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Think about your house as a system

Specifically, the system involves:

  • the ‘building envelope’, i.e. the separation between the inside of your home and the outdoors, including the foundation, walls, roof, windows and doors

  • the mechanical equipment inside the building envelope – artificial heating, cooling and ventilation, lighting, hot water systems, and so on

  • other factors such as electricals, plumbing and landscaping, as well as the lifestyle of the people living in the house.

The building industry has long recognised the importance of ‘the house as a system‘ concept –changes to one part of the system will affect others and, hence, the entire house.

Why is it important to consider the house as a system?

Building technology has changed a lot since the introduction of the Building Code of Australia in the 1990s. Building laws have become more detailed and include minimum requirements for fire safety, energy efficiency, light and ventilation inside homes, and a range of other minimum accepted standards to ensure our homes are safe and healthy to live in.

Along with improvements in building technology, the industry has gained a better understanding of air, heat and moisture movement in homes, and the need to manage the indoor environment in a deliberate and systematic way.

By viewing the house in this way, a renovation provides an opportunity to improve the overall performance of your home to give you a better living environment. Here are a few examples:

  • Energy upgrades such as energy-efficient windows and doors, more insulation in walls and roof space, and the installation of air/vapour barriers will improve the energy performance and comfort of your home. However, as the house gets ‘tighter’, you may have more difficulty getting rid of humid, stale air, unless adequate ventilation is provided. If it’s not adequate, you may end up with stuffy, unpleasant air, condensation on windows and sills, mould growth that can affect your health and, over time, damage to your home. It’s important to find the right balance. Solutions can be as simple as adding a timer to the bathroom exhaust fan, installing a dehumidifier or putting an extra fan in the laundry room. In most cases, upgraded older homes still let in an adequate amount of accidental ‘new’ air. Your builder might suggest a whole house ventilation system, which will provide a steady flow of fresh air or other ways to get the balance right

  • Air flow and moisture problems can also occur with a new addition to an older home if ventilation has not been taken into consideration. You also need to determine how to heat the new space: expand the existing system, augment with a different system or replace the whole system? Your builder might suggest a zoned system that allows you to control the heat in individual areas, or ways to create zones in your home.

  • Proper drainage is important to keep outside moisture away from your home. Some renovations (e.g. additions, decks and landscaping) can change the drainage patterns on your property. Experienced builders will assess the impact of your renovation and recommend measures to control water run-off and drainage.

  • When you are making substantial changes to your existing space (taking down or building new walls or moving living and working spaces around), it may be necessary to readjust the heating, cooling and ventilation of the new layout.

  • Large new windows or sunrooms will open up your home and bring in lots of light. They can also lead to overheating, unless you take proper precautions, such as special coatings on the windows, blinds or drapes on the inside. The outside may require awnings, shutters or the strategic planting of shade trees. 

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