Energy efficiency tips for designing, building or renovating your home
Designing and building a new home, or renovating an existing one, is an exciting time. It’s a great opportunity to factor in sustainable design principles and investing your time to get the design right from the start will help you create a home to suit the way you will live – and use energy – now and into the future.
Key considerations include how you’ll power your home, the structure and design of your home and the systems inside the home.
Check out these energy efficiency tips to see what we recommend you should consider when designing, building or renovating a home in WA.
Consider how you’ll power your home
The way Western Australians power their homes is evolving. With a desire to reduce home energy costs and people becoming more environmentally conscious, solar PV systems are more popular than ever.
Renewables - Solar & battery systems
Living in WA puts us in one of the sunniest spots in the world - so solar PV systems offer a great opportunity to put the sun to work. While some people leave solar on the “after we move in” list, we recommend you think about solar sooner. You might like to:
- Include solar panels on your rooftop design from the beginning. Your builder can help you find the best roof position and orientation to suit the look of your home elevation and make the most of your solar energy production.
- Find the right sized solar system for your needs.
- Consider whether you might have a solar battery in the future. Solar panels work while the sun is shining and battery power can store excess solar energy your panels generate for you to use when the sun goes down. Batteries come in a range of shapes and sizes, so it’s worth thinking about how your garage is designed and including extra space for a battery in the future.
If you have solar panels, generally the more solar energy you can use as it's being produced by your system, the better. Where possible, look at how you can shift more of your electricity use to the daytime - for example by setting your dishwasher to run in the middle of the day instead of overnight to take advantage of the solar energy you are producing.
This is known as load shifting. If you can’t shift your load or are exporting most of your solar energy, a battery to store your excess solar energy might be a good solution. Batteries can store excess energy your solar panels produce for you to consume later, once the sun is down.
Consider the structure and design of your home
There are many ways to maximise the energy efficiency of your home by being strategic when it comes to the structure and design.
For example, getting the orientation of your home right could go a long way to making your home more energy efficient.
Window location, glazing type and window treatments normally play a key role in the thermal performance of a home. If positioned thoughtfully, windows could help keep your house warm in winter and cool in summer.
The thermal performance of your home may also be affected by features such as window treatments, construction materials and even your house colour!
And while there are a lot of improvements you can make indoors, it’s important to think about the outdoor spaces too.
Incorporate solar passive design
Australia is blessed with abundant sunshine so it makes sense that we design our houses to maximise the benefits of this incredible resource. Speak with your builder about solar-passive design, as there’s a lot of variation in the angle of the sun from summer to winter.
Most people want to let the light and warmth in as much as possible in winter and block it out in summer - solar passive design means incorporating your home’s layout, windows, eaves and other elements around this.
If possible, choose a north-facing block
This means looking for a home design that is longest in an east-west direction. Your builder may be able to help you create, find or flip a house plan to make the most of the sun. A plan that has your living areas facing north and your bedrooms facing south will generally achieve this.
When you’re looking for a block, watch out for shading from tall trees or buildings to the north. These could block out natural light and make your house colder in the winter months.
Supersize the windows on the northern side
If you want to create a bright and spacious feel in your new home, windows on the northern side will normally give you the most natural light. They could also help warm your house in winter.
If you aim for around a third to a half of your northern wall to be made of glass, it is likely the lower angled winter sun will be able to enter and naturally warm your home. In summer, you can easily protect these windows from the hot sun with your choice of eaves, deciduous plants or a pergola.
Our spectacular WA sunsets happen in the west – but unfortunately this means your western windows bear the full, hot afternoon sun and glare in summer. If your new home will have views of those sunsets, make sure your windows on this side are under a veranda or shaded.
You may also want to speak to your builder about vertical screening options. Ideally, any trees on the western side of your home should be tall varieties to shade your home and still allow westerly breezes underneath.
In winter, east-facing windows usually don’t receive enough sun to provide much warmth but they can let valuable heat out. In summer, these windows may heat your house quickly with hot morning sun. They can also be hard to shade effectively so try to keep these windows to a minimum if you can.
When it comes to the thermal performance of your home, window treatments are probably one of the most neglected and underrated parts of the building process. Up to 40% of home heating and cooling energy can be lost via windows. Choosing window furnishings such as heavy block out weight curtains can help keep the warmth in during winter and help keep the heat out during the hottest part of the day in summer.
