Energy efficient houses versus the great Australian dream.

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Blog, How to/ Tips, Opinion | 4 Comments

Happy new year to you all. I hope you had time off to relax, and you are recharged and excited for what 2013 holds in store. It’s great to get back to my blog after a couple weeks off; I’m so excited about continuing to share and discuss all things architecture with you.

Today’s blog is one I have had on my ‘to write’ list and one I feel very strongly about. An article in the paper last week provided me with a timely intro.

I read that last Monday the national average maximum temperature record was “smashed”: now 40.33 degrees. In the same week the Bureau of Meteorology had to increase their temperature scale to allow their weather maps to show higher temperatures than ever previously recorded: from 50 degrees to 54 degrees. It saddens and scares me to read this. Even more upsetting though, we aren’t doing enough about it.

I’ll cut straight to the hard truths. The average new house in Australian is the biggest in the world at 243 m², with many exceeding 400m². In the UK the average new house size is just 76m². That’s less than one third the size of our average new home. Why?

We have become obsessed with a room for every possible function we may do in our homes. We need to start downsizing and creating more energy efficient houses, yet we are instead answering yes to the question: Would you like a theatre room with that?

There are two reasons we need to downsize:
1) Houses consume 26% of Australia’s total energy usage. The bigger the house the more energy and resources needed to build and operate it.
2) If the environment wasn’t reason enough, our rapid population growth exceeds the amount of new housing on offer, and the amount of land available for it; the current solution has been further sprawl. Now you’ve all heard how worked up I get over urban sprawl and our need to increase densities…. Deep breaths Darren…

This brings me to a very important question: how much space do we really need in our homes? Some of us aspire to that theatre room, but the TV in the family room does the same thing. Does a bedroom need to be any bigger than the space required to accommodate a bed and clothes? Do you need a study or do you find yourself sitting at your kitchen table with your laptop? The different functions that happen in a house do not all need their own separate room; it’s the reason our houses are the worlds biggest. If instead a space performs multiple functions it becomes dynamic, well used, and has a life to it. Rooms only used occasionally like a formal dining room or billiards room become lifeless. We must consider their cost to the environment.

The success of a well designed home is in the feel of its spaces, its quality and the way it functions, not how big it is. We need to invest in quality over quantity; less really does become more. Good design makes great homes; spaces capable of adapting to various tasks, beautiful features and materials, not a purpose built room with armchairs that have cup holders in front of a TV projector.

For your next home, think quality over quantity.

Some tips and action we can all take now:

  • Do you need a second fridge? Just one accounts for one third of your electricity bill, and 50% of your greenhouse emissions. That second fridge is likely to be your old fridge, even more power hungry, therefore adding more than another 30% to your energy usage.
  • Your energy saver globes are a great, but did you know lighting is only 6-8% of your household energy usage? We need to do more.
  • Shut your blinds. Up to 90% of heat loss is through glass. With curtains or blinds closed you drastically reduce your heat loss and heating costs.
  • Close doors and vents in rooms not in use. Don’t heat or cool what you aren’t using.
  • If in winter you are in a T-shirt, take the heater down a degree or two and grab another layer. Heating and cooling is 40% of your energy usage.
  • In summer sunlight hitting windows even with internal blinds down will slowly heat the space. Fit external blinds and you will drastically reduce the heat entering.
  • The greatest heat gain in summer is the harsh afternoon western sun. Planting deciduous trees will block this sun from hitting this side of your house in summer, and allow any sun to heat those walls through the bare trees in winter.
  • Clothes driers are convenient but extremely power hungry. Clothes can dry on their own. Using just a few minutes of your own energy, means so much less taken from the grid.
  • Solar panels. Big thumbs up. Use a reputable company. It’s become big business and many panels are incorrectly installed. Without the correct ventilation, panels will readily overheat and run at only 50% capacity. Also don’t negate the power you produced by using your appliances more often.

Let’s all do our bit… We have to.

(Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics)


  1. Cameron from Todae
    May 14, 2013

    Great blog! Such an eye opener to all the issues we are fighting while trying to save energy and reduce consumption. We have become obsessed with having a space for every function when we need to be building homes with rooms that multifunction. I just stumbled across your blog but look forward to reading through your posts.

  2. shannon
    October 11, 2013

    very helpfull thank you and honest.


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