
especially in living areas with passive solar
conditioner to counteract
access. Losing body heat
the overheating effects of
Minimise east, west and south facing glazing. the sun. This environmental We mainly lose heat through the evaporation
Use adjustable shading. [See: 4.4 Shading] burden can easily be avoided. of perspiration. High humidity levels reduce
evaporation rates. When relative humidity
Use double glazing and insulating frames. exceeds 60 per cent, our ability to cool is
Augment with heavy drapes and pelmets. Homeowners pay hundreds of dollars more greatly reduced.
than they need to each year in heating and/
Minimise external wall areas. Evaporation rates are also influenced by air
or cooling bills because they are not taking
Use night time cooling in summer. [See: 4.6 advantage of free heating and cooling from movement. Generally, a breeze of 0.5m per
Passive Cooling] passive design. second provides a one off comfort benefit
equivalent to a 3ºC temperature reduction.
Use convective ventilation and circulation.
We also lose heat by radiating to surfaces
Site homes for solar access and protection from cooler than our body temperature. The greater
cold winds. [See: 4.3 Orientation] the temperature difference, the more we
Draught seal thoroughly and airlock entries. radiate. Whilst not our main means of losing
heat, radiation rates are very important to our
Auxiliary heating may be required. [See: 6.2
perception of comfort.
Heating and Cooling]

Use reflective insulation to keep out summer

heat. [See: 4.7 Insulation]

Use bulk insulation to walls, ceilings and

exposed floors.
4.2 DESIGN FOR CLIMATE 75 passive design

Gaining body heat Additional reading

When the heat produced by our bodies Contact your State / Territory government or local
is insufficient to maintain body temperature, council for further information on passive design
we insulate by putting on more clothes, considerations for your climate.
shelter from wind and draughts, or shiver
(increasing the production of body heat). A ustralian Bureau of Meteorology
This is because we generate most of the heat shtml
required from within. A secondary source of
heat gain is radiation. As with cooling, radiation B EDP Environment Design Guide
is very important to our perception of comfort. DES 20 Arid Climates and Enhanced Natural
GEN 12 Residential Passive Solar Design.

 ommonwealth of Australia, Australian Model Code

for Residential Development (AMCORD) (1995),
AGPS Canberra.

 ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:

Inspirational designs for low-energy housing,
Choice Books, Australia.

 rigley, Derek (2004), Making Your Home

Sustainable: A Guide to Retrofitting, Scribe, Carlton
North, Victoria.

Principal Author:
Chris Reardon
Contributing Author:
Paul Downton

Building thermal comfort

Thermal comfort rating
(or building envelope
performance) tools are
computer programs that
model the amount of
heating and cooling energy
required to maintain
comfortable temperatures
in a building. They take
into account climate,
season and envelope design. [See 1.5
Rating Tools]

A thermal comfort rating only reveals the energy

performance of a building’s design and fabric.
It does not measure other areas of energy
consumption (eg appliance efficiency, transport
and embodied energy).

In warmer climates, these variables can account

for more energy consumption during the
lifespan of your home than the performance of
the envelope.
passive design 76 4.3 ORIENTATION

Good orientation increases the energy Deciding the best orientation Note that solar north deviates significantly from
efficiency of a home, making it more magnetic north throughout Australia and should
Prioritise your heating and cooling needs.
comfortable to live in and cheaper to run. be taken into account when orienting a home.
Are you in a climate that requires mainly
This fact sheet outlines the principals of All references to north in this guide are to solar
passive heating, passive cooling, or a
good orientation and should be read in north not magnetic north.
combination of both?
conjunction with the 4.5 Passive Solar
Your local council can assist you at the planning
Heating and 4.6 Passive Cooling fact sheets. If unsure, compare your summer and winter
stage. Check the planning controls governing
energy bills, consult an architect or designer,
your site, for example building setbacks from
your local energy authority or refer to local
boundaries and height limits, as they may affect
meteorological records. The website for the
how you build on your site.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology is
Research of your local climate may include:

> Temperature ranges- both seasonal

and diurnal. PASSIVE HEATING
> Humidity ranges. Winter
> Direction of cooling breezes, hot winds, shadow West
cold winds, wet winds.

> Seasonal characteristics.

> Impact of local geographic features on South North

climatic conditions. [See: 2.2 Choosing

a Site]

Source: SEAV
Principles of good orientation Observe the impact of adjacent buildings Summer East
and existing landscape on your site. shadow
With good orientation the need for auxiliary
heating and cooling is reduced, resulting in Establish true or solar north for your
Orientation for passive heating is about
lower energy bills and reduced greenhouse region. This is useful in all climates whether
using the sun as a source of free home
gas emissions. encouraging or excluding solar access. Maps
heating. Put simply, it involves letting winter
and street directories can give this information.
Choose a site or home with good orientation sun in and keeping unwanted summer sun
Alternatively, use a compass to establish
for your climatic and regional conditions. out. This can be done with relative ease on
magnetic north and then establish true or solar
Build or renovate to maximise the site’s northern elevations by using shading devices
north by adding or subtracting the ‘magnetic
potential and to achieve the best possible to exclude high angle summer sun and admit
variation’ for your area using the map below.
orientation for living areas. low angle winter sun. [See: 4.4 Shading]

In high humid climates and hot dry climates

with no winter heating requirements, orientation
should aim to exclude sun year round and In high humid climates,
maximise exposure to cooling breezes. orientation should aim to
exclude sun year round and
In all other climates a combination of
maximise access to cooling
passive solar heating and passive cooling
Courtesy Dr Holger Willrath – Solar Logic

is required. The optimum degree of solar

access and the need to capture cooling
breezes will vary with climate.

Where ideal orientation is not possible, as is

often the case in higher density urban areas,
an energy efficient home can still be achieved
with careful attention to design. [See: 4.5 True north as degrees west of magnetic north.
Passive Solar Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
4.3 ORIENTATION 77 passive design

Sites running N-S are ideal because they On sites with poor orientation or limited solar
receive good access to northern sun with access due to other constraints, an energy
minimum potential for overshadowing by efficient home is still achievable through careful
neighbouring houses. In summer neighbouring design. A larger budget may be required. Use
houses can provide protection from low east of advanced glazing systems and shading can
and west sun. achieve net winter solar gains from windows
facing almost any direction while limiting
N-S sites on the north side of the street allow
summer heat gain to a manageable level.
north facing living areas and gardens to be
[See: 4.4 Shading; 4.5 Passive Solar Heating;
located at the rear of the house for privacy.
4.10 Glazing]

Sunpower Design
N-S sites on the south side of the street should
be wide enough to accommodate an entry at
the front as well as private north facing living
areas. Set the house back to accommodate
a north facing garden.
‘Solar access’ is the term used to describe
the amount of useful sunshine reaching the Sites running E-W should be wide enough
living spaces of a home. The desired amount to accommodate north facing outdoor space.
of solar access varies with climate. Overshadowing by neighbouring houses is
more likely to occur on these sites.
Various techniques are available for measuring
solar access when designing a new home
or renovating, to ensure good solar access
Day time living areas shown shaded.
without compromising that of neighbours.
These techniques include computer programs,
charts and formulas.
The house
The ideal orientation for living areas is within the
The site range 15ºW-20ºE of true or ‘solar’ north. (20ºW-
You can achieve good passive solar 30ºE of true north is considered acceptable).
performance at minimal cost if your site has This allows standard eave overhangs to
the right characteristics. Where possible, admit winter sun to heat the building and
choose a site that can accommodate north- exclude summer sun, with no effort from the
facing daytime living areas and outdoor spaces. occupants and no additional cost. [See:
A north facing slope increases the potential
[See: 2.2 Choosing a Site] 4.4 Shading; 4.5 Passive Solar Heating]
for access to northern sun and is ideal for
Permanent solar access is more likely to be higher housing densities. A south facing slope Poor orientation can exclude winter sun, and
achieved on a north-south block. However, increases the potential for overshadowing. cause overheating in summer by allowing low
on narrow blocks, careful design is required angle east or west sun to strike glass surfaces.
Views to the north are an advantage, as north is
to ensure sufficient north facing glass is
the best direction to locate windows and living Look for a house which has good orientation
included for adequate passive solar heating.
areas. If the view is to the south avoid large or can be easily adapted for better orientation.
[See: 2.9 Challenging Sites]
areas of glass in order to minimise winter heat
loss. West or east facing glass areas will cause Look for living spaces with good access
overheating in summer if not properly shaded. to winter sun. North facing living areas and
balconies or outdoor spaces are ideal.

Look for a suitable area of glass on north facing

walls with access to winter sun. As a general
guide this should be 10-25 per cent of the floor
area of the room.

High level openable windows capture winter sun

and create cooling currents in summer.
passive design 78 4.3 ORIENTATION

Check that west facing glazing is not excessive Designing a new house Maximise the amount of daytime living space
in area and is properly shaded to prevent or renovating that faces north, whether designing a new
overheating. West facing walls receive the house or configuring renovations.
strongest sun at the hottest part of the day. There are things you can do to maximise
what your site has to offer when you build Provide passive solar shading to east, west and
or renovate. north facing elevations, particularly glass areas.
Correctly designed eaves are generally all that
If renovating, check the existing floor plan. is required to shade the northern elevations of
Do the living areas face the right way to single storey houses. [See: 4.4 Shading]
take advantage of winter sun and cooling
summer breezes? Place a suitable amount of glazing in north
facing walls with solar access. The glazing area
It’s easy to change the orientation of a house should be between 10 to 25 per cent of the
Space free when renovating: swap room uses from one
of major floor area of the room, depending on climate
obstructions side of the house to another. Doing this enables and mass. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar Heating]
the house to work better without necessarily
becoming bigger. This saves building costs Glazing on other facades should ideally be
Source: SEAV

and long term running and maintenance costs. less to prevent unwanted heat loss and gain.
South facing glass facilitates winter heat loss,
while east and particularly west facing glass
encourages summer heat gain if not properly
Check that there is no significant detrimental shaded. Smaller, well shaded windows are
over-shadowing by adjacent buildings and trees. desirable for cross ventilation.

Ensure that there is year round solar access Avoid west facing bedrooms where possible.
for clothes drying and solar collectors. East facing bedrooms are acceptable as
they capture morning sun but remain cool
on summer evenings.
Project homes
Select a design that allows living areas to
face north on your site. Most project home
companies will mirror or flip a design to suit
your needs at no extra cost.

Source: AMCORD
Check and adjust north eave overhangs
for passive performance. [See: 4.4 Shading]
Original floor plan.
Turn north facing verandahs into pergolas
by replacing roofing material such as tiles or
metal with slats or louvres, particularly over
window areas.

Shade east and west facing glass by adding

shade structures. Relocating verandahs and
deep covered balconies to the east or west Locate utility areas such as laundries,
can improve shading on those elevations. bathrooms, garages and sheds to the south,
[See: 4.4 Shading] west and east to protect living areas from
summer sun and winter winds.
Reducing the amount of south, east and
especially west facing glazing, or relocating Maximise the distance between the house
some to north facing walls often adds no and any building development to the north.
cost but significantly improves performance. Avoid placing obstructions such as carports
or sheds to the north.
Smaller windows on south, east and west
facing walls can aid cross ventilation. Building on the south boundary (if permitted
by your local council) can be useful to increase
the amount of north facing outdoor space.
New floor plan. Avoid compromising the solar access of
neighbours by overshadowing.

The diagrams above show how the layout Plant shade trees in the appropriate locations.
of a house in a warm temperate climate was Landscaping can also be used to block or
changed to let winter sun in and let summer filter harsh winds. [See: 2.4 Sustainable
Landscapes; 4.4 Shading]
breezes flow through.
Prune vegetation that blocks winter sun.
4.3 ORIENTATION 79 passive design

Orientation for
passive cooling
Good orientation for passive cooling excludes
unwanted sun and hot winds and ensures
access to cooling breezes. A degree of passive
cooling is necessary for most Australian climates.

In high humid climates and hot dry climates

with warm winters, direct and reflected sunlight
should be excluded at all times of the year.
In all other climates a degree of controlled
solar access is beneficial.

