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One of the great changes in the construction industry over the past two decades has been the increasing commitment to (and curiosity around) going ‘green’ within the home.
On the one hand, there is an abundance of environmentally-friendly products and materials on the market, but many of them are area-specific and need to be pieced together to create a holistic system. On the other hand, many homeowners are pursuing environmentally-friendly homes, but many of them expect an impressive energy rating as customary in an otherwise ‘normal’ home.
So for many builders, the question remains: how do I go green without going bust?
HIA member and owner of AJP Constructions Andrew Payton has weighed in on the topic to share with his fellow builders what he’s learnt onsite over the years. ‘By applying clever planning early, you can construct a high-end property that’s faster to build and costs less to operate,’ Andrew says.
‘Everyone – from builders [through] to owners and tenants – seems keen on creating the type of structures that are not only beautiful and functional, but also kind to the planet, while creating operating cost savings.
‘Homeowners are keen to reduce their running expenses in times of high costs of living. For investors, saving money means they can get a far better yield on their investment property.’
Here are Andrew’s top four tips for building homes with a better output without absorbing the cost – that is, how to build greener at a better price:
The design stage is when you can start incorporating the features for a home that both achieves your goals and reduces consumption,’ Andrew says.
He explains that, by simply understanding orientation, exposure and a home’s layout, builders and owners can drastically reduce heating and cooling costs.
‘Open plan is great, but if the orientation and exposure to sunlight is wrong, then you can end up paying a lot extra in running costs.’
He also says smart design will take in micro elements such as eave overhangs and patio roof lengths: ‘Many small changes can have a big impact in costs – from window placement through to avoiding “dead space” in underutilised rooms’.
To achieve a functional green ‘dream home’ your building strategy should focus on choosing the right materials, Andrew says.
‘One of the most promising materials right now for framing is cross laminate timber, or CLT,’ he says.
CLT comprises layers of parallel timber beams laid atop one another in a perpendicular fashion and then glued together, resulting in a product that Andrew says is inherently stronger than standard frames. He notes that because CLT is stronger than conventional framing it offers a green alternative to builders.
‘On a previous large-scale project our client saved more than $20,000 on the contract sum by using CLT. Also, its base material is timber and the wood crop source is a carbon-sink,’ he says.
‘Some recent jobs have seen three months shaved off their build time. Because it’s cheaper to produce and easier to work with than steel or concrete, it’s a saving in your construction budget. We’ve also found CLT frames are faster to erect than traditional frames because it comes in panels.’
When deciding on the layout of a home, Andrew urges builders not to ignore the wide-ranging benefits of blurring the line between inside and out.
‘Opening up to a patio or deck adds square metres to a home. It’s a flexible way to create extra space.’
That flexibility extends to house running costs too.
‘By using the right materials for your openings – solar tinted glass stacker doors or more solid bi-folds – homeowners can simply reduce the space when it’s not needed and insulate the area they’re either heating or cooling,’ he says.
‘When things do get warmer, openings to outdoor areas allow breezes to come through, too.’
Andrew says green-savvy owners are cleverly paying a little more up front for a long-term benefit by opting for quality fitting and fixtures. While it may sound counter-intuitive to the idea of reducing costs, he adds it’s often worth the extra money to choose recognised brand-name appliances with excellent durability.
‘While the low-price sticker on a cheap, knock-off import may look enticing, if it needs constant repair or replacement, that’s money down the drain and wasted resources,’ he says.
‘The same goes for finishes – good quality, durable carpet, tile, timber and paint all pay for themselves pretty quickly.’