Building the Body: 2008 - Winter

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Convection currents are created when warmer air rises to the ceiling and air cooled by windows and external walls is drawn back along the floor to the heat source. With careful design, convective air movement can be used to great benefit but with poor design can be a major source of thermal discomfort. Analyse warm air flows by visualising a helium filled balloon riding the thermal currents. Where would it go? Where would it be trapped?

Cool air flows are drawn by gravity and fall towards the lower levels of your rooms — use incense sticks to track air flows in your existing home. Preventing heat loss is an essential component of efficient home design in any climate. It is even more critical in passive solar design as the primary heat source is only available during the day. The building fabric must retain energy collected during the day for up to 16 hours and considerably longer in cloudy weather.

To achieve this, pay careful attention to each of the following factors:. In terms of energy efficiency, glazing is a critical element of the building envelope, transferring both radiant and conducted heat. In insulated buildings it is where most heat is lost and gained. Daytime heat gain must be balanced against night-time heat loss when selecting glazing and sizing windows. In winter, there are five hours or less of solar heat gain but 19 or more hours of night-time heat loss. Low conductivity or U-value e. Window frames also conduct heat.

Use timber, PVC or thermally separated metal window frames in cooler climates and hotter climates where air conditioning is used. Views are an important consideration and are often the cause of over-glazing or inappropriate orientation and shading. Plan carefully, especially for shading and advanced glazing options, to capitalise on views without decreasing energy efficiency. There are many ways to reduce heat loss through glazing see Glazing. High insulation levels are essential in passive solar houses. To prevent heat loss, place most of the insulation next to the ceiling as this is where the greatest temperature control is required.

In cool climates insulate the underside of suspended timber floors and suspended concrete slabs. Insulate the edges of ground slabs. Insulation is not required beneath earth-coupled concrete slabs; however, installation may be desirable when groundwater is present see Insulation installation.

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Waffle pod construction helps to insulate under slabs. Insulation levels in walls are often limited by cavity or frame width.

In cold climates, alternative wall construction systems that allow higher insulation levels are recommended see Lightweight framing. Insulation is still required in most instances; strawbale walls are an exception as they have a high insulation value see Thermal mass; Construction systems. Internal walls and floors between heating and non-heating zones can be insulated to minimise heat loss and help reduce noise.

Some heat always escapes into the roof space through your insulation. As discussed earlier, heat flow through any building element is directly proportional to the temperature differential on either side. Sealed roof spaces are warmer and this reduces the differential and increases the effectiveness of your insulation in the cooler months. Roof spaces should be able to be ventilated in summer — often best achieved with thermostat controlled, self-sealing exhaust fans in gables or ridges that can be switched off in winter.

When activated in summer, the fan only operates when the roof space is warmer than the outside air see Passive cooling. Whirly bird roof ventilators are less effective in mixed heating and cooling climates because most are unable to be sealed in winter and automated in summer.

Passive solar heating

It is important to vent exhaust fans and range hoods to the outside in all cases to avoid condensation and fire risk from the build-up of cooking by-products. The ratio of solar exposed glass to exposed thermal mass in a room is critical and varies significantly between climates and designs. This is due to variations in diurnal and climatic temperature ranges see Design for climate; Thermal mass. Too much thermal mass for the available solar heat input creates a heat sink and increases auxiliary heating needs.

Insufficient thermal mass causes daytime overheating and rapid heat loss at night. The amount of thermal mass used should be proportional to the diurnal temperature range. Higher diurnal ranges inland require more mass; lower diurnal ranges coastal require less. Consider climate warming when making decisions.


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Double glazing with heavy drapes and pelmets or equivalent window coverings is highly desirable in cool and cold climates. In cooling climates with minor heating requirements e. Brisbane thermal mass levels are dependent on the diurnal range as above but, additionally, the cooling effect of earth-coupling of concrete slabs where achievable can provide significant benefits.

Slab-on-ground construction is ideal provided that slabs are protected from summer heating and contact with sunlight. Detailed analysis of glass to mass ratios is complex. House energy rating software such as that developed by the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme NatHERS can simulate the interaction of the complex range of variables in any design for 69 different Australian climate zones.

Passive solar heating | YourHome

Seek advice from an assessor accredited by the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors or the Building Designers Association of Victoria, who is skilled in using the software in non-rating mode see Thermal mass. Airlocks at all frequently used external openings include wood storage areas if wood heating is used are essential in cool and cold climates, preventing heat loss and draughts.

For efficient use of space, airlocks can be double purpose rooms: laundries, mud rooms and attached garages are excellent functional airlocks. Main entry airlocks can include storage spaces for coats, hats, boots and a small bench. Allow sufficient space between doors so that closing the outer door before opening the inner door or vice versa can be done easily. Inadequate space often leads to inner doors being left open. Avoid using sliding doors in airlocks.

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Always design doors to blow closed if left open in strong winds, or consider using spring closers on external doors. Passive heating in renovations is examined in much greater detail in Renovations and additions. The following summary lists key additional issues to consider when applying passive solar principles. Existing brick homes often have adequate thermal mass. To improve passive heating in these homes, insulate external cavity walls, ensure that thermal mass is balanced by increased solar access, and design openings and convective flow paths to ensure that additional solar gains are distributed effectively within the home.

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Existing lightweight homes including brick veneer lack thermal mass. It can be simply and cost effectively added with water-filled containers and phase change materials see Thermal mass. Opportunities for improving or adding passive solar design features when renovating an existing home include the following:.

Contact your state, territory or local government for further information on passive design considerations for your climate. Australian earth-covered and green roof building, 3rd edn. Interactive Publications, Wynnum, Qld. Cole, G. Residential passive solar design. Environment design guide, GEN Australian Institute of Architects, Melbourne. Department of Housing and Regional Development. AGPS, Canberra. Energy use in the Australian residential sector — Hollo, N. Warm house cool house: inspirational designs for low-energy housing, 2nd edn. Wrigley, D.

Making your home sustainable: a guide to retrofitting, rev. Scribe Publications, Brunswick, Vic.