Danielle McCarthy

Home & Garden

Why home orientation is important when building a house

Why home orientation is important when building a house

Michael Kobi is passionate about DIY, gardening and interior design. He loves bringing the practical and beautiful together in one design. You can follow him on Twitter at @kobibuilds

Let’s face it, building a home can be a fairly stressful project. Especially if you’re not a building professional, some of the finer details can go over your head. House orientation for example is an important process to consider when building a home, and though it may sound foreign right now, there are ways for you to learn more about it and use it to your advantage.

House orientation is an element of passive design. It involves positioning the living rooms and windows of a building based on seasonal variations in order to reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems.

The Australian climate places a lot of demand on the design of a home. From the choice of frame to the use of non-combustible materials in bushfire prone areas, the climate you plan to live in will dictate the direction of your design. Different climates require different design strategies to create the most comfortable living conditions. It’s important to design your home for the entire year, not just one season.

Working with the climate

According to the Australian Government, roughly 40% of household energy is used for heating and cooling. However in a well oriented house, the sun can be used to heat the home during winter and can be blocked out during summer to help cool the home. In mixed climates, such as Australia, where some areas can reach very high temperatures in summer, while other areas can reach freezing temperatures during winter, passive design is suitable for both cooling and heating are necessary.

In warm climates with mild winters, north of Australia, shading from trees and neighbouring buildings can both block sun from entering the home through windows, and act as a tunnel for cool breezes. However, if the winters are cold, such as in Melbourne and Hobart, deciduous plants should be used so as to allow sunlight to enter the home during the cooler months when the leaves have fallen off.

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The Orientation

The direction that a home faces, particularly the windows of the home, can make a significant difference to the amount of heat entering the home. It’s often an aspect that’s overlooked by real estate agents and home buyers, so it’s important that you know what to look for.

1. Northern orientation

In Australia, houses with a northern orientation are ideal as you’re able to utilise the sun to heat your home in winter, while also having the option to block sunlight in summer. North facing walls and windows receive more solar radiation during winter than in summer because the sun shines at a downward 67 degree angle during summer, and at 32 degrees in winter. This means that if your windows face north, you can use eaves to shade them during summer, while still allowing sun to enter during winter. Vertical shades are the best option for this as they can be used to ventilate the home and allow sunlight in while also blocking out the heat from any sun that is penetrating the windows during summer.

2. Variations on north

In some climates, it can be ideal for the orientation to be slightly towards the east or the west. In cold climates lower in Australia, orientations west of north can increase heat gains using the afternoon sun, while orientations east of north can warm the house in the morning.

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3. East orientation

If your house faces east, or your block of land only allows you to build facing east, there are things you can do to improve its design. East facing homes enjoy full morning sun, however the house is left cold in the afternoon and evening, while in summer, the mornings can be uncomfortably warm. You should aim to keep windows small and well shaded using trees, shades and awnings, or by installing windows with high performance glazing.

4. South orientation

South facing windows don’t receive any direct sunlight in winter and only late afternoon and early morning sunlight during summer. To avoid having a dark, cold home, consider bringing in light from other places such as through skylights. Mirrors or reflective paint and tiles can also be used to reflect sunlight into dark rooms and it’s best to double glaze your windows for heat retention.

5. West orientation

West facing houses can be very unpleasant during summer due to the afternoon sun entering the house at nearly horizontal angles. This is difficult to manage with awnings and shades as they are designed to block sunlight entering from higher angles. A house with a western orientation should be avoided, however if it’s your only option then consider positioning the garage at the western side of the property to create shading for the house, and use smaller windows with tree shading to reduce heat gain.

Designing your home

Whether you’re about to buy a property, already own one, or are building, orientation should be on your list of considerations. Many open houses will be during the best time of the day for sunlight and temperature so don’t be fooled and make sure to do your research. A comfortable home is important to all of us and if it can be achieved without needing to use air conditioning and fans, you will benefit financially in the long run.

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