Element goes solar!


(image credit: New Era Electrical – http://www.neweraelectrical.com.au/)

Sustainable solar power, the green electricity alternative.

Solar power is clean green electricity, that is either created from sunlight or from heat from the sun. Having solar electricity in your home usually means setting up a solar photovoltaic system on your roof, so lets go through a few definitions and explanations before we get into the benefits of solar.

Definition of photovoltaic: Photo = “light” and photons = energy particles coming from sunlight; voltaic = producing a voltage or volts.  Abbreviation = PV

Solar energy is a renewable free source of energy that is sustainable and totally inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels which are finite. It is also a non-polluting source of energy and it does not emit any greenhouse gases when producing electricity. The solar electricity that is produced can supply your entire or partial energy consumption.

How they work:

A Solar Energy System or Solar Photovoltaic System uses UV from the sun which generates DC (direct current) electricity. This electricity is then passed through an inverter which converts it to AC (alternating current), which is the type of current needed to run appliances in a typical home. The amount of electricity generated is usually metered and then fed back to the grid. Depending on which state you live in you will either receive a payment for all the electricity you generate (gross metering) or the amount of electricity you have generated will be deducted from the amount you have consumed on your next bill (net metering).

The benefits of solar power:

The financial benefit of solar panels can be a long term investment for your home. Yes, there’s initial start up and set up costs of a home solar panel setup, but the up front investment can pay off as there are many ongoing benefits for homeowners that make up for the initial costs.

  1. Reduce your bills – Using the sun to power your home can help reduce your electricity bills and carbon footprint significantly. Summer or winter does not matter, throughout the year Australia experiences more solar radiation per square kilometre on average than anywhere else in the world! The sun gives us 10,00 times the energy annually than Australian’s consume in a year. Solar panels allow us to make the most of this incredibly large and renewable source of energy.

  2. Sell back to the grid – Want to create your own energy, now you can. With solar you can create your own energy and use less from the grid. When your solar panels generate more electricity than your household requires, the excess electricity can be sold back to the grid, depending on the schemes in the different states of Australia.

  3. Protect against rising energy prices – Solar panels can be a way of protecting your household against future price increases of electricity which are produced by energy sources such as coal, oil and gas. As a provider of your own electricity from a renewable source, you can reduce your households dependence on fossil fuels and energy providers.

Long term investment on solar panels can be a really great selling point for a house which is being sold and potentially adding value to the property. Buyers wanting the property will look at the aspect and if your house already has solar panels, they know they can save a huge amount of costs on the homes electricity bills.

Benefits of design orientation to allow maximum natural lighting into your new home

passive solar design

There are a number of benefits that come with designing a home to accommodate natural light into living areas and bedrooms. The more natural light you have in your home, the less lights you have to turn on, and the less electricity you use. It may surprise you, but about 10% of household electricity usage comes from lighting alone! Another benefit, which is also related to energy use, is that natural light can also help heat homes by way of storing the heat from sunlight into a thermal mass such as your slab, concrete or brick wall; this then allows the heat in the thermal mass to be distributed throughout the house day and night.

So what is the ideal orientation? The ideal orientation of the house is where the main long axis (ridge line) of the building runs east-west and most of the windows must be facing toward the sun to achieve any benefits from orientation. The fact the sun is lower in winter than in summer allows us to plan and construct homes that capture ‘free’ heat in winter and reject the heat in summer. The orientation of the whole building plays an important part in ensuring such a ‘passive’ process works. Rooms that are used the most throughout the house must be on the side of the house toward the sun I.e. kitchen, living areas, etc. Rooms that are least used should be on the shaded side of the house, I.e. laundry, garage, wet areas, bedrooms.

So in summary, I can’t stress enough how important the correct orientation of a house on a block is for the energy efficiency and comfort. It allows more natural light to enter the home and reduces the reliance on external lighting, captures more warmth in the winter and reduces heat transfer in summer. So take the time and factor orientation principles into the construction of your next home.
All the best, Dennis

Passive Design Principles – Glazing


We all know windows are one of the most important design elements to consider when building an eco friendly home. Did you know your home can lose up to 40% of it’s heating energy in winter and gain up to 87% of unwanted heat in summer through windows alone? Choosing windows that optimise your home’s thermal performance can make your home more comfortable as well as drastically reduce your energy costs and the cost to the environment.

