Make do and mend: passive solar upgrades

Issue 32 Words: Emily Braham Photography: Loren Mitchell

Some house types are better suited to passive solar upgrades than others, but all can be made more energy efficient. Emily Braham speaks to sustainable design experts to help you maximise your renovation’s potential.

If your house was built more than 10 years ago, chances are it’s hot in summer and cold in winter. The truth is, the majority of houses in Australia, built long before energy-efficient regulations, are not really up to the job of keeping their occupants comfortable. With household energy use accounting for around one fifth of our emissions, over a third of this from space heating and cooling, improving on the existing stock has a wider imperative too.

There is little doubt that the best way to reduce your home’s impact is to reduce its need for heating and cooling, but where to start? The first thing might be to decide on the scale of the changes: is a massive renovation needed or could daily life be improved with some careful retrofitting for increased energy efficiency? Minimising the size of any extension will save money, and using minimal materials is the best way to reduce your project’s environmental impact, also resulting in less space to heat or cool.

Experts agree that your insulation and glazing choices are important ones. Up to 40 per cent of heat can be lost through windows and up to 87 per cent of heat gained through them, so the right windows and in the right place can make a big difference.

As heatwaves become more intense and frequent there are suggestions to reduce the amount of glazing to prevent conducted gains. An energy assessor can recommend specifically the right ratio of mass to glazing required for your building type and orientation, and is best consulted at the design stage.

For most places in Australia, low-cost heat-proofing measures such as ‘cooling’ your roof with high-albedo or white paint could also have a big impact. If the walls of the house are not well shaded from the west and east, consider ways of shielding these from radiant heat through landscaping or well-designed awnings and overhangs.

Sustainable design experts offer advice on making your home more energy-efficient.

People Oriented Design

Grun Eco Design

Sanctum Design

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Cover of Issue 32
You can read more about Make do and mend: passive solar upgrades in Issue 32 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Composting toilets can save up to 60,000 litres of water a year for an average home.

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