We're on the home stretch now, with only a few more weeks until Spring! We're enjoying the days getting longer and starting to feel warmer. Even though here in Northern Rivers we're in a Subtropical Climate, the nights still get cool and houses here generally aren't built for cold weather. Federation era homes are usually uninsulated, draughty and whatever the temperature outside is usually the same inside. It can be costly to keep houses warm particularly with energy prices rising as these sorts of houses don't retain any heat.
I recently spoke to local builder and certified passive house designer, Mick Cousins, who is about to start building a renovation and extension that we designed for a Federation home in Eltham. We've designed the layout of the home to locate the living spaces and main deck to the North, to take advantage of the natural sunlight in Winter. But with an old and draughty house, that's not quite enough to make this home comfortable through the Winter nights, so here are some of Mick's suggestions as to what we can do to make our renovations and new builds more thermally comfortable, more cost effective to run and more ecologically sustainable.
FG: If I’m renovating an old house, like the one in Eltham, what can I do to prevent it from being so cold in winter?
MC: Renovating an old house, such as a federation timber house, offers an excellent opportunity to improve its thermal performance and prevent it from being excessively cold in winter. Here are some key steps you can take to make the house more comfortable during the colder months:
Quality Weather Protection Barrier: Begin by inspecting the house for any gaps or cracks in the exterior walls, roof, and floors. Install a high-quality weather protection barrier, such as building wrap or sarking, to prevent drafts and moisture infiltration. This barrier acts as an extra layer of protection against the elements.
Quality Insulation: Consider adding insulation to the walls, ceilings, and floors, as this is one of the most effective ways to retain heat inside the house. Insulation helps to trap heat and prevents it from escaping through the building envelope. For a federation timber house, consider using insulation materials suitable for older constructions, such as natural fibre or polyester insulation.
Ventilated Cavity: If feasible, create a ventilated cavity between the internal and external walls. This helps improve air circulation, reduce condensation, and enhance thermal comfort inside the house.
Double Glazed Quality Timber Windows: Replace single-pane windows with double-glazed, high-quality timber windows. Double glazing provides better insulation by creating an air gap between two glass panes, reducing heat loss through the windows and minimising cold drafts.
Draught Proofing: Address any gaps around windows, doors, and other openings. Draught-proofing helps seal these gaps and prevents cold air from entering the house, improving its overall energy efficiency and thermal comfort.
By implementing these measures, you can significantly improve the thermal performance of the old house, making it more comfortable and energy-efficient during winter months. Renovating with a focus on insulation, draught-proofing, and high-quality windows can transform the house into a cozy and inviting space throughout the colder seasons.
FG: If I’m building a new house, how can I make sure it’s comfortable all year round?
MC: The climate in the Northern Rivers is undoubtedly amazing, but it does come with its challenges, especially during winter and summer. While the region enjoys beautiful clear days and nights in winter, it can still get cold, requiring heating solutions. Conversely, the heat and humidity in summer pose issues with drying and mould, making energy-efficient cooling essential to remain comfortable without incurring high power bills.
To address these concerns, Passivhaus modelling software is an invaluable tool. It precisely determines the energy requirements for maintaining the home's temperature between 21-25 degrees Celsius all year round, providing a quantified approach to comfort and energy efficiency.
Considering the building fabric is crucial, emphasising materials and construction techniques that promote comfort and energy efficiency. For those on a budget, ensuring airtightness and minimizing gaps in the building structure is paramount. By controlling airflows, such as through ventilated cavities and rainscreens, you can enhance comfort without sacrificing energy efficiency.
A continuous layer of insulation around the building envelope is vital for maintaining the home's internal temperature, reducing the need for excessive heating or cooling. Strategically placing and sizing windows is equally important, minimising heat loss and gain and playing a significant role in regulating indoor temperatures.
Windows, in particular, are essential components that can significantly impact a home's energy efficiency. By choosing the right windows, homeowners can effectively maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the year while minimising energy consumption.
Ultimately, while building a Passivhaus is the ideal approach for exceptional energy efficiency, taking steps to ensure airtightness, proper insulation, and well-considered window placement can still make a substantial difference in creating a comfortable and energy-efficient home in the beautiful Northern Rivers climate.
