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Why is Sustainable Building Important?

Sustainability in construction is no longer a niche, but a necessary response to a growing environmental crisis. The built environment contributes around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes vast amounts of resources. In Australia, the residential sector alone is responsible for approximately 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, and well we’re all being hit hard by energy supply increases. Therefore, adopting sustainable building practices for greener homes in Australia is not only a matter of environmental consciousness, but also to keep money in our pockets.

What are the Principles of Sustainable Building?

Sustainable building revolves around three fundamental principles: energy efficiency, resource conservation, and healthy living conditions. These principles guide the design, construction, and operation of a building, aiming to minimise environmental impact, while maximizing comfort and functionality.

Energy Efficiency

In Australia, heating and cooling account for around 40% and upwards of household energy use. By incorporating energy-efficient design and technologies, we can significantly reduce our energy demand and reliance on fossil fuels. Passive solar design and insulation are big ones, followed by energy-efficient appliances, and renewable energy systems like solar panels are some strategies to improve energy efficiency.

Resource Conservation

Sourcing locally manufactured, recycled, and sustainable materials reduces the energy spent on transportation and production.

Onsite, resource conservation means using materials responsibly, but also reducing the wastage and water usage.

Furthermore, installing water-saving fixtures and appliances, rainwater harvesting systems, and greywater systems into the finished project can significantly decrease water consumption.

Healthy Living Conditions

Creating a healthy indoor environment is crucial for well-being. Opting for materials and finishes with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ensuring good indoor air quality, and incorporating natural light can enhance the occupants’ health and comfort.

How can we Design and Build for Energy Efficiency?

In the realm of sustainable building, design plays a critical role. Here, passive design is king and  design principles use the position or orientation on the block,  cross ventilation for cooling or skylights to maintain a comfortable temperature range,  , reducing or eliminating the need for auxiliary heating or cooling.

Orientation is the first consideration – north-facing windows in Australia can capture sunlight in winter and stay shaded in summer. Eaves, pergolas, and adjustable shading can further regulate sun exposure. High-performance glazing, such as double glazing or low-e coatings, can minimize unwanted heat transfer through windows.

Insulation and thermal mass are other important elements. Insulation acts as a barrier to heat flow, reducing heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. On the other hand, materials with high thermal mass, like concrete or brick, can absorb and store heat, releasing it when the temperature drops.

How can we Incorporate Resource Conservation Practices?

Reducing, reusing, and recycling apply just as much to building as they do to other aspects of life. Opt for building materials that have been locally sourced, recycled, or produced with minimal environmental impact. Bamboo, for example, is a renewable resource that grows quickly, and recycled steel can reduce the demand for new iron ore.

In terms of water, the sky is literally the limit. Rainwater collection systems can gather runoff for use in toilets, washing machines, and watering gardens. Greywater recycling systems can repurpose water from showers and sinks for similar uses.

What Steps can we Take to Ensure Healthy Living Conditions?

Choosing low-VOC paints, finishes, and furnishings can dramatically improve indoor air quality. Natural materials, such as untreated wood, can also contribute to a healthier indoor environment.

Adequate ventilation is essential to prevent the buildup of pollutants and promote fresh air circulation. Consider designs that promote natural ventilation, or invest in mechanical systems that include air filtration.

Natural light plays a crucial role in our well-being, regulating our circadian rhythms and even boosting our mood. Opt for designs that maximize daylight, through skylights, larger windows, or light-reflecting.

How can Green Building Certifications Guide us?

Green building certification programs, like the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star, can provide a roadmap for sustainable construction. They establish a set of criteria that cover a range of sustainability factors, from energy and water efficiency to indoor environmental quality and materials use. These programs can help homeowners, builders, and architects make informed decisions about sustainable building practices.

How can Retrofitting Make Existing Buildings More Sustainable?

While the focus often lies on new buildings, we cannot overlook the importance of improving the sustainability of existing homes. Retrofitting is a practice that incorporates energy-efficient and sustainable upgrades into existing structures.

Retrofit measures could include insulation where possible – usually ceilings or new walls. Iinstalling solar panels, skylights, sealing all draughts, and upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and lighting. Incorporating a rainwater harvesting system or greywater recycling can also be part of a retrofit project.

What are the Benefits of a Green Home?

Energy-efficient homes also mean lower utility bills, providing financial savings in the long run. And with increasing awareness of sustainability issues, green homes could also hold higher market value, making them a sound investment.

Beyond the clear environmental benefits, sustainable homes offer a range of other advantages. They tend to be more comfortable and healthier to live in, thanks to better temperature regulation, improved air quality, and abundant natural light.

What is the Future of Sustainable Building in Australia?

The future of sustainable building in Australia looks promising. Increased awareness of environmental issues, advancements in green technology, and supportive government policies are all paving the way for a greener building sector.

Moreover, sustainable building practices are evolving to include considerations for resilience in the face of climate change. This includes designing homes that can withstand extreme weather events, manage heat stress, and conserve water amidst prolonged droughts.

Every Step Counts

Transitioning to greener homes is a significant step towards sustainability, and every action, no matter how small, can make a difference. Whether you’re building a new home or renovating an old one, consider incorporating sustainable building practices. They not only contribute to a healthier planet but also result in a healthier, more comfortable, and cost-effective home. Remember, the choices we make today will shape the world we live in tomorrow.

In the quest for sustainable living, the words of the ancient Aboriginal proverb never rang truer: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” As we build our homes, let’s also build a legacy of sustainability for the generations to come.

Sources:

  1. Australian Government – Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources: “Your Home – Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes” https://www.yourhome.gov.au/
  2. Green Building Council Australia (GBCA): https://new.gbca.org.au/
  3. Your Energy Savings – Australian Government: http://yourenergysavings.gov.au/
  4. Environment Design Guide, Australian Institute of Architects: https://www.architecture.com.au/architecture/national/environment-design-guide
  5. IPCC: “2018: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

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