Tag Archives: Built environment

Are all sustainable homes the same? (The past, present and future of green buildings.)

This post continues on our the theme of what a sustainable home is – and are they all the same? We’ll take a quick look at past, the present, and where we are (or should be!) headed in the future with regards to green buildings. Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions about environmental design. We recently began a series of posts covering the WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW of sustainable design. 

renovations new homes green building central victoria

 

 

 

I recently wrote about “What is a sustainable house?” which looked at a definition, and listed ten characteristics that I believe constitute a truly sustainable home. But today I want to address how I view that “environmentally friendly” homes have changed in recent times.

I grew up in the bushy Eltham-area (in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne), which at the time was well-known as an artistic community, who were environmentally conscious with many mud brick homes amongst the trees. Local legend Alistair Knox was a designer, environmentalist, builder, landscape-architect and the arguably the ‘father’ of the alternative natural building movement. From the 1950s to the 1980s, and he designed and built countless earth buildings – for a full list see here!  So I was introduced to this “organic architecture” early on, to these homes made from natural materials of earth and timber, with large windows to connect to the native landscape, and a focus on a wood-fire hearth as the literal heart of the home.

So back then, then the emphasis was about what the house was made from. A focus on locally sourced, organic, natural materials (and living in a more connected way with the natural environment). 

This low-tech approach was (and is) also seen in the owner-builder alternative housing movement, in permaculture, in earth-ships, and also many primitive and vernacular buildings from around the world.

Mudbrick home Eltham Victoria

Environmental Design: the natural way
“Living in the Environment” by Alistair Knox 1975

 

Today, the focus is more about how the house performs. This is much more of a high-tech approach to the energy-efficiency of the building and its services.

There us so much talk about thermal dynamics and heating coefficients, or megajoules / kilowatt-hours / CO2 emissions and zero-carbon / R-values / ten-star rating / consumption per annum… numbers, statistics, technical jargon…

“Autonomous” homes (or those ‘off-the-grid’) of course need to understand all of this to meet their energy and water needs. These days though, many people seem to focus on these high-tech ‘add-ons’ to make their homes greener – instead of ensuring the building fabric is right first, or perhaps even looking more broadly at how sustainable their lifestyles are the choices they make.

To ensure a home “performs” well (which means that it is thermally comfortable with little need for additional mechanical heating/cooling) it is imperative that the building envelope is designed correctly. Today, sophisticated energy-rating software such as FirstRate (and international standards such as Passivhaus) focus heavily on science, statistics, and rigid criteria to get proven results for new buildings.

Unfortunately,  at times the ’embodied’ energy used to make manufacture/process/transport  some high-tech products/materials (e.g. metal or petroleum-derived plastic products or harmful chemical components/finishes) can outweigh the amount of energy that will actually be saved during the performance of the building…and can be toxic to our health, not to mention the earth. This can be a complicated mathematical equation to evaluate over the life of a building, with many factors and variables to be considered, so it can become even more confusing!

Solar Hot Water PV Photovoltaic Solar Power Energy

Green buildings: High-tech solutions
Solar Hot Water and Photovoltaics on Michael Mobbs’ roof in “Sustainable House” 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the first approach is a bit too hippy, and the second too nerdy…can we do BOTH?

YES! Both approaches are crucial for our future buildings to be more sustainable. And encouragingly, this does seem to be happening…

On the one hand, our souls crave the connection to nature, but we should also embrace new technologies which are making innovative breakthroughs all the time, which can improve our buildings and our lives.

On the other, if we continue our over-consumption and greedy ways, and think technology will save us, we are mistaken. It is only when we start thinking of the life-cycle of our built environment in the same ways as the natural environment that we will start to have truly sustainable buildings. 

As always, it is important to remember that sustainable design is NOT an aesthetic or a style, but a philosophical and theoretical approach to how the building is composed.  Please stay tuned to read more about the who, what, when, where, why, and of course we’ll get to the how of sustainable design.