Double or even triple glazed windows are standard features of our energy efficient home designs, in today’s post we are going to look into the impact of glazing in the home and the technology available to maximise energy efficiency.

Contrary to popular belief, windows glazing is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution but when used correctly glazing can significantly increase your homes energy efficiency.

Some things you should consider before choosing glazing are:

  • climatic conditions in your location — temperature, humidity, sunshine and wind
  • building design — the orientation, form and layout of the building
  • building materials — the amount of mass and insulation
  • the size and location of windows and shading
  • thermal properties of glazing systems.

Reference – http://www.yourhome.gov.au/passive-design/glazing

Glass is an excellent thermal conductor, meaning it is particularly poor at resisting temperature. Double or triple glazed windows work to combat this by holding a barrier of air or gas which acts as a barrier between the outside and inside. Because air is a poor conductor of heat, much less heat is lost through the window. We also use low e films, which help deflect the warm air in the inside of the house back away from the window.

Glass is not the only important element of a window, the frame also plays a pivotal role in insulating the home. Traditional aluminium window frames are strong, weatherproof and low cost, but they are also an excellent thermal conductor. Timber frames work much better than aluminium but have the downside of being high maintenance, limited in colours and expensive. In our 7, 8 or 9 Star homes we use thermally broken frames. Basically the aluminium frame is broken up with polyamide or polymer, which acts as an insulating barrier, reducing the energy (hot or cold) via the frame. You can check out thermally broken frames at most window stores, they will show a standard aluminium frame that is touching a cooling element which a temperature gauge measures, they then show a thermally broken frame which is touching the same cooling element but sits at or very near room temperature. Thermally broken frames also help prevent condensation, learn more here – http://www.awsaustralia.com.au/thermalheart/thermalheart-technology

Outside of double, triple glazed and thermally broken frames, window film is another option. Window Films are basically a sheet that gets applied to the inside of the glass and there’s stacks of different brands, types and uses. The quality of the film and the use are the two key factors to getting energy gains from window film. The most effective use we have found is for west facing windows that take a beating from large amounts of hot summer sun.

Exterior shading is always going to be better than window film as you are breaking the heat before it hits the glass, so trees, blinds or awnings are ideal here. In a situation where this is not possible, for those west facing windows you can use a high blockout film to reduce the solar heat gain by up to 80%. The films can also cut UV rays. Most films claim to prevent 99% of UV rays, so this can help in baby/kids rooms or even to prevent furniture or timber floorings from fading. There are now also ‘winter’ films on the market, that deflect indoor heat so it is retained inside the home. These films still let light in. It’s basically a compromise between light and solar heat, so the darker films can cut huge amounts of solar heat gain and give you more privacy during the day, whilst the lighter films allow more light to pass through but won’t cut the same amount of heat. Window film is commonly used in residential apartments where there might be a lot of glass and body corporates won’t allow exterior shading or the height of the building prevents it.
I hope you enjoyed this post, Dennis.

Energy Efficient Product Feature – The ECON WALL

econ wall canberra

In today’s post we are going to look at the ECON WALL, an exciting product available to help us build smart, affordable, energy efficient housing.

I first met Sanjiv Gosain, the inventor of ECON WALL a few years ago when we built his home in Canberra. This build was the first experience I had using the ECON WALL, and I must say it was very successful (the house won eco home of the year across Australia as an 8 Star home).

Now the time has come for Sanjiv to build a new house and demonstrate the capabilities of the ECON WALL by building Canberra’s, and Australia’s, first 9 Star rated insulated concrete thermal mass house. Let’s take a deeper look at the ECON WALL, what it is, how it works and why you might be interested.

By definition, “the ECON WALL is an insulated concrete thermal mass wall system which places the insulation on the outside of the concrete walls”. OK, so what does that mean? The ECON WALL basically differs from your standard wall by putting the insulation on the outside of the wall so there’s space to fill the inside with concrete. The green benefits are in the ‘thermal mass’ generated from this technique as well as the ability to maximise the use of recycled materials – e.g. concrete mix with high recycled and fly ash content.

