The MOST Underrated Aspect of an Energy-efficient Home
There’s plenty to gain from the previous two components we covered of an Energy-efficient home; Insulation and Airtightness. But, there is only so much benefit you can gain if you fail to get the third component correct… Orientation. The orientation and more holistically the design of your home can make or break the home’s performance when it comes to energy-efficiency! I MUST STOP THERE A MOMENT… A home CANNOT be solely about energy-efficiency… It must be a home you are proud to live in and enjoy everyday. The feeling a well designed home can give you is somewhat of an enigma, but we’ve all walked into a home or building that just felt right. – It can be difficult to identify what about it is so right but we intrinsically know something just feels good! I digress, back to the topic of a home’s orientation. An optimal performing home along with a home that feels right MUST be designed with consideration to the environment of which it is in, particularly making the most of; the sun’s path and wind direction. – This is often termed Passive Solar Design. Let’s simplify this and look at 2 different home layouts on the one piece of land. The site runs west (front) to east (rear), therefore we have the long side of the property with a great north aspect. Home A – is designed with the Living/Kitchen/Dining to the rear and south, bedrooms to the front (west) and north, and service yard to the north away from the Living area. – NOT PASSIVE SOLAR. Home B – is designed with the Living/Kitchen/Dining to the front and north, bedrooms to the rear (east) and south, and service yard to the south away from the Living area. – THIS IS PASSIVE SOLAR 101. Home A Living/Kitchen/Dining to the rear and south
- No solar heat gain (for areas of a home most used) for the months of winter.
- Potentially a nice eastern aspect for summer months.
- Very dark in winter, especially of an evening when the sun is lower in the west sky.
Bedrooms to the front (west) and north
- Potential for extremely hot bedrooms in summer with harsh west sun.
- Bedrooms attracting the sun during winter, although bedrooms are not actively used nearly as much as living areas.
- Bedrooms to the front part of the home means visitors need to walk past these more private areas to get to your living room.
Service yard to the north
- Services will require shading to prevent direct sunlight shortening their lifespan.
- Services area taking up the most pleasant part of a home, especially in winter.
Home B Living/Kitchen/Dining to the front and north
- Keeping these public areas at the front of the home avoids foot traffic in the more private bedroom domain to the rear.
- Kitchen with close access to the entry enables easy dropoff for shopping etc.
- Living areas capturing the north sun provide opportunity for solar heat gain in winter. Accompanying this direct sun with thermal mass (concrete or brick) can store the heat and release it when temperatures lower in the evening.
Bedrooms to the rear (east) and south
- Keeps bedrooms private from guests
- Keeps bedrooms cool in summer. – In winter our view is that bedrooms can operate cooler than Living rooms (presuming we spend less time in bedrooms).
- Bedrooms facing east are optimum (unless you work nightshift) for a person’s circadian rhythm helping us to awaken when it is day and sleep at night time.
Service yard to the south away from the Living area
- Optimum location for a service yard is on the south side of a home in a relatively sheltered area.
- It’s also important to minimize the distance from services to the point of use i.e. kitchen tap.
I think you can tell quite easily which of these homes will be more pleasant to live in, and with the new home rating requirement of 7 stars, passive solar design is a sure bet. There are a number of nuances for each broad statement made here. The only way to ensure your home is designed for maximum comfort and occupant experience is to consciously consider your design and home’s layout carefully. – And, of course, engage a firm (like SHM) that specialise in passive solar design. This is set to be the last in this series on Energy-Efficient Homes, although with the recent news on the 7 star home rating requirement within Australia, there may be room for one more.
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