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Are all sustainable houses the same? What do you think? What sort of sustainable home do you dream about living in? Does your heart lean more toward the warmth of timber and the texture of stone…or does your head get excited by the latest specs of photovoltaic panels? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter  (or over there on the top right-hand side of this webpage) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

 

 

 

 

Best tips for more efficient heating this winter

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, and this post is about the “Best tips for more efficient heating this winter”. You may also be interested in our past few posts: “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOU warm this winter” and “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOUR HOME warm this winter”.

Advice Heating Your Home Best Top Tips Keep Warm House Home So hopefully you’ve taken on board our top tips in our past few posts about warming yourself and your home. However let’s be realistic, until we all live in 10-star-rated homes, we will need heating – especially here in Ballarat! Did you know that in Ballarat we spend over 75% of our household energy for heating!  This is because MOST of our housing stock was designed so poorly in the first place! So here’s some tips to make sure your heating is  as efficient as possible – which not only saves energy and the earth’s resources, it also saves you money!

But before we move onto these tips, I must reiterate how important is to do things like seal up your draughts, and close your curtains at night, double glaze if possible, (as draughts and windows can account for over 50% of heat loss!) and check your insulation levels…if you don’t do these steps and others that I discussed in my previous post, then you’re basically letting all your hot air escape…it’s like trying to bake a cake in the oven with the oven-door left open…or like trying to have a relaxing hot bath without the plug in!! It’s not efficient, you’ll be using your heater much more, and it will be wasting you lots of money that could be easily (and often cheaply) avoided!

Efficient Use of Heaters 

Turn the thermostat down a few degrees: Put on some warmer clothes and drop the temperature down between 18 – 20 degrees celsius – if you’re swanning about the house in your summer frock with the heater cranking, it is up too high! These few degrees can make a huge difference to the amount of energy you use – every degree above 20 degrees adds 10% to your heating bill.

Turn your heater off at night (or right down): The ideal sleeping temperature overnight is 16 degrees celsius, and with warm bedding you can still sleep very comfortable with a lower temperature than this. If there are infants or elderly or ill people in your home, they may require slightly warmer rooms.

Only have your heater on when you’re home: Don’t heat your whole house when you’re not even there! What a waste!

Close internal doors: Keep all internal doors closed to unused (and utility) rooms – like laundries. Don’t pay for heating for rooms that don’t require it.

Only heat the rooms that are occupied: Use a space-heater to only heat the room being occupied – instead of heating a whole house.

Zone your heating: If you have central-heating, ensure it can be zoned and have adjustable (closable) vents to different zones that so you only heat the rooms you’re using.

Programmable Thermostat: Ensure your heating system has a programmable thermostat that will cut out when the rooms are warm enough, and then kick back in when the temperature drops.

Use a timer: Does your thermostat or heater have a timer? Use it to set your heating to come on in the morning, and ensure it turns off when you go to bed. You can also purchase timers that plug into your powerpoint that will do the same thing.

Regular Maintenance: Ensure your heater/boiler/ducts/outlets are all regularly maintained to help your system run more efficiently. For example, make sure filters are clean, ducts haven’t come loose, and to make sure it is safe and there are no gas leaks, etc.

Install Ceiling Fans: These can be used both in summer and winter! Turn your ceiling-fans to “winter-mode” or reverse so that they help blow the warm air down from the ceiling and distribute around the room – especially with high ceilings. Don’t turn them up too high though or the faster air-movement will feel too cool. And it’s not ideal to install them if you have low ceilings (2.4 metres or less) – particularly if you’re tall!

Consider “Green Power” to pay for your heating: Consider installing photovoltaics or ensuring that you are buying “green power” from a renewable energy resource to run your heating.

Consider Carbon Offsetting: Perhaps plant some more trees, or look into carbon offsetting to add something positive for the amount of energy your heating is using.

Check Your Wood Source: If you have a slow-combustion wood-heater, where are you sourcing your wood from? Is it from a renewable plantation? Your own block of land? Or some old-growth forest?! Please educate yourself so you can make informed decisions about your fuel. You need to ensure your wood is well-seasoned (very dry) before burning so it doesn’t smoke or produce too many pollutants into the air (and it burns better and produces more heat too).

….and finally

* So you’ve done all these things to keep yourself warm and keep your house warm, and to make sure your existing heating system is running more efficiently, AND you still need the heating on all day and night?  Well, at least you’ll have a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that you’ve done the right thing, you’ve saved some energy and you’ve done your best!

