Sustainable Building Design

It is no good just talking, writing or reading about sustainability. It requires us to do something toward that critical and vital end point – a sustainable world – so that we can all look our grandchildren in the eye with something like a clear conscience – Derek Wrigley [1]

For a number of years I’ve been interested in sustainable building design and I have a long term plan to build my own sustainable designed house. The first real-life example I visited was the Subiaco Sustainable Demonstration Home in suburban Perth. It was built by Subiaco Council, but is now privately owned. I’ve often wondered why more newly built houses aren’t designed using sustainable principles. I realise most such houses are individually designed by architects and this increases their cost, but some design aspects, such as passive solar principles, seem to me to be just common sense.

Whoever built my house, or rather renovated it, didn’t bring their brain to work that day. My house faces east west, something you want to avoid when designing with passive solar principles in mind. But some streets are laid out so that the front will face east or west, you just have to deal with it. This can be fixed by putting few windows facing east and west or when neighbours are in your way, using blinds, awnings, trees or other shading. The back of my house was once a verandah, but before my time it was enclosed to make another room. This was done with glass walls, which face west. Every summer afternoon this back room bakes, and lightly toasts the rest of the house. It’s a nice place to pass the time on a sunny winter afternoon, but during summer the blinds are permanently closed and still my house cooks. I know there are special solar blinds that could be installed, but I rent so I’ve never looked into it.

thermal chimneys on the roof of the 60L Green Building in Melbourne. image from ACF/Dare Images/Green Building Partnership

These days sustainable building design is becoming more popular. Before this current popularity, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) needed a new building. In the late 1990s they investigated sustainable design and the Green Building Partnership was formed to design and build 60L Green Building in Melbourne [2]. ACF was the first tenant of this four-storey commercial office building. All tenants have to sign a unique leasing agreement which encourages decreased energy, water and materials use [3]. This is made easier by the building’s design which

incorporates an abundance of natural light, solar panels and a passive heating and cooling system that reduces energy use. [4]

Environment Solutions recently blogged about the shortlisting of The Green Building Bible for this year’s RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) International Book Awards. The UK government has a 2016 target, by which it wants all new homes to be zero carbon emitters. One example of this is a prototype Sigma house designed by the Stuart Milne Group.

The Houses of the Future exhibition was held in 2005 at Sydney Olympic Park. The website discusses why sustainable housing should be built. Last March The West Australian newspaper reported the winners of the regional WA HIA GreenSmart Awards. These winners competed in the HIA GreenSmart National Awards, awarded in August 2007.

TV show Living with Ed chronicles Ed Begley’s green lifestyle and the conflicts he has with his family over his green choices. Crunchy Chicken interviewed Ed Begley last August. Ed said,

the TV show has gotten a lot of my home projects on track – the wind turbine, the skylights, the new Energy Star appliances, the new cotton insulation, the Green Switch energy management system [allows us to have a master shut off to all of the programmed outlets, so we can shut down TVs and other things that draw power even when they’re not in use] – these are all projects that I focused on getting done knowing that people would want to see how to do it.

Even my electricity company is getting in on the act. They include a mini-magazine with their bill. I’m sure most people just throw it out as another piece of junk mail, but I usually flick through it, looking at the pictures. This time I actually read one of the articles, “Eco Dream Home,” complete with pictures of the beautifully designed house [5]. I want to live in the house of Garry Baverstock and Julia Hayes, perhaps they would rent me a cupboard.

There’s no air-conditioning in summer or heating in winter. This is achieved through passive solar design principles. Australian architect Derek Wrigley has designed and built several passive solar designed houses in Sydney and Canberrra [1]. He’s also written Making your home sustainable which includes many simple modifications to make existing houses more solar passive [6].

bedroom of the eco dream home. image from Synergy Energy

While the building’s orientation, shape and internal layout were aimed at taking advantage of the northern winter sun, all doors and windows were positioned to capture cooling summer breezes. The building materials (heavy weight rammed limestone and rendered brickwork) were also selected for their thermal mass as they store warmth in winter and keep the home cool in summer. [5]

When days are hot, the blinds are drawn. At night the ceiling fans are turned on, the blinds and windows are opened and this allows cooler air to circulate (above). This is similar to what Derek Wrigley has done, but he used vents in the ceiling and roof [1]. I’m able to do the former in my current house, although I have to make do with floor fans, a ceiling fan would probably pull down my ceiling. The sustainable (dream) house also has:

  • Energy efficient appliances including induction hot plates, which operate using electro-magnetic radiation.
  • Skylights in the main living areas and low energy lights with dimmers throughout the home.
  • Water efficient garden with native plant selection [very important in Perth’s dry climate].
  • Storm water collected by subsurface irrigation soaks for watering the gardens.
  • Laundry grey water recycled for use on gardens.
  • Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof generate electricity and send excess power back to the main power grid. [5]

The electricity company ends the article with the requisite promo telling you to go to their interactive home design tool. I have a list of architects that design sustainable houses and now I can add Garry Baverstock, who designed his house. I continue to dream.


Offline sources

  1. Coote, Cathy (2007) “Supporter spotlight: Derek Wrigley” Habitat Australia vol.35, no.1, p.29.
  2. Krockenberger, Mike (2003) Building our Hopes and Dreams supplement in Habitat Australia vol.31, no.1, p.11.
  3. Millicer, Helen (2003) “Acting accordingly” Building our Hopes and Dreams supplement in Habitat Australia vol.31, no.1, p.11.
  4. Noble, Kate (2003) “DIY green office programs” Habitat Australia vol.31, no.6, p.10-11.
  5. “Eco dream home” (2007) Synergy Life. Summer, p.2-5.
  6. Wrigley, Derek (2005) Making your home sustainable. Melbourne: Scribe.

5 thoughts on “Sustainable Building Design

  1. I loved the Subiaco sustainable home – it’s really shaped my ideas of what my dream home would look like.

    I’ve heard rumours (but haven’t been able to find solid details) that a new land development out near Armadale has oriented all the streets so that the houses will automatically be oriented better for passive solar features.

  2. Hi Claire

    Happy New Year!

    I’m having trouble with the Subiaco home link. May just be me.

    Unfortunately probably most of us will end up dreaming of living in a ‘sustainable’ home because we live in so much of the old housing stock. Even owning ones own home in the UK has become a dream. :(

    Still, the UK’s first eco-village has been approved;

  3. It’s not just you, the site isn’t available anymore. When I checked it on the day I posted I hoped it was only temporary, but I guess its permanent. It was such a good site too.

    But don’t despair, there’s details of the house here and there’s link to other houses.

  4. Hey Claire,

    Your post is now some years ago, but if you would like to see more details of our eco house which featured in the Synergy magazine, please visit
    Living here is amazing – it’s the most special house. All the natural elements are in balance….a healthy place with a fabulous ambience.
    The house was designed by Garry Baverstock A.M.- your post makes reference to Dennis Wrigley in a similar context but this marvellous place is one of Garry’s MANY award-winning houses.
    Julia [Hayes]

  5. Pingback: Growing a Woolly Bush Hedge | Ockham's Razor

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