Skyring Architects director Stephanie Skyring was the creative mind behind the stunning Brisbane property I featured on the blog last week (and there some additional photos of the lovely house on this post). Here, she provides her top ten methods to make your home more comfortable, cost effective and environmentally sustainable.
While I can’t claim to have much environmental nous, the below tips are great ways to ensure your home complements your lifestyle, which is instrumental to effective home design. Best of all, they show how you can lock out the cold without turning to the heater – tips I should heed, given my teeth seem to start chattering as soon as the temperature falls below 20 degrees celcius.
1. Increase insulation
Have a look in the ceiling and see if there is any insulation. Look for reflective foil under the roof battens and bulk insulation sitting above the ceiling. Using bulk insulation with an ‘R value’ of 3.5 or more will make your house naturally more comfortable and cut down your air conditioning costs.
Renovators: Install bulk insulation with an ‘R Value’ of 1.5 in any external walls where internal or external wall sheeting is removed to make changes. Pay particular attention to east and west walls that get direct sun. You will feel the difference.
2. Better breezes and sun
Make the most of your home site. Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west. If renovating, consider putting in a new window or door on the north or south to provide direct breeze paths through the house and increase your natural ventilation.
Open up your house to the north, east and south, while closing down to the west.
3. More shading
Add awnings to your windows – they control the sun and allow you to keep the windows open when it’s raining. Make sure the awnings are the right size and shape to suit the orientation and still let sun in during winter. If they are too wide you will have a cold house in winter. As a rule of thumb, try a 500 millimetre wide overhang.
4. Install ceiling fans
Ceiling fans in bedrooms and living areas provide effective cooling and use very little energy. (HH: I am happy to say I have these at the moment! Although they don’t get a lot of use currently given how freezing it’s been since April.)
Design note: Avoid fans with integrated lighting. The fan prevents the light from washing across the ceiling, making the room quite dark. For a more architectural effect use wall lights that light up the ceiling to provide a soft wash of light across the room. Locate them away from the fan. (HH: This is a great tip – light is one of the essential elements of a pretty room.)
5. Minimise maintenance
Choose materials and finishes that will require minimal maintenance. Try coloured bricks and blocks with no finish, or quality environmental paint finishes such as Resene on timber boards or other wall sheeting. Try lime wash for a long lasting natural finish on block work.
Avoid the fashion for timber battens with an oil finish, particularly where they are on the west or east wall, as the oil will have to be reapplied every six to 12 months to keep the timber from ageing. Avoid very dark paint finishes painted on timber on sunny west or east walls as the dark colour absorbs a lot of heat, causing the timber to expand and contract. This damages the paint finish and ages the timber.
6. Indoor air quality
Keep your family healthy by selecting interior finishes that don’t emit toxic chemicals. Toxic chemicals emit a ‘new’ smell; your home shouldn’t smell at all when the building is finished. Always use water based finishes (avoid solvent based finishes) for paints and floors.
Use hard floors like timber, bamboo, linoleum, polished concrete or tiles where possible because they are easier to keep clean. Use woollen rugs to add softness, improve acoustics and create focus areas. Rugs improve flexibility, because it’s easy to change a rug to give your house a makeover.
7. High-level glazing and skylights
High-level windows and skylights provide natural light of far greater quality and quantity than windows in the wall. Install skylights in dark internal rooms to improve the light quality as well as reduce energy costs. If you are building or renovating, install high-level glazing to the north or south for loads of natural light and a beautiful sky view. (I despise dark rooms – they make me feel depressed and claustrophobic, and they don’t look as good as their lighter equivalents - so I love this tip.)
8. Energy efficient water heating
Hot water systems are the largest source of household greenhouse emissions. If you haven’t already, install a solar hot water system to heat your water for free. Put the tank on the roof to avoid using energy to pump the water and put the override switch on manual so you can choose when you want to use your electric backup. Alternatively, consider a heat pump or instantaneous gas as a secondary option. (My own hot water is solar, but unfortunately is an old system that never seems to work well - if the installer had put in a secondary option, I mightn’t feel as aggrieved as I do!)
9. Investigate solar power
Solar power is becoming increasingly affordable. However, you will need to make sure you have room on the roof for the panels to face north in a location that is not shaded between 10 am and 3 pm. Make sure you purchase quality solar panels to optimise energy creation.
10. Get smart with lighting
Install lighting control devices on your lights to make them more efficient, such as dimmers and movement sensors and timers. If you have loads of ‘energy eating’ low voltage down lights in your house, investigate some lighting alternatives. Find a specialist lighting shop and talk to them about lighting and bulb options that are more efficient. There are loads of options to improve the ambiance and lighting quality and save energy.