The site
Look for a site with good access to cooling The house Windows should be openable and located
breezes. Ensure that landscape and adjacent on more than one side of a room to improve
buildings do not block beneficial breezes. Choose or design a house with maximum
[See: 2.2 Choosing a Site] exposure to cooling breezes and limited or no
exposure to direct sun (depending on climate). Outdoor living areas such as courtyards,
Look for a suitably shaded site. Land with a verandahs and balconies should be
Use careful design to improve performance
south facing slope will provide increased shade. suitably shaded.
in the case of poorly oriented sites or existing
South is a good direction for views, as homes. [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
south facing windows require no shading
from direct sun, or minimal shading above
Security and noise can be an issue in Project homes
the Tropic of Capricorn. many locations. Use security screens over
Select a design that can be positioned
openings to allow effective ventilation without
Solar access is beneficial for solar on your site to capture cooling breezes,
compromising safety. In high noise areas early
collectors, clothes drying and vegetable particularly to living areas. Avoid large
evening is a good time to ventilate the house.
gardens in all climates. areas of west facing windows.
By night time the house has cooled and
On sites with poor orientation or no access openings can be closed for a better sleep.
to cooling breezes an energy efficient home
Look for a house that has good orientation or Most project home
is still possible with good design. Use high
can be easily adapted for better orientation.
level windows and vents to create convection companies will mirror or
currents for cooling in the absence of breezes. Look for a house that is well shaded and flip a design to suit your
Landscape and building form can be designed
facilitates the flow of cooling breezes through it. needs at no extra cost.
[See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
to deflect and control the flow of breezes or
to block unwanted sun. [See: 2.4 Sustainable
Moving windows or doors from one
Landscapes; 4.4 Shading; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
elevation to another to capture cooling
breezes often adds no cost but makes
significant improvements to performance.

Avoid windows with fixed glass. Ask for

windows with a significant openable area
for ventilation.

Ensure that all openings are suitably shaded.

Use landscape as an effective means of
providing additional shade. [See: 4.4 Shading]
Narrow, elongated buildings facilitate passive
cooling. Ideally the long elevation should open Ask for eaves to be included if the design
flows flows
breeze past
flows house
up to cooling breezes. has omitted them.

Avoid large, exposed areas of west facing

wall if possible as they receive the strongest
radiation at the hottest part of the day.

Open plan internal layouts facilitate ventilation.

Houses of one-room depth are ideal.

Dense tree planting deflects breeze through house

Dense treetree planting
planting deflects
deflects breeze
breeze through
through house
passive design 80 4.3 ORIENTATION

Designing a new house or Design open plan interiors to facilitate

renovating ventilation. Homes of one-room depth with
openings either side are ideal. Contact your State / Territory government or local
There are things you can do to maximise what council for further information on passive design
your site has to offer when you build or renovate. Design and position openings to control air considerations for your climate.
flow. Use clerestory windows, roof ventilators,
If renovating, check the existing floor plan. and vents in ridges, eaves and ceilings to A ustralian Bureau of Meteorology
Is the house configured to capture cooling create convection currents to cool the house
breezes and let them flow through? It’s easy in the absence of breezes. [See: 4.6 Passive shtml
to change the orientation of a house and the Cooling] B EDP Environment Design Guide
location of door and window openings when DES 8 Residential Sites – Analysis for Sustainability.
renovating. Install windows that can be opened for DES 9 Residential Sites – Sustainable Developments.
maximum ventilation. When renovating, GEN 12 Residential Passive Solar Design.
Doing this enables the house to work replace fixed windows with systems like
better without necessarily becoming bigger.  ommonwealth of Australia (1995), Australian Model
casement windows or louvres. Code for Residential Development (AMCORD), AGPS
This saves building costs and long term Canberra.
running and maintenance costs. Add additional small windows to rooms
with only one window to improve ventilation.  ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:
Provide an appropriate level of shade and Inspirational designs for low-energy housing, Choice
locate openings in the direction of cooling Use vents above or in internal doors to facilitate Books, Australia.
breezes. Shade the entire building in hot cross ventilation.
 rigley, Derek (2004), Making Your Home
humid climates and hot dry climates with Ensure outdoor living areas are shaded. Sustainable: A Guide to Retrofitting, Scribe, Carlton
warm winters. [See: 4.6 Passive Cooling] Covered balconies and verandahs can be North, Victoria.
useful additions, providing shaded outdoor
living space. Use landscape to provide Principal author:
additional shade. Caitlin McGee
Contributing author:
Chris Reardon
Dick Clarke

Design narrow, elongated building forms for

best performance, with the long elevations
opening up to cooling breezes. Elevating the
house so that air can circulate beneath it will
also assist performance.

Use landscape and building form to deflect

cooling breezes into the interior and to exclude
undesirable hot winds. Make use of shade or
windbreaks provided by adjacent buildings or
existing landscape.

Design extensions to open to cooling

breezes, particularly if they are living areas.

Avoid large areas of exposed west facing wall.

East and west facing openings receive the

strongest sun and are the most difficult to
shade. Keep their size to a minimum if this
does not compromise cooling by ventilation.
Alternatively, ensure they are well shaded.

Ensure adequate north eaves overhangs,

plus south eaves overhangs above the Tropic
of Capricorn. [See: 4.4 Shading]
4.4 SHADING 81 passive design

Shading of the building and outdoor spaces Shading of wall and roof surfaces is important With ideal north orientation sun can be
reduces summer temperatures, improves to reduce summer heat gain, particularly if they excluded in summer and admitted in
comfort and saves energy. Direct sun are dark coloured and/or heavyweight. winter using simple horizontal devices,
can generate the same heat as a single including eaves. For situations where ideal
Shading requirements vary according to climate
bar radiator over each square metre of a orientation cannot be achieved (eg existing
and house orientation. A general rule of thumb is
surface. Shading can block up to 90 per house, challenging site) it is still possible to
described in the table below:
cent of this heat. find effective shading solutions. [See: 4.3
ORIENTATION SUGGESTED SHADING TYPE Orientation; 4.5 Passive Solar Heating]

NORTH fixed or adjustable shading North facing openings (and south facing
placed horizontally above ones above the tropic of Capricorn) receive
window higher angle sun and therefore require narrower
overhead shading devices than east or west
EAST and adjustable vertical screens facing openings. Fixed horizontal shading is
WEST outside window
often adequate above north facing glazing.
Architect Brian Meyerson

NE and NW adjustable shading Examples include eaves, awnings, and

pergolas with louvres set to the correct angle,
SE and SW planting
see ‘Fixed shading for passive solar access’
next page.

GENERAL GUIDELINES East and west facing openings require a

Shading of glass to reduce unwanted heat
gain is critical. Unprotected glass is often
FOR ALL CLIMATES different approach, as low morning and
afternoon sun from these directions is more
the greatest source of unwanted heat gain Use external shading devices over openings.
difficult to shade. Keep the area of glazing on
in a home. Lighter-coloured shading devices reflect more
east and west elevations to a minimum where
heat. Internal shading will not prevent heat gain
possible, or use appropriate shading devices.
unless it is reflective.
Adjustable shading is the optimum solution
Use plants to shade the building, particularly for these elevations, see ‘Adjustable shading’.
windows, to reduce unwanted glare and heat
gain. Evergreen plants are recommended for
high humid and some hot dry climates. For all

Courtesy of QMBA / Your New Home Magazine

other climates use deciduous vines or trees
to the north, and deciduous or evergreen trees
to the east and west.

Radiant heat from the sun passes through

glass and is absorbed by building elements
and furnishings, which then re-radiate it.
Re-radiated heat has a different wavelength
and cannot pass back out through the glass
as easily. In most climates, ‘trapping’ radiant
heat is desirable for winter heating but must
be avoided in summer.
passive design 82 4.4 SHADING

Deep verandahs, balconies or pergolas can be Eaves

used to shade east and west elevations, but may
Correctly designed eaves are generally the
still admit very low angle summer sun. Use in
simplest and least expensive shading method
combination with planting to filter unwanted sun.
for northern elevations, and are all that is
required on most single storey houses.

In the image below, standard 2100 high doors

Sunpower Design

are shaded by a 1000 eave (including gutter)

set 300 above the head. Note the sun angle
at midday in mid winter is above the glass line.
This configuration provides full shading to glass
Pergolas covered with deciduous vines provide from late October to late February at latitude
self adjusting seasonal shading. A 500mm gap 35°S (near Canberra) and is appropriate for a
between the wall and planted screens should higher altitude cool climate winter.
be left for ventilation and cooling. Vines on walls
(where appropriate) can also provide summer
insulation to all orientations. Evergreen vines
Rule of thumb for latitude south of and including 27.5ºS.
block winter sun and should only be used in
tropical climates.
The general ‘rule of thumb’ for calculating eaves
Use drought tolerant ground-cover plants width for all latitudes south of and including
instead of paving where possible, to keep the 27.5°S (Brisbane, Geraldton) is given above.
temperature of the ground and surrounding
Varying the rule of thumb may be beneficial:
surfaces lower in summer.

> At high altitudes.
Protect skylights and roof glazing with external

blinds or louvres. This is crucial as roof glazing > Where cold winds or ocean currents

receives almost twice as much heat as an are prevalent.

unprotected west facing window.
> In hot dry inland areas.
Position openable clerestory windows to
> In cold, high latitude areas [eg Tasmania].
face north with overhanging eaves to exclude In the image below, north facing upward raked
summer sun. For latitudes north of 27.5°S the response eaves allow full exposure of glass to winter sun
varies with climate. For high humid climates and shade larger areas in summer, without
Double glaze clerestory windows and skylights
and hot dry climates with no passive heating compromising the solar access of neighbours
in cooler climates to prevent excessive heat loss.
requirements, shade the whole building at all to the south. A separate horizontal projection
Advanced glazing solutions such as solar times. For hot dry climates with passive heating of louvres shades lower glazing. This allows
films and tinted glass may be appropriate requirements allow some low angle winter sun 100 per cent winter solar access and excludes
as a secondary measure on east and west to reach walls, concrete floors and especially all sun between the spring and autumn
elevations. They can exclude up to 60 per cent windows, see ‘Climate-specific responses’. equinoxes.
of the heat compared to plain glass. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar Heating; 4.6 Passive
Avoid using tinted glass on north facing
windows designed to let in winter sun. Permanently shaded glass at the top of the
[See: 4.10 Glazing] window is a significant source of heat loss,
especially in cool and cold climates. To avoid
this, distances between the top of glazing
FIXED SHADING and the eave underside should be at least
Fixed shading devices (eaves, pergolas and 30 per cent of H.
Architects: Environa Studio / Photo: SIMART

louvres) can regulate solar access on northern This is not always achievable with standard
elevations throughout the year, without requiring eave detailing which is flush with the 2100
any user effort. head. The top 20 per cent of the window in
Summer sun from the north is at a high angle the following image is in permanent shade.
and is easily excluded by fixed horizontal devices
over openings. Winter sun from the north is at a
lower angle and will penetrate beneath correctly
designed fixed horizontal devices.
4.4 SHADING 83 passive design

In colder higher latitudes such as Canberra, The louvres should be as thin as possible Eastern and western elevations
Armidale, Coonawarra, Mt Gambier, Albany, to avoid blocking out the winter sun.
Adjustable shading is particularly useful
Ballarat, Colac, and all of Tasmania.
for eastern and western elevations, as the
> Reduce eaves width to 42-43 per cent of H to low angle of the sun makes it difficult to
extend the heating season past the equinox. get adequate protection from fixed shading.
> Increase window head to eave distance. Adjustable shading gives greater control
while enabling daylight levels and views
In lower latitudes such as Alice Springs, Mi to be manipulated. Appropriate adjustable
Toowoomba, and Kingaroy, where the d
W wi systems include sliding screens, louvre

Mid sum
need for winter heating is significant but r Set louvres screens, shutters, retractable awnings
hot summers are common, varying eaves to noon and adjustable external blinds.
mid winter

width may not be beneficial. sun angle
> Increase window head to
eave distance. See
‘Climate-specific X Angles of louvres to the horizontal
responses’ next Hobart 24°
page for more
information. X Melbourne 29°
X Awning blind
Awning blind
Roller shutter
Roller shutter
Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide 31° Awning blind. Roller shutter.
Perth, Broken Hill, Port Augusta 34°
Awnings and pergolas Brisbane, Geraldton 38° North-east and
Awnings and pergolas need to extend beyond north-west elevations
the width of the north facing opening by the Adjustable shading is recommended for
same distance as their outward projection.
these elevations as they receive a combination
Adjustable shading allows the user to choose of high and low angle sun throughout the day.
For locations north of the Tropic of Capricorn
the desired level of shade. This is particularly Typical responses for northern and eastern
(23.5ºS) in high humid climates or hot dry
useful in spring and autumn when heating or western elevations need to be integrated.
climates with warm winters, the building
and cooling needs are variable. Note: active Select systems which allow the user to exclude
and outdoor living spaces should generally
systems require active users. all sun in summer, choose full sun in winter,
be shaded throughout the year.
and manipulate sun levels at other times.
Climate Change
Climate change does not affect sun angles,
Fixed horizontal louvres set to the noon but the desirability of shade or solar gain
midwinter sun angle and spaced correctly may change, this affecting the overall
allow winter heating and summer shading design strategy.
in locations with cooler winters.
Adjustable shading (mechanical or
Midwinter and midsummer noon sun angles seasonal vegetation) will facilitate
for locations can be calculated using the adaptation to changing climatic conditions.
formulas below, where L is the latitude of
your home.

