Cluster services together, especially hot water so that the pipes don't
have far to go to deliver the water. This cuts down on heat loss, original
installation costs, and repair & maintenance costs.
Face main windows north (in the southern hemisphere) to make maximum use
of the sun for lighting and heating.
Use wherever possible, heat-retaining building materials, and include large
heat sinks in your design to store maximum heat over long periods. This
is known as increasing your house's thermal inertia. An indoor swimming
pool makes excellent energy sense. Water has an extremely high heat storage
capacity. Some use has been made of bottles filled with water being built
into walls. This can look quite pretty, with the light shining through
the water-filled bottles, and also stores a large amount of heat that is
released gradually through the night and succeeding days. In hot climates bottle walls and other thermal sinks would be kept out of the sun and exposed to night air so that during the day they can keep the house cool.
Use passive heating and cooling techniques, with convection and sensible
placement of vents, in combination with solar heating/radiative cooling
|Passive solar heating using a dark surface behind
glass to absorb sunlight and heat air which rises convectively into the
room. Flow is controlled by vents at top and bottom which can be opened
and closed automatically so that you would have a warm home to return to
even if you spent some time away.
||A conservatory can heat air too, though not as efficiently,
but has the advantage of being able to supply vegetables and scented plants
and flowers in unfavorable climates. It will also help to keep the air
from drying out too much. Plants give the air a pleasant alive quality.
Stand in a rainforest and savour the air and you will see what I mean.
Heat can be stored for later use. The most efficient storage tank would
be an indoor swimming pool, but simple, cheap heat storage tanks can be
made out of anything that has a high thermal mass. Venting air through
a tank of river stones is one solution I have heard of (though, I wonder
if its efficiency might be reduced over time by cobwebs and dust).
|In climates where daytime is hot and night time very
cold, heat from the day can be kept in a heat storage tank and then used
to warm the house during the night.
Solar electicity, after the initial expenditure, is power for nothing.
Solar electric panels have some drawbacks though: they need to be cleaned
from time to time to maintain their efficiency, they are prone to hailstorms
and vandalism, and you need to either use DC (direct current) equipment
or use an inverter to convert the DC to AC (alternating current). Inverters
are inefficient though, so you are best off to use DC wherever you can.
Many companies make appliances for boats and caravans that use DC. You
will need batteries to store power so that it can be used on dull days
and night time. Batteries can be quite expensive and do not last forever,
even if rechargeable. You have to be extremely careful in the charge/discharge
cycle of NiCad batteries otherwise their lives are terribly shortened.
Ordinary lead-acid batteries, as used in cars, are the cheapest for initial
outlay, and I think most battery manufacturers recycle the lead in old
batteries so they don't pose the environmental problem they once did. The
most efficient electric lights are fluorescent lights, but unfortunately
they require AC.
Heat pumps have the extraordinary quality that they actually deliver more
energy than is used to power them, but have the drawback that because they
use moving parts and compressible gasses they will always require maintenance.
It is possible to minimise time between breakdowns by using over-engineered
equipment, however they are expensive. Every home already has a heat pump:
they are commonly used to move heat from inside a refrigerator to outside
it. I read some time back of a guy who heated his floors with heat pumped
from the iced-over river near his home. One neat trick is to power a heat
pump using heat. When I was a kid, a lot of fridges were powered by small
kerosene flames. I was intrigued by the concept of using heat to produce
Even if you have tank water you will need to pump water. The most incredible
way of pumping water that I have ever heard of uses a wonderful old device
called a hydraulic ram (see http://www.lifewater.ca/ram_pump.htm).
It pumps water using only the pressure of the water itself falling a small
distance, and has one moving part. It is quiet, very low maintenance and
requires no fuel. It doesn't pump large quantities fast, but works tirelessly
as long as there is water to pump.
Care taken in initial design can lower building and insulation costs by
using a good volume to surface area ratio. By lowering the surface area
of the building as much as possible you expose as little as possible to
the outside thereby lessening your insulation requirements. Also this has
the effect of using less building materials. Think of it this way: each
wall that gets shared with another room is one less wall that needs to
Domes use less materials than straight-walled structures but are difficult
to seal, and most furniture is made for straight walls. Cube-like double
storey houses are efficient thermally and for material use, but are not
good to grow old in, as stairs become a major problem in old age.
Summer shade can be enhanced using deciduous plants like grape vines on a verandah. Deciduous plants drop their leaves in the winter months allowing heat through to the house when it is needed most.
