Archive for March, 2006

Dream block, Lake Macquarie, Australia

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

View 2

Not a bad view, is it? Unfortunately the view here is south-facing and we want to build a house that is energy efficient and takes advantage of passive solar techniques (among others), so we’re facing the wrong way! The block is also long and narrow in the north-south direction. Chris had already designed and built our current north-facing house (the ideal orientation in the Southern hemisphere) before we met. It is the first house that I have lived in that aimed to utilise passive solar techniques for energy efficient heating and cooling. I have been very impressed with the thermal comfort achieved for most of the year, compared to any other house I have lived in, although improvements could be made to make it even better. Since acquiring the property above, which will be a knock-down-rebuild job, I have developed a slightly rabid interest in environmentally friendly housing and ways to achieve good thermal comfort year round without breaking the bank. Chris is the practical half of the duo – he likes to point out why some of my ideas aren’t entirely feasible. He’s also the “big picture” person while I am interested in the minutiae – like adequate storage, practical bathroom, kitchen and laundry layouts and appropriate placement of the clothes line (not in the shade on the opposite side of the house from the laundry!).

Our challenge has been to design a practical house to suit our needs (we are only two plus a cat) that will maximise the view to the south, utilise northern solar gain, provide maximum passive summer cooling, which we have come to believe is more important than the winter heating issue, and not over-capitalise.

There is a lot of information out there about the basic techniques of energy-efficient house design, passive solar technology, etc, etc. There are even suggested solutioins if your orientation is not ideal – west or east facing for example. Unfortunately there is nothing that tells you how to have your cake and eat it too with a south facing building block in the southern hemisphere! Ideally you want to minimise south-facing glazing in this situation and maximise the glazing to the north, combined with other techniques like appropriate thermal mass, insulation and good ventilation. All excellent, apart from minimising south glazing when you have a view to die for in that direction!

Anyway, the idea of this blog is to work through our planning and design process, mostly in the hope that this will make it clearer to us, but also with the hope that others may have faced similar challenges and perhaps thought of ways of approaching this type of problem.

About SolarDreamHouse

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

Stunning 180 degree views over Lake Macquarie from high above! Perfect place to build your dream home!

Ok, enough of the real-estate agent hype – it’s a great location but the shape and orientation of the block doesn’t make for easy house design. It’s narrow, and the view is to the south (for readers in the Northern hemisphere that may sound ideal but here in Australia North-facing is good!). So how do we design a house to meet our requirements:

  • Take full advantage of the views
  • Minimal water usage (rain water tanks, grey-water recycling?)
  • Minimal power usage through good insulation, ventilation,  passive-solar gain and high thermal mass
  • ie. general solar and thermal efficiency for comfort without ducted reverse-cycle air-conditioning!
  • Photo-voltaic solar system? It’s under consideration but cost will be an issue, because…
  • We want all this without breaking the bank!

Using the WordPress blog format we aim to record the process of designing and building our new house, in hopes that by explaining our reasoning here we will understand it better ourselves and make fewer mistakes. And ideally you, gentle reader, will give us your feedback and comments to help us even further!

If you enjoy reading about our progress and perhaps find this useful in your own projects, please register and leave a comment.


Chris and Fiona

The south-east corner cut-off design developed

Saturday, March 11th, 2006

11 Mar 06 designThe south-east corner cut-off design developed internally while keeping the same outline.

Upstairs the ensuite is looking good. downstairs we move the 4th bedroom to the north side with the bathroom in the middle of the east side (this loses the view from bed 4, but does make for a neater design overall).

Still thinking…

Both south corners cut off…

Monday, March 6th, 2006

6 Mar 2006 designStill playing with alternative layouts – what if both South-east and South-west corners are cut off?

In effect the living areas are now facing South-west. One problem is that we now have exposure to western sunlight – potentially a serious problem in Summer.

Worth thinking about but it seems that this one may not be worth pursuing…

South-east corner cut-off design

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

5 Mar 2005 designAn alternative and perhaps more practical way to redistribute the spaces. By cutting off the south-east corner we provide extra views (including lake views to all 4 bedrooms) and a better flow around the living areas…

Bed 4 has been cut off from the private bathroom access.

The central core acts as sun-trap and ventilation tower. The thermal mass wall (shown in red) accepts direct solar gain and heats the surrounding rooms.

Extended south-west corner design

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

4 March 2006 designTrying to make a little more space by extending the living area outwards… The master bedroom now has a “retreat”. Not sure whether we really need this (or the extra space).

The central core acts as sun-trap and ventilation tower. The thermal mass wall (shown in red) accepts direct solar gain and heats the surrounding rooms.