** And if you’re still cold…perhaps it’s time to relocate to somewhere a bit more tropical!!! Bali anyone?

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Do you feel the cold? Have you found these posts helpful? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly news  (over there on the top right-hand side of this page) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

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Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOUR HOUSE warm this winter

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, this week we chat about the “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOUR HOME warm this winter”. Last week we posted the “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOU warm this winter” and next week we’ll finish with the “Best tips for more efficient heating this winter”.

Talina Edwards Architecture top tips

So, hands up if you’ve had the heating on at your place? Yes, us too! Ballarat doesn’t have a reputation for being one of the coldest places in mainland Australia for nothing! Hopefully you’ve taken on boards one of our tips from last week about to KEEP YOURSELF warmer…before turing the heater on!

But did you know that here in Victoria, the largest percentage of our home’s total energy use is for heating! On average, Victorians spend about $800 a year or around one third of the average home’s energy bill on home heating. If we can all reduce the amount of energy we use, the planet will be much happier…so we’ve compiled an extensive list of the best “green” ways to keep your house warmer this winter!

victorian household energy use

Image from www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

Of course, the best way for a home to be thermally comfortable, is for it be designed properly in the first place! It is possible to design and build a home that requires little or NO mechanical heating – simply relying on passive solar design principles (including correct orientation, adequate insulation, air-tight, internal thermal mass to store the heat, double-glazing, etc…)

But since we can’t all go out and build a new home right now (much to my disappointment!), in the meantime here’s some tips to help make sure your existing home can be as warm as possible! Many of these are cheap and easy to do, and can even be done if you’re renting. Other retrofitting ideas are more for homeowners which will cost $ now, but often the payback in terms of what you will save will be relatively quick.

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Best green ways to keep YOUR HOME warm:

1. Take advantage of FREE solar-heating during the day:  If you have a cat, you’ll probably notice they always manage to find these sunny spots! Ensure those north-facing windows have the curtains/blinds open during the day to let in the warm winter sun! (Bonus points if you have some ‘thermal mass’ inside which can help trap the sun’s warmth and keep the temperature stable inside for longer).  Also, if there are evergreen trees blocking the sun to these north-facing windows, consider replacing them with deciduous trees.

Image via cutestcatpics.com

Image via cutestcatpics.com

2. Close the drapes at dusk:  A single pane of glass can lose almost 10 times as much heat as the same area of insulated wall. it thick, heavy, insulated curtains to all windows and ensure they are closed at dusk to trap the warm air inside the house. You can add thermal liners (or even material like polar-fleece) to your existing curtains or even use old woollen blankets.

pelmet

Image via: http://banyulemodern.blogspot.com.au

3. Install Pelmets: You know those wooden boxes that sit along the top of the window? They aren’t merely decorative (or daggy vintage decor), they actually are very effective when used with heavy drapes to keep the cold air out! See image below to help explain how the air moves around the room,  without getting into too much technical talk about thermodynamics!

Image from www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

Image from www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

4. Hang curtains (inside) over your external doors:  It is worth considering hanging a curtain/blanket over your external doors during the winter months when you’re home, to help trap the cold air before it enters the house. Even when gaps beneath the door are sealed (see more about that below), drafts can still get through the sides and tops of doors. You can hang them overnight, and take back down during the day.

5. Close external shutters: If you have external blinds or shutters, closing them at night will also help to prevent the cold air reaching the glass. Don’t forget to open them during the day to let the sun shine in!

6. Put down some warm rugs: Cover bare floorboards (after you’ve sealed any gaps between boards!) with rugs or carpets to help add a layer of insulation.

7. Seal up the cracks: Check for gaps around doors/windows/floors/old vents and stop cold draughts (air leaks), and have draught-stoppers (weather-strips) fitted to all external doors, plus you can use door-snakes or rolled-up towels. Not sure where drafts are coming from? Look for obvious gaps like visible light around doors and windows, or use a candle or lit-incense stick to help detect them. Drafts account for up to 25% of heat loss in your home, and can increase your heating costs by 20%!

draught proof your home

Image from www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

8. Seal unused chimneys: Ensure unused chimneys are sealed to prevent heat loss or cold air blowing down (you can use a chimney balloon). Open fires are lovely to look at, but 90% of the heat goes up the chimney, so you’d be best to either seal up that chimney, or install a closed fire-box (slow-combustion wood heater) instead which is much more efficient.

