Q: What are some obstacles that building professionals face when attempting to design and build sustainable housing?
SD: One obstacle is new products and their cost because our supply chains are long and we don’t manufacture everything in Australia. I would like to see more local products being used to encourage the local economy. Products such as double or triple glazing are great for insulating a home but can be expensive; I instead design houses with products that aren’t as costly.
I believe people should be better educated in sustainable housing, and convincing them to implement certain aspects can be a challenge for industry professionals. What has helped me with clients is being able to show them through a sustainable development because they can then see its true value. That’s why I love sustainable housing concepts because private homes are open to the public which could never be seen otherwise. It would be great if builders and designers encouraged their clients to open up their eco-friendly homes for others to experience and see its benefits.
Q: Have you seen much innovation in sustainable products in recent years?
SD: We are continuing to improve energy efficiency and the Building Code of Australia (BCA) has air-tight requirements which is something very critical. As we keep making our building airtight then ventilation becomes a problem. Opening a window helps but is less desirable when it’s cold. Heat recovery ventilation systems are needed then.
When it comes to products and energy efficiency it’s important to also consider how much energy has gone into making materials. If you look at energy required for a house, it’s needed during construction and during everyday use. Your energy consumption can be reduced by solar panels and other products, making it more efficient, but there is a lot of energy that goes into making those materials.
The BCA now allows timber buildings up 25 metres to encourage materials that are not as energy intensive as steel and concrete. So, industry can look at using more timber or using bricks which use less energy in local production, or use renewable energy to make bricks – even the manufacturers are looking at that.
We’re also hearing talk about solar cars being able to act as energy storage batteries because batteries still haven’t come to a commercial level yet. From my perspective, there are some of the innovations that are happening and it’s because of the trends that the industry is moving towards.
Q: At what point should eco-friendly additions be implemented into a home?
SD: In the early stages of design people normally think about the functionality of a home and don’t think about how they can modify it to be more sustainable – until after it’s been built. But it should be the other way around. Add-ons, such as technology, aren’t as effective without a fundamentally good design; rather they help to enhance and further its sustainable attributes. When the two work together that’s when maximum performance and minimum cost can be achieved.
I’ve just finished working on a renovation of a 1920s home in a heritage conservation area. My approach wasn’t to segregate the components but to look for ways to make the house better as a whole. I combined the new house with a link so both the old and new sections were joined without touching.
It was a challenge to convince the client that this was the best way to go because they usually listen to what other people have done. The problem with that is occasionally they forget that the work they’re referring to was done years ago when there were different rules and regulations in place.
So, as professionals I believe we should stand our ground about what is relevant now and how we can achieve the best outcome for our clients. They may have trouble seeing this without the visualisation component but the key is to persist with them gently and firmly. In particular, my client was happy about the sustainability and the social aspects. His mother could never come and stay in their house because of the level differences, so the new extension was for her to access. It’s all about how the family lives in the house – that’s how I view sustainability.