CRC for Low Carbon Living: How to upgrade your home, without the headaches or big price tags

CRC for Low Carbon Living

A “Queenslander”-style house that rises above the floodwaters – if the level of the flood is predicted correctly.

If you’re like most people and above all want your home to be more comfortable – warm in winter and cool in summer – here’s a guide that will help you work out how to do that in ways that are “good for you, good for the bottom line, and good for the planet.”

Where do you start to retrofit your home so that’s it’s warm in winter and cool in summer?

According to the authors of a new guide called Guide to low carbon residential buildings – retrofit, there are many ways a homeowner or tenant can achieve better comfort and cheaper running costs without substantially altering the building’s form, bulk or scale. 

Most of the changes don’t need significant trade skills or even a big financial commitment. And you can implement most without development approvals that you’d need for major renovations.

The guide is produced by the CRC for Low Carbon Living as part of a seven year federal government funded program to reduce carbon in our built environment.

It’s full of credible advice on tested products that you can use to improve the performance of your home.

This includes:

  • Solar PV
  • Heat pump systems
  • Energy monitoring
  • Hydronic heating
  • Blow-in foam wall insulation 

Simple changes for maximum impact

If you’re a tenant or living in a strata property you will be pleased to see recommendations that won’t need you to consult the landlord or strata committee.

The guide accounts for regional differences between, say, tropical Darwin and much cooler Melbourne, divided into three main climate zones:

  1. Hot summer and warm winter
  2. Warm summer and mild winter
  3. Mild summer and cold winter

It also deals with different housing types – accounting for the different needs of a detached cottage, perhaps, versus a terrace townhouse – and ages:

  1. Pre-1920 homes
  2. 1920-1970 homes
  3. 1970-2000 homes
  4. Post 2000 homes

Apartments and higher density living have their own section, which is a great boon as many resources have paid so little attention to them in recent years.

Authors with hands-on, and lived-in, experience

The guide was prepared by lead author Michael Whitehouse and a team of experts in the building design, construction and operations arena.

Michael says that many of the ideas in the guide have come from his own projects as a designer of sustainable dwellings. He was a leader in the University of Wollongong team that designed and built the award-wining Illawarra Flame prototype home, and he has also built and lived in homes he has designed.

There is not a lot in the typical Australian brick veneer house that is thermally efficient. But simple retrofits… show it is possible to own the epitome of Aussie housing and still reduce the burden on the wider environment.

– Guide to low carbon residential buildings–retrofit

Saving your money while saving the planet

Though the overall impact will be a lower operational carbon footprint, that’s not the overriding frame of reference for the guide.

You don’t have to trade off comfort for energy savings

You don’t have to trade off comfort for energy savings, Michael says.

The latest home he worked on maintains a comfortable indoor temperature all year round and performs at net zero for energy. Inside, it feels fresh and airy, he says.

Australian homes use about 30 per cent of the electricity used nationally.

Navigate through the Greenwash

The CRC for Low Carbon Living team also aims for the guide to help consumers navigate the rising sea of greenwash out there in product land.

“It can be hard to look past the marketing materials,” Michael says.

And when bigger work is called for…

If a major retrofit needs experienced and certified tradespeople, the suggestions come with options suitable for DIY projects such as greening exteriors for summer shade or putting up a clothesline to slash the running costs for laundry.

Practical how-to advice

There are also some useful how-to elements such as advice about where, and how to, improve sealing of different dwelling types so you can achieve improve indoor comfort levels, and an explanation of how to make natural ventilation strategies work most effectively.

Putting the power in the hands of residents

Co-author Paul Osmond from UNSW Sydney’s Sustainable Built Environment Program says the intent of the guide was to ensure any home occupant, anywhere in Australia, can decide what they would most like to achieve, how much they are prepared to spend in terms of time and money, and what the return for that investment will be.

The ideas are applicable from “Perth to Parramatta and from Darwin to Hobart”, Paul says.

“The emphasis is on comfort.

“Because that’s generally why people want to refurbish, renovate and retrofit – to make their home more comfortable.

“It is about how it feels to live in. It is not about adding dollar value to the property, although, yes, it will also add value.

“It’s like the difference between coarse rolled oats and muesli.”

Having a home that is good for you, good for the bottom line, comfortable and good for the planet is not an incompatible set of goals, Osmond says.

Ideally, a lot of the ideas are even enjoyable to do.”

Advice based on solid evidence

The guide draws on a range of resources including case studies from different climate zones, and the highly regarded Your Home published by the Australian government as well as James Cook University, Cool Mob and Renew.

It is an evidence-based suite of advice, and the content was tested and peer-reviewed.

A useful glossary

If you don’t know what phase changes materials, R-values or thermal bridging are, you will have a good useable understanding after reading the guide. The extensive glossary is a great help.

The full suite of low carbon guides can be found at Built Better, the CRCLCL’s built environment knowledge.

CRC for Low Carbon Living

University | Australia