DIY, HOW TO & SUSTAINABLE LIVING
Sustainable Housing: Passive Home, Active SavingsPassive design is the pursuit of a home that can be comfortable year-round without relying on mechanical cooling or heating. The movement began in Germany, where it is a voluntary standard for reducing a building’s carbon footprint by maximising energy efficiency. The initiative has taken off around the world, with many home builders and renovators following the standards and other countries like Sweden establishing their own national equivalent of the certification. While the original concept was developed for a colder European climate with an emphasis on retaining heat, the same standard has also been proven to work in warmer climates, like Australia’s, even without modifications.
With an emphasis on robust insulation and ventilation, preventing moisture from entering the building, dehumidifying the interior and fixed external shades for windows, passive temperature regulation can be easily achieved in any Queensland building. Whether you’re looking to build an energy efficient home from the ground up or want to make changes to your existing property to reduce your reliance on air conditioning, it’s a worthwhile process. The ideal end result is a lower carbon footprint, and a huge drop in electricity usage.
Here are a few principles to follow for passive building design success.
With one of the most important tenets of the passive house standard being air tightness, the idea of sitting in a sealed room at the height of the Queensland summer seems like madness, but couldn’t be further from the passive house plan. The key here is achieving consistency of temperature, and in fact, passive house standards don’t require windows to be perpetually closed – far from it.
As a country, we’ve already caught on to the core philosophy of passive cooling – look at the humble Queenslander. Characterised by being up on stumps with that distinctive wrap-around verandah, it captures prevailing breezes and is cooled underneath while being shaded from the sun and rain.
- Building from the ground up? Verandahs or covered sleep-outs are great for all-weather relaxing as they let the breezes in while keeping out the sun and rain during storm season. Nice, wide eaves can also help.
- Look at each window you’ve noticed you need to close when bad weather hits and see if an awning or external louvres could help you let air in without letting in the rain.
- Hot air rises, so high ceilings are great, but if you can’t modify your ceiling height, a skylight is the perfect solution to allow hot air up and out. Velux solar powered skylights can even be programmed to automatically ventilate the room at regular intervals. They’re also good for rooms that don’t have many windows and are lacking in natural light.
Maintaining a consistent, comfortable temperature within a controlled space is what passive housing is all about, and a lot of the things you do to help cool your home in summer can also serve to help you keep it warm in winter. Heat retention is a major part of passive housing, and where a lot of research has been conducted, but if you don’t have the cash to make your home completely airtight like the certification demands, fear not. There are some smaller-scale things you can do to optimise your home’s thermal retention that will help you rely less on heaters in winter.
- Homes can gain and lose a substantial amount of heat through their windows, so double glazing can help make that heat transference slower, keeping heat out in summer and in during winter. They can even help with noise reduction, so if you live close to a road or your neighbours it can assist with keeping noise out or in.
- Insulation is an essential part of any Queensland home. We all know that good insulation is crucial to stop the heat of the sun warming up our homes, but it also helps to keep warmth from escaping during winter. A lot of newer homes focus on insulation in the roof but neglect it elsewhere. So, if you happen to be building from scratch don’t skimp on the insulation in your walls. Similarly, for existing homes, it can’t hurt to increase the insulation in your roof.
There are many things you can do to take the first few steps towards a passive house, with varying levels of invasiveness and expense, but all are worth the investment. As energy bills continue to climb and the weather only gets wilder, future-proofing your home is not only the smart choice, it’s the right thing to do for the environment.
Concrete: Durable Interiors, Unique Designs
Modern design is more practical than ever, doing away with frivolous gilded edges and fragile painted porcelain and embracing minimalist tenets. Enter the humble poured concrete. It’s hard-wearing, versatile and can be as sleek or textured as you like in the workplace or the home. Employing thousands of Australians – many in regional areas – the cement industry is also an important contributor to regional employment. With more and more boutique manufacturing operations starting up locally it’s easier than ever to bring this contemporary material in from the outside.
Building with concrete is much faster and once cut it can be polished to a smooth finish or covered with a coloured or clear epoxy material to protect against oil and chemical spills. This makes them as equally useful in homes as they are in commercial buildings. It makes for a durable and sophisticated kitchen floor, too, even used as a benchtop or splashback for a bold look that brings an industrial edge to your interior design. Consider creating a unique architectural focal point with an eye-catching feature like a bespoke, poured-concrete staircase.
Not looking to remodel your whole building? As a material that doesn’t require extra treatments to reach even the most stringent fire codes, concrete can be more than just a floor or wall. Artists have experimented with the material crafting everything from bathtubs to chairs. With modern oxides and pigments introducing more colour choice than the standard grey, concrete furniture can be a modern feature in any room, blending with any existing palette or standing out for an unexpected pop of colour. Whether it’s an item of furniture like a slab top table or just a small decorative piece like a pendant lamp or vase you can introduce the cool texture to any spot in the house or office effortlessly.
But what if the space you’re in has concrete you would like to soften up? Concrete can make large spaces feel cold, so the right furnishings are crucial. Bright colours, thick or patterned carpets, the classic scatter cushion or a lavish throw draped over the back of a dramatic reading chair. Consider lighting with exposed bulbs for a warm, welcoming ambiance or paper lampshades for an eco-friendly injection of an interesting texture. Concrete is an incredibly versatile material but as it’s commonly associated with external urban architecture. It can be a great tool to blur the line between indoors and outdoors, so take advantage of it and bring some nature into your property. This works especially well alongside indoor plants. They bring vibrancy into your interior space and can balance out concrete’s cooler tones - and they also improve indoor air quality.
