What defines a ‘comfortable home’?
As energy prices in Australia continue to rise, the market demand for environmentally sustainable homes with low running costs and specifications above the mandatory 6-star rating is increasing. Deborah Andrich finds out what it takes to build a high performance home.
The ‘green’ building revolution is well and truly under way in Australia as construction costs and energy prices continue to increase.
As a result of this, many home owners are looking to go beyond the mandatory requirements of the 6-star energy eﬃciency standard of the National Construction Code (NCC) in relation to the building envelope – walls, ﬂoors, roof and windows.
Most designs will specify the appropriate materials and technologies to achieve the Standard but the key to making it happen is the builder and their knowledge. The level of detail and technologies will determine how far the eﬃciencies can go to create a comfortable and low cost home for the client.
Builders who are capable of building beyond the 6-star minimum put themselves in prime position to tender for projects that are not cookie-cutter designs. It sets up the business as one with a reputation of going the extra mile to provide the home owner with high levels of workmanship and quality, as well as achieving the desired results.
What’s the beneﬁt to the home owner?
Knowing the builder can take a home beyond the minimum 6-star energy requirements to produce a comfortable living space with low running costs is reassuring.
So what is a ‘comfortable home’?
According to CSIRO energy for buildings manager Stephen White, a comfortable home is one that provides a steady comfortable temperature throughout the day, lets in natural light in winter and makes the most of fresh air ventilation when outdoor conditions are mild.
Research conducted by CSIRO shows that in a survey of what consumers expect in a home, the overwhelming response was comfort.
“Many people are inﬂ uenced by TV to look for ‘bling’ in their home like beautiful furniture or the latest kitchen trend. But when it came to the crunch, our surveys show that what they really want is a home that is naturally warm in winter and cool in summer; a home to shelter us from the elements,” says Stephen.
“A home that does not have thermal comfort can even lead to health issues for those vulnerable in our society – the young, elderly and ill or low income earners who generally can’t aﬀord to run an air conditioner.”
In another CSIRO study, researchers found that when the regulations changed from 3-star to 5-star, the cost did not increase signiﬁcantly as the builders understood what was required and were capable of ﬁnding ways of achieving the higher star rating with existing materials.
THE DESIGN STAGE
With many architects and designers in the industry skilled in designing higher-rated homes, it is becoming easier for builders to form a collaborative relationship to share the concept of the build and ensure materials meet the speciﬁcations.
Sustainable design specialist Maxa Design co-director Sven Maxa says the aim is to ﬁnd the balance between budget, the client wish list and location.
“Most home owners are aware of what it is to have an energy eﬃcient home but don’t really understand the repercussions of the decisions they make. For example, asking for an energy eﬃcient home that has a lot of glass and high ceilings in a cool climate reduces the eﬃciency. Equally, the orientation of the house on the block can make the diﬀerence on how much solar gain is achieved. For the builder it is important to be mindful of what those conﬂicts are and how to maximise the best possible results with what you have,” Sven says.
While some builders and home owners might be concerned that a high starrating will mean having to incorporate modern architecture into the design, Sven says ultimately it’s just about the right arrangement of rooms, placement of windows and insulation.
“What makes a home more liveable is working with your climate, ensuring cross air ﬂow for ventilation and using non-toxic materials, such as low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints and furnishings, which are known to oﬀ-gas. Visual connection with the surrounding landscape can also help with the wellbeing of the resident and the comfort of the home.”
THE BUILD STAGE
More registered training organisations are oﬀering opportunities for builders to upgrade their skills to build higher star rated homes. While not compulsory, the training does give deeper insight into techniques for a builder to achieve the desired outcomes.
In the ﬁrst instance, it is important that the builder understands the house design and how the construction process needs to unfold. The builder should also know the product speciﬁcations and any alternatives so that if a product needs to be substituted with another brand, the ﬁnal outcome will be the same.
“Participating in training such as the Green Living program with Master Builders Association of Victoria (MBAV), shows a commitment by the builder to further his skills in building higher star rated energy eﬃcient homes,” says MBAV sustainable building advisor Phil Alviano.
“Ultimately, the goal of courses like this is to ensure the builder knows how to achieve the design. It also gives the builder a better understanding of what the client wants and where alterations can be made without aﬀecting the overall result.”
MBAV chief executive Radley de Silva adds that up-to-date training is critical to keeping the building and construction industry a thriving sector, particularly as technology becomes more inﬂuential in the building process.
“Green Living accreditation is part of this technological change as clients demand and expect builders to have the requisite skills and experience to build with environmental responsibility. Sustainable building practice is clearly urgent for states such as Victoria with the fastest growth rate in Australia. By 2051 we will need to build 2.2 million new homes and adapting to that reality is urgent. Programs such as the Green Card induction training is designed to encourage better adherence to environmental obligations, tender requirements and ISO 14001 compliance.”
Ultimately, what makes a high star rated home eﬀective is how comfortable it is. Light, ventilation and thermal comfort determine its liveability. For those seeking more sustainable options, then add-ons such as water tanks, water recycling and renewable energy are worth considering.