We are currently designing our own house. This process is
making us think deeply about the way we engage with buildings, and is making us
more aware, at this point in time, of the need that our expectations of housing
needs to be redefined. Housing is linked to our dreams and aspirations. Part of
those aspirations are dictated by social expectations and desire. What is
essential in creating a sustainable design practice is to maintain the ability
to reach those expectations and fulfil those desires for clients at the same
time as creating buildings that are more in line with current reduced energy usage
requirements. As our own clients we are looking
to achieve this as best practice, at the same time as working efficiently
within a budget, and with the expectations of architects building our own
Ultimately building sustainably isn’t that hard. The goals
are to reduce the operation impact of buildings, reduce the embodied energy of
buildings and most significantly reduce the scale of buildings. By reducing
scale both the operational impact and embodied energy can be simply reduced. Overly
large houses are a big problem in Australia (Australian House sizes are one of the
largest in the world), but with good design a building doesn’t need to be
overly large. We are currently renting a house in a housing estate. It has been
eye opening, as insiders rather than as onlookers. We are shocked by the
endless cookie cutter McMansions that are constructed to minimum construction standards.
Houses that don’t even include sisilation in the roof, which is of minimum
cost, but has impact on the overall energy efficiency and longevity of a house.
I wonder about the life cycle of these houses that are built in the estates, and
how in the future they will be renovated? Access to good housing is essential to
all, but offering very large, cheaply constructed and poorly designed houses is
an offence to the built environment but also a liability to the future. Saying that there are households and smaller building companies that are making an effort to reduce their energy impact, and they should be commended for not conforming.
Another issue we wish to deal with is reducing the embodied
energy of a building as this is a hidden major source of stored energy in a
house. Material choice is therefore essential in reducing the embodied energy
of a building. For example, reducing the amount of Portland Cement Concrete and
reducing the amount steelwork in a building will reduce embodied energy. Using sustainably
sourced timber or recycled materials will also reduce embodied energy.
In other jobs in the past, we have also looked at reducing manufactured
items within the house, and had the carpenters on site make items that can be
easily substituted, such as door handles, coat hooks, towel rails and other
metal fabricated items. This is a very
simple way of reducing embodied energy.
We always also try and specify local or Australian made products. Reducing the use
of imported products reduces material miles. We are always investigating where
materials are made, and there are many beautifully made products made locally.
We have found beautiful tapware and bathware made in Victoria, handmade fabrics
made locally, light fittings made in Australia. We are also investigating locally
made appliances (these are limited).
One of the biggest issues we need to contend with is window size,
location and quality. Quality windows that are air tight are essential to designing
houses that will use the outdoor climate to its advantage. Maximizing North
facing glass, minimizing South facing glass, and having the correct type
of external cover to East and West facing glass is essential to the way buildings
operate. We are also told that the colour of the window frame also effects the
energy efficiency of a dwelling. Balancing the correct window size to the floor
area with the beauty of visual access to the outside and the sky is a delicate
matter. We love big windows, and feel liberated inside when we have the visual
access to outside, but it will be a challenge to get that balance right.
Healthy natural materials also contribute to the health of
the environment. Chromed taps and the use of Hexavalent Chromium on Hot dip Galvanised
steel are to be avoided as these finishes are toxic to the environment and
human health. We have used many natural finishes including natural oils and
natural paints in the past, and we will endeavour to explore the use of these
in the construction of our home.
The next step is to explore net zero calculations and how
this achieved, investigating air tightness and the advantages of passive house and how this system is being adapted to our climate, waste reduction during construction and during a buildings life, and the active and smart use of low emissions technology.