#ElementalDesign Advice 08 SITE ORIENTATION

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#ElementalDesign Advice 08  SITE ORIENTATION

“Understand the sun’s movement across your site throughout the day/year, and design to take advantage of it.” – Talina Edwards

What does orientation really mean and why is it important? This is really all about the sun’s movement across your site (and the shade), and needs to be assessed for different times of the day, and different times of the year, so you can use sunlight to your advantage!

Most people want a bright and airy, light-filled home that feels comfortable all year round, with a good connection to outside. Here in the southern-hemisphere, this means we talk about having a north-facing aspect to your home – since the sun moves across the northern sky by rising in the east, and setting in the west. This means it is ideal to locate your home so that the windows to your daytime living areas are facing north if possible. So these are the rooms you are likely to spend the most time in during daylight hours – usually the lounge, dining and kitchen.

It is ideal to locate utility rooms to the south where the sun shining in isn’t as important – laundries, bathrooms, garages, and perhaps bedrooms too if they really are only used for sleeping at night. Of course this all needs to be weighed up with your specific site and where there is access, desirable and un-desirable views to/from neighbouring properties, if there are existing buildings or trees already overshadowing the site, the slope of the land, connection with the garden, and so on.

Ideal orientation for different site shapes/sizes

Simplified diagram of ideal house orientation for different site shapes/sizes [Image Source]

In Winter, when there can be months of cold, cloudy weather, it can be so wonderful to let the winter sun shine into our homes (on the days it does come out to say hello!) as this really helps us feel good! Natural daylight also means less need to turn on artificial lighting. To some extent, the winter sun coming into our homes may also help with ‘passive’ heating. It is important to note that orientation alone will not do this – you need to also consider the whole house in terms of passive solar design principles – including double-glazed windows, good insulation, internal thermal mass, summer-shading, gaps sealed up, etc.

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This diagram illustrates how the Summer sun is higher in the sky, and Winter sun angle is lower [Image Source]

So speaking of Summer, it is often asked; “Aren’t all these north-facing windows soaking up the rays mean I’m going to roast on the hot days?!” Well, yes – if you have a flat facade to the north full of north-facing windows, it will be awful! (Like being trapped in a car with the windows up during a heatwave!) This is why shading is so important. The sun is much higher in the sky in Summer, so eaves or shade awnings are a must-have to reduce the amount of sun that hits that glass. (In Winter the sun is at a lower angle in the sky, so with correctly-designed shading, the sunlight can shine in beneath the eaves.) We’ll be talking much more about shading in a future #elementaldesign advice post.

Please note that it is not a good idea to put a deep verandah or an ‘Al Fresco’ covered outdoor living space directly in front of your north-facing living rooms! This seems to happen all too often – and then sunlight will be stopped from entering your living room and it will be dark inside. Ideally a covered deck/terrace should be to the east or west of the main living areas (and it too can have a north-facing aspect).

Orientation of your house on the site is not just about the sun – it is also about knowing where the wind blows. Then your house can be designed can take advantage of cooling breezes, or to block out gusty northerlies. It is all about working with (instead of against) nature. If you’re planning on Solar Hot Water or Photovoltaic panels for Solar Power on your roof, it is a good idea to understand your orientation and design your roof and placement of panels accordingly to maximise their solar collection.

There are some excellent references (such as this guide or this podcast) to provide further information about Orientation. However if in doubt, please seek professional guidance, as this is the one of the most important design decisions to take into account at the outset when designing your new home or renovation. Not only is it essentially FREE to rotate/flip a floor plan and consider placement of rooms in this way, but it will provide value beyond measure in terms of the liveability and comfort of your home.

[EDIT] P.S. Some good folk reminded me about some clever apps available:

  • SunCalc is a free web app which gives a basic guide (in plan or map view of your location) to understand sunrise and sunset, plus more
  • SunSeeker is a sophisticated iPhone/android app (about $15) which uses augmented reality to understand the sun’s movement for your specific location (both in plan view and 3D, plus a heap of data). They also have a WindSeeker.

Have you noticed where the sunny spots are in your home on cold days? I bet your cat finds them! What about in Summer – do you have a ‘hot box’ in the afternoon? Let me know in the comments below!

Ballarat Sustainable Architect Green Builder


Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes.Click here to ensure you won’t miss out on our news!

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