Other plants can be useful such as ivy, which is fire-resistant and can be used to afford some protection against fire.
Building with wood is inviting disaster -- it is like the witch in Hansel and Gretel who built her house of gingerbread. Wood is made up of sugar and alcohols (cellulose is a long chain sugar and lignin is a polymer of aromatic alcohols). It stores large amounts of energy and you must keep it safe from animals and plants that would like to consume it, and fire which is basically the energy releasing itself. Wood is not a thermally efficient material for building anyway -- much higher thermal inertia is gained by rock, concrete, metal, earth, and water. However one form of wood is very useful: cork. It not only makes beautiful floor tiles but is an excellent insulator not only of heat but also sound. Wood is undeniably beautiful though, so decorative use of it does make good sense. Bear in mind though, that it is like building with explosive -- if ignited it can be a death-trap.
Underground building has a number of fantastic advantages.
Underground building is not what it sounds like. The house is positioned similar to a normal house, usually on a hillside, but uses back-filling, usually covering the roof with excavated earth too. Careful use is made of insulation to make the house feel like it is at 6 or 10 feet below the surface of the ground. At that depth the temperature of the ground hardly changes year-round, and once you warm it, the house will stay at that temperature for days on end.
- it is thermally extremely efficient
- makes a home very safe from bushfires
- more secure from burglary
- gives the best sound insulation possible
- most underground houses purposely use windows and skylights more effectively than normal houses and so are much better lit than most homes
- they have few outside walls and so require little or no exterior maintenance
- you get double use of the area covered by your house, which becomes especially important on small blocks (for instance, if the house covers half the area of your land then by building underground you effectively double the size of your property)
- if many people did this I can imagine that what is currently ugly suburbia would become more like parkland
Water consumption can be a major problem in Australia, the driest continent. Our water utilities have now been sold off to private companies so we can't expect the prices to stay low. One of the most wasteful items in the house is the flushing toilet. Both the water and the human waste are discarded! Not only that, but we pay for the privelege of using it to cause ecological catastrophes. There is a Swedish design of composting toilet which requires no water, is completely safe, and lets you use the odorless, powdery, dry compost later in the garden. It is basically 2 large bins that get swapped each 6 months. In practice you don't move the bins but simply use the other toilet.
Layout of the house is quite important. Kitchens, for instance, should have only one doorway. It is important that the kitchen doesn't get through traffic. It is bad enough dealing with adults getting in the way while food preparation is underway, but it is positively dangerous if children are involved. You don't want small children or pets walking through the kitchen on their way to somewhere else when you are handling a large pot of boiling water on the stove. Speaking of the kitchen, benchtops need to be near the washing-up basin and the stove. Bench-top illumination is very important, as is handy access to power points. The pantry and fridge must be away from the sun. It is nice to make the view from the kitchen one of the most pleasant in the house as so much time is spent there. If you own a dishwasher (they are extremely wasteful of water and energy) then make sure it is under one of the benches or the sink so that you don't have to carry dishes far.
The bedroom should be on the eastern side of the house to get the early morning sun. The lounge should be at the other end of the house to the bedroom(s) so that entertainment doesn't interfere with sleep. For similar reasons an office should be located away from sleeping quarters, though it may be sensible to have a bed handy to the office so that long working hours don't disturb your partner.
Open fireplaces, though romantic and comforting, are quite wasteful as
most of their heat goes up the chimney. There have been many efforts to
improve their efficiency, but the most efficient way of burning wood is
inside an enclosed box like the so-called Franklin stoves. Even so, they
are polluting and wasteful, and the chimney needs to be cleaned regularly,
as slow-burning stoves build up soot and creosote on the inner walls of
the chimney pipe. That build-up is flammable and can itself catch fire.
This danger can be minimised by running the fire very hot from time to
time to burn off the buildup before it reaches dangerous levels.
Incredibly, most homes use taps that require regular replacement of washers in order to fix leaks, in spite of the fact that laboratory equipment has used taps without washers for centuries. Gas is much more difficult to seal in than water, yet gas fittings in the home require no washers. Taps that need washers are more than just an annoyance; they cost time and money, and waste water. A dripping tap that drips once a second pours more than 60 litres of water down the drain in a week, adding almost 800 litres to your quarterly water bill. If you are fortunate enough to use tank water this becomes an intolerable waste.