Orientation matters!

With a low average energy use of under 5 kWh/day, Ewan Regazzo shares the lessons he and his family have learnt from building a new energy-efficient home on a budget.

OUT walking the dog one day in my local area—a relatively modern and well-established suburb in Maitland, near Newcastle in NSW—I stumbled across a small, secluded cul-de-sac that contained a huge (1117 m2) vacant block.

It appeared to be one of the few blocks remaining in the suburb and the faded and forlorn ‘for sale’ sign at the front, barely visible among the overgrowth, indicated it was still available.

Perhaps it wasn’t popular because of the site: the land was south-facing and fairly steep and narrow at the front, with a softer rise to the wider rear section. Further research showed it had a development application in with council for two narrow subdivisions, each with a small three-bedroom house, and I decided to invest with the idea of building two houses on the site, one for myself.

At that time I was living in a rental property which, although fairly modern, was a poor example of house design.

The rental house was unbearably hot in summer; aligned east/west, the lounge room was uninhabitable come afternoon.

In winter it would get down to 3 °C in the master bedroom and the gas heating in the open-plan living area provided little comfort for the financial outlay. In Maitland’s warm temperate climate, with hot summers and mild winters, passive solar design should work well, but it seemed this 15-year-old house had been built prior to the discovery of insulation and decent solar orientation!

Passive solar design was something I had been interested in for some time. I first came across ReNew way back in 1995, and had pored over copies of Owner Builder magazine, and had even investigated what I needed to do to be an owner-builder myself.

Full-time work meant owner-building wasn’t feasible, so I began investigating local builders to see what was available. I visited home display centres, walking through house after house and scrutinising plans for something that would work on my block. I ended up despondent: few designs considered site orientation and few builders were prepared to depart from a rigid formula that allowed for a quick, low-cost build at the cost of long-term efficient energy use.

Read the full article in ReNew 141.