House materials and colour
The colour and materials used to construct your home’s exterior could have an impact on its ability to reflect or absorb heat. Lighter colours tend to reflect light and accompanying heat, whereas darker colours tend to absorb it.
The materials used on the exterior of your home can also have an impact on its thermal performance. For example, the brick used in double brick construction could be darker in colour but the density of two brick layers means that while radiant heat is absorbed, it’s released slowly into the home through the course of the day. Conversely, weatherboard has poor thermal qualities no matter the colour it’s painted.
Zoning the living areas
When planning the layout of your home, consider the activities each room is used for, and whether you could group rooms with similar uses together to create zones. Consider locating living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms close together which can facilitate more efficient heating and cooling.
It could also be worthwhile making considerations for the time of day each room is typically used in your home. Locating bedrooms, typically used overnight, on the southern side of the home could keep them cooler and therefore more comfortable in summer. Living areas such as kitchen and dining spaces, which are typically occupied during the day, could be located on the northern side of the house.
Don’t forget your outdoor living spaces
All around your house, decent sized eaves will shade your windows and external walls, keeping your house cooler in summer. Adding a pergola with slats at the right angle could let in the low winter sun and give you shade in summer. Removable shade cloth or deciduous vines over your pergola can also achieve a similar result.
If you put brick paving under north-facing windows, keep in mind this could reflect summer heat into your home. It may be worth putting the paving further away from the house and using water-wise groundcovers and small shrubs next to the windows as a cooler option.
Consider the systems in your home
Taking the time to consider energy efficient options for the systems in your home can have a big impact on how much energy you use. Being mindful of efficient options for heating and cooling, incorporating LED lighting or choosing efficient appliances when it’s time for a replacement or upgrade can all help you to manage your energy consumption.
Heating and cooling
For the most energy-efficient way to heat and cool in your home, look for options that have the highest energy star rating. Heating and cooling can account for a large part of your energy costs throughout the year, so a higher energy-efficiency rating means you’ll be likely to use less energy.
If you like the idea of ceiling fans to circulate air in your home, let your builder know so they can incorporate this into your electrical plans. You can also look for open areas in your home design which might be hard to keep cool or warm at different times of the year and adapt your home design in a simple way such as adding an extra door to trap the cool or warm air.
The number and type of lights you choose can have a big impact on your electricity use. You might like to:
- Create a design to help you enjoy as much natural light as possible.
- Choose the most energy-efficient lighting to help you reduce your electricity use in the long-term.
- Have dimmer switches installed in certain areas, such as bedrooms.
When it comes to appliances, improving your energy efficiency doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re thinking of buying new appliances, always check the energy star rating; the cheapest option isn’t always a bargain if it costs more to run. The higher the star-rating, the less electricity it is likely to use in the long term.
It’s one of the coolest appliances in your home, but your refrigerator is also likely to be one of the most energy hungry. Keep your fridge and freezer at an optimal temperature – between 3 and 5°C for fridges and around -18°C for your freezer – and don’t over or under fill it.
Laundries, bathrooms and pools can use about 27% of your household energy use, mainly due to the energy it takes to heat water. Consider drying your clothes on a clothesline or clothes horse, rather than in the dryer. Running your pool pump on a timer could also help you reduce your electricity use.
Computers, TVs and tech are a big part of our everyday lives, but they can also use a lot of electricity. Consider switching them off altogether if they’re not in use. Discover more energy efficiency tips for around the home.
Smart energy tech could help to reduce your electricity use at home by making it more energy efficient. Speak to your builder about installing smart sensors such as those that switch your lights off when a room is empty or smart outlets, which can be configured to switch off devices or appliances if there’s no human movement detected after a certain time.
Thinking about an EV?
Once you have your home design ready for the type of lifestyle you’ll enjoy when your building or renovation project is over, you might want to think even further ahead.
The popularity of electric vehicles is growing across the world and there’s an expanding range of electric options available. If you think you will be driving an electric vehicle in the not-too-distant future, we recommend you speak with your builder about your garage design and charging points.
Considering these elements during the design process can help to make sure you have the right plans in place before you build. Our Synergy Smart Energy Hub in Subiaco features some ideas you might want to raise with your architect, builder or other suppliers.
Keeping energy efficiency and sustainability in mind
It's worth taking the time to consider sustainable, energy efficient ways to help you create a home to suit the way you live and use energy. Considering how you design and build your house with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind could have a big impact on your energy bills, and the environment.
For even more energy-saving ideas that you can incorporate into your new home, check out our handy energy tips.