11 tips for building an eco-home

Date: 6 August 2015

Mention eco-design to someone wanting to build a new home and thoughts often go to straw bales and mud huts – but the reality is that designing and building an eco-home can produce a state-of-the-art, classy home that will be the envy of neighbours.

Eco-design isn’t just good for the environment; it can also be good for the hip pocket because a green home design conserves water and energy, protects the environment, improves its value, and can actually save money.

Chris Short, from the Association of Building Consultants, shares his top tips when it comes to building and designing an eco-home.

  1. Open and shut. Consider using eco-friendly doors and windows when designing a home. A front door with a window may add light to an entryway, but it also allows warmth to escape. Glass is a poor thermal insulator. Think about installing a solid front door made of eco-friendly wood, and consider that a door made from recyclable material will be far more energy-efficient than other materials.
  2. No pane, no gain. On average, a home loses nearly a third of its heat and air conditioning energy due to windows that are not ecologically designed. Consider installing windows that are double-glazed because they offer a great energy rating and can also seriously cut down noise. Double glazing can be a substitute for curtains in some situations.
  3. Beat the heat. Investing in a natural gas fireplace is a good idea, and is the best choice for a ‘green’ interior design because burning wood directly contributes to deforestation and releases harmful toxins into the air.
  4. Ray of hope. Opting to install solar panels is one popular move that not only reduces energy consumption but also creates energy for use. While there is an initial financial investment to install solar panels, they can increase the resale value of a home and significantly decrease energy bills. Another energy-efficient idea is to purchase heating and air conditioning equipment that offer high Energy Star Rating capabilities.
  5. Let there be light. There are now a number LED light options on the market that significantly reduce energy consumption and consume a fraction of power used by conventional halogen lights. LEDs have become more affordable, and can be used to create a stylish yet functional feature of a home. One of the benefits of LED downlights is that they can be installed in often difficult-to-access spots, such as very high or pitched ceilings and enjoyed for many years to come.
  6. Thick as a brick. Making bricks is an energy-intensive business, but using recycled bricks salvaged from demolition sites can significantly reduce an environmental footprint. Not only are recycled bricks cheaper, they offer far more character and can solve the dilemma of matching existing brickwork.
  7. Location, location, location. Don’t underestimate how much passive solar heating can dramatically reduce heating and cooling costs. It should always be a consideration when designing a new home or addition. Daytime living areas should ideally face north, and because bedrooms need less heating they can be located on the southern side of the house. Similarly, bathrooms, laundries and garages need less heating and can be located to the west or south to act as a buffer against hot afternoon sun.
  8. On reflection. House colours and temperatures work much like coloured clothing. A black top will attract and absorb heat, and will be much hotter to wear on a summer day compared to a white top. A house is exactly the same - especially the roof. Opting for a light coloured roof or external wall colours will produce a better eco-result because they will reflect the heat better in a hot climate.
  9. Insulation. If you are serious about saving costs on heating and cooling then it is essential to have all walls and ceilings insulated. Think about the installation of ‘sarking’ – aluminium foil sheet that reflects heat away from the roof and external walls, which often forms part of an insulated blanket laid on top of the roof trusses and under the roof battens.
  10. Rumble in the jungle. Bamboo is emerging as one of the most popular materials when it comes to ecological design because it is as highly durable, sustainable, renewable and very quick to grow. Think about installing bamboo flooring as a green home design option instead of traditional hardwood flooring.
  11. Save for a rainy day. All new homes in SA need to have a rainwater tank with a minimum storage capacity of 1000L, a dedicated roof catchment area of not less than 50sq/m, and be connected to toilet, laundry or hot water service. With such little rainfall compared to other parts of the Nation, it is worthwhile to capture as much water as possible and use it for daily consumption or watering the garden.

It doesn’t matter whether you are buying your first home, downsizing, or looking to accommodate a growing family, a bit of effort and some clever planning can produce an eco-friendly result that is water and energy efficient, and thermally comfortable for many years to come.