- Posted Thursday, 4 August 2016 -
- In Articles
The benefit of having an energy efficient home is not a new subject. Recently, however, there is a lot of buzz on the subject of efficiencies, largely driven by rising energy costs and the cost of living in general. The overall tone of such discussions is that energy is expensive and costs are likely to double in the foreseeable future. However, in truth, energy is relatively cheap if you calculate the dollars per kilowatt used and what that energy provides. Our lifestyles are built around using more of it.
It wasn’t that long ago that our lives were simpler and less reliant on appliances. In the last 40 years the availability of appliances has increased exponentially and the prices have fallen in the same way, making appliances more available for less; only recently there has been a move for more efficient appliances. In terms of building design, this has been a catalyst to disregard some early technologies that worked well for hundreds of years. Now there is the availability of building products that are cheap but have a high thermal mass.
In the 1970’s, it was unusual to find an air conditioned home. Although the design was pointed toward designing around the installation of air conditioning, it was embryonic at a domestic level and most people lived in older style homes. Since that time, with the benefits of efficiencies, we can now enjoy a fully air conditioned living space. We don’t notice or understand how inefficient our buildings are because we live in the comfort of an artificial environment. But in fact, the last 40 years of building design has been around competitive growth resulting in very energy inefficient buildings for the North Queensland.
For decades we have been paying to pump energy out of our buildings with air conditioners. The objective of energy smart design is to minimise the energy intrusion at the outset. If your motor vehicle is parked under a shady tree on a hot day, you will notice the inside temperature is not too dissimilar to ambient temperatures. Your home can be designed in the same way so it is protected against solar radiation. This can be achieved by effective ventilation, and efficient reflective barriers; floor, wall and roof design to optimise these effects and clever landscaping.
This is not to suggest air conditioners will become obsolete; cooler temperatures do not necessarily equate to comfort. In North Queensland we experience high levels of humidity and this is an uncomfortable environment at any temperature. Refrigerated air conditioning dries air in a way that provides comfort. The model I am suggesting will best suit owner-occupiers where the savings can be offset against your mortgage and energy bills. Unfortunately, there is little benefit for investors to pay more where the lessee has the benefit.
When considering design, often the limiting factor is budget, so it is worth researching the cost versus benefit. If you can return the cost of an additional spend in five to ten years against your energy saving with the view that you will continue the cost saving benefits for the life of the product, it is worth serious consideration. Our region hosts quite a large number of very talented designers and builders and change will only come about within the industry if there is pressure from the educated, energy-efficient consumer.
Things to be mindful of when briefing your designer or builder is building orientation, understanding the rise and fall of the sun through the seasons and how that impacts on solar intrusion. If your property orientation it is not ideal, smart use of roof design and roof orientation to the footprint, the size of your eaves and screening can make a notable difference to efficiencies. Crossflow ventilation is also very important for all sectors of the build. An area that has been long forgotten is ventilated roof space. The energy in your roof cavity contributes significantly to the radiant heat you feel inside a building. If you change the air in a roof cavity frequently in a way the energy can’t accumulate, it is not possible for it to radiate into the building through the ceiling. This also applies to walls that are exposed to the sun.
The purpose of this article is to encourage thinking around efficient building design and mindfulness of the subject will be a catalyst for change. Energy efficiency is the way of the future and one that will benefit us all and the future of sustainable living.