Tag Archives: perth housing

The value of solar passive homes

57 Shakespear St, Mt Hawthorn-32

Written by Griff Morris, Founder and Director of Solar Dwellings

Griff’s list of significant contributions is lengthy! Some of these include Inaugural Board member of the now Sustainable Energy Association, Member of the HIA Environmental Planning Committee, Member of the Commonwealth Government Committee regarding the Technical Advisory Manual for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Member of two Disability Services Commission committees just to name a few.

Griff and his Solar Dwellings staff have been recognised with numerous awards. They’ve also received much recognition for their work on notable projects such as the:

  • Mandurah Links Sustainable Home
  • Subiaco Sustainable Demonstration Home
  • Quattro in Queens Park Sustainable Home
  • The creation of two 10 star homes in Hilton with Josh Byrne, landscape architect and Gardening Australia’s WA presenter.

One of the first homes that I ever designed in Perth was a home in West Leederville where I’d advised a client on a particular house, this house was a typical double brick and tile home. Nothing different to any other home except the layout of the rooms and placement of openings to make the house more efficient.

After the conversion the client had the plans valued and the agent said he had a buyer who would pay $80,000 more for the house, which was a considerable sum back then.

She then contacted me and confirmed that the choice to design a solar passive home would indeed increase the value of the property. The design went ahead and the property was built.

As a consequence of living in her previous home she found that she had been experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) syndrome. And it just so happens that every winter she would go back to England to spend the English summer with her mother.

When she moved into her new home she found that she was happier and didn’t feel the need to go back to England. The house was so bright and warm through winter she found that she stayed in the home and her mother came out to visit her.

The sale of both properties achieved not just a financial gain but also a positive lifestyle change. Once selling she approached me again to construct four solar passive investment properties in Subiaco.

Passive solar design cuts energy use by at least 50%

Using only 30% to 50% of the energy consumed by conventional homes, a passive solar home is also far more comfortable and liveable because it stays naturally warm in winter and cool in summer.

Passive solar design doesn’t require solar panels (although these can be added to a home to reduce running costs even more) but relies on intelligent design factors such as orientation of the home, placement of windows and choice of building materials.

The main components of passive solar design are:

  • Siting and orientation of the home, with living areas and large windows facing north, minimal windows to the east and west, and with the long axis of the home within 15° east or west of north.
  • Winter warmth and summer cooling is achieved by positioning windows so the sun enters in winter but not during summer.
  • Natural cooling is also achieved by window placement that allows cross ventilation.
  • Stable internal temperatures, resulting from appropriate materials, such as brick, concrete or stone, or stone, used in the right locations. Timber floors which can absorb the sun’s warmth in winter will release it back into the home in the evening, while external shading prevents summer sun entering.
  • Insulation is a barrier to heat flow, and most home builders include ceiling insulation as standard. Recommendations include ceiling, under-roof and some wall insulation to retain winter warmth and exclude summer heat.
  • Intelligent landscaping does a lot more than simply create an attractive exterior – it can protect a home from summer heat and maximize access to winter sun.

Other measures which will create an even greener home with a smaller environmental footprint include:

  • Non-chemical termite prevention, so the home and family are safe
  • Rainwater harvesting and other water efficiency measures
  • Low-allergen and non-toxic building processes and products, which are important for young families and anyone with allergies
  • Active solar design, such as photovoltaic power generation and solar water heating
  • Aerobic sewerage and waterless urinals
  • Grey water recycling systems and other technologies.

Savings & Benefits

What will building a passive solar home mean for you? It looks good, is healthy, saves on running costs, will age with you, will be bright and airy and will feel great.

It’s so much better for the environment and the future of our planet too – and a sustainable home costs you significantly less to run.

The real question is what it will cost if you don’t?


47 Baudin Drive, Gnarabup002

Measuring Sustainability in Residential Buildings

We get a lot of people asking us for a basic overview of what tools are available to measure sustainability performance and outcomes in buildings. Here is an overview of the main ‘Green Tools of the Trade’ for Green residential buildings in Australia.

Thankfully, measuring sustainability is becoming easier. There are now a number of ‘tools’ available on the market that will help you measure the sustainability credentials of your residential building project. The most common ones for Australia include NatHERS (6-Star BCA Code), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) ‘Green Star’ rating. Additional methods are available to test for heat/gain loss of a building. Models such as the One Planet Living Model and the Living Building Challenge really raise the bar for sustainable development.

NatHERS (6-Star)

The Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) applies to the residential sector; it is a national framework that regulates how Australian homes are rated for their thermal performance. NatHERS tools provide a method of demonstrating compliance with the minimum energy efficiency standards for new residential buildings outlined under the National Construction Code (NCC). The focus is on good design and construction which can reduce the operational costs and environment impacts associated with heating and cooling of a home. A minimum 6-Star performance standard became effective in West Australia on 1st May 2011; it is a minimum regulation which is intended to eliminate worst practice. The software is also a powerful tool for optimising energy efficient house designs for Australian climates. NatHERS accredited software includes Accurate Sustainability, BERS Professional, and FirstRate.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to quantify the total “Embodied Energy” and the “Operational Energy” over the entire design life of the building. LCA looks beyond just thermal performance loads – the heating and cooling requirements of a home – and takes into account the impact of a building during its whole life cycle instead. Life Cycle Assessment evolved from the 1960s and is now defined with an International Standard, meaning that there are strict rules about how it is to be applied and relied upon. The standard is available at: AS/NZA ISO 14044:2006.

