How to build a sustainable house for a changing climate

HOMES OF THE FUTURE: Award-winning architect Fiona Golding from Live Architecture says houses need to be more energy efficient and have less impact on the environment.

HOMES OF THE FUTURE: Award-winning architect Fiona Golding from Live Architecture says houses need to be more energy efficient and have less impact on the environment.

AFTER Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin and the Black Saturday bushfires ravaged Victoria, house construction standards were improved in those places to ensure new homes could better withstand similar disasters. 

Warrnambool-based architect Fiona Goulding said it would take a catastrophe before a similar awakening occurred in regards to minimum housing standards and climate change.

“Minimum standards ... are way too low and don’t go far enough,” she said. 

“With climate change, we need to be making houses more energy efficient. There’s no reason we can’t. We’ve got the technology and the know-how, but it’s not being taken up. If you look back at Darwin, they didn’t have cyclone standards until Cyclone Tracy. Is it going to be a similar thing for Warrnambool? There should be more forward thinking and planning to put failsafes in place so we don’t have loss of life or loss of homes.”

Ms Goulding specialises in designing homes better suited to future climates that are also more energy efficient and have less impact on the environment – homes that are “long life, loose fit and low impact”.

“Are we building houses to last 100 years? My answer to that would be ‘no’,” she said.

“‘Loose fit’ is if we’re going to have long-life houses, when we look at the kitchen and wet areas, often those areas are upgraded a few times, so people should build to allow for easy refits so the areas can easily be updated (for design or technology reasons). Low impact (is about the) environment, low ... energy needs, (better) thermal performance and making the house as efficient as possible.”

Whether building new homes or working on renovations, Ms Goulding’s recommends double-glazed windows and high levels of insulation to better regulate temperatures and save on energy costs.

“When you go through the energy rating for each (new) house and look at the minimum standard, which is a six-star rating, I give people the option to bump up to a seven or eight,” she said.

“When you go up one star, you reduce your heating and cooling energy needs by 30 per cent. So your energy bill is cut by 30 per cent. When people are renovating or doing an alteration (I) look at the whole house. I had one in Port Fairy recently that (was) a zero-star rating (because it was 100 years old). We ended up making it five stars.”

She said some typical ideas like the classic brick veneer needed a rethink. 

“We should be doing it in reverse – the bricks should be on the inside and insulation on the outside. We put bricks on the outside because they’re hardy and don’t need maintenance – it’s cosmetic not structural. But if they were on the inside it would help regulate the natural temperature. And if the insulation is on the outside because whether there's hot or cold air on the outside it will be rejected before it gets into the house. Then you clad it with weather boards or any other material.”

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