We’re in the middle of winter here in Australia at the time of writing this article. Good for those who like skiing and fun in the snow but not so good for those who struggle with the cold and just want to stay warm in their own home without paying ridiculous amounts for energy to keep the heaters running. (Let’s not talk about the ever increasing electricity prices, quite a sore point with most people these days). I have personally lived in houses which are good at keeping warm naturally during winter and are an absolute pleasure to live in and others which do a shocking job of keeping warm during winter and make those cold days a misery to endure. By far the most important thing is that big nuclear reactor in the sky. If a home has been designed to have the living areas on the north side of the house with large openings down to the floor to let the midday sun in, half the battle has been won. The other half of the battle is to retain that heat throughout the day and into the night when it can be radiated back into the space to regulate the temperature. Thermal mass such as concrete floors in the living areas seem to do the best job of retaining and radiating the heat naturally. There are other more advanced techniques such as heat sink walls to capture the winter sun and radiate into the house during the colder nights. There is plenty of information on the web regarding these passive solar heating techniques, not that i’m going to pretend to be an expert but from experience i can definitely say that getting the northern sun in during winter and retaining the heat with thermal mass works a treat. The house i’m in at the moment is so efficient that I don’t even own a heater and usually have to put extra clothes on when i go outside. In any climate there are always extreme days where no matter what you do it is just bitterly cold, but on average we as a society can do a lot better than the average home if we take the time and thought to plan a house properly. As mentioned, I have also lived in homes where the sun doesn’t get in during the day and where there is no thermal mass to regulate the temperature, the difference is vast and living there is not as pleasant.
Of course the flip side to keeping your home warm in winter is keeping it cool in summer, so this is where a few simple things make a massive difference. It is vitally important to protect those large north facing openings with large overhangs to keep the sun off the walls and from entering the house. The other important factor is to ensure cross ventilation of living areas and bedrooms. Having openings on one side only does not allow for air movement or capturing of cooling breezes, so the hot air remains trapped inside and there is no air movement over our skin which helps with keeping us feeling cooler. Once again thermal mass inside the house helps to regulate the temperature because it takes longer to heat up than the ambient air. Large windows and sliding doors facing west or east should be avoided if possible or at least protected by external blinds or deciduous vines. There is nothing worse than a living room facing west with a large unprotected window letting in all the hot summer afternoon sun. Just when you want to be relaxing into the evening your living area becomes a hot box.
With the increase in electricity prices and the impacts on the environment, air conditioners are really becoming a no go zone. Why not plan a home cleverly to avoid the need for artificial heating and cooling. Of course most of the volume home builders and developers out there don’t really care about your thermal comfort or the impacts on the environment, rather looking out for their bottom line profit, how many houses they can cram into an estate, working from fixed designs without any regard to orientation. (Elements Home Design Portfolio plans are adaptable and flexible to suit many different block orientations, the designs can be changed around at minimal cost to suit your block). Legislation has attempted to address the energy efficiency of home designs but has come up short in a lot of ways.
So to summarize, in winter we need to let the sun in the north and retain the heat with thermal mass where possible, in summer we need to keep the sun out and provide opportunities for cross ventilation. It’s not so hard.