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Sustainable Dream Home

Eco Living Magazine presents:

Heading: Sustainable Dream Home

Building and renovating an energy efficient home.

By Libe Chacos

Even Hobart in Tasmania, which has the lowest level of sun of all of Australia’s capital cities, has more than double the average sun hours that much of Germany has, whose long term goal is for a quarter of their electricity to be solar generated.

Intro: Imagine living in a home that stays between 16-24°C all year round and paying just $2 per day for all your heating and cooling costs.  It is easier than you think… but only after you abandon what most people ‘know’ about energy efficient and sustainable homes and follow the simple steps that work 100% of the time, in every style of home, and in every climate.

Ordinary people in ‘apparently ordinary’ homes across the country have already cut 41% and more off their electricity bills, 56% off their homes CO2 emissions, and saved hundreds of litres of water every day. We are all feeling the pressure: electricity prices are going up; petrol prices are going up – add interest rate pressure to that. Your dream home has a place in all of this. This is how.

Maybe you have already read some books, done some surfing on the internet and gone to sites that claim they can help you save water and electricity… Then they tell you to turn the power point off at the wall when you have finished watching TV and have 4 minute showers.

Well those changes are valid and do work, but there is definitely more to it than that. Besides, if you are not one of those people who is able to enjoy a massage every week or so, then a 15 minute shower may be your only escape from the kids, work and stress of every day life.

I’m sure that you are probably aware of some of the obvious fundamentals of energy efficient housing:

P   Lots of Windows to let the sun in to warm you up in winter

P   Insulate the walls and ceilings

P   Use energy efficient appliances

But there are houses being built like this all across the country, and they simply aren’t comfortable to live in. They still need lots of heating and cooling. So what’s the answer then? How do you create a home that is energy efficient, affordable, and comfortable; and one that you can happily have a guilt free spa in?

By following fundamentals and applying them where it counts the most in your home. Though people already follow these principles, but so many don’t  – next time you go for a walk around your neighbourhood, just have a look at how many solar hot water panels there are on the roof tops. Most people know that solar hot water is good for the environment and saves energy. Around 30% of the average Australian electricity bill is taken up by heating your hot water. New evacuated tube solar hot water systems will save around 70% of those costs and more for most Australians.

Now if you live in the shade of a neighbouring building or hill side then you can still save up to 75% off your hot water bills with another great Australian invention: The heat pump hot water system. They work like a reverse cycle air conditioner, and save heaps of energy on your hot water bills.  There are a range of brands to choose from, with two options being from Quantum and Siddons. Although, generally speaking the most effective savings in CO2 emissions are gained with a solar hot water system with a gas back up (for when the sun doesn’t shine). These types of savings will literally put money back into your hip pocket. If you invest in the right unit, it will work financially for you as well as environmentally. I have no interest in selling you a particular model… I’m just sharing what I’ve learnt. I just want you to save money and have a lighter eco footprint.

Did you know that Melbourne gets as much sunshine as the south of Spain and parts of Northern Africa? And most of the country receives more sunshine than Melbourne. Solar power is here now and readily available. We know it works and you can simply buy and have installed a ‘plug and play’ system and continue on with your life as though nothing has changed. There are literally thousands of houses across Australia that are totally solar powered.

What are Photovoltaics?

There is a difference between solar hot water systems and solar power panels – photovoltaics. Put simply, a photovoltaic is a material that is capable of generating electricity when exposed to light.

Is there enough sunshine?

In less than 2 hours of daylight the sun provides us with the amount of energy that is consumed by the entire population of the planet in one year. Even Hobart in Tasmania, which has the lowest level of sun of all of Australia’s capital cities, has more than double the average sun hours that much of Germany has, whose long term goal is for a quarter of their electricity to be solar generated.

Is it really cost effective?

There are four major contributing factors to cost effective solar power: How much sun you receive, the cost of the solar power system, the price you pay for electricity and how much electricity you use.

“…with this new $8,000 rebate when you do the sums, it turns out that if you’re in Alice Springs, Darwin and Perth, you are now economically advised to go and get a solar panel, because the price of electricity from your solar panel will be comparable with the daytime retail electricity price.” Professor Andrew Blakers, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, at the ANU in Canberra.

Perth receives a similar amount of sun hours to Adelaide, Sydney and cost effective, Brisbane; and Canberra is not far behind. Professor Blakers made these calculations before the latest hikes in electricity prices, so the costs are even more favourable now for more of Australia.

The key to the system being cost effective is to ensure that your home is designed and built to be energy efficient. To make solar power more cost effective for your home use natural gas for cooking; solar (including heat pump) hot water systems; passive solar designs and insulation for heating and cooling and an energy efficient fridge. These practices will make the initial cost of your photovoltaic system much more manageable and your return on investment healthier.

To make your home truly sustainable with solar power the following steps will help:

When you are replacing your appliances, choose energy efficient ones.

Replace your light globes with compact fluorescents

Replacing hot water systems with solar or heat pump hot water units.

Improve your insulation and windows

Use skylights effectively to warm and cool your home.

Then you can more cost effectively add photovoltaics to your home and get a real return on your dollar.

What about saving water?

You know the story: “we love a sunburnt country… droughts and flooding plains…” We know that we live in the driest inhabited continent on the planet. And we know that when it rains – it pours. This is not new information; but if you get the chance to have a look at the Bureau of Meteorology website statistics for your area, you’ll likely see some worrying signs for rainfall trends. As a result in many areas it is now mandatory to include a rain water tank when you build a new home. But how big should it be and what else can you do?

