Healthy High Performance Homes
We believe in Healthy and comfortable homes for all Australians, so we offer a range of building and design techniques catering from improved traditionally built homes through to fully-certified PassiveHouse homes.
On those freezing old night, I can’t help but lay in my bed watching the condensation forming on the walls, and listening to my son coughing from asthma. I wonder if we lived in a thermally comfortable home, with a fresh supply of healthy air, that perhaps my son wouldn’t have asthma?
It is estimated that cold, damp homes cause asthma in up to 8% of sufferers under the age of 14. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding and market conditions, has conditioned us as a society to accept building practices that mean we need to use high levels of energy to maintain any level of comfort.
Understanding how traditional homes are built tells us a lot abou how they do and don’t work. Creating a ‘better building envelop’ is the first step to creating a truly healthy and comfrotable home. The best analogy I’ve heard s that if you’re driving in your car, and it starts to get cold, you’d first roll up your window before turning on the heater.
With traditionally built homes, the window is always down. This is caused by many different small openings to the outdoors from your downlights, powerpoints, windows, vents, draughty doors, etc. This means whenever we heat or cool our home, the conditioned air can escape. It is calculated some homes can have up to 23 air changes per hour. Meaning you are heating and cooling the same airspace 23 times per hour, extremely inefficient!
So whether you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, reduce your power bills, or create a more healthy and comfortable home. Investing in a builder that can deliver a better building envelope and combine this with smart solar passive design principles, you can achieve not only an architecturally beautiful home, but a home that helps improve your health, lowers your energy bills and helps towards improving our climate.
Passive House / Passivhaus
Passivhaus is an international building standard that can be applied to any construction type. Essentially, the idea is to build a home with very low external energy demands while still providing a high-level of comfort.
It is made up of 5 core principles:
- Air Tightness – Airtight building envelope
- Thermal Insulation – continuous sufficient insulation to ensure the conditioned internal comfort is stable regardless of the external conditions
- Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery – A ventilation unit that recovers heat while providing fresh filtered air
- High-Performance Windows – The windows are as important as the walls to ensure there is good thermal separation from the external and internal environments
- Thermal Bridge-Free Construction – mindful construction techniques to ensure unnecessary heat loss from thermal bridging
Passive house designs include an analysis via specific software, which can calculate the effectiveness of that design, and provide estimates on how that home will perform in regards to comfort and running costs.
This also means that once the home is complete, it can be tested to ensure it has been built to match those design parameters. Passive house designs will use solar passive design principles to help achieve the results needed to meet the Passivhaus standards
Solar Passive Design
Solar passive design principles have been around for nearly 50 years. Unfortunately, a lot of homes built still don’t take advantage of these simple design principles to help increase the level of comfort in our homes.
A good design will have taken into account the site in regards to location, orientation to the sun, locations of certain living zones compared to the orientation of the sun, window sizes, shading, and cross-ventilation.
These principals are important to ensure the home has the best chance at providing adequate comfort to the homeowner. It should not be compared to Passivhaus as they are two different things. Passivhaus designs will take solar passive design principles into account to help achieve a Passivhaus standard.
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The benefits of introducing a filtered ventilation system to our homes are quite extensive. As seen in the below video, our homes are becoming more and more unhealthy to live in. The understanding of off-gassing or VOC’s and the potential risks posed on our health is becoming more and more common knowledge and a concern for many clients. Mould in our homes is also a major contributing factor to respiratory issues.
Off-Gassing – Commonly referred to as “new smell”. Off-gassing occurs when newly manufactured items in our homes release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals. Almost all products off-gas. the intensity and the length of time this happens will vary from product to product. This not only includes construction materials but furnishings i.e. carpet, furniture, toys, clothes, cleaning products, air fresheners. A ventilation system doesn’t prevent these products from emitting these gases but ensures they don’t stay present in the home.
Air Pollutants and Particle Matter – Things like exhaust fumes from gas cookers and fireplaces, pollen causing hayfever, bush fires, smog are all examples of pollutants that can cause issues to our health. Dust or particle matter also provides a health risk but once reduced with a ventilation system will also reduce the amount of cleaning of the home required.
Mould – Mould is being linked more and more as the cause of respiratory issues like asthma. It is also being found more often in our homes due to incorrect building methods. The reasons for mould being found in the home includes rising damp, major water leaks, poor ventilation of our bathrooms, etc. It can also come from condensation issues when you make your home airtight without proper construction techniques and proper ventilation equipment.
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Climate change is a reality and more people are wanting to help make a change without relying on the government. The construction industry is in a great position to positively impact our energy usage and our emission contribution, simply by changing techniques and materials.
Our Buildings contribute towards 25% of our emissions – by creating a home that is highly efficient with reduced energy consumption, this helps towards lowering our overall emissions.
Construction waste makes up 40% of Australia’s total waste – where possible we look at introducing prefabrication to not only improve construction speed but to minimize waste. We also have improved recycling strategies to help reduce the amount of waste we create. We are continuously looking for ways to decrease our footprint during the construction period but also during the life of the home.
Zero Energy Homes – Building a home that produces as much renewable energy as it consumes. To do this we look at construction methods, solar PV, hot water unit, heating and cooling methods. We also look to future proof your home. With technology improving rapidly you want to ensure when electric vehicles, batteries and smart homes become the norm that your home is easily adaptable.
High Performance Homes
The construction method/materials used to build your home has a dramatic effect on how the home performs, as well as its impact on the environment. Ensuring the right materials are used in the right way is important to ensure the home performs the way it is intended.
Thermal mass – is a term used to describe a material’s ability to absorb and store energy or heat. Different materials have different lag times which means the material acts like a sponge. A sponge can absorb water (aka energy) for a period of time before it becomes full and then releases it — much like the energy in our homes. Ideally, the material would absorb the warmth during the day and release it overnight when the external temperatures are lower.
The appropriate material, with the appropriate lag time, can be used effectively in conjunction with solar passive design to keep our homes at a comfortable temperature. Materials with high thermal mass include Rammed Earth, Concrete, Brick, Block, and Rock. If it is not used correctly it can result in uncomfortable living conditions. This is what we see with a lot of double brick homes build in the 80s and 90s.
Each material and construction technique has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important you get the right advice before starting your next project.
- Rammed Earth
- Timber-framed Construction
- Ventilated Cavities
- Double Brick
The Indoor Generation
A video produced by Velux that identifies some important points on how much time we spend in our homes and how important it is to ensure our homes are working to better our comfort and our health.
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