We have gone over insulation in previous posts and will detail thermal mass more in the future, as a brief summary, the ECON WALL allows us to substantially increase the thermal mass in a building, meaning energy can be stored and released to help cool and heat the building at desired times of the day. The end result is a home that either needs very little additional heating and cooling, or none at all. We anticipate another surge in the popularity of the ECON WALL following the 9 Star build later this year, to learn more search ‘ECON WALL’, visit the website – http://econwall.com/ or talk to us!

Cheers, Dennis

Why do I need an energy efficient house in Canberra?


In the first of our environmentally sustainable building design posts we are going to look into why energy efficient homes are so relevant for Canberra.

For Australian standards, Canberra has a dry climate with warm to hot summers and pretty cold winters. Rainfall is reasonably evenly distributed throughout the year but even in a small landmass like Canberra, rainfall varies significantly with much higher rainfall occurring in the ranges to the west of the city and less rainfall to the east. Canberra is also very sunny, with average daily sunshine of 7.6 hours/day. In summer the average daily sunshine is around 9 hours/day dropping to around 5-6 hours/day in winter. Canberra generally is not very windy with, on average, 25 days of strong winds a year.

So what does this all mean? Basically it means that due to extreme temperature fluctuations, Canberra homes require substantially more energy to achieve thermal comfort and are therefore perfectly suited to energy efficient design and building practices. It means that our homes need to take advantage of insulation, orientation, passive heating and cooling, glazing and thermal mass, but more on this in future posts!

Cheers, Dennis.

Stay warm in winter and cool in summer with insulation


Insulation is extremely important in achieving an environmentally sustainable and comfortable home.

In a home without insulation, the heat will flow into the home during summer and out of the home during winter which means you will be heavily reliant on non passive heating/cooling, e.g. powered heating/cooling. Insulation is basically a barrier between you and the outside world; it protects your house from the elements, makes a house more comfortable, use less energy to maintain comfortable temperatures and can also help control moisture. Effective insulation can cut around 40% of heating and cooling bills! So with less mould and damp, increased comfort and huge energy savings, lets assume you are on board with insulation and we can move on and look into it a little more.

All Element Homes are completely insulated and use the highest quality products and R ratings available on the market at that point in time. This might sound extreme, but this is necessary to achieve an EER 7 or 8 home. There are many different types of insulation; fibreglass, wool, polystyrene, foam, blanket, batt, roll and blow in. The choice of insulation will come down to the design of the home and the environmental conditions as well availability, cost, renewability and technology.

We often get asked in which areas leak the most energy or benefit the most from insulation. The answer to this question is the ceiling. The ceiling has the largest potential for gains with approx. 30% of heat loss in winter going through the ceiling. The next best area for gains is the walls and windows. In Summer, the ceilings and the windows both contribute about 30% of heat gain in a house without insulation.

One final point the importance to take into account passive design techniques, things like air leakage and shading, otherwise all your insulation could make the house like an oven, holding on to built up heat! We will discuss passive design more in future posts, the takeaway here is that insulation is crucial and well worth the investment, there’s many types available but the main point is that you get the best R rating you can, and finally, insulation should be coupled with other smart design principles to achieve optimal efficiency and ultimately the most comfortable home possible.

Thanks for reading, Dennis.

What is an energy efficient home?

what is an energy efficient house

You are probably thinking all new homes are energy efficient right? Unfortunately the answer is no. Australia is well behind in terms of minimum building requirements for new homes to some other ‘extreme’ climates. There are places where things like double glazed windows are standard and have actually become cheaper than regular windows because of the economies of scale in production. There’s no reason why we can’t do that, but the good news is that we are improving and there are more people across Australia waking up to the fact that you don’t have to compromise in terms of beauty, functionality and cost when building a sustainable home.

So what is an energy efficient home? The concept of an energy efficient home is pretty simple – a home that uses less energy to run. The principles of energy efficient homes are also pretty basic; use smart orientation to take advantage of the warmth from the sun and cool from the breezes. Heavily insulate and seal gaps to provide a barrier to heat flow. Use natural resources to provide power (in our case that is mainly from the sun as wind is minimal). Lastly, heating and cooling chew up around 40% of energy use in the home, with proper orientation and insulation we can minimise the need for cooling in Canberra but most homes will still require heating which energy efficient heating/cooling, appliances and lighting important.

So now you know what an energy efficient home is, stay tuned as we go into more detail on the principles listed above. Cheers, Dennis.