Midwinter noon sun angle = 90 – (L+23.5)

Midsummer noon sun angle = 90 – (L–23.5)
Equinox noon sun angle = 90 – L

The Geoscience Australia website

( allows you to find
Environa Studio

the latitude of more than 250,000 place names in

Australia, and will calculate the sun angle at any
time of the day, on any day of the year.

As a rule of thumb, the spacing (S) between Northern elevations

fixed horizontal louvres should be 75 per cent of
their width (W). Adjustable shading appropriate for northern
elevations includes adjustable awnings or
horizontal louvre systems above glazing,
and removable shadecloth over pergolas
or sails. Shadecloth is a particularly flexible
and low cost solution.
passive design 84 4.4 SHADING



Tennant Creek Townsville
Latitude 20

Mount Isa

Exmouth Alice Springs Longreach

Newman Rockhampton

Carnarvon Warburton
Charleville Maryborough

Coober Pedy BRISBANE

Kalgoorlie-Boulder Coffs Harbour
Eucla Ceduna Broken Hill Tamworth
PERTH Whyalla

Bunbury Esperance Mildura

Newcastle zone Description
Albany CANBERRA 1 High humid summer, warm winter
2 Warm humid summer, mild winter
3 Hot dry summer, warm winter
4 Hot dry summer, cool winter
5 Warm temperate
6 Mild temperate
7 Cool temperate
8 Alpine

CLIMATE SPECIFIC RESPONSES > Choose and position landscape to provide > Use adjustable shade screens or deep
adequate shade without blocking access to overhangs (or a combination of both) to
High humid climates and hot dry climates
cooling breezes. the east and west. Deep covered balconies
with warm winters: Shade the building and
or verandahs shade and cool incoming air
outdoor living spaces throughout the year. > Use planting instead of paving, to reduce
and provide pleasant outdoor living space.
ground temperature and the amount of
All other climates: Use appropriate passive solar
reflected heat. > Place a shaded courtyard next to the main
design principles. [See: 4.1 Passive Design;
living areas to act as a cool air well. Tall,
4.5 Passive Solar Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
narrow, generously planted courtyards are the
most effective when positioned so that they
are shaded by the house.
High humid climates
> Use planting instead of paving, to reduce
> Shade all external openings and walls
ground temperature and the amount of
including those facing south.
reflected heat.
> Use covered outdoor living areas such
as verandahs and deep balconies to shade
and cool incoming air. > A ‘fly roof’ can be used to shade the entire
> Use shaded skylights to compensate for building. It protects the core building from
any resultant loss of natural daylight. radiant heat and allows cooling breezes
to flow beneath it.

Hot dry climates

> Shade all external openings in regions
where no winter heating is required.

> Provide passive solar shading to north

facing openings in regions where winter
heating is required.

> Avoid shading any portion of the

glass in winter – use upward raked eaves to
allow full winter solar access, or increase the
distance between the window head and the
underside of the eave.
4.4 SHADING 85 passive design

Warm humid and warm/mild

temperate climates
> Provide passive solar shading to all north
facing openings, using shade structures or
correctly sized eaves.

Architect: Chris Barnett Photographer: P.Kharu


Match plant characteristics (such as foliage
density, canopy height and spread) to shading Appropriate shading practices reduce
requirements. Choose local native species with the chance of exposure to harmful UV
low water requirements wherever possible. rays. Planting is a low cost, low energy
provider of shade that improves air quality
In addition to providing shade, plants can assist
by filtering pollutants.
cooling by transpiration. Plants also enhance
the visual environment and create pleasant
> Use adjustable shade screens or deep filtered light. [See: 2.4 Sustainable Landscapes]
overhangs to the east and west. Adjustable Contact your State / Territory government or local
> Deciduous plants allow winter sun through council for further information on passive design
shade screens are the most effective at
and exclude summer sun. considerations for your climate.
excluding low angle sun.
> Trees with high canopies are useful for
shading roofs and large portions of the A ustralian Bureau of Meteorology
Cool temperate climates building structure.

> Do not place deep covered balconies to Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Model Code
> Shrubs are appropriate for more localised for Residential Development (AMCORD) (1995), AGPS
the north as they will obstruct winter sun. shading of windows. Canberra.
Balconies to the east or west can also
obstruct winter sun to a lesser extent. > Wall vines and ground cover insulate against  ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:
summer heat and reduce reflected radiation. Inspirational designs for low-energy housing, Choice
Books, Australia.

 rigley, Derek (2004), Making Your Home Sustainable:

SHADING AND DAYLIGHT A Guide to Retrofitting, Scribe, Carlton North, Victoria.
Choose shading methods that allow adequate
amounts of daylight into the building while Principal author:
preventing unwanted heat gain. Caitlin McGee
Sunpower Design

> Select plants that allow filtered light into

the building. [See: 2.4 Sustainable

> Design glazing to admit maximum light

for minimum heat gain. Clear sections in
> Avoid shading any portion of the north facing
verandah roofs can be useful. [See: 4.10
glass in winter – use upward raked eaves to
allow full winter solar access, or increase the
distance between the window head and the > Light coloured external surfaces or shading
underside of the eave. devices reflect more light into the building.
Depending on the situation this can be
> Use deciduous planting to the east and west.
beneficial, or it can create unwanted glare.
Avoid planting to the north which obstructs
solar access.
passive design 86 4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING

Passive Solar Heating

This fact sheet explains how the passive Passive solar heating requires careful Trapped heat is absorbed and stored by
design principles discussed in other fact application of the following passive materials with high thermal mass (usually
sheets can be applied to utilise free heating design principles: masonry) inside the house. It is re-released
direct from the sun. at night when it is needed to offset heat
> Northerly orientation of daytime
losses to lower outdoor temperatures.
living areas.
[See: 4.9 Thermal Mass]
On average, 38 per cent > Appropriate areas of glass
Passive shading allows maximum winter solar
of energy consumed in on northern facades.
gain and prevents summer overheating. This is
Australian homes is for > Passive shading of glass. most simply achieved with northerly orientation
space heating and cooling. > Thermal mass for storing heat.
of appropriate areas of glass and well designed
Using passive solar design eaves overhangs. [See: 4.4 Shading]
dramatically reduces > Insulation and draught sealing.
this figure. > Floor plan zoning based on heating needs.

> Advanced glazing solutions.

This will maximise winter heat gain,

WHAT IS PASSIVE minimise winter heat loss and concentrate
SOLAR HEATING? heating where it is most needed.
Passive solar heating is the least expensive way
to heat your home. It is also:

> Free when designed into a new home

or addition.

> Appropriate for all climates where winter Heat is re-radiated and distributed to where it is
heating is required. needed. Direct re-radiation is the most effective
means. Design floor plans to ensure that the
> Achievable when building or renovating on most important rooms (usually day-use living
any site with solar access – often with little areas) face north for the best solar access. Heat
effort. is also conducted through building materials
> Achievable when buying a project home, and distributed by air movement.
with correct orientation and slight floor Heat loss is minimised with appropriate window
plan changes. treatments and well insulated walls, ceilings
> Achievable when choosing an existing and exposed floors. Thermal mass must be
house, villa or apartment. Look for good insulated to be effective. Slab-on-ground (SOG)
orientation and shading.
Passive solar houses can edges need to be insulated if located in climate
look like other homes but zone 8, or when in-slab heating or cooling is
> Achievable using all types of Australian cost less to run and are more installed within the slab. [See: 4.7 Insulation;
construction systems. comfortable to live in. 4.9 Thermal Mass]

Air infiltration is minimised with airlocks,

Put simply, design for draught sealing, airtight construction detailing
and quality windows and doors.
passive solar heating is HOW PASSIVE SOLAR
about keeping out summer HEATING WORKS Appropriate house shape and room layout is
sun and letting in winter Solar radiation is trapped by the greenhouse
important to minimise heat loss, which occurs
sun. action of correctly oriented (north facing)
mostly through the roof and then through
external walls. In cool and cold climates,
windows exposed to full sun. Window frames
compact shapes that minimise roof and external
and glazing type have a significant effect on
wall area are more efficient. As the climate gets
the efficiency of this process.
warmer more external wall area is appropriate.
[See: 4.10 Glazing]
4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING 87 passive design


DESIGN PRINCIPLES Fixed shading devices can maximise Floor planning
Greenhouse (glasshouse) solar access to north facing glass throughout
Plan carefully to ensure passive solar gain
principles the year, without requiring any user effort.
to the rooms that most need it.
Good orientation is essential for effective
Passive design relies on greenhouse principles passive shading.
to trap solar radiation.
Fixed shading above openings excludes
Heat is gained when short wave radiation

Source: Amcord, 1995

high angle summer sun but admits lower
passes through glass, where it is absorbed angle winter sun.
by building elements and furnishings and
re-radiated as longwave radiation. Longwave Use adjustable shading to regulate solar
radiation cannot pass back through glass access on other elevations.
as easily. Correctly designed eaves are the simplest
and least expensive shading method for Rooms requiring heat in winter
northern elevations.
Rooms which don’t require heating
The ‘rule of thumb’ for calculating eaves
width is given below. This rule applies to
all latitudes south of and including 27.5º In general, group living areas along the
(Brisbane, Geraldton). For latitudes north north facade and bedrooms along the south
of this the response varies with climate. or east facade.
[See: 4.4 Shading]
Living areas and the kitchen are usually the
most important locations for passive heating
This diagram shows the percentage of solar as they are used day and evening.
heat gain through standard 3mm glazing. Bedrooms require less heating. It is easy to
For comparison to advanced glazing materials. get warm and stay warm in bed. Children’s
[See: 4.10 Glazing] bedrooms can be classified as living areas
Heat is lost through glass by conduction, if considerable hours are spent there.
particularly at night. Conductive loss can be Utility and service areas such as bathrooms,
controlled by window insulation treatments laundries and garages are used for short
such as close fitting heavy drapes with snug periods and generally require less heating.
pelmets, double glazing and other advanced These areas are best located:
glazing technology.
> To the west or south west, to act as a buffer
to hot afternoon sun and the cold westerly
Orientation for winds common to many regions.
passive solar heating > To the east and south east, except where
For best passive heating performance, Permanently shaded glass at the top of the this is the direction of cooling breezes.
daytime living areas should face north. window is a significant source of heat loss.
Detached garages to the east and west can
Ideal orientation is true north and can To avoid this, the distance between the top
protect north facing courtyards from low angle
be extended to between 15º west and 20º of glazing and eaves underside should be
summer sun and direct cooling breezes into
east of solar north. [See: 4.3 Orientation] 50 per cent of overhang or 30 per cent of
living spaces.
window height. [See: 4.4 Shading]
Compact floor plans minimise external wall
Heat loss through glass (and walls) is
Where solar access and roof area, thereby minimising heat loss.
proportional to the difference between internal
Determine a balance between minimising
is limited, as is often and external temperatures. Because the hottest
heat loss and achieving adequate daylighting
the case in urban areas, air rises to the ceiling, the greatest temperature
and ventilation.
energy efficiency can difference occurs at the top of the window.
still be achieved with Consider specific regional heating and cooling
careful design. needs and the site characteristics to determine
an ideal building shape.

