The Benefits of Passive Building Design and Orientation

Passive building design is often broken up into seven elements. Orientation of a building to north for solar access is the starting point. The other six elements of passive design — spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading and glazing. Learn about the benefits of a passive designed home and some ideas on getting started

The Benefits of Passive Building Design and Orientation

What are the Benefits of Passive Building Design?

The Right Starting Point

Passive building design is often broken up into seven elements. Orientation of a building to north for solar access is the starting point. The other six elements of passive design — spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading and glazing — can then be used to create homes that require minimal active heating or cooling.

Different areas in Australia require different approaches to passive building design and orientation. For example, tropical climates require the sun to be “held at bay” pretty much all year, since the sun is both more powerful and tracks much further south in summer. In the tropics, orientation to north is important only in elevated, cooler localities like Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands.

Orientation

Orientation is of greatest importance in temperate and cool climate zones — that is, in the more southerly parts of Australia.

Orientation in its simplest form means locating living areas like the lounge room on the north side of the house, with windows having clear access to sunlight even in mid-winter.

This means a minimum of about five hours of useful solar heating a day. Even with this, the glass will still be exposed to about 19 hours of varying degrees of heat loss. So it’s important that other elements of passive design support the orientation, or the effect will be lost.

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is a measure of a material’s ability to absorb and release heat. Good passive design uses mass to absorb excess heat from within a house during summer days and dump it to cool night skies. In winter, solar radiation is allowed to warm the mass during the day, re-radiating it to the occupants. It is critical that thermal mass be well insulated from external temperatures and that it be exposed to winter sun in cooler climate zones.

Bricks and concrete are the most commonly available high mass materials, but rammed earth and mud bricks can also be used.

Insulation

Insulation is like a barrier, preventing heat passing in and out of the house. By reducing heat flow you can maintain a comfortable temperature inside, regardless of the temperature outside. The type and level of insulation needed varies on where you live and the building materials used for the house. If you live in a naturally ventilated home in the tropics, the aim of insulation is to reduce the amount of heat getting in without restricting the hot air escaping. Reflective insulation under the roof and in walls that are not permanently shaded would work well.

In an alpine region, however, you would want to stop heat flowing out in winter and prevent heat coming in during summer. Such homes benefit from reflective insulation under the roof, floors and in walls, and bulk insulation in the ceiling.

Shading

Shading devices are needed to keep unwanted direct sunlight from overheating a home. Shading can block up to 90 per cent of the heat hitting your windows during summer. There are two main types to consider: fixed shading devices and seasonal ones. Fixed devices such as eaves and pergolas have been the traditional mainstay for shading. These can be designed (particularly on the northern side of a house) to allow the winter sun to enter but exclude the hot summer sun.

Seasonal shading such as sails and awnings can be put up and pulled down when needed, so you have more control over how much sun you invite into your living space.

Plants and landscaping play a very important part in reducing unwanted glare and heat gain. For best results, plant deciduous vines or trees to the north, and deciduous or evergreen trees to the east and west. Evergreen plants are recommended for tropical and some hot, dry climates.

It is important to know where and when the sun hits your house and garden to plan for shading.

Ventilation

Ventilation can improve comfort levels and the air quality in your home. Most Australian homes rely on a combination of exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms and windows and doors (and in older homes fixed wall vents) that open to provide ventilation.

Ventilation is important in passive solar design to help cool a house by allowing air to move and escape. The aim is to design for effective cross-flow of air through the building. The design must align windows with internal doors in a way that does not block breezes, and to not locate rooms where they block breeze paths.

Spatial Zoning

Passive solar design uses zoning to help regulate temperature in a home. Doors close rooms and spaces and stop warm air escaping from living areas into empty corridors.

Glazing

It’s important not to overlook glazing in windows and doors when thinking about heat flow. A great deal of heat can pass through single-pane glass, which can compromise an otherwise well-insulated house. Windows can be insulated in a number of ways such as with shading or curtains and blinds. To improve the insulating properties of the window itself consider installing double or triple glazing.

How Much Is Your Property Worth

The price of your property may be incredibly influential to buyers; therefore, it’s an extremely important piece of information to get right. But how do you know how much your property is worth? Here is an summary of the different methods you can use to determine the value of your property.

How Much Is Your Property Worth

Knowing how much your property is worth is extremely important

Professional Valuation

The price of your property may be incredibly influential to buyers; therefore, it’s an extremely important piece of information to get right.

But how do you know how much your property is worth?

To determine the value of your home, you can get an inspection from a certified and professional valuer.

Valuations will cost money, but will provide you with an unbiased and informed assessment.

Professional valuers are independent. This means they are not associated with any real estate agency, so can give you an unbiased figure.

Information is compiled into a report and then sent to banks and lenders. A property valuation is often required when you apply for housing finance.

Valuers will usually use one of the following methods to assess your property:

Direct comparison: This assessment is based on a comparison of recent sales in the area of homes similar to yours.

Capitalisation: Mainly used for investment properties, this method involves the application of an investment yield to determine rental income.

Summation: This method involves the assessment of the value of the land. The value of improvements such as structural buildings can be added on top.This method is usually undertaken when there are insufficient comparable sales of similar properties.

Agent Appraisal

Real estate agents give free market appraisals and can apply their local market knowledge and expertise judgment of recent sales in the area to provide you with a figure.

They won’t just include their own sales, but will analyse others in the area to give you a good idea of your property’s value.

This will give you an informal estimate of how much you might be able to receive from the sale of your home.

The figure you’ll be provided will most likely be based on recent results for the area and market conditions, plus the agent’s insight into the features of your home.

What’s the Difference?

A professional valuer may provide you with a figure that does not reflect or represent an individual’s interest in the home and is merely based on market analysis. This could mean a lower value figure, which could lead you to underprice the home.

However, an agent appraisal is informal and can differ between real estate agents. The figure an agent provides will reflect how much they think will be obtained if you list with them.

Important Points to Consider

Don’t set the price of your property based on one valuation. Instead, obtain a couple of quotes from various real estate agents and use that information combined with a figure determined by a professional. This will help you to set a fair and achievable price.

Be aware of how your emotions may affect your decision. While everyone can think their home is worth $1 million, it’s not always the case! Be realistic about your pricing and talk over any areas of concern with your agent, as he or she is the expert.