9. Upgrade Insulation: Upgrade your ceiling insulation (and walls and floor too) if possible. Up to 35% of a house’s heat is lost through the roof (hot air rises) and the minimum R-value (resistance to heat flow) for ceiling insulation in Ballarat is R4.5 – so really we need double this amount if not more. If you have a properly insulated roof, you can save up to 45% on your heating bills!

10. Re-use heat in the home: Leave the oven door open when you’ve finished baking and you’ve switched it off, and you can do this with the dishwasher too to let the hot air escape into the room. Of course only do this if there aren’t small children and pets around who could get hurt.

11. Upgrade to double-glazing: Replace existing single-paned windows with double-glazing if possible. There are also retro-fit options to add a secondary layer to existing windows, and special films you can add to your single-glazing that can be as effective as double-glazing for a much lower price. For a really cheap DIY solution, you can add a layer of bubble-wrap to the inside of your existing windows over winter!

Image via www.builditsolar.com

Image via www.builditsolar.com

12. Rearrange furniture: Move things around a bit to ensure beds and couches aren’t up against external (un-insulated) walls. If you can, put bookshelves against external walls as they help provide an additional layer of insulation.

13. Don’t heat bedrooms: At least not overnight – the ideal temperature for sleeping is 16 degrees celsius. If you feel the cold, or have small children or elderly family members, then add extra blankets and a hot water bottle (or an electric blanket if you must – but not at same time as hot water bottle!)

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Stay tuned for next week, where we discuss greener ways to ensure your heating is running efficiently, so you’re not using excess energy or paying excess dollars for it!

Have you done anything to ensure YOUR HOME is kept warmer? What have I missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly news  (over there on the top right-hand side of this page) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

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Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design philosophy

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, and this post hopes to answer some questions we are often asked: “So what sort of architecture do you do?” and”What sort of ‘sustainable’ design do you do?” 

For out latest blog post, we wanted to share with you our philosophies…regarding design, sustainability and our services. Our philosophy does occupy a permanent page on our website here, but we wanted to dedicate a post to it. The thing is that behind the scenes we can reveal that we’ve been busy writing and designing a new guide, especially for you, which will be ready for launching soon… and whilst working on that, it’s been a really good reminder to revisit WHY we do what we do.

These philosophies have been developed over many, many, many years! In fact the foundations of my ethos emerged in early childhood when my love of architecture and nature first began. They were really cemented during my university years, and especially with my architectural thesis, “e[co] healing retreat” (which you can see here – scroll down toward the bottom of the gallery), which was about all of these same ideas. Since graduation, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in practices where they shared a similar view. When I started my own practice, and I was chatting with my graphic designer about my “brand” it was pretty evident which direction to take  based on these philosophies…you’ll see how that works in the image of my logo below! So far, I’ve been very fortunate to be working with some amazing clients who are absolutely on the same wavelength, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the result of my theories being put into practice! So watch this space…

The other thing to remember, is that sustainable design is NOT a style. My philosophies are more like a set of guiding principles that can result in very different outcomes for each client. Each project has a unique site and existing conditions, specific client requirements, different priorities  with regards to quality/timing/budget, and different regulatory controls (planning/building permits) etc… This is why the “one-size-fits-all” approach of mass-produced spec-homes doesn’t fit with my philosophy…

Our Elemental Design Philosophy

“Elemental” design for us is about the fundamental elements of our lives… we need food, water, air and shelter for survival. For the first three, it is preferable these should be as fresh and pure as possible; un-contaminated and un-polluted, for our health and wellbeing. We believe “shelter” and comfort (or “home”) is just as important, and it too should be comfortable, healthy, and not cause pollution (or depletion of our earth’s resources) in its day-to-day operation, its construction or in the manufacturing of its components. Ancient Chinese philosophy talks about the five elements in terms of earth, air, water, wood and fire… and these are inextricably linked to our sustainable design philosophy. We also believe there is a fifth element needed for survival beyond just food/water/air/shelter….   “love” (connection/care/compassion). Without love for others, love for our planet, love of what we do, what is the point? At Talina Edwards Architecture, we LOVE what we do…. and we care about helping you get your ‘elemental shelter’ (sustainable home) that won’t cost the earth…