FG: Which insulation products and building wraps do you recommend? Are some better than others?
MC: When it comes to insulation products and building wraps, there are significant differences in performance and quality. Choosing the right materials can make a substantial impact on the overall thermal efficiency and comfort of a building. Here are some recommended insulation products and building wraps:
Wool Insulation: Natural wool insulation is an eco-friendly and effective option. It provides good thermal performance and has the advantage of being a renewable and sustainable material.
Hemp Insulation: Hemp is another natural and environmentally friendly material used for insulation. It offers good thermal properties and is well-regarded for its sustainability.
Wood Fibre Insulation: Wood fibre insulation is an excellent choice for its thermal and acoustic performance. Its water-permeable nature allows moisture to evaporate from walls, reducing the risk of mold growth.
Pro Clima Solitex Extasana: This is a highly regarded building wrap that offers excellent weather protection and moisture management. Its superior performance helps maintain a dry and comfortable interior environment.
When choosing insulation products and building wraps, consider factors such as thermal performance, sustainability, moisture management, and acoustic properties. Opting for natural fibre-based materials whenever possible aligns with the goal of creating an eco-friendly and comfortable living space.
It's essential to work with experienced professionals who can provide expert guidance on selecting the most suitable insulation and building wrap solutions for your specific renovation project. By combining the right materials and techniques, you can achieve a well-insulated, energy-efficient, and comfortable home that aligns with your sustainability goals.
FG: What type of heating should I consider for my build or renovation? Which is most sustainable and economical?
MC: When considering heating options for your build or renovation, the choice of heating system plays a crucial role in both sustainability and economy. Electric heating can be a viable option, especially when combined with energy-efficient practices and renewable energy sources. Here are some heating options to consider, with a focus on sustainability and economy:
Heat Pump Systems: Heat pumps are one of the most sustainable and economical heating options available. They work by extracting heat from the air, ground, or water and transferring it into the building. Heat pump systems can provide both heating and cooling, making them versatile for year-round comfort. They are highly energy-efficient and can offer significant cost savings in the long run, especially when powered by renewable energy sources like solar panels.
Passive Solar Design: Consider incorporating passive solar design principles into your renovation or build. This approach optimizes the use of natural sunlight and heat from the sun to passively warm the building. It involves strategic placement of windows, thermal mass, and insulation to capture and retain solar heat.
Ultimately, the most sustainable and economical heating solution depends on your specific location, climate, budget, and the overall design of your home. Combining energy-efficient building practices, effective insulation, airtightness, and renewable energy sources like solar panels can create a well-insulated and eco-friendly home with minimal reliance on traditional heating methods. It's essential to work with knowledgeable professionals to assess your options and make informed decisions that align with your sustainability goals.
So there you have it, some practical and sustainable ways to keep your home a whole lot more comfortable, regardless of what the weather is doing outside.
A huge thanks to Mick for sharing such quality information and recommendations. And if you're thinking of building or renovating your home, we can help you out with a passive design and collaborate with Mick to produce Passivhaus certification - creating beautiful, functional and sustainable homes is what we love to do!
Fiona and the Sanctuary Design Team
p.s. If you didn't already know, we have partnered with fifteentrees.com.au to plant native trees to help offset the impact of our projects on our beautiful planet. So far we've planted 360 trees. Along with passive design and selection of environmentally friendly materials, it's one more way we're making a positive impact on our beautiful planet. You can find out more here: https://15trees.com.au/tree-plantings/sanctuary_design/
A little more about Mick:
Mick, a skilled carpenter, transformed high-end heritage properties in Melbourne, earning a reputation for exceptional results. Seeking new challenges, he became a licensed builder in the Northern Rivers, exploring innovative solutions for sustainability. As a certified passive house designer, Mick creates eco-conscious living spaces. His blend of skills and dedication to quality makes him a sought-after professional in sustainable construction. Clients trust him to deliver beautifully executed projects that contribute positively to the environment. Mick's passion drives his impactful work. Visit livinghouses.com.au for more info.