Sustainably so

Getting the fundamentals right is the secret to any project. This is also true for eco-friendly jobs
Recycled materials were used extensivley throughtout the home.The ceiling, daylighting, floor, flooring, house, interior design, table, wood, black, gray
Recycled materials were used extensivley throughtout the home.The new layout has improved airflow through the home

Mention the phrase environmentally sustainable development (ESD), and images of photovoltaic cells and personal wind turbines spring to mind as well as their associated set-up costs.

However, it is possible to be environmentally responsible and not break the bank. All it takes is a shift in mind-set, says designer Cecile Bonnifait, co-founder of Wellington-based Atelierworkshop.

"Traditionally, homeowners have not been trained to think sustainably. This is changing but it has been a slow process."

On these pages, we ask our team of experts to give us the low-down on the ESD principles anyone can incorporate into their home renovation project, and in the process, hopefully encourage more homeowners to think sustainably.

How do homeowners assimilate environmentally responsible elements into their existing homes?

Improving the sustainability of existing housing involves addressing the areas of energy consumption, sustainable materials, handling of waste and water, increasing safety, and adaptation to climate change, says John Burgess, senior sustainability scientist with BRANZ, the building industry's independent information source.

"Energy consumption is perhaps the biggest factor facing homeowners. Surprisingly, there are a number of easily incorporated solutions to reducing consumption. Look at installing a concrete or tile floor in north-facing areas of your home to act as a heat sink."

For architect Matt Gibson, principal of Melbourne-based practice Matt Gibson A+D, passive technologies are the fundamentals of architectural design.


Previously, this home had minimal windows on its cottage, facade, home, house, real estate, siding, window
Previously, this home had minimal windows on its north face. A 3.6m extension - designed by Aterlierworkshop - incorporating full-height glazing, has opened the home to its bush setting. The addition of a concrete floor acting as a thermal mass has increased the home's overall level of comfort

"Architects have always known about these principles, but it has only been recently that exposed concrete, for example, has become a fashionable alternative to traditional floor coverings," he says.

How does a heat sink work, and what are the ongoing benefits of incorporating one into a renovation project?

Bonnifait says that when concrete is used in conjunction with glazing that allows ample direct sunlight to enter your home, the natural thermal mass properties of concrete allow it to store the accumulated heat, later releasing that heat as the outside temperature cools.

"The immediate benefit is an increased level of comfort as the interior temperature is kept constant. The longer term benefit is reduced energy consumption and cheaper electricity bills," she says.

How do you stop your house from overheating?

Gibson: "Again, it comes down to fundamentals. Eaves are the first line of defence in blocking out the high, summer sun, which you don't want, while allowing the lower, winter sun to warm your home. Likewise, adequate ventilation will ensure a constant movement of air through the space, lowering the internal temperature."

Isn't it more expensive to include ESD elements into a renovation project?

Bonnifait: "There is a misconception that all ESD principles come with an additional cost. Passive systems, such as those we've been discussing, have no associated technology and therefore, no set-up or ongoing costs. Active systems such as solar panels do have a cost involved, but with our temperate climate, there really is no pressing need to go active in a residential setting," she says.

The previously box-like kitchen area has been opened interior design, lobby, real estate, gray
The previously box-like kitchen area has been opened up, and windows at the roof line admit natural light and improved ventilation

A view shared by Gibson. "Other than paying for the materials, which you would be doing anyway, there is no extra cost for incorporating passive systems into a renovation project.

"As an added benefit, these are easily obtainable, and in most instances, locally produced materials. This means you're not paying importing costs, and you're reducing the carbon footprint of your renovation at the same time. Modern technology has also ensured that you needn't sacrifice good looks in order to achieve a sustainable home," he says.

How do you cut down on household water consumption?

Burgess: "Water can be harvested from the roof for use in the garden and toilet cisterns. Most tapware manufacturers these days offer low-flow options that not only conserve water, but come in a range of styles to suit any home."

What's the best way to manage organic waste?

Burgess: "Organic waste should be composted on site, or processed through a worm farm, with solid waste being minimised through the recycling of plastics, metals and paper.

"Implementing these practices will work to reduce your overall household expenses," says Burgess.

Aug 03, 2007
We know the specialists