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Building

At home, climate change, energy, nature

By Andrew Baker,  Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)

Building. I said I would never do it. Instead I preferred to avoid it and all the stress that goes with it. But, after finding the perfect block to raise our young family, here we are.

Though in planning for our house my wife, Heidi, and I quickly discovered that most builders completely ignore the basic principles of orientation and passive heating and cooling. So being a big investment, a little research was required. What I learned was the principles for an efficient home are actually very straight forward and easy to understand. Things, like north facing windows which become fully shaded in summer but fully lit by the sun in winter, keeping main living areas away from the western edge of the house as they get baked in summer, minimizing the number of southern and western windows and allowing the sun to hit a masonry floor like tiles or slate which heat up and store energy to be released at night. An efficient home appears to be a marriage of all these elements working together.

There is also embodied energy to consider. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by the processes of mining, manufacturing, transporting and delivering a material. This all makes up the carbon footprint of the home. There is no way around it, building generates a lot of carbon emissions.

With our climate heading the way it is, this issue still weighs on my mind. So how do you reduce the embodied energy of your new home? By avoiding bricks, steel, plastic and especially concrete wherever possible and replacing it with good ol’ timber. It’s tried and tested, it is renewable and it stores carbon which has been captured from the atmosphere. Also, strangely enough, if you talk to a CFA member they will even tell you it is one of the most fire resistant materials you can build with. Where steel can buckle or twist and concrete just crumbles.  So for us it is a timber floor, timber frame and beautiful contemporary weatherboards which are constructed from reconstituted forestry waste. The resulting construction has unintentionally become a talking point of nearby residents who are surprised to hear we get all this for the price of a conventional brick house.