Question 1. What is a sustainable home?

Sustainable home design is really just common sense

A sustainable home is a home built on common sense house. Simply put it is a home that makes effective use of the site, the natural resources available and the lay of the land to produce a home that minimises construction costs, maximises livability and has low or no operating costs. A sustainable home:

  • has, as far as practicable, low embodied energy (energy expended in the manufacture of the building products)
  • uses the building materials and mass of the earth to provide a thermal bank to maintain a relatively constant temperature. This eliminates, or minimises, heating in winter and cooling in summer.
  • limits the use of natural resources; ie, efficient use of electricity, wind and water.   
  • uses the wind to channel prevailing breezes to cool in summer.

The principles that must be considered when developing a sustainable home are:

Passive design

A passively designed home makes the most of natural heating and cooling methods to keep its occupants comfortable year-round. Orientation, spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading and glazing are the seven core components of passive design, explains sustainable designer Dick Clarke of Envirotecture.

Home orientation is particularly important in the  cool climate zones of the Yass Valley. It is important for the building to be correctly oriented to the sun in during cold seasons and shut it out when it’s hot, the other six principles of passive design can be balanced to create homes that require minimal active heating or cooling. Good orientation from a passive design perspective generally means locating living areas on the north side of the house, with glazing having clear access to sunlight even in mid-winter.

Design for climate

Different climates need different houses and Australia has more than 80 climate zones . The design and delivery of homes that are appropriate to the climate and adapted to both your needs and the micro-climate of your site. Design is more than just the structural components of the building - but the balance of light, heat and insulation to achieve the best balance of utility and cost - both construction and running. 

Heating and cooling

Traditional Australian construction standards result in ‘leaky’ homes; the air changing up to twenty times in an hour. This leakage creates draughts and results in increased heating and cooling costs, Sealing leaks post construction is difficult and costly. The key design factors are: prevent leaks, use curtains and blinds to manage heating and cooling and insulate. Ceiling fans should be considered for both heating and cooling to increase efficiency.


Insulation provides a barrier to heat passing in and out of the house, In many cases good design and good insulation can a provide a dwelling that requires limited, or no, heating or cooling. le temperature inside, regardless of the temperature outside. In winter, once your home has been heated to a comfortable level, it will stay that way with less energy input than an uninsulated home. Insulation and the exclusion of draughts can result in a saving of up to 30% in energy bills.


Windows and glazed doors can leak considerable heat (in and out). Good design will determine the optimum glazing requirement; consider the benefits of double glazing but there is no need to go overboard chasing energy rating stars. Balance the cost of the windows with the projected savings over time in relation to heating and cooling to find the right balance,

Size matters

We here in Australia have some of the biggest houses in the world; this is not particularly efficient. Good design maximises the utility of the home and results in higher energy efficiency standards, and lower upfront and ongoing costs.

Design for duration