Smart technology can reduce home running costs and even support sustainability. David Ponting points the way.
Through greater understanding of smart technologies, your home can be designed to function at lower annual running costs while providing a more sustainable and comfortable living environment. Given the accessibility of information about ‘technology based sustainability’, the first step is to educate yourself on how a home can become a smart living environment.
For many years, a significant proportion of the building industry has left environmental concerns to those with green ideals and a preference for organic food. However, rising awareness of energy costs and diminishing resources have prompted a collective rethink on the value of sustainability.
How we consume fuel, power and water have become major issues
Both governments and businesses are reacting to diminishing energy resources and the effects of climate change. Architects, designers, builders and suppliers are now placing more focus on sustainable energy use. Most are seeking to specify smarter products, streamlined design systems and refined construction processes that meet the rising demand for energy efficiency.
Sustainability as a long-term investment
During years of rampant consumerism, product longevity was largely overlooked. Replacement was a convenient if wasteful solution in case of failure or wear-out. However the usable life of materials and systems is crucial to sustainable design. The longer an item is serviceable, the less need there will be to expend further energy replacing it. We must recognise the value of spending a greater proportion of the initial budget on quality (materials, products and processes) and less on achieving basic volume. ‘Less is more’ may initially sound counter-intuitive but when considered in terms of living quality and return on investment, the benefits soon outweigh short-term savings.
Choosing carefully — selecting products and systems
When we look at the annual running costs of a home, a comparison can be made to those considered when buying a car. Fuel efficiency is usually paramount, along with the potential expenditure on fuel over the vehicle’s likely life cycle.
It’s only a small step to extend this analogy to home design. Designing an energy-efficient home involves balancing the effect of passive systems such as using solar heating, with more active, technology-based solutions. The effect of the whole must suit your needs within the home and also be within your budget. It must also be relevant to the local climate.
As keeper of the vision for your new house, it’s crucial that you drive this process. It is up to you to ensure the sustainability advantages that can be achieved are locked into the brief, and their ongoing importance clearly communicated to your design team and the various tradespeople involved in the construction process. Through your own research, you are sure to uncover other products that may be relevant, so it’s important to keep an open mind in the early stages.
Smart technology solutions
1. Double-glazing systems Windows allow significant thermal loss (or gains) and also cause condensation. Double- glazing systems incorporate an insulating cavity between the panes greatly reducing these issues.
2. Glazing Technology Specialised glass can improve building comfort and performance. For example: glass with ‘low-e’ coating enables short-wave solar energy to enter a building while preventing warm air from escaping.
3. Ground Source Energy A ground source heat pump transfers heat to or from the earth, extracting latent energy that exists below ground. This lessens the seasonal power requirements of heating and cooling systems.
4. Heat Pumps These enable mechanical extraction of latent heat energy from external air using temperature differentials. This can achieve cost-efficient heating or cooling depending on the season.
5. Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) This is a mechanical system that redistributes hot or cold air between home zones, improving climate control and reducing the energy requirements of heating and cooling.
6. In-slab Heating Underfloor radiant hot water pipes set within a concrete slab provide heating to the floor. This is a consistent and efficient heating method that takes advantage of structural thermal mass.
7. Long-life Lighting Low energy, long lasting light sources save on power usage and replacement costs. LED lights are a good example.
8. Solar Power Solar power systems use energy from the sun for domestic electricity supply and water heating. These are commonly recognised as roof-mounted cylinders, piping systems or photovoltaic panels.
9. Thermal Insulation Thermal insulation reduces unwanted heat loss or gain. It also achieves major reductions in the energy required to mechanically heat or cool interior spaces.
10. Thermally broken window joinery Non-conductive ‘thermal breaks’ integrated within aluminium joinery counter the direct thermal bridging that occurs between a window’s interior and exterior components.
11. Thermostatic and Time Control systems Time control mechanisms provide the ability to schedule operation of environmental control systems. Your heaters, pool pumps and other appliances can be turned off to minimise energy usage during periods where buildings are unoccupied.
12. Wind Turbine Power Residential scale windmills let you generate your own electrical power by harnessing wind energy.
Self-education is vital
We cannot afford to create new buildings that become obsolete within a matter of decades. A forward thinking design process is essential to achieving a successful long-term result. There are many websites providing impartial information and others by companies promoting the products and services they offer. It is important to spend the time researching before you start building. Following are some industry-based information resources: