How to create an energy-smart home
If you’re renovating or building a home, you have the perfect opportunity to save money by making it as comfortable and energy-efficient as possible. An energy-smart home looks just like any other but uses the best combination of building orientation, wall and ceiling insulation, efficient heating, cooling, hot water, lighting and appliances to reduce household energy consumption by up to 40 per cent. Because energy-smart homes use significantly less energy than conventional homes, they can save you hundreds of dollars on your utility bills and help protect our environment by reducing greenhouse pollution.
The main consideration when selecting building materials is their thermal mass, which refers to a heavyweight material’s ability to store thermal or heat energy.
When used in the floor or walls of a building, materials with thermal mass can:
• Absorb heat during winter days and release it back into the living spaces during cooler periods; and
• Absorb heat from the building during summer days, having cooled down via natural ventilation during the previous cooler evening.
Materials that can provide thermal mass include concrete floors and masonry walls such as cavity brick or feature brick. Lightweight materials such as timber or plasterboard can also be used internally to allow rooms to heat up and cool down quickly — useful in rooms requiring occasional heating, or if you live in a tropical climate and cool your home by opening doors and windows.
The building materials you choose will be influenced by your area’s climate. To find out which materials best suit your region, contact the Energy Smart Information Centre (ESIC) on 1300 138 638 (NSW) or (02) 9249 6100 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
INTERNAL PLANNING & ROOM PLACEMENT
When deciding where to place rooms in your home, your main goal should be to maximise the amount of sunshine available to assist with warming the house. This should be balanced with appropriate window shading and ventilation to keep you cool in summer.
Some tips for making the most of available sunlight include:
• Living areas such as the family room, kitchen, lounge and dining room should be placed on the northern side of your home. If there is insufficient space for all of them, at least place day living areas to the north.
• Bedrooms can be located on the southern or eastern sides, although bedrooms used for play or study may be located on the northern side.
• Service areas (eg bathroom, laundry, garage) are usually located on the southern or western side, as they have minimal thermal comfort or heating/cooling requirements.
• Group together rooms that use hot water (kitchen, bathroom, laundry) to minimise heat loss in pipes.
• Create zones by grouping together rooms with similar uses, separated by doorways.
• Avoid open-plan living areas or high ceilings, as these can lead to high heating costs. Maximum ceiling height should be 2.7m.
Circulation zones (eg entry, corridors, halls) have minimum thermal comfort requirements and will not generally benefit from improved sunlight, but can impact on other zones if they are open between those zones.
CHOOSING A COOLING SYSTEM
Keeping your home cool in summer doesn’t have to be expensive. Stop the heat getting in and you can avoid purchasing unnecessary cooling equipment with high running costs.
By paying close attention to all of the items described below, you can reduce heat entering your home by up to 90 per cent:
• Insulation in ceilings (and walls and floors if possible).
• Draught sealing around windows, doors and any other gaps.
• External shading to north, east and west windows.
• Ventilation to allow cool outside air into the house.
CHOOSING A HEATING SYSTEM
An energy-efficiency heating package can use 40 per cent less energy! An effective and economical heating system is more than just a good heater; it’s a heating package that should always include:
• Insulation in ceilings, walls and floor where possible.
• Sealing off draughts.
• Effective window coverings.
• Zoning of living and sleeping areas.
• Appropriate and efficient heater(s).
• Wise, efficient use of your heating.
CHOOSING A HOT WATER SYSTEM
Hot water can account for more than a third of your household’s energy costs, so choosing the right system for your needs can considerably reduce your energy bill.
There are two types of hot water heaters: storage and continuous flow. Storage water heaters heat and store water in an insulated tank, ready for use. They operate most economically on solar energy, natural gas or off-peak electricity. Continuous flow (instantaneous) water heaters heat water as it is required and therefore cannot run out of hot water. They operate most economically on natural gas.
Insulation provides a barrier to heat flow into and out of your home. A well-insulated home is up to 10 degrees warmer in winter and up to seven degrees cooler in summer and can save as much as $300 per year in reduced energy costs. Where you insulate will govern how effective your insulation is. Insulated ceilings can potentially save 20 to 40 per cent on heating and cooling costs; insulated external walls can potentially save an additional 10 to 60 per cent on energy costs; insulated flooring can save possibly a further five to 10 per cent.
Existing homes can easily have insulation installed in the ceiling and under timber floors if crawl space is available. Walls can be insulated during recladding or replastering. Specialised products are also available to insulate existing walls.
There are two types of insulation: bulk and reflective. Bulk insulation works by reducing the amount of heat that transfers through a roof, wall or floor, and reflective insulation works by reflecting large amounts of heat away from its polished metallic surface.
Lighting costs the average NSW household up to $100 each year. Careful selection of lamps and fittings can cut your energy costs for lighting by more than half.
The higher the wattage of a lamp, the higher the running cost. Compact fluorescent bulbs burn as brightly as incandescent bulbs, but they require less power to do so, therefore they have a lower wattage and lower running costs. Each compact fluorescent light bulb you install can save you $50 and half a tonne of greenhouse gas over the bulb’s lifetime.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs cost more than regular incandescent light bulbs, but can last up to 10,000 hours, which means you won’t have to worry about replacing them as often. And, despite their rectangular shape, they still fit most light fittings. They are ideal for rooms where lighting is required for long periods of time, such as in the living room or kitchen.
SOLAR POWER SYSTEMS
It’s never been easier to go solar and cash-back rebates are available now for the systems. A solar power system, which allows you to generate your own clean electricity from sunlight, consists of:
• Solar panels, either mounted on the roof or the building façade (panels can also replace the roof material).
• An inverter, which turns the electricity from the panels into a form you can use for your home.
A grid-connected solar power system generates electricity during the day and stores it in the electricity grid (the poles and wires on your street). The electricity generated in excess to your home’s needs is delivered to the grid. In remote areas, batteries are used for storage instead of the grid.
Solar power does not produce air, noise or water pollution, or visual intrusion. A solar power system is an attractive way to add value to your home. In remote areas, solar power is a cost-effective alternative to connecting to the grid. Rebates will cover between 10 and 30 per cent of the cost of a new solar power system.
Green Power is electricity generated from clean, renewable sources such as the sun, wind, water and organic matter. Most people do not realise that over 90 per cent of their electricity is generated by burning coal, creating greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to global warming.
By choosing a government-accredited Green Power product, you can have up to 100 per cent of your household’s energy usage generated from renewable sources. For more information and to find out how to subscribe to Green Power, phone 136 206, visit www.greenpower.com.au or ask your energy retailer whether they offer a Green Power product.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Call the Energy Smart Centre (ESIC) on 1300 138 638 (NSW) or (02) 9249 6100 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Call Green Power on 136 206 or go to www.greenpower.com.au.