Green Living

Last Updated: 07 Aug 2013
Lily Yeang

Five WA architects and builders offer their expert opinions on sustainable design and environmentally friendly products for your home.

Sustainability has become a key factor in new designs, but many suffer information overload when considering it. We asked five WA architects and builders for their expert opinions about what constitutes sustainable design, and which environmentally friendly products can benefit your home.

Craig Steere

What does sustainable design mean for homes in 2013? At the very least, sustainable design should mean the simple, but very effective principles of passive solar design. This predominantly means the inclusion of good orientation for solar access (capturing winter sun and protecting from summer sun), and cross ventilation (ensuring window and door openings encourage access of prevailing breezes). There should also be the incorporation of thermal mass, appropriately located and/or shaded in summer (solid materials to absorb the winter sun internally and radiate this heat back into the space over the day and night, while helping to maintain more stable and consistent temperatures for all seasons), and good quality natural light. These simple measures don't have to cost you more money and can significantly reduce the need for dependence on energy – less or no need for air-conditioning systems, and less daytime need for artificial lighting.

In the past, sustainability has been considered 'boring'. How are home designers making the concept more appealing? This aspect can be successfully approached through well-considered design, incorporating the above green concepts without screaming, "I am green!", and allowing the design and aesthetics to provide the appeal.

What current design elements and materials combine aesthetics and functionality?
Some items that come to mind would be LED lighting; European slimline, thermally broken, double-glazed window systems; double-glazed skylights; operable screening systems; sun sensors (to operate shade systems automatically); contemporary ceiling fans; internal blinds within double-glazed windows; and alternative building systems.
Find out more about Craig Steere Architects here.

Craig Sheiles

What does sustainable design mean for homes in 2013? With every new home now requiring a minimum six-star energy rating, and as awareness increases and sustainable products become more widely available, sustainable design will be more prevalent in 2013 and beyond. What we design today will be relevant for future generations to use and reuse.

In the past, sustainability has been considered 'boring'. How are home designers making the concept more appealing? Rather than focus on sustainable building materials and products, designers are taking a more passive approach, focusing on the orientation of a design to maximise passive solar design principles, often resulting in interesting abstract cubist shapes that complement the feel. Creative rooflines and decorative recycled wall-cladding products are a few of the simple ways designers are making sustainability eye-catching.

What current design elements and materials are being used to combine aesthetics and functionality? Louvred aluminium sun hoods, external aluminium venetian blinds, natural stone to store heat on floors in winter, and natural timber are all very big right now, and help to reduce the need for artificial cooling in summer months. Extensive glazing to the northern aspect of a home creates a home filled with natural light and reduces the need to heat in winter. The importance of glazing, from both an aesthetic and a practical perspective, can often be underestimated. It gives a sense of space while keeping your home warmer in winter.
Find out more about Craig Sheiles Homes here.

Simon Bodycoat

What does sustainable design mean in 2013? For residential buildings in 2013, it has different meanings or definitions for the various parties involved in the design and construction. The architect has always held sustainability and energy efficiency as a key design criterion, with the objective being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improved building, thermal performance, and building services specification. The builder and his subcontractors now also play a greater role, in the fabrication and melding of many individual building elements that combine only at the end to provide a cohesive, tested and approved outcome.

What are the basics intrinsic in home design now? Fundamental to the design of all houses should be the implementation of the passive environmental principles, such as building siting, orientation, solar aspect and penetration, cross ventilation, and spatial planning. Thermal performance of individual building elements, spaces within a building, and the overall building can no longer be ignored. This needs to be balanced or offset against the requirement for placement and sizing of glazing elements within a building, especially where outlook is an important design consideration.

What 'add-ons' are there for those who want extra sustainable elements? Add-ons that may be considered could include systems that generate or harvest power (solar, wind, water); systems that allow for the collection or harvesting and reuse of stormwater (water tanks, bladders); the installation of smart or intelligent wiring systems; the selection and use of green building materials; integration of landscape design and plant selection with the design of the building; and the ability of the building to be remodelled or reused in the future to accommodate a changing family structure.
Rodrigues Bodycoat Architects (08) 9286 3304.

Claude Giorgi

What does sustainable design mean for homes in 2013? I think that it is not one item, but a number of elements that make up sustainable design. It has to be based on a combination of factors: good design assessment of the orientation of houses on blocks; selection of materials; and the understanding of the technologies that will help you improve the efficient running of the home. Designing and building a modern-day home means more than aesthetics. It demands future-proofing today's homes to ensure efficiency beyond the traditional.

How are perceptions of green residential design changing? I think most people are
aware about wanting to have sustainable homes, but by the same token they don't want to compromise on the design that they require. The perception is that people are becoming more aware that our homes need to have design principles that are sustainable and efficient in making a green impact. People are becoming more aware of the green approach, and want companies like us to incorporate green values into design. This is especially so when the consumption of power within a home becomes the biggest single contributor to expenses and emissions. Then energy-efficient schemes and modern technologies are the solution.

What factors affect this shift in attitude? There's no question that the high energy costs associated with the Carbon Tax are driving people to make a shift towards a smaller footprint. And apart from energy costs, people now feel that they have a moral responsibility to be environmentally sustainable. Perceptions are changing, and people certainly feel more obliged to contribute to the process. People who are now building homes are asking how they can be more cost-effective, making more open living areas with smaller houses, making the outside work with the inside of the home so that the home looks bigger than it is. I think the want for a smaller footprint and to be more energy-efficient is now being incorporated within everyday living.

Why are the costs for sustainable products and buildings decreasing? The more we use energy-efficient products, and understand them and the way they work, the more the cost comes down. Building and supply industries have realised that these products need to come down in price. And now there is a recognition in the industry that these products need to meet design and sustainability requirements. Ultimately, these technologies will become more readily available to the residential
market, and do not need to be expensive to provide functionality.
Find out more about Giorgi Exclusive Homes here.

Domenic Alvaro

What does sustainable design mean for homes in 2013? It's as much about location as it is about design and construction. Homes that are closer to where people work, play, shop and become educated, or closer to public transport to move people to those locations, are far more sustainable than those that are not, when one considers the direct and indirect costs (pollution, health, emissions, accidents, congestion) of fossil-fuel transportation.

How are perceptions of green residential design changing? This is currently dominated by energy and water. Over time, the prominence of other resource constraints or changing climate impacts will further affect design inputs. For example, the increasing number of vegetable gardens to combat rising food costs; climate change leading to improved protection from weather variability and extremes; and the sourcing of various construction materials dependent on availability.

What are factors affecting this shift in attitude? Climate change, dwindling resources, high energy and water costs, pollution, congestion, health, population increases, ageing demographics, affordability, food security and biodiversity loss… They are all contributing to these trends to greater or lesser extents, and will continue to do so.

What are the misconceptions about sustainable design? Sustainability is about exploring possibilities and managing future risk. Manage that risk and anything is possible, but that can only be achieved by a considered process of design. A 'one size fits all' approach is unlikely to be sustainable.
Find out more about Woods Bagot here.

Gardens Architects Builders Homes

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