What’s all the fuss about? Dick Clarke considers the importance of northern orientation in sustainable house design.
How important is northern orientation in house design? Can we design a sustainable home without taking it into consideration? Why do project home designers so rarely seem to worry about it?
When I speak to people about passive design, I usually break it up into seven elements to make it easy to understand and remember. Some other experts break it into five, but no matter – everybody agrees that the orientation of the building with respect to north is the starting point. Granted, different latitudes in Australia require different approaches: tropical climes require the sun be held at bay pretty much all year, since the sun is both more powerful and tracks much further south in summer. In the tropics, orientation to north is important only in elevated, cooler localities like Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands.
But orientation is very important in temperate and cool climate zones. When the building is able to admit the sun during cold seasons and shut it out when it’s hot, the other six principles of passive design – spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading, and the glazing that links these together – can be balanced to create homes that require minimal active heating or cooling. When all seven principles, including orientation, are applied successfully enough to achieve an 8-star equivalent rating, the need for any active cooling is rare, and any heating required will be further reduced.
Image: The Illawarra Flame dining area. Rui Yan
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