Homes on poorly oriented or narrow blocks

with limited solar access can employ alternative
passive solutions to increase comfort and
reduce heating costs. [See: 2.9 Challenging
Sites; 4.4 Shading; 4.7 Insulation; 4.9 Thermal
Mass; 4.10 Glazing]
passive design 88 4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING

Locating heaters Air movement and comfort Controlled convection can be used to warm
rooms not directly exposed to heat sources.
Internal thermal mass walls are ideal for locating Air movement creates a cooling effect by
It can also reduce unwanted heat loss from
heaters next to. Thermal lag will transfer heat to increasing the evaporation of perspiration.
rooms that do not require heating.
adjoining spaces over extended periods. Draughts increase the perception of feeling
[See: 6.2 Heating and Cooling] cold. [See: 4.1 Passive Design] Opening or closing doors will control the return
air flow but impact on privacy. Use vents that
External wall locations can result in additional Avoid convection draughts by designing
can be opened or sealed.
heat loss, as increasing the temperature floor plans and furnishing layouts so that
differential between inside and out increases cooled return air paths from windows and Highlight louvres or transom panels over doors
the rate of heat flow through the wall. Heaters external walls to heaters or thermal mass promote and control movement of the warmest
should not be located under windows. sources are along traffic areas (hallways, air at ceiling level whilst retaining privacy.
stairs, non-sitting areas). Floor to ceiling doors are effective in facilitating
Heaters create draughts when operating, see
above. Try to locate heaters where they can Create draught free nooks for sitting, dining air movement.
draw cooled air back via passageways rather and sleeping.
than through sitting areas.
Use ceiling fans to circulate warm air evenly Multi-storey homes
in rooms and push it down from the ceiling
> Place the majority of thermal mass and the
Locating thermal mass to living areas. For low ceilings, use fans with
main heating sources at lower levels.
reversible blade direction.
As a first priority, locate thermal mass where > Use high insulation levels and lower (or no)
it is exposed to direct solar radiation or radiant thermal mass at upper levels.
heat sources. Thermal mass will also absorb
reflected radiant heat. > Ensure upper levels can be closed off to
stop heat rising in winter and overheating
Additionally, thermal mass should be located in summer.
predominantly in the northern half of the house
where it will absorb most passive solar heat. > Use stairs to direct cool air draughts back to
heat sources, located away from sitting areas.

> Avoid open balcony rails. They allow cool

Consider use of low thermal air to fall like a waterfall into spaces below.
mass materials and high > Use ceiling fans to push warm air back
levels of insulation in south Adverse effects of draughts. to lower levels.
facing rooms.
> Minimise window areas at upper levels and
DESIGN FOR CONVECTIVE double glaze. Use close fitting drapes with
Use thermal mass dividing walls between snug pelmet boxes.
north facing living rooms and south facing
> Maximise the openable area of upper
bedrooms. Thermal lag will distribute some Convection currents are created when heat
level windows for summer ventilation.
of the heat to bedrooms. rises to the ceiling and air cooled by windows
Avoid fixed glazing.
and external walls is drawn back along the floor
Air movement within the house will heat or
to the heat source. > Locate bedrooms upstairs in cold climates
cool thermal mass. Locate mass away from
so they are warmed by rising air.
cold draught sources (eg. entries) and expose
Convective air movement can be used to great
it to convective warm air movement within the
benefit with careful design or can be a major
house (eg. hallways to bedrooms). Consider PREVENTING HEAT LOSS
source of thermal discomfort with poor design.
the balance between heating and cooling
requirements. [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] Preventing heat loss is an essential component
> Analyse warm air flows by visualising a of efficient home design in most climates. It is
helium filled balloon riding the thermal even more critical in passive solar design as the
currents. Where would it go? Where would heating source is only available during the day.
it be trapped? The building fabric must retain energy
collected during the day for up to 16 hours
> Analyse cool air flows by visualising each day and considerably longer in cloudy
where water would run if you left an weather. To achieve this, careful attention
upstairs tap on. must be paid to each of the following factors.

> Insulation.
Single storey homes > Draught sealing.
Minimise convective air movement in winter > Windows and glazing.
with insulation of walls, glazing and ceilings.
Some convection will still occur and is a major > Air locks.
means of passive heat distribution in any home.
4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING 89 passive design

Insulation Typical sources of air leakage

For housing, the insulation requirements are

regulated by BCA Volume Two. The BCA
references AS/NZS 4859.1:2002 (incorporating
amendment 1) covers materials for the thermal
insulation of buildings.

High insulation levels are essential in passive

solar houses. Insulate to at least the minimum
levels recommended in the Building Code of
Australia, Volume Two, Part 3.12.1. [See: 4.7

Ceilings and roof spaces account for 25 to 35

per cent of winter heat loss and must be well

Source: SEAV
insulated. To prevent heat loss, locate most of
the insulation next to the ceiling as this is where
the greatest temperature control is required.

Floors account for 10 to 20 per cent of

winter heat loss. In cool climates insulate
the underside of suspended timber floors
and suspended concrete slabs. Insulate the Draught sealing Windows and glazing
edges of ground slabs. Insulation under In terms of energy efficiency, glazing is a very
ground concrete slabs is not required, important element of the building envelope.
however, installation may be desirable when Air leakage accounts for In insulated buildings it is the element through
ground water is present. [See: 4.8 Insulation 15 to 25 per cent of winter which most heat is lost and gained. Glazing
Installation] heat loss in buildings. transfers both radiant and conducted heat.
Walls account for 15 to 25 per cent Avoid over-glazing – excessive areas of
of winter heat loss. Insulation levels in walls glass can be an enormous energy liability.
> Use airtight construction detailing, particularly
are often limited by cavity or frame width.
at wall/ceiling and wall/floor junctions.
In cold climates, alternative wall construction Daytime heat gain must be balanced
systems that allow higher insulation levels > Control ventilation so it occurs when and against night time heat loss when selecting
are recommended. where you want it. glazing areas.

In high mass walls (double brick, rammed earth, > Choose well made windows and doors with Window frames can conduct heat.
straw bale and reverse brick veneer) thermal lag airtight seals. Use timber or thermally separated metal
slows heat flow on a day/night basis. Insulation window frames in cooler climates.
> Improve the performance of existing windows
is still required in most instances (straw bale and doors by using draught-proofing strips. Views are an important consideration and
walls are an exception as they have a high Use between the door and frame, at the door often the cause of over-glazing or inappropriate
insulation value). [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] base and between the openable sash of the orientation and shading. Careful planning
Internal walls and floors between heating and window and the frame. is required to capitalise on views without
non heating zones can be insulated to minimise decreasing energy efficiency.
> Seal gaps between the window/door frame
heat loss. and the wall prior to fitting architraves. Shading and advanced glazing options
are critical in achieving this. There are many
> Avoid using downlights that penetrate
Insulate walls between ways to reduce heat loss through glazing.
ceiling insulation.
Pay special ceilings to the same [See: 4.10 Glazing]
attention to rating as the ceilings > Duct exhaust fans and install non-return
cathedral type
Ceiling baffles.
ceilings Air locks
> Avoid open fires and fit dampers to
chimneys and flues. Air locks at all regularly used external openings
Source: SEAV

(including wood storage areas) are essential in

> Do not use permanently ventilated skylights. cool and cold climates. They prevent heat loss
> Use tight fitting floor boards and insulate the and draughts.
underside of timber floors in cooler climates. For efficient use of space, airlocks can
> Seal off air vents, use windows and doors be double purpose rooms. Laundries, mud
for ventilation as required. This may not be rooms and attached garages are excellent
Wall functional airlocks. Main entry airlocks can
advisable for homes with unflued gas heaters
insulation Insulate cavity
Insulate under that require a level of fixed ventilation. include storage spaces for coats, hats, boots
timber and suspended brick walls and a small bench.
slab floors
passive design 90 4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING

Allow sufficient space between doors so that Thermal lag times are influenced by: Low mass solutions with high
closing the outer door before opening the inner insulation levels work well
> Temperature differentials between each face.
door (or vice versa) can be done with ease of
in milder climates with low
movement. Inadequate space often leads to > Exposure to air movement and air speed.
diurnal ranges.
inner doors being left open.
> Texture and coatings of surfaces.
Avoid sliding doors in airlocks. They are
> Thickness of material.
invariably left open, are difficult to seal and can’t
be closed with a hip when both hands are full. > Conductivity of material. Glass to mass and floor ratios
Always design door swings from airlocks so Rates of heat flow through materials are Optimum (solar exposed) glass to floor area
that they will blow closed if left open in strong proportional to the temperature differential ratios vary between climates and designs.
winds, or consider using door closers on between each face. This is due to varying diurnal ranges and the
external doors. balance required between heating and cooling.
External walls have significantly greater
temperature differential than internal walls. Location and exposure of thermal mass
The more extreme the climate, the greater to direct and reflected radiation is also an
the temperature difference. important factor.
In warmer temperate climates, external wall The useful thickness of thermal mass is
Thermal mass is used to store heat from the
materials with a minimum time lag of ten to the depth of material that can absorb and
sun during the day and re-release it when it
12 hours can effectively even out internal/ re-release heat during a day/night cycle.
is required, to offset heat loss to colder night
external diurnal (day/night) temperature For most common building materials this is
time temperatures. It effectively ‘evens out’
variations. In these climates, external walls 100 to 150mm.
day and night (diurnal) temperature variations.
with sufficient thermal mass moderate
[See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] An exception is when thermal mass is used
internal/external temperature variations to
to even out seasonal temperature variations.
create comfort and eliminate the need for
Summer temperatures warm the building
supplementary heating and cooling.
When used correctly, thermal in winter and winter temperatures cool it in
mass can significantly increase In cool temperate and hot climates (or where summer. In these applications, lag times of
the time lag is less than ten to 12 hours), 180 days are required in combination with the
comfort and reduce energy
external thermal mass walls require external stabilising effect of the earth’s core temperature.
consumption. Thermal mass
insulation to slow the rate of heat transfer and
is essential for some climates moderate temperature differentials. In these
and can be a liability if used climates, thermal mass moderates internal A ‘rule of thumb’ for best
incorrectly. temperature variations to create comfort and performance is the exposed
reduce the need for heating and cooling energy. internal area of thermal
The following table indicates the relative thermal
mass in a room should be
Summer sun around 6 times the area
Heat is absorbed lag of some common building materials.
by the slab during of north facing glass with
the day solar access.
Thickness Time Lag
Material mm hours
Winter sun AAC 200 7.0 In mixed climates where heating and cooling
needs are equally important (for example
Adobe 250 9.2 Sydney, Adelaide, Perth) the amount of thermal
Compressed mass used should be proportional to diurnal
250 10.5 range. Higher diurnal ranges (inland) require
Earth Blocks
more mass, lower diurnal ranges (coastal)
Concrete 250 6.9 require less.
Adequate levels of exposed (ie. not covered Double Brick 220 6.2 In heating climates with minor cooling
with insulative materials such as carpet) internal requirements (such as Canberra and
Rammed Earth 250 10.3
thermal mass in combination with other passive Melbourne) larger glass areas with solar
design elements will ensure that temperatures Sandy Loam 1000 30 days access can be beneficial providing that heat
remain comfortable all night (and successive loss through glazing is adequately minimised
Source: Baggs, S.A. et al. 1991, Australian Earth-Covered
sunless days). This is due to a property known Buildings, NSW University Press, Kensington. and passive shading optimised. This requires
as thermal lag. double glazing and close fitting heavy drapes
Thermal lag is a term describing the amount with snug pelmets.
of time taken for a material to absorb and then
re-release heat, or for heat to be conducted
through the material.
4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING 91 passive design

Maximise externally insulated, internally PASSIVE HEATING > Seal existing windows and external doors,
exposed thermal mass. Edge insulation is IN RENOVATIONS replace warped or poorly fitted doors.
desirable for earth coupled slabs, especially There is a wide range of seals available
in colder areas. Earth coupling should be General principles through hardware retailers which can be
avoided where ground water action or Many opportunities exist for improving or fitted to doors and windows at any time,
temperatures can draw heat from slabs. including passive solar design features when but renovations are an ideal opportunity.

