WHY SHOULD WE BUILD SUSTAINABLE, PASSIVELY DESIGNED HOMES?

Our homes are far more than a financial investment or a statement of wealth or success. They are where we spend the majority of our lives, where we come home to relax, where we cook food and entertain friends, where we raise our children and most of all they are a place of comfort and security. Our homes have the ability to mould and improve our quality of life, so the simple aspect of how they feel should bear equal weight in the decisions we make when building our homes. 

We make a number of decisions when building a home; how much should it cost? how many rooms does it have? What does it look like? though more often than not key decisions such as which way is it oriented? Or how should it feel? are left out of the discussion. These seemingly immaterial decisions have the greatest impact on the real value of the home, it’s liveability. 

Every place has a different climate with challenges that need to be understood in order to build a home with the most comfortable and inviting spaces to inhabit. A building’s thermal performance, it’s heating and cooling, has become a quantifiable target to be met, a check box item of building compliance. In Perth, our climate varies between a harsh, hot summer and a relatively mild winter. The challenge we face when building is how to best manage the seasonal change so as to provide our homes with a consistent pleasant environment. 

The Perth climate demands an understanding of three key environmental elements; shade, ventilation and thermal mass. 

The environment in summer and increasingly so during the shoulder seasons is one that requires a shaded and well-ventilated space to inhabit. By orienting our houses to the North, the path of the sun, we have the ability to control the amount of exposure our living spaces have to the sun. 

Our prevailing breezes come from the south and south-west so by orienting our houses north-south it also enables us to maximise the natural ventilation through the building, flushing out ambient hot air.

An understanding of our home’s thermal mass provides us with an insight into how our home works as an open, passive system. Thermal mass enables our buildings to store heat or cool for longer periods of time, to be released when most required. When ill-considered in the design of a home, this can be very detrimental to its performance, though when understood correctly; it can enable the home to become a naturally performing air-conditioner.

It has become far too easy to respond to the challenge of our home’s environment through artificial means. With a very basic understanding and appreciation of our climate, we could be building homes that are far more comfortable, more connected to our gardens, cost us less to run and overall, more liveable.