To achieve the best outcomes, it is recommended to engage a Life Cycle engineer early in the design process and help accurately quantify, compare, improve and certify the environmental performance of your building. It is an affordable and scientifically rigorous way to improve buidings and other forms of infrastructure. Perth based eTool®LCD is one of the few companies operating in this space.

GBCA Green Star

Green Star is a voluntary sustainability rating system for buildings in Australia. It was launched in 2003 by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). The rating tool can be used for buildings, fit outs and community design; due to its costs this tool is mostly used by the commercial sector. Green Star independently assesses project by awarding points in nine categories: Management; Indoor Environment Quality; Energy; Transport; Water; Materials; Land Use & Ecology; Emissions and Innovation. Green star ratings are from 1 to 6 Green Star, with 6 being World Leadership. Performance ratings have to be re-certified every three years to make sure the building’s operations are up to date and to encourage improvement over time. The Green Star rating has helped lift the bar of sustainability outcomes in the built form.

NOTE: Additional ways to measure heat loss/gain

According to Your Home, ‘sealing your home against air leakage is one of the simplest upgrades you can undertake to increase your comfort while reducing your energy bills and carbon emissions by up to 25%’. Both insulation and air tightness are often difficult to inspect with the eye when a building is completed. Additional tests that can be conducted include a blower door test and thermal imaging; both help identify hotspots for heat loss/gain. A blower door test assesses the air tightness of the building; thermal imaging is used to inspect insulation of a building. In Europe, air leakage tests are mandatory in a number of jurisdictions including Sweden and the UK.

International Models for Best Practice

One Planet Living Model

The One Planet Living model is inspired by the UK’s first large-scale mixed use sustainable community: BedZED in London. One Planet Living is a vision for a world where it is easy, attractive, and affordable for people to lead happy and healthy lives with a fair share of the earth’s resources. It uses 10 principles as a holistic framework that provides guidance for local government, businesses and the built environment to comprehensively address key sustainability issues and effectively make a sustainable lifestyle a reality. The 10 principles include: zero carbon, zero waste, sustainable transport, sustainable materials sustainable food, sustainable water, land use and wild life, culture and community, equity and local economy, and health and happiness.

The Ultimate: Living Building Challenge

Currently there are only five ‘living buildings’ in the world. The Living Building Challenge is by far the most advanced and demanding measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today. It is a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy. It is comprised on seven performance categories called ‘petals’: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Examples of prerequisites include generating all energy with renewable resources; capturing and treating all water used in the building; and using building materials void of hazardous chemicals. Certification during the design stage is not an option; buildings need to prove that they meet all of the program requirements after 12 months of continued operations and full occupancy.

For further information see:







Sustainability in WA Housing: 5 Good News Stories

I am constantly amazed by the bad news on sustainability and climate change in the media nowadays. Fortunately for me, in my position, I am also constantly exposed to a bunch of upbeat, sophisticated, up-to-date blogs, e-newsletter, websites and other pro-sustainability businesses who have a plethora of good news and info to share.

Sustainability can be such a grey area to be discussed at dinner parties. Each of us has drawn our own line in the sand, deciding to what degree we will implement it into our lives. Seeing so much doom and gloom can get a gal down. Pleading ignorance was so much easier! So I thought I’d share some of the good news stories you may not see in your everyday travels around the interwebs.

1) Sustainable building materials

Timbercrete, based in Australia, started in 1994 when potter Peter Collier devised his own formula for bricks. Timbercrete is a multi-award winning and environmentally sustainable masonry building product significant advantages over standard clay and concrete bricks, including saving huge amounts of energy and avoiding the pollution that regular brick create. You can have your brick and use it too!

2) Higher density voted for in Fremantle

Perth faces a huge problem in our urban sprawl. (See our post on the cost of commuting in Perth.) Changes to the way we think about high-density living coupled with changes to planning policy will result in a more liveable city and who doesn’t want that? Which is precisely why Fremantle council have recently voted to change the rules and introduce smaller infill housing to create denser, more diverse housing and rental options in an area where the average house price is now around $800,000!


3) Companies who care

They exist. Really! Recently Landcare partnered with Pozible to create the Landcare and Environment Collection to provide a platform for independent crowdfunding campaigns of landcare, environment and community groups across Australia and the world. Even property developers are getting on board. Psaros, WA’s leading urban property developer have recently partnered with Conservation WA to encourage sustainable apartment developments in Perth City. Genius! They are also one of Australia’s only Carbon Neutral companies too.


4) Renewable Energy is happening

Did you know that 1/4 of Australian homes are powered by the sun!? And that continues to grow even with the current Australian government talking about removing support for this clean, green energy supply!

The solar revolution is happening around the globe. Despite all the bad press we see in Australia, renewable energy is being readily embraced around the globe with numbers on the increase. This Spanish island will be running on 100% renewable energy within the next months and totally done away with fossil fuels. Who’s to say this cannot be implemented and accepted right here on our island? Imagine the future of sustainable housing then!


5) Sharing is caring

Imagine not having to pay for your car insurance, tyres, service, parking parking bay in the city, fuel or wear-n-tear. (That’s money you could put towards things like a holiday to see the Maldives before they disappear?) Car share schemes like GoGet are becoming the new norm in cities around the world. Why pay extra for an apartment with a car park when you live on a main public transport route? And not only car sharing! Bike sharing, community gardens and tool sharing schemes are all becoming the new norm.


See? Good news stories about sustainability and housing. Have you got a good news story? Please share yours with us on our Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!


Curtin University Sustainable and Affordable Housing Research Group

A multi disciplined and collaborative research group has been formed at Curtin University to help connect and better inform the property industry on sustainable and affordable housing issues. For more information on what’s on offer, check out the flyer.