In cooling climates with minor heating renovating an existing home. They include: > Create air locks at entrances in cool climates.
requirements (for example Brisbane) thermal > Design extensions to allow passive solar In southern Australia, unwelcome winter
mass levels are dependent on diurnal range access and to facilitate movement of passive winds come from the west and south. If
as above but, additionally, the cooling effect heat gains to other parts of the house. entrances face these directions, it is important
of earth coupling (where achievable) can to provide a buffer to prevent freezing winds
provide significant benefits. Slab on ground > Include thermal mass in areas with solar blowing straight into the house whenever
construction is ideal provided that slabs access. (Use slab on ground, reverse brick someone opens the door.
are protected from summer heating and veneer or other insulated mass walls).
[See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] > Add doors and walls to group areas with
contact with sun.
similar heating needs into zones.
In predominantly cooling climates > Increase existing insulation levels and
insulate any previously uninsulated ceilings > Consider a solar conservatory to maximise
(for example Cairns, Darwin) solar exposed
and walls (and floors in cool climates). solar gains in cool climates. Ensure it can be
glass areas should be eliminated and thermal
Access to roof spaces and walls is often sealed off from the rest of the house at night.
mass minimised. Some exceptions apply
for advanced design solutions. [See: 4.6 easier during a renovation. [See: 4.7 > Install curtains with pelmet boxes where
Passive Cooling] Insulation, 4.8 Insulation Installation] practical. Windows are generally the area of
> Use high performance windows and greatest heat loss. Solid topped pelmets with
Detailed analysis of glass to mass and floor
glazing for all new windows and doors. heavy double lined drapes which touch the
area is complex and can be confusing. Detailed
Replace poorly performing windows where walls at either side of the window and also
coverage appears in other publications. Refer to
possible – glazing is normally the biggest touch the floor are a very effective way of
the Additional Reading at the end of this sheet.
area of heat loss in any building. reducing that heat loss to a trickle.

> Double glaze windows to reduce winter > Improve natural ventilation with operable
heat loss. Double glazing does not prevent roof vents and maximum window opening
radiant heat from entering a home, but areas. Even in cool climates some degree
slows down conducted and convective heat of ventilation is necessary. Some window
losses. Expose the glazing to winter sun, but designs provide better ventilation than others
maintain summer shading. [See: 4.4 Shading, – casements and louvres are generally the
4.10 Glazing] best – but louvres need to be well sealed.
[See: 4.6 Passive Cooling]
passive design 92 4.5 PASSIVE SOLAR HEATING

Increase natural daylighting with new 4. ‘Zone’ areas with similar heating needs:
appropriately shaded skylights and windows. Most houses built since the 1980s are open
The following rules of thumb are a useful guide: plan, with no walls or divisions between living
areas. The idea first started when kitchens
 aximise windows, especially to
M were opened up to adjacent eating areas,
North living areas, provide shading to the which was useful.
correct angle
As houses have become bigger, with multiple
 inimise windows where possible,
M living areas, open plan design has allowed
East provide deep overhangs, external very large areas to lose thermal control and
blinds or pergolas acoustic separation.
E liminate windows where possible, In most climates in Australia a very open plan
provide the ability for complete shading layout is not advisable. It is only ideal in warm
by deep pergolas or other operable
humid climates, where it facilitates a high
degree of cross-ventilation.
 inimise large windows, provide some
South Adding walls and doors to group areas
weather protection
with similar heating needs into separate
New floor plan. zones allows spaces to be heated
Views or other demands may necessitate separately, reducing energy bills.
large windows on east, south or west facades. 2. Turn the bricks around to add
thermal mass: For example, more commonly used areas
If this is the case, creative design of shading like living rooms can be heated separately
and glazing should be used to minimise It is often a simple matter to add thermal
without the heat dissipating to other areas
unwanted heat loss and gain. mass to timber framed structures, by adding
of the house. This saves the expense of
[See: 4.4 Shading, 4.10 Glazing] an internal skin of brickwork.
having to heat the whole house.
Most houses are brick veneer – they have
Zoning the floor plan in such a way also
a light timber wall frame clad in a non-load
Some quick renovation tips allows different family members and their
bearing brick skin, or veneer. The bricks are
friends to enjoy their often loud activities
effectively doing the same job as weatherboards.
1. Turn the house around: without disturbing the whole house.
The ideal time to rethink the way a house The bricks have high thermal mass, but the
works is when planning a renovation. outside of a wall is not the ideal place to locate
Reorienting as much of the living space
Reverse Brick Veneer (RBV) is a building system Contact your State / Territory government or local
as possible to the north side of the house council for further information on passive design
achieves major improvements in the winter which places thermal mass (the brick skin) on considerations for your climate.
comfort of a house in cooler climates. the inside of the wall frame. The highly insulated
wall frame protects the thermal mass from
A ustralian Bureau of Meteorology
external temperature extremes.
The thermal mass in RBV is in contact with
the house interior and helps to regulate indoor B EDP Environment Design Guide
temperatures, for the benefit of the occupants. DES 18-19 Urban Autonomous Servicing.
GEN 12 Residential Passive Solar Design.
This system is best used in conjunction
with north oriented living areas, so the solar  ommonwealth of Australia (1995), Australian Model
Code for Residential Development (AMCORD), AGPS
gain from the winter sun can add useful heat to Canberra.
these walls.
 epartment of the Environment, Water, Heritage
3. Double glaze existing windows: and the Arts (2008), Australian Residential Sector
Baseline Energy Estimates 1990 – 2020.
If the windows do not need replacing for
other reasons, they can be double glazed  ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:
Inspirational designs for low-energy housing, Choice
in-situ quite effectively and economically by Books, Australia.
adding a second pane of suitable glass to
the existing window sash or frame.  rigley, Derek (2004), Making Your Home
Sustainable: A Guide to Retrofitting, Scribe, Carlton
It is important to remove humidity from the North, Victoria.
Original floor plan
air gap, which can be done by adding a small
quantity of dessicant when the new glazing is Principal author:
North facing bedrooms can become living fitted, or fitting the glazing during a period of Chris Reardon
rooms, while south facing living areas can very low humidity (20 per cent or less). [See:
Contributing authors:
become bedrooms. Very often this can be done 4.10 Glazing] Max Mosher
without increasing the scale of the renovations,
Dick Clarke
thus providing great benefit at effectively no cost.
4.6 PASSIVE COOLING 93 passive design

Passive Cooling
This fact sheet examines ways to design Heat enters and leaves a home through the > Increase natural ventilation by reducing
and modify homes to achieve summer roof, walls, windows and floor. Internal walls, barriers to air paths through the building.
comfort through passive cooling. doors and room arrangements affect heat
> Provision of fans to provide ventilation and
distribution within a home. These elements are
Passive cooling is: air movement in the absence of breezes.
collectively referred to as the building envelope.
> The least expensive means of cooling a home. > Provide paths for warm air to exit the building.
Envelope design is the integrated design of
> The lowest environmental impact. building form and materials as a total system to > Floor plan zoning to maximise comfort
achieve optimum comfort and energy savings. for daytime activities and sleeping comfort.
> Appropriate for all Australian climates.
Good envelope design responds to climate > Appropriate windows and glazing
and site conditions to optimise the thermal to minimise unwanted heat gains and
performance. It can lower operating costs, maximise ventilation.
improve comfort and lifestyle and minimise
> Effective shading (including planting).
environmental impact.
> Adequate levels of appropriate insulation.
Passive design should include passive heating
provision for winter in all climates except high > High thermal mass construction in regions
humid (tropical). The degree of winter heating with significant diurnal ranges.
can be adjusted for climate with appropriate
> Low thermal mass construction in regions
passive solar shading. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar
with low diurnal range.
Heating; 4.4 Shading]
> Use of light coloured roofs and walls to reflect
Four key approaches for achieving thermal
more solar radiation and reduce heat gain.
comfort in cooling applications are examined:
See the relevant fact sheets for detailed
Passive cooling maximises the efficiency of the > Envelope design.
information on each of the above elements,
building envelope by minimising heat gain from
> Natural cooling sources. particularly the use of thermal mass in best
the external environment and facilitating heat
practice design solutions in climates with
loss to the following natural sources of cooling: > Hybrid cooling systems.
modest diurnal range.
> Air movement. > Adapting lifestyle.

> Cooling breezes. Floor plan and building form

> Evaporation. All Australian climates require > Maximise the indoor/outdoor relationship
> Earth coupling. some degree of cooling. and provide appropriate screened, shaded,
rain protected outdoor living spaces.
(A detailed description of these sources
can be found later in this fact sheet). > Maximise convective ventilation with high
level windows, ceiling and roof space vents.
Passive cooling also maximises the ability ENVELOPE DESIGN
of the occupants to lose heat to natural > Zone living and sleeping areas appropriately
General design principles for climate – vertically and horizontally.
sources of cooling.
Reduce or eliminate external heat gains > Locate bedrooms for sleeping comfort.
Cooling requirements in houses are generated during the day with sound envelope design.
predominantly by climate. Household activities > Design ceilings and furnishing positions for
have a lesser impact but are still important – Design to allow lower night time temperatures optimum efficiency of fans, cool breezes and
especially during periods of extreme weather and air movement to cool the building and its convective ventilation.
conditions. occupants.
> Locate mechanically cooled rooms in
The main elements of design for passive thermally protected areas.
cooling are:

> Orientation for exposure to cooling breezes.

passive design 94 4.6 PASSIVE COOLING

Varied responses are required for each climate > Use insulation solutions that minimise heat
zone and even within each zone depending on gain during the day and maximise heat loss
local conditions and the microclimate of a given at night. Advanced reflective insulation
site. General solutions exist for the main cooling systems and reflective air spaces can be
climate categories: effective. [See: 4.8 Insulation Installation]

> High humid. > Choose windows with maximum opening

areas (louvres or casement) and avoid fixed
> Hot dry.
glass panels.

Steve Szokolay
> Warm humid.
> Include ceiling fans to create air movement
during still periods.
CLIMATE SPECIFIC > Consider using whole of house fans with
DESIGN PRINCIPLES smart switching to draw cooler outside air
into the house at night when there is no Courtyard design with evaporative cooling pond.
High humid (tropical) climates > Evaporative cooling or a ceiling fan should be
> Use low thermal mass construction generally.
In these climates: used if required.
(Note: high mass construction can be
> High humidity levels limit the body’s ability beneficial in innovative, well considered > Use high mass solutions with passive solar
to lose heat by evaporation of perspiration. design solutions). winter heating where winters are cool or cold
> Sleeping comfort is a significant issue – > Use planting design to funnel cooling breezes and diurnal ranges are significant.
especially during periods of high humidity. and filter strong winds. (Appropriate in all > Use low mass elevated solutions where
cooling climates). winters are mild and diurnal ranges are lower.
> Design eaves and shading to permanently
exclude solar access to rooms. [See: 4.4
Shading] Hot dry climates with warm
and cool winters
> Hot dry climates occur in a wide range of
latitudes and geographic locations. This
creates a variety of diurnal ranges and winter
heating requirements with hot to very hot, dry

> Consider shading the whole building with

a fly roof. [See: 4.4 Shading]

> Maximise shaded external wall areas and

exposure to (and funneling of) cooling Minimise east and west glazing or provide adjustable
breezes through the building. external shading. High mass living areas are more
comfortable during waking hours. Low mass sleeping
> Use single room depths where possible areas cool quickly at night. High insulation prevents
winter heat loss.
with maximum shaded openings to
enhance cross ventilation and heat
removal. Two storey solution for hot dry climate with low > Consider high mass construction for rooms
diurnal range. with passive winter heating and low mass
> Design unobstructed cross ventilation paths.
for other rooms.
> Provide hot air ventilation at ceiling level for
> Evaporative cooling from ponds, water > Shade all windows in summer and east and
all rooms with spinnaways, shaded opening
features and ‘active’ or mechanical cooling west windows year round.
clerestorey windows or ridge vents.
systems is ideal for arid climates where low > Well sealed windows and doors with
> Shade outdoor areas around the house humidity promotes high evaporation rates. maximum opening area allow maximum
with planting and shade structures to lower
exposure to cooling breezes and exclude hot,
ground temperatures.
dry and dusty winds.
4.6 PASSIVE COOLING 95 passive design

Warm humid climates NATURAL COOLING SOURCES Thermal currents are common in flatter,
inland areas, created by diurnal heating
In benign climates like coastal areas of In combination with sound envelope design
and cooling. They are often of short duration
south east Queensland, energy consumption for cooling climates and appropriate lifestyle,
in early morning and evening but can yield
for heating and cooling accounts for over air movement, evaporative cooling and earth
worthwhile cooling benefits with good design.
6 per cent of total household energy use. coupled thermal mass can provide adequate
Achieving thermal comfort in these climates thermal comfort in all Australian climate zones. Design to maximise beneficial cooling breezes
is a relatively simple task. by providing multiple flow paths and minimising
potential barriers (single depth rooms are
> Passive solar heating is required during AIR MOVEMENT recommended).
winter months.
Air movement is the most important element Use windows designed to deflect breezes
> Adjust eave overhangs to suit the particular of passive cooling. It increases cooling by from varying angles. Locate windows on walls
micro-climate. [See: 4.4 Shading] increasing evaporation rates. with best exposure to common cooling breezes
and design for effective cross flow of air through
Generally, cross ventilation is most effective
the building.
for air exchange (building cooling) and fans
for air movement (people cooling). Consider directing airflow at levels suitable
for the activity proposed for the room.
Air movement provides useful cooling in all
climates but may be less effective in tropical
climates during periods of high humidity.

An air speed of 0.5m

6a per 6b
second equates to a 3 degree
In the humid tropics it is
drop in temperature at relative
important to ensure that
humidity of 50 per cent. 6a direct airflow upward or downward.6b
Louvres can
6a flows into a room at a 6b
7 level which suits its function.
In the humid
6bthe humid
Louvres can deflect air flow Inimportant to
This is a one off physiological cooling effect upwards (6a) or downwards (6b). important to
6a 6bair flows into
High mass solution for warm humid climate with that occurs when still air is moved at 0.5m per A canopy over a window tends air In the
flows humid
7 level which
high diurnal range. second. to
7 direct air flow upwards (7) important
level whichtos
A canopy over a window tends to direct air upward.
In can
8 and a gap between it and the airthe humid
Louvres into
In higher humidity, greater airspeeds are upwards (6a
important to
wall ensures a downwards level which
upwards (6as
required to achieve the same cooling benefits. A canopy
air flows can
pressure (8) which is further Louvres
A canopy ove
> Use high mass construction in areas with 7 to direct
level which airs
improved in the case of a upwards
to (6af
direct air
8 and a gap
Louvres canbe
significant diurnal range (usually inland). 8
louvered sunshade (9). A canopy
and a gap ovbe
Cooling breezes 9 wall ensures
to direct
> Use low mass construction where diurnal 8 A pressure
canopy (8)
pressurea gap(8) be
ranges are low (usually coastal). Maximising the flow of cooling breezes A gap between canopy and wall ensures toimproved
direct air inf
wall ensures
improved in
[See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] through a home is an essential component a downward8 pressure. louvered
and a gap sun
pressure sun
louvered (8)
of passive design. 9 wall ensures
> Orient to maximise exposure to cooling 9 improved in
louvered (8)
Steve Szokolay

Coastal breezes are usually from an onshore sun

breezes and use ceiling fans and convective improved in t
ventilation to supplement them. direction (southeast, east to northeast in most louvered sun
east coast areas and southwest in most west 9
> Elevated structures can increase exposure coast areas, eg. the Fremantle Doctor). Downward pressure is improved further in
to breezes. the case of a louvered sunshade.
In mountainous or hilly areas, cool breezes
> Include evaporative cooling and water Use window styles with 100 per cent opening
often flow down valleys in late evening and
features. area such as louvre and casement.
early morning as night cooling creates cool
> Use insulation to prevent heat loss and air currents.
heat gain. Understand your regional
climate and how various
Warm, mild and cool temperate features (topographic and
climates man made) influence the
microclimate of your site.
Temperate climates require less cooling. Good
orientation, passive shading, insulation and
design for cross ventilation generally provide
adequate cooling. Additional solutions from
the range explained in this fact sheet can
be used where site conditions create higher
cooling loads.
passive design 96 4.6 PASSIVE COOLING

Design planting to funnel breezes into and Fans

through the building, filter stronger winds and
In all cooling climates, exposure to cooling
exclude adverse hot or cold winds.
breezes should be maximised. However, during
still periods mechanical fans are required to
supplement breezes.

The maximum useful air speed for comfort is

approximately 7.5m per second. Higher air
speeds do not create more cooling and can
be unsettling.

Sunpower Design
Standard ceiling fans create adequate air
speeds to achieve comfort when dry bulb
temperature and relative humidity are within
acceptable levels. Rates of evaporation are increased by air

The surface area of water exposed to moving

In a lightweight Brisbane air is also important. Fountains, mist sprays
house, fans to all living and and waterfalls can increase evaporation rates.
bedroom areas will more than Passive evaporative cooling design solutions
halve cooling requirements. include the use of pools, ponds and water
They can typically turn a 3 star features immediately outside windows or in
house into a 5 star house. courtyards to pre-cool air entering the house.
Carefully located water features can create
convective breezes.
Whole of roof fans can be beneficial in cooling
applications, particularly where cross ventilation
design is inadequate. They do not create
sufficient air speed to cool occupants.

Air intakes are usually located in the centre of

the house (hallway) and are used to draw cooler
outside air into the building through multiple
rooms when conditions are suitable. They
exhaust the air through eave or gable vents

Steve Szokolay
via the roof space. This cools the roof space.
Convective air movement Control systems for whole of roof fans
Convective air movement relies on hot air should prevent operation when external air
rising and exiting at the highest point, drawing temperatures are higher than internal.
in cool air from shaded external areas over
Condensation can be increased by drawing Active evaporative cooling systems like the
ponds or cool earth.
large volumes of humid air through the roof above wind scoop, originating in ancient Persia,
Convection produces air movement capable space. A dew point occurs when this humid can be useful to catch cooling breezes and
of cooling a building but has insufficient air air comes in contact with roof elements (eg. direct them into the house via an evaporative
speed to cool the occupants. reflective insulation) which has been cooled cooling system.
by radiation to night skies. [See: 6.2 Heating
Solar chimneys can also be used to ensure Mechanical evaporative coolers are common
and Cooling]
effective convective air monement. in low humidity climates. They use less energy
than refrigerated air conditioners and work
Clerestory windows, spinnaway roof ventilators,
and vented ridges, eaves and ceilings will allow EVAPORATIVE COOLING better with doors and windows left open.
Water consumption can be considerable.
heat to exit the building in nil breeze situations Large amounts of heat are consumed by water
[See: 6.2 Heating and Cooling]
through convection. as it evaporates. This is called the latent heat
of evaporation. This heat is partially drawn from
surrounding air, causing cooling.

Evaporation is an effective passive cooling

method. It works best when relative humidity
is lower (70 per cent or less during hottest
periods) and the air has a greater capacity
to take up water vapor.
4.6 PASSIVE COOLING 97 passive design

EARTH COUPLING However it is expensive to install, operate Planning and layout

and maintain and has a high economic and > Minimise heat loads with good orientation,
Earth coupling of thermal mass (floor slabs)
environmental cost because it consumes insulation and shading of the whole building.
protected from external temperature extremes
significant amounts of electricity. It also
can substantially lower temperatures by > Locate unit in the coolest zone in the house
requires the home to be closed off from
absorbing heat as it enters the building to minimise running costs.
the outside environment and this can interfere
or is generated by household activities.
with acclimatisation. > Carefully choose rooms to be air-conditioned
Air-conditioning is often used to achieve according to use. Do not air-condition all
comfortable sleeping conditions by lowering rooms.
temperatures and humidity. The number of > Avoid air-conditioning rooms that have high
operating hours required for air-conditioning level indoor – outdoor traffic or use air-locks
to achieve thermal comfort can be substantially to minimise hot air infiltration.
reduced (or eliminated) by careful design of
new homes, alterations and additions. > Locate sleeping spaces so that convective
air-movement and conduction through walls
shared with air-conditioned spaces will
provide indirect cooling benefits.
Efficient air-conditioning
requires more than simply > Decide which rooms will receive most benefit
installing an air conditioner. depending on use. Often one or two rooms
will be sufficient to provide comfort during
periods of high humidity and temperatures.
Well designed Australian homes do not
> Design these rooms with high levels of
require air-conditioning (either refrigerated
insulation and lowest exposure to external
or evaporative). Most of those that do are
Passively shaded areas around earth coupled temperature influences (usually in the centre
concentrated in the high humid and hot dry
slabs keep surface ground temperatures lower of the house).
climate zones.
during the day and allow night time cooling.
> Ensure that rooms not requiring mechanical
More than 50 per cent of Queensland homes
Poorly shaded surrounds can lead to earth cooling have maximum passive cooling as
are mechanically cooled. This proportion is
temperatures exceeding internal comfort levels described above and use them as a thermal
rapidly increasing – often because inadequate
in many areas. In this event, an earth coupled buffer to cooled spaces.
shading, insulation and ventilation, or poor
slab can become an energy liability.
orientation for passive cooling and sun control, > Use fans and cross ventilation to improve
Ground and soil temperatures vary throughout cause unnecessary overheating. comfort in non-air-conditioned spaces.
Decide early in the design stages whether air-
Earth covered/earth bermed construction conditioning is to be used. Many inefficient air-
utilises stable ground temperatures at lower conditioning installations occur when they are A very different approach
depths to absorb household heat gains. added as an afterthought to improve comfort. is required for design and
construction of air-conditioned
rooms to maximise efficiency.
HYBRID COOLING SYSTEMS Passive design principles are
These are appropriate for tropical climates with beneficial in maximising the
high summer humidity or where mechanical efficiency of naturally and Other considerations
cooling (especially refrigerated air-conditioning) mechanically cooled homes. > Address condensation in externally ventilated
is used to overcome problems of extreme rooms surrounding air-conditioned rooms.
climate, existing house/ site constraints or
> When insulated walls surround an
poor design.
air-conditioned space, a vapor barrier should
Design of air conditioned spaces
Hybrid cooling systems are whole house be installed between the warm humid air and
cooling solutions employing a variety of cooling Envelope design the insulation material to prevent saturation
options (including air-conditioning) in the most of the insulation by condensation.
> Minimise external air infiltration.
efficient and effective way. They take maximum
advantage of passive cooling when available > Use higher insulation levels – particularly
and make efficient use of mechanical cooling bulk insulation in walls, ceiling and floors.
systems during extreme periods. [See: 4.7 Insulation]

Refrigerated air-conditioning can provide > Reduce glass areas. [See: 4.10 Glazing]
thermal comfort during periods of high > Reduce total volume of air space
temperature and humidity by lowering air (room size/ceiling height).
temperature and humidity.
passive design 98 4.6 PASSIVE COOLING