Talina-Edwards-Architcture-Elemental-Design-Philosophy

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Our Sustainable Design Philosophy

Our sustainable design philosophy is a holistic approach:

Environmental sustainability: wellbeing of the planet (solar passive design, responsible use of resources, energy-efficient, honest materials, minimal waste, positive relationship between built environment and natural environment)

Social sustainability: wellbeing of occupants (health, comfort, natural light, fresh air, quality of life) and also positive contribution to the community

Economic sustainability: wellbeing of the wallet (economical design) and sensible solutions that will help reduce running costs over the building’s life span, with smart choices for future flexibility

The practice also addresses the functional, physical, and aesthetic requirements for each client. We believe the best design solutions come from a collaborative approach, with a close client-architect relationship throughout your project.

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Our Services Philosophy

At Talina Edwards Architecture, we pride ourselves on providing high-quality, professional architectural services, that are delivered in a friendly, down-to-earth way. We understand that the building process is a big deal, so want to make sure it is as easy as possible for you to enjoy the journey with minimal stress. We are here to listen to your needs and wants, and to help guide you on your dream-home journey, as a collaborative process. Find out what some of our happy customers are saying here.

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Do you share a similar philosophy/ethos? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter  (over there on the top right-hand side of this page) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

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WHO should do sustainable design?

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, and this post is one in our series of informative articles about environmental design.

We’ve already covered WHY do sustainable design, and will be covering what, where, when, and how…This week’s questions is:

WHO should do sustainable design?

The simple answer is…everyone!

You, me, all of us!

We all have a responsibility (and the power) to make conscious ethical decisions for every part of our lives…for example: where we source our food and clothing, if we buy recycled paper and wood products or ones sourced from a sustainable-managed forest, the gadgets we buy, what type of transport we use, how much waste we produce and where it ends up, efficient water use, the amount of electricity we use and where it comes from, and of course all the other decisions to do with the houses we live in and other buildings we visit or occupy (and any renovations or new building works). So I guess the question not only relates to sustainable-designed buildings, but to making more sustainable choices all-round…so perhaps it should be:

WHO should be living more sustainably?

Every time you spend money you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” – Anna Lappe

Whether you’re rich or poor, old or young, a professional or a DIY-er, we all can make a difference. There are many things you can do to live more sustainable lifestyles. There are so many  ways you can make changes to your existing homes, without costing a fortune. There are even more ways to design new buildings (and renovations)…but we’ll be covering that when we get to the what and how of sustainable design.

We are very  fortunate to live in the “information-age” to seek answers to all our questions day and night, but this can be a double-edged sword as the amount of information available is overwhelming, and it can be very difficult to make sense of it all – especially with so much of it contradictory’ or perhaps outdated’ or simple not relevant to you. This is why it’s so important to find a professional who shares your ethos, and can help advise you. If you’re thinking about building, and sustainability is important to you, make sure it is prioritised as part of your project brief. As a client, you need to drive your sustainable design agenda from the outset. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has.“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Even if home-owners (or clients) aren’t pushing the agenda, all architects, building-designers and those in the construction industry have a responsibility to ensure that buildings are sensitively designed with sustainability in mind. Sadly, this is still a niche market, with most new buildings meeting the (low) benchmark standard which is far from best-practice. We discussed why we need sustainable design, particularly because the construction and use of buildings is responsible for such a large amount of energy use. Architects must lead on sustainable design because we have the power to make a big difference. But so must all project-home builders, and the government and other regulatory bodies need to step up too.

We all have a responsibility. It’s why I do what I do. Each small decision adds up to making a big difference.

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We will answer more about where, what, when and how next time. Hope this has helped to answer Who should do sustainable design?

Do you have questions about sustainable design, and perhaps how it is relevant to you? Please ask away in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter  (over there on the top right-hand side of this page) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

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