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Improving the energy efficiency of buildings

Did you know buildings produce almost a quarter of Australia’s carbon emissions? Recent figures also show that 28% of all global carbon emissions come from the energy we use to heat, cool and light the built environment. 


While these figures are confronting, they highlight an opportunity for the construction industry to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and to contribute to a more sustainable future. Whether you are completing a new build or retrofitting an existing structure, these tips can help to improve the energy efficiency of your next building project. 


Energy efficient design principles 


Energy efficient design principles are a vital part of working towards a more sustainable built environment. Passive thermal design, natural lighting design and the use of renewable forms of energy are three important components of energy efficient design.


Passive thermal design


Passive thermal design is an approach used to create a comfortable internal environment for building occupants, while reducing a building’s reliance on electrical heating and cooling. It achieves this by using techniques like orientation, materials and the natural climate to maximise heat gain during winter, and minimise heat gain during summer. 


  • Using block orientation can help buildings to take advantage of warmth from the sun, and to use shade and airflow for cooling.

  • Installing insulation with good thermal properties and ensuring the proper fit and installation for doors and windows can reduce draft and heat loss.

  • Choosing building materials with natural insulating properties, like wood, can also improve the natural thermal performance of buildings.


Natural lighting


Have you ever spent time in a room without windows or natural lighting? If so, you’ll appreciate the considerably positive impact that natural lighting can have on overall health and wellbeing. 


Natural lighting is also a great way to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of a building. Sometimes referred to as ‘daylighting’, this energy efficient design principle uses windows and skylights combined with block orientation to bring natural sunlight inside. 


Prioritise renewables 


Making good use of sustainable forms of energy improves the energy efficiency of a building and reduces its carbon footprint. Today there are many cost effective and accessible renewable energy solutions available. Some popular examples include:


  • Rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems to harness energy from the sun

  • Solar powered hot water systems for heating water

  • Solar powered heating and cooling systems that use the sun’s energy to power cooling and dehumidifying systems

  • Geothermal systems to provide warmth and energy 

  • Biomass boilers and combined heat and power (CHP) systems

  • Energy storage systems like batteries also continue to grow in sophistication.


Energy efficient products and materials


Using recycled and other low embodied energy building materials helps to reduce construction waste and minimise the carbon footprint of a building. Specifying energy-efficient products, finishes, materials and technologies can also enhance a building’s overall environmental performance. 


  • Appliances: Most appliances sold in Australia feature energy efficiency ratings. To incentivise energy efficiency, in some Australian states and territories rebates are available for upgrading existing appliances. 


  • Insulation: Not all insulation performs equally. To improve the thermal performance and energy efficiency of buildings choose high-grade insulation with low environmental impact, like sheep wool or ThermaCork.


  • Lighting: Lighting is responsible for roughly 10% of electricity usage in households, and varies from 18–40% of usage in commercial properties. Therefore, improving the energy efficiency of lighting can significantly impact the overall energy consumption of a building. When natural light isn’t sufficient or when night time lighting is required, LED and fluorescent (or CFL) are the most energy efficient options. 


Improving energy efficiency is just one of many ways to improve sustainability and reduce carbon emissions in the built environment, but it’s an important place to start. Reach out to learn more about our commitment to the environment, or read more about supporting and encouraging sustainability in construction


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