Dewpoints form where humid ADAPTING LIFESTYLE Shaded, insect screened barbecue and
air comes into contact with a outdoor eating areas facilitate outdoor living
Applicable in all climates, especially high humid
cooled surface. and increased comfort.
and hot dry.
Sleep outs are an ideal way to achieve sleeping
Adapting lifestyle involves adopting living,
comfort and can provide low cost additional
> Any linings placed over the vapor barrier sleeping, cooking and activity patterns to
space for visitors who often arrive during the
should be resistant to damage from adapt to and work with the climate rather
hotter Christmas period.
condensation by choosing appropriate than using mechanical cooling to emulate
materials and finishes. an alternative climate. Vary active hours to make best use of
comfortable temperature ranges at different
Eg. Placing reflective foil insulation under High humid climates present the greatest
times of year. The siesta regime of most
a plasterboard wall lining will cause the challenge in achieving thermal comfort because
Central American countries is a practical
dewpoint to form under the plasterboard. high humidity levels reduce evaporation rates.
lifestyle response to specific climatic conditions
A wet area lining such as compressed [See: 4.2 Design for Climate]
that are also experienced in high humid and
fibre cement with a waterproof finish is a Acclimatising is a significant factor in achieving hot dry regions of Australia.
better solution. thermal comfort. The majority of people living
> Identify the months and times of day in tropical climates choose to do so. They like
the climate and know how to live comfortably
mechanical cooling will be required.
within its extremes by adopting appropriate RENOVATIONS
> Use advanced control systems, sensors
living patterns to maximise the outdoor lifestyle Renovations provide the ideal opportunity to
and timers to reduce total operating hours.
opportunities it offers. improve a home’s potential for passive cooling.
> Use low mass construction in mechanically
Sleeping comfort at night during the hottest All Australian houses can use passive cooling
cooled spaces to facilitate quick response
and most humid periods is a significant thermal to great advantage. In many climates passive
and reduce running time.
comfort issue for many people living in tropical cooling is critical to comfort. [See: 4.2 Design
> Use split systems with low energy heat climates. Unlike cooler climates, sleeping for Climate]
exchangers such as air to water or air comfort is a high priority when choosing,
designing or building a home. The principles and ideas outlined in the
to earth. [See: 6.2 Heating and Cooling]
preceding pages of this fact sheet can be
> Set thermostats to warmest setting that Different members of a household will have combined to achieve passive cooling in a
still achieves comfort. different thermal comfort thresholds. Children renovation.
often adapt to seasonal changes more easily
> Adapt your lifestyle where possible to take
than adults do.
advantage of comfortable external conditions
when they exist to minimise operating periods Understanding the sleeping comfort When renovating, ensure
for mechanical cooling systems. requirements of each member of the you make things better,
> De-humidifiers use less energy than
household can lead to better design, never worse. Design
refrigerated air conditioners and can
positioning or allocation of bedrooms, renovations and extensions
overcome evaporative cooling inefficiency in
resulting in increased thermal comfort for that improve rather than
all and less dependence on mechanical cooling. compromise performance.
high humidity. They require sealing of rooms
but have lower requirement for bulk insulation Live outside when time of day and seasonal
allowing use of one way valve reflective conditions are suitable – particularly in the
insulation principles. [See: 4.7 Insulation] evenings. Radiation by the body to cool night
skies is an effective cooling mechanism –
particularly in the early evening when daytime
In a closed room, running heat loads have not been allowed to escape
from the interior of the house.
an air conditioner for
about an hour will lower Cooking outside during hotter months will
humidity levels to the point reduce heat loads inside the house. This is an
where air movement from Australian lifestyle tradition developed to suit
fans can provide sufficient our climate but it is not often directly connected
evaporative cooling to to thermal comfort.
achieve thermal comfort. Locate barbeques outdoors, under cover in
close proximity to the kitchen with good access
either by servery or screened door.
4.6 PASSIVE COOLING 99 passive design

Orientation and layout When adding new rooms, locate them Shading and landscape
so they do not block breeze paths. In high
Consider changing the orientation of the home Renovations provide the ideal opportunity to
humid climates the ideal house plan is long
so that the major openings face the breeze, improve shading. If adding a new roof, ensure
and narrow (single room depth), with large
and openings on the opposite side of the the north facing eave overhang is appropriately
openings on either side. To preserve this form,
house draw the breeze through and out. sized. [See: 4.4 Shading]
locate additions at the ends of the building
[See: 4.3 Orientation]
where possible. Alternatively, add a pergola, shade frame or
Design a layout that allows cool breezes to suitably sized shade projections above north
pass right through the house, aligning windows facing windows. North of the tropic of Capricorn,
with internal doors in a way that does not block
Windows and doors south facing openings will need shading too.
weaker breezes. Use windows with a large opening area,
Shade structures added to the external face
and doors that open fully to allow the free
Open plan interiors are best for encouraging of the window (louvres, shutters, etc.) or deep
passage of breezes. If the existing windows
natural ventilation in high humid climates. Solid- pergolas are suitable for east and west facing
and doors do not work like this, consider
bladed louvres can be provided in internal walls walls. Deciduous vines such as decorative
changing some of them.
to let breezes pass right through the building. grape can be pruned in autumn to allow filtered
Casement sashes (side hinged) are good winter sun through, while quickly growing in
Improved natural ventilation can be achieved
on the windward side of the house, and spring to cover the whole pergola.
without altering the existing footprint, just
louvers or hoppers (short awnings) on the
by changing the use of existing rooms and Use planting to shade the house.
leeward side. Tall awning windows are not
moving and/ or increasing the size of windows In climates where winter sun is desirable,
good ventilators, as the effective opening
and doors. plant tall or deciduous trees to the north.
area is quite small. In tropical areas, where
Lower trees or shrubs are suitable for shading
Consider combining the laundry with the wet weather accompanies breezes, louvres
east and west facades. Ensure plantings do not
kitchen or bathroom (compact European style) are the best choice for external windows.
obscure breezes, but channel them toward the
and incorporate the old laundry space as extra
In climates where winters are cold, windows openings. [See: 2.4 Sustainable Landscapes;
open space for living areas, allowing better
and doors must be well-sealed to prevent heat 4.4 Shading]
breeze penetration through the house.
loss when closed. Double glazed widows can
Where shading cannot be provided, such as
Kitchens which back onto hallways or be made to open wide so that they work well
when too close to the boundary or prevented
other living areas can have their back walls in winter and summer. Low-e coatings can limit
by body corporate rules, use ‘smart glass’ or
lowered (or large openings created in them) heat gain in hot conditions, but must be used
apply a reflective film to reduce heat gain. Note
to allow air to flow over the top and through carefully in regions with cold winters so as not
that these techniques will reduce natural light
the whole house. to limit winter heat gains. [See: 4.10 Glazing]
levels and winter heat gain.

Renovation ideas for a tropical house.

passive design 100 4.6 PASSIVE COOLING

Active ventilation An ideal time to change the colour scheme of

a building is during renovation. Light-coloured
Assist the breeze by installing ceiling fans where
surfaces reflect heat, while dark surfaces Contact your State / Territory government or local
necessary. Ceiling fans are an energy efficient council for further information on passive design
absorb heat. However, many local councils
way of cooling building occupants. Locate fans considerations for your climate.
prohibit light coloured external surfaces,
centrally in each space, one for each grouping
especially roofs, to prevent built form from
of furniture. An extended lounge/ dining area A ustralian Bureau of Meteorology
overpowering the surrounding landscape.
will need two fans. In bedrooms, locate the fan
near to the centre of the bed. [See: 6.2 Heating The best compromise is to use lighter neutral shtml
and Cooling] colours on external walls and mid-range roof B EDP Environment Design Guide
colours. Avoid black or dark grey for roofs. DES 20 Arid Climates and Enhanced Natural
Blandness can be avoided by using contrasting Ventilation.
DES 59 Passive Cooling Building Systems.
or complimentary trims.
 ommonwealth of Australia, Australian Model Code
for Residential Development (AMCORD) (1995),
Thermal mass AGPS Canberra.

In renovations, a concrete slab or masonry wall  ollo, N. (1997), Warm House Cool House:
Inspirational designs for low-energy housing, Choice
can provide extra thermal mass. The thermal
Books, Australia.
mass needs access to winter sun and cooling
summer breezes.  rigley, Derek (2004), Making Your Home
Sustainable: A Guide to Retrofitting, Scribe, Carlton
Many timber framed buildings (including North, Victoria.
brick veneer) can have thermal mass added
Solar air heaters and cooling effectively and economically using reverse Principal author:
systems brick veneer construction. The brick can be Chris Reardon
any high mass material, including rammed earth Contributing author:
These are proprietary devices which capture
or core filled concrete block. [See: 4.9 Thermal Dick Clarke
solar energy to warm the air in a flat solar
orientated roof mounted box. Warm air can be
drawn through ducting into internal spaces of Low mass construction is generally the most
the house. The same device can also be used appropriate solution for warm humid climates.
to exhaust or take out warm air from the home, It must be combined with good insulation and
acting as a kind of active solar chimney. cross ventilation.

When used to construct permanently

inhabited rooms, low mass walls must be
Insulation and reflectivity
well insulated. In colder climates, it may be
Add insulation to existing roofs, which are necessary to add wall thickness to achieve
a major source of radiant heat gain. Reflective adequate insulation levels. Minimum structural
insulation provides the most effective resistance timber sizes may not provide enough thickness
to radiant heat. Multiple layers of foil batts can for the appropriate insulation.
be easily installed between roof rafters during

Add insulation to existing walls wherever

possible. When internal linings are removed it is
easy to install insulation to timber framed walls.
It is also possible to insulate existing cavity
brick walls, however this is more complex and
specialist consultants may be required. [See:
4.7 Insulation; 4.8 Insulation Installation]
4.7 INSULATION 101 passive design

Insulation acts as a barrier to heat flow and Insulation can assist with weatherproofing Insulation in Australian homes (2005)
is essential to keep your home warm in and eliminate moisture problems such as
winter and cool in summer. A well insulated condensation. Some types of insulation 80
and well designed home will provide year- also have soundproofing qualities.
round comfort, cutting cooling and heating The most economical time to install insulation
bills by up to half. This, in turn, will reduce is during construction. For information on 60
greenhouse gas emissions. retro-fitting insulation, see ‘Adding insulation to
existing buildings’.

% insulated
Climatic conditions will influence the
appropriate level and type of insulation. 40
There is little insulating value in most common
Establish whether the insulation will be construction materials, but there are some 30
predominantly needed to keep heat out or exceptions where little or no additional insulation
in (or both). Insulation must cater for seasonal may be required. Suitable materials include 20
as well as daily variations in temperature, see aerated concrete blocks, hollow expanded
polystyrene blocks, straw bales and rendered 10
‘Insulation levels for your Climate’.
extruded polystyrene sheets. Check with your 0
local building information centre for more details. ACT SA TAS VIC WA NSW NT QLD
> Total R-values for roofs, ceilings and floors state / territory
25% to 35%
may provide only one value for total thermal Source Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005.
Windows Walls resistance of construction which may not be
11% to 20% 10% to 20% adequate to achieve compliance with the
Building Code of Australia (BCA) requirements
Compare the environmental benefits of
for energy efficiency of building fabric.
different products. Ask about recycled
> Under the BCA, total R-values of the building content and how easily the product can
fabric vary depending on climate zone and be recycled after use. For example, some
Air leakage brands of glasswool, polyester and cellulose
Source: SEAV Insulation Guide

10% to 20% the height above the Australian Datum at

15% to 25% the location where the building is to be fibre insulation contain significant amounts of
constructed. recycled context. Contact the manufacturer or
industry association to find out more.
25% to 35% CHOOSING INSULATION The appropriate degree of insulation will depend
on climate, building construction type, and
Insulation products come in two main whether auxiliary heating and/or cooling is to be
Windows Walls
25% to 35% categories – bulk and reflective. These are used. Refer to the section headed ‘Insulation
15% to 25%
sometimes combined into a composite material. levels for your climate’.
There are many different products available,
see ‘Insulation types and their applications’ for The Building Code of Australia sets out
further information. minimum requirements for materials R-values
Air leakage Floor used in construction of buildings. For reference,
To compare the insulating ability of the products please refer to BCA Volume Two Part 3.12. It is
5% to 15% 10% to 20%
available look at their R-value, which measures
generally advisable to exceed these for greater
Typical heat gains and losses in a temperate climate. resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value
comfort and energy savings.
the higher the level of insulation. Products
with the same R-value will provide the same
Passive design techniques should be used insulating performance if installed as specified.
in conjunction with insulation. For example, The higher the R-value
Check the information supplied on the
if insulation is installed but the house is not
product, including the R-value, the price per
the better the thermal
properly shaded, built up heat can be kept performance.
square metre and whether it must be installed
in by the insulation creating an ‘oven’ effect.
professionally or can be DIY – some types
Draught sealing is important, as draughts
of insulation require the use of masks and
can account for up to 25 per cent of heat loss
protective clothing. Ensure that it suits your
from a home in winter. [See: 4.5 Passive Solar
particular application and will fit within the
Heating; 4.6 Passive Cooling]
space available. Ask if performance guarantees
or test certificates are available.
passive design 102 4.7 INSULATION

Material R-values are supplied with bulk Reflective insulation is usually shiny aluminium foil The Total R-values for reflective insulation are
insulation and refer to the insulating value laminated onto paper or plastic and is available supplied as up and down values. Total values
of the product alone. The higher the R-value as sheets (sarking), concertina-type batts and depend on where and how the reflective
the better the thermal performance. multi-cell batts. Together these products are insulation is installed. Ensure system values
known as reflective foil laminates or RFL. provided by the manufacturer relate to your
Total R-values are supplied with reflective
particular installation situation.
insulation and depend on the product being Dust settling on the reflective surface will greatly
installed as specified. reduce performance. Face reflective surfaces Composite bulk and reflective materials are
downwards or keep them vertical. The anti- available that combine some features of both
R-values can differ depending on the direction glare surface of single sided foil sarking should types. Examples include reflective foil faced
of heat flow through the product. The difference always face up. blankets, foil backed batts and foil faced
is generally marginal for bulk insulation but can boards.
be pronounced for reflective insulation. Reflects up to 95%
Emits 5% of all of radiant heat The properties and uses of some common
> Up R-values describe resistance to heat radiant heat insulation materials are shown in the table at
flow upwards (sometimes known as the end of this sheet.
‘winter’ R-values).