Reduce; Reuse; Recycle. Always the best place to start is to reduce. You’ve seen the ads on TV, but they don’t really explain why in this order. The good thing about water is that reusing is recycling and it is safe and easy to do.

Nearly half of all water consumed in the home is used in the bathroom. 20% of that water is literally flushed down the toilet. Now if you’re unsure where to invest money in the current climate here’s a good idea for a tax free return on your investment:

It is now mandatory that every tap sold in Australia is water saving. By buying more water-efficient products, you can save money on water and electricity bills and help the environment. Look for a product that has a high star rating – the more stars, the more water efficient the product. A standard 3-star rated showerhead can save the average home $150 a year in water bills and can be purchased for as little as $50. I’m going to say it again: If you invest your money in the right place to be sustainable and eco-friendly – you will get a financial benefit.

Saving water in the shower…

Showerheads with a 3-star rating use no more than 9 litres of water per minute, while old style showerheads use 15 – 20 litres per minute. If you shower for ten minutes, a water efficient showerhead can save up to 100 litres of water for each shower or up to 36,000 litres of water per person per year. With that amount of water saving you can comfortably have a guilt free spa bath! You can see how it starts to add up. OK we’ve reduced our consumption with water saving showerheads and dual flush toilets.

Now to reuse and recycle – the first step is a water tank. You will collect 1 litre of water for every square metre of roof area every time 1mm of rain falls on your roof. For example, if your home is 200m² and you get 10mm of rain overnight, your tank will catch 2000 litres of water. If you get 60mm of rain in a month then you will capture 12,000 litres (60mm x 200m2). What most people tend to forget is that we want the water more when it’s not raining, so if you have a rainwater tank you want to make sure it can store enough water for a dry spell.

On average, people use around 200L of water a day at home. For a family of four, that’s 800 litres of water a day. If you want to be self sufficient in your water supply, and it doesn’t rain for 30 days at your place then you need 4 x 200 x 30 (4 people x 200 litres x 30 days) = 24,000 litres of storage capacity.

The good news is you can safely recycle most of the water that gets used at home and put it to good use. An easy way to save water is to recycle it. Statistics tell us that in the average urban home we use 25% of our water on the garden. If you water your garden with a sprinkler for just one hour that’s as much as 1000 litres of water! A grey water system will recycle water from your shower (or spa!).  Attaching a grey water system to your shower, laundry tub or spa can be a great way to recycle – generate sufficient water supply for gardens, a great vegie patch, whatever water restriction levels apply! Grey water systems can be purchased from most plumbing stores. Check with your local council to confirm what requirements need to be met and systems should be installed by a licensed plumber.

So by taking the first step and reducing the amount of water you use – by installing water saving taps, dual flush toilets, using drip irrigation instead of hoses, watering the lawn at the right time of day so you don’t lose half to evaporation – you dramatically lessen the water storage requirements to be self sufficient, so you can invest in a smaller rainwater tank to get the same outcome. All without a change in lifestyle.

All it requires is a few subtle changes: the differences that make the difference. The Master Builders Association research tells us that buildings in Australia are responsible for 42% of our emissions. We know we all have a responsibility to save water and reduce our emissions. What you haven’t been told up till now is how easy it is to do!  (Libe Chacos has over 18 years experience in the sustainable building industry and produces manuals on the best way to build a sustainable dream home. See book reviews page 106-8 for more info on these guides).

Breakout box:

Heading: Tips for a happy, healthy hot tub…

  1. Go for an ‘all-in-one’ installation – these have the heater and pump built in under the spa. This shortens the distance the water has to travel, which means that the water stays warmer and takes less gas to keep it at the desired temperature. Better for the environment and easier on the wallet. They are much easier to install and maintain too.
  2. If you are having the heater/pump separate, try and have the water pipes insulated. If they pass through the ground the water will lose a lot of heat, making the unit less efficient and more expensive to run.
  3. Use your hot tub daily? Make sure you keep the cover on as this helps the water stay warm and is quicker to heat up next time you use it.
  4. If your spa is under a roof, consider installing a water tank. You can use this to refill or top up the hot tub (and water the garden) instead of using the mains water.
  5. Avoid showering before getting in the spa – the soap residue on your skin (and bathing suit) can make the water ‘frothy’ and affect the chemical balance.
  6. Try using a natural product to clean your spa to avoid the weekly pH tests and exposure to noxious chemicals. You won’t have wash to off that nasty chlorine afterwards. It’s just like having a nice hot bath and saves you water.
  7. If your hot tub is a few years old, it’s important to flush out your pumps plumbing as there can be chemical & mineral build up. Chose a natural spa treatment; this can eliminate this clogging in your pipes.
  8. Natural products are a great alternative to harsh chemicals – there is less maintenance involved and you can dump the water on your lawn or garden. Chemicals can kill your grass or plants, and definitely can’t be used on a veggie patch. This means it has to go down the drain – what a waste!
  9. Live in a sunny area like Queensland? Consider solar hot water heating for your hot tub. This is a virtually ‘free’ way to heat your water & will keep it nice and toasty all year round.

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Eco Living Health Aware is the freshest holistic health and eco magazine now currently available in Australia in print.

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In issue 100, currently onsale, we feature Anthony Ackroyd and the power of laughter; Bernie Prior and the dance of love on four legs; building your sustainable dream home with Libe Chacos; spas and retreats are the new holiday; and Wild Borneo – an eco adventure. Great recipes for delicious and healthy food, discover organic wine and regionalism, and get the low down on the poisons in our food chain.

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