At the end of it’s useful life, concrete can be crushed up and recycled – that is, if it ever goes out of style. In small or large doses it can be a versatile deign addition to your interior that promises to be an effortless design staple for your home or business. You can get your very own designer concrete baths, bench tops and basins from Eco Sustainable House.
Water Storage Standoff - Finding Space for a Rainwater Tank
As a long-time staple in rural and suburban homes, the humble water tank has seen many families through warm south east Queensland summers, especially as water now costs more here than it does in Sydney. For those seeking to protect not just the environment, but their hip pocket, a rainwater tank is an investment that quickly pays for itself in more ways than one. By reducing your reliance on mains water, you could be saving substantially on your bills, but also help to make your community water supplies last longer. Bathrooms and laundries use more water than any other room in the house, so even using rainwater for your washing machine and showers can help your home become more self-sustaining and keep costs down. Just 20mm of rain on a 100m2 roof area can net you more than 2000 Litres!
But what if you live in an urban area? It might not seem possible to enjoy the benefits of harvesting that precious rainwater if you live in a house with a smaller backyard, but clever placement or concealment could be all you need.
The ‘Blind Side’
A good spot that works for many people would usually be on a side of your property that is not regularly used or seen. Think around where your washing line is or around the corner from any outdoor entertaining areas, or a slim design tank installed along the side of the house. Just make sure to check with your local council first for any regulations to do with property boundaries or height restrictions before installation, so that you don’t end up in hot water!
Keep in mind that you can also partially or completely bury your tank. You will still need to be able to access it for maintenance and cleaning, but it’s a great option for reducing or eliminating their height above ground if you’re low on space. It could be placed underneath a driveway or a path so you can maximise your backyard space for playing with the kids and pets. Atlantis Matrix tanks are an excellent eco-friendly choice for an underground tank. They are made with 85% recycled materials and can be custom-sized to suit your property.
Under a Deck
Though it might require more pipework, you don’t always have to have your tank right beside your house. If you have space below your deck you aren’t making use of, you could install a water tank below and enjoy all the benefits of getting your water for free from the sky—as nature intended.
Screen and Conceal
Many new tanks come in sleek, modern Colorbond steel that can match your house’s colour scheme perfectly, but you can also paint your tank to help it not stand out so much. Consider where the tank is located, like whether you want it to match the fence it sits against, or a colour that will help it camouflage behind some greenery. You can also install decorative screens around your tank, even training creeper vines along them for a stunning natural feature.
If you’ve been on the fence about getting a water tank don’t get hung up on appearances when there are so many solutions. With thoughtful placement or simply hiding it in plain sight, having a rainwater tank in an urban setting is much more achievable than you might think. Kingspan Rainwater Tanks are a great place to get started, and you can order one, complete with installation, online through Eco Sustainable House.
The Real Green Screen - Using Plants & Screens for Privacy
A new challenge for both urban developers and dwellers is how to achieve a balance between embracing nature and preserving privacy. The simple solution is to combine the two, with screens that allow light and air through and can also act as a structure to train creeping plants. Plants can have a strong visual impact as well as a proven benefit to our health when we spend more time around them, so make even more use of them by cleverly incorporating them into your space. With endless applications, indoors and outdoors, commercial and residential, you can mask unattractive features or make a visual statement almost anywhere. Not only is the result functional, you’re also helping to improve your building’s environmental sustainability..
Where to use them
If you want to mask an area of your backyard such as a hot water tank or an external air conditioning unit a screen with a climbing vine is an instant improvement that will only look better as the plant grows. You can even use this method to add extra height to your fence if your neighbour is a little close or overlooks your property. If you live in an apartment with a balcony it’s a quick way to get a bit more privacy and sound reduction from your immediate neighbour or whatever your balcony may be facing, like a busy road. It’s a quick, easy and cost-effective way to conceal your indoor or outdoor areas from unwanted onlookers or to screen off unappealing sights all while introducing some greenery.
Screen with vines or vertical garden?
The main distinction between training a vine on a decorative privacy screen and a full green wall is the number of plants and the complexity of the setup. Because of a higher capacity, you can fit more plants and more variety in a green wall, which may also require an irrigation system to be installed. A screen and a few creeping plants is a comparatively subtle look but also quicker and cheaper to set up. However, with the right drainage system are perfectly suitable for apartment balconies, rooftops and even large indoor settings such as an office foyer.
Which creeper plants to use?
When choosing a creeper for training along your security screen, you need to consider whether you would like to have native plants or something from abroad, flowering or even deciduous. If the idea of more shade in summer but more sunlight in winter sounds like a feature you like, a deciduous creeper like Wisteria could be a good match for you. If you want bold, bright flowers consider the classic Bougainvillea, but remember it does come with thorns. For a perfumed flower, Madagascan Jasmine thrives in tropical climates but prefers a somewhat sheltered spot. Grape vines can come in an ornamental variety that doesn’t bear fruit and it sports striking burgundy, red, orange and yellow foliage in autumn before losing its leaves in winter and growing new, green ones in spring.
Putting up some privacy screen panels up and training creeping vines along them not only looks fantastic, it can bring nature and privacy to your indoor or outdoor space for a price that won’t break the bank.
- Cody McConnell
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