> Down R-values describe resistance to

heat flow downwards (sometimes known
as ‘summer’ R-values).

Up and down R-values should be quoted when

installing reflective insulation in roofs, ceilings
and floors.
Double sided
reflective foil


Source: SEAV Insulation Guide

Tennant Creek Townsville
Latitude 20

Mount Isa

Exmouth Alice Springs Longreach

Newman Rockhampton

Carnarvon Warburton
Charleville Maryborough

Coober Pedy BRISBANE

Bulk insulation traps air in still layers. Geraldton
Kalgoorlie-Boulder Coffs Harbour
Eucla Ceduna Broken Hill Tamworth
Bulk insulation mainly resists the transfer of PERTH Whyalla
conducted and convected heat, relying on Bunbury Esperance
pockets of trapped air within its structure. Albany CANBERRA
Its thermal resistance is essentially the same
regardless of the direction of heat flow through it.

Bulk insulation includes materials such as

glasswool, wool, cellulose fibre, polyester Launceston

and polystyrene. All products come with one HOBART

Material R-value for a given thickness.

Reflective insulation mainly resists radiant heat

flow due to its high reflectivity and low emissivity
(ability to re-radiate heat). It relies on the zone Description
presence of an air layer of at least 25mm next 1 High humid summer, warm winter
to the shiny surface. The thermal resistance of 2 Warm humid summer, mild winter
reflective insulation varies with the direction of
3 Hot dry summer, warm winter
heat flow through it.
4 Hot dry summer, cool winter
5 Warm temperate
6 Mild temperate
7 Cool temperate
8 Alpine
4.7 INSULATION 103 passive design

INSULATION LEVELS WHERE TO > In high humid and hot dry climates where

The following table gives recommended Roofs and ceilings work in conjunction Insulate the edge of ground slabs:
minimum insulation levels for a range of when it comes to insulation. > In cool temperate and alpine climates.
> Install insulation under the roofing material > In temperate climates where slab
These are the minimum requirements of the to reduce radiant heat gain. heating is used.
building code. Some experts believe that
> Install insulation in the ceiling to reduce heat Insulate the underside of ground slabs:
additional insulation can further improve building
gain and loss. In most cases ceiling insulation
performance. > In alpine climates.
is installed between the joists.
The table does not distinguish between [See: 4.8 Insulation Installation] > Where groundwater is present.
directional R-values for roofs and ceilings. The
Verandah roofs should be insulated in hot Enclosing sub-floor spaces in mixed climates
most important thing to remember is that in
climates where outdoor living spaces are may be sufficient to reduce heat loss.
high humid climates where houses are naturally
used extensively, to reduce radiant heat gain.
ventilated, high down values and lower up
Heat build up under verandahs not only affects
values are appropriate for roofs and ceilings.
the space below but can affect conditions
Save up to 5 per cent on winter
inside the house.
energy costs with appropriate
minimum Bulkheads (wall sections between ceilings floor insulation.
CLIMATE TYPE INSULATION LEVELS of different heights) must be insulated to the
AND EXAMPLE (Material or Total same level as the ceiling, as they are subjected
LOCATIONS R-values) to the same temperature extremes.
Cool Temperate and Alpine TO EXISTING BUILDINGS
Save up to 45 per cent
Reducing heat loss is the main priority
on heating and cooling
Melbourne, VIC 3.7 2.2 energy with roof and ceiling Insulation can be added to existing buildings
Canberra, ACT 4.3 2.4 insulation. with varying effectiveness and cost depending
on the construction type and where the
Hobart, TAS 4.3 2.4
insulation is being placed.
Mt Gambier, SA 3.7 2.2 External walls should be insulated to reduce
Ceilings and suspended floors with easy
Ballarat, VIC 3.7 2.2 radiant, conducted and convected heat
access are relatively simple to insulate post-
Thredbo, NSW 4.8 2.3 transfer. Wall insulation can be installed:
High humid and Hot Dry > Within cavities.
Insulation board can be laid beneath floor
Reducing heat gain is the critical priority > Within stud frames. finishes if there is no under-floor access.
Darwin, NT 2.7 1.9
> On the outside of stud frames. Walls and skillion roofs are the hardest to
Cairns, QLD 2.7 1.9 insulate post-construction, as the internal
> On the inside or outside of solid walls.
Broome, WA 2.7 1.9 or external lining must be removed. A good
Marble Bar, WA 2.7 1.9 Depending on the particular situation, some time to insulate walls is during re-cladding or
forms of insulation can double as a vapour re-plastering. Specialised products are available
Mt Isa, QLD 2.7 1.9
or moisture barrier. to insulate existing walls. Check with your local
Tennant Creek, NT 2.7 1.9
building information centre. External insulation
Townsville, QLD 2.7 1.9 or (if local building regulations permit) cavity
Warm/Mild Temperate and Warm Humid Save up to an additional fill are often appropriate solutions for double
Reducing heat loss and heat gain are equally important 20 per cent of heating and brick walls.

Brisbane, QLD 2.7-3.0 2.2 cooling energy with wall

Perth, WA 3.2 1.9
Alice Springs, NT 2.7 1.9 Adding (or ‘retrofitting’) insulation to existing
Bourke, NSW 3.5 2.2 Floors require insulation in cool climates and buildings provides a major opportunity to
often in other climates. The BCA does not increase comfort and reduce energy costs and
Sydney, NSW 3.2-3.7 1.9-2.2
require insulation under ground concrete slabs greenhouse gas emissions. An ideal time for
Adelaide, SA 3.2 1.9 when ground water is present. doing this is during renovations.
Katoomba, NSW 3.7 2.2
Insulate the underside of suspended floors: This section explains how to retrofit insulation
> In cool temperate and alpine climates. to various construction types. Refer to the
previous sections of this sheet to determine
> In temperate climates in some cases the appropriate type and level of insulation
(See previous section). for your climate.
passive design 104 4.7 INSULATION

Walls Bulk insulation can be fitted between studs

in the conventional manner, and depending
Most walls will benefit from added insulation,
on the thickness of the studs and the selected
and it is possible to add insulation to
R-value, may or may not fill the entire wall
most construction types used in Australia.
frame width. Do not compress bulk insulation.
Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) already
has a reasonable degree of insulation built When used in conjunction with a layer of wall
into the blocks themselves, and straw bale wrap foil, ensure there is an air space of at least
is an extremely highly insulated system. 25mm between the batt and the wall wrap foil.
[See: 4.8 Insulation Installation]
Apart from these exceptions, added wall
insulation is essential in all climates. If it is Other wall types
not already fitted, or if existing insulation
Single skin high mass walls such as concrete
levels are not high enough, there are ways
block, rammed earth or mud brick can have
of installing it as a retrofit.
their thermal performance radically improved
by installing insulation on the wall exterior.
Cavity Brick Walls
The simplest method is to use polystyrene
Cavity brick walls have high thermal mass, Reverse Brick Veneer is much more thermally board with an external render, or batts fixed
but without insulation are usually too cold efficient because the thermal mass is on between battens at around 600mm centres,
in winter, and often too hot in summer if the inside, however good insulation is still covered with a waterproof cladding.
exposed to prolonged heat wave conditions. important. [See: 4.9 Thermal Mass] [See: 4.8 Insulation Installation; 4.9 Thermal
If the cavity is insulated, the internal thermal
Timber framed walls are low mass construction, Mass]
mass (ie. the internal brick skin) is protected
from external temperature changes, and and rely entirely upon insulation to maintain
thermal comfort.
becomes highly effective at regulating Ceilings and roofs
temperatures within the home. The two cavity fill methods previously
It is possible to add insulation to all roof types
Insulate existing cavities by sealing the bottom described (polystyrene balls or mineral fibres)
common in Australia, and even if some effort is
of the cavity if it is open to the subfloor, and can be used to insulate these wall types if
required to lift roofing, the benefit is well worth it.
pumping in loose bulk material to a measured the lining or cladding is not being removed.
More material may be required, as it will fill Ceiling fires have increased significantly with
density. This has been common practice in
up not only the cavity but the width of the the more common use of downlights that
the UK and Europe for many years, and is
wall frame (Brick Veneer and Reverse Brick penetrate the ceiling. Care must be taken not
becoming available in Australia, usually in one
Veneer). Note that the effectiveness of existing to have direct contact with insulation or to have
of the following forms:
sarking is greatly diminished by replacing the the transformers underneath the insulation.
> Small polystyrene balls (produced with airspace with fill material. For timber frame Wherever possible avoid recessed light fittings
CO2) coated in a non-toxic bonding agent walls, insulation is pumped into the voids as these are a major source of heat loss.
are pumped in at regular points around the between studs and noggings, but this can be
Tiled roofs without sarking can have it added
building. The bonding agent solidifies and labour intensive.
easily if the roof is being re-tiled. If the tiles are
locks all the balls in place.
The ideal option, if the scope of the renovation to remain in place and access is available to
> Mineral fibres can be blown into the cavity permits, is to remove the internal plasterboard the roofspace, double sided foil or foil batts
either through a series of small holes as above, linings or external cladding and fit insulation to can be added between the rafters or trusses,
or into the top of the cavity if it is accessible. the stud frame. directly under the tile battens.
This material is gypsum isover mineral wool,
Either glasswool batts or reflective insulation Metal roofs need a condensation barrier directly
commonly known as Isowool, and is moisture
can be retro-fitted to existing wall frames by beneath them: a layer of reflective foil sarking
repellent, keeping the cavity dry.
either cutting up a roll and fitting the pieces is an effective membrane and barrier to radiant
It is important that such materials are between each wall stud, or by using a factory heat, thus doing two jobs at once. It is usually
installed by reputable manufacturers whose prepared product like concertina or multi-cell necessary to remove the roofing to install this,
products meet either the Australian, UK or foil batts, which are easy to install and expand but most metal roofing can be removed and
European standards. or fold into place. Reflective foil-backed reinstalled easily, without damage.
plasterboard is also a useful material.
Brick veneer, reverse brick veneer If sarking has been fitted it may still be
and timber framed walls There is usually sufficient depth in a necessary to fit extra layer/s of foil beneath
Brick Veneer walls have the brick skin on the wall frame to add more than one layer of it. A minimum air gap of 25mm should always
outside, which is not the ideal location for reflective insulation, including the necessary be maintained between layers. If the roof is
thermal mass. The bricks heat up in summer air gap between layers. When used for this being painted to restore colour, select the
and radiate heat late into the evening, while purpose the foil should not have an antiglare lightest permissible colour (heat-reflective
in winter they stay cold and absorb heat from coating on it. roof paints are also an option), and then
the house. Insulation is essential to protect the match the remaining colour scheme to it.
R 2.0 (70mm) or R 2.5 (90mm) bulk insulation
occupants from external temperature extremes can be fitted between studs. It is important to
that are exacerbated by the external brick skin. choose the correct thickness of insulation to
suit the thickness of the cavity.
4.7 INSULATION 105 passive design

Concrete slabs are either suspended or Air Leakage

slab on ground. Suspended slabs can be
Householders can improve the energy
insulated in a similar way to raised timber floors.
efficiency of most existing and new homes
Suspended concrete slab with in-slab heating by weathersealing. Overseas standards and
or cooling system installed must be insulated research recognise that the weather proofing or
around the vertical edge of its parameter and draught sealing of houses is the most effective
underneath the slab with insulation having method of achieving direct energy savings,
R-value of not less than 1.0. whilst maintaining healthy indoor air quality. It
Slab On Ground (SOG) vertical edges are is estimated that Australian buildings leak 2-4
required to be insulated only if located in zone times as much air as Northern American or
8 or when in-slab heating or cooling is installed European buildings, suggesting a tremendous
Ceiling insulation is simpl