Monthly Archives: September 2016

Make the sun in your home

Whether you want to watch sport on TV away from the glare of the afternoon sun, or have a sunny kitchen window to grow basil and parsley, the way that your home is oriented can make a big difference to how you use your home.

When you choose a floor plan that faces the right way on your block, you’ll make your home more comfortable, and you can save money on heating, cooling and lighting. Your home builder can flip or rotate your floor plan to make the most of your block’s orientation.


Here is a quick guide to help you work out which rooms to position where in your home:

North- This is side of your home that will be warmer in winter. The north side is generally the best place to have living areas and rooms that you use the most.

South- This is the coolest side, so it is generally the best place for bedrooms in warmer climates, or rooms that you don’t use during the day.

East- This side is where you will receive morning sun, so it is a great idea to have your kitchen or bedrooms on this side so you can enjoy a relaxing breakfast in the sunlight.

West- Since this is the direction the sun sets, the western side of your home is more likely to get hot in the afternoon. This is a great area to place rooms that you don’t use often, such as your bathroom, garage or laundry.

Did you know that on average hot water systems make up 31 percents of your total energy bill

According to the Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) hot water systems consume more energy than any other device within the average household. In their 2009 report IPART also predicted a 60% increase in the price of electricity from 1 July 2010 – 30 June 2013. You will have experienced some of these increases already, but further increases are coming soon.

This article compares the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the three major hot water alternatives commonly available to Australians: electric, gas and solar.


Electric Hot Water Systems

Electric hot water has been continuously developed and used over the last century and has been the main source of hot water in homes for several decades. In 2008 the ABS recorded that around 58% of homes in NSW use electric hot water systems.

With the continuously rising cost of electricity and the introduction of the Carbon Tax, it is becoming increasingly expensive to run an electric hot water system.

The government has stated that it will try and phase out electric hot water systems by 2013. This will make it harder to purchase replacement tanks and parts.

From an ‘initial investment’ point-of-view, electric tanks are currently your most affordable option. They range in price from $500 to $2000, with many second-hand tanks available for less.

Although costly to run, electrical hot water systems are reliable.

Until recently all electric hot water systems heated water with an energy-hungry electrical element. However there is now an energy-saving alternative: the electric heat pump.

Electric heat pumps are approximately three times more efficient than electrical-element based systems but the initial investment is between $1500 and $4000. Heat pumps are more efficient in warmer weather and in warmer climates.


Gas Hot Water Systems

Gas hot water systems have become increasingly popular over the last 5 years. Improvements in technology have seen gas systems, both storage and continuous, become more efficient and affordable.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 76% of households in Melbourne are using a gas hot water system.

Gas hot water requires a gas connection in the household but can also be run on gas bottles.

Some gas hot water systems are considerably more efficient than others – look at their energy star rating before purchasing.

Gas Hot Water Systems usually cost between $800 – $2500. The price depends on size and efficiency.

Gas Hot Water Systems are not as cost effective as solar or heat pump based systems, however they are more efficient than traditional electric-element based systems.

Solar hot water system from the Modern Group
Solar Hot Water Systems

Australia has an abundance of sunlight. Our solar insolation levels (amount of sunlight per square meter) greatly exceed those in Europe, Russia and North America. Some parts of central Australia receive an enormous 5.89 kWh/m2 per day. Australia’s solar insolation levels make solar hot water the most energy efficient water heating alternative for Australians. (Source:

Solar Hot Water systems can reduce the energy used to create hot water by up to 90% (when compared to electric element-based hot water systems).

Solar hot water helps the environment, saving around 4,000 kg (4 tonnes) of green house gases each year.

A solar hot water system can cost anywhere between $4000 – $8000, depending on the size of the tank and the number and efficiency of the collectors.

There are two types of solar hot water tanks available; ground-mount tanks and roof-mount tanks.

Roof-mount tanks are useful for those with limited space around the house but they can be harder to maintain and are not suitable for those with brittle or weak roofs.

Ground-mount tanks are placed, as the name suggests, on the ground rather than on the roof above the collectors. This provides the panels with a more slimline look, although requires a place on the ground for the tank to be stored.

Window furnishing alternatives

Window bars/grills are an external window furnishing usually made of steel with a baked on powder-coated finish. Bolted to the outside of the window, they have been a very popular alternative in past years for elderly people, or those who live in neighbourhoods with higher crime rates, due to the strength and protection they provide.


  • Very hard for intruders to break in
  • Hard wearing and long lasting


  • Not a large benefit in terms of privacy unless coupled
    with an internal furnishing
  • Not generally considered a modern or attractive alternative
  • No other benefits e.g. noise reduction, light reduction or insulation
Curtains & blinds
Blinds and curtains

Blinds are an internal window furnishing which are available in a huge range of different styles and operation types. Different blind alternatives include vertical blinds, Venetian blinds, roller blinds, Roman blinds, panel glide blinds, cellular blinds and drapes. These alternatives are generally made from polyester, aluminium or timber laminate and although they look different general serve a similar purpose.


  • Increased privacy
  • Provide excellent light control
  • Provide some sort of insulation
    against heat and cold
  • Available in an enormous range
    of colours and styles guaranteed
    to suit any home


  • Generally no added security provided from these types of window furnishings
  • Insulation benefit not as large as other alternatives

Louvres are an alternative to standard glass windows, so in essence they are both an internal and external window furnishing. Louvres comprise of thin horizontal blades which can be adjusted anywhere between opened and fully closed. These sheets are generally made from timber, glass or aluminium and come in a wide range of colours and styles. They are also available in a wide range of operations including manual and motorised.



  • Increased privacy
  • Light control
  • Aluminium alternatives provide noise reduction
    and insulation benefits
  • Wide range of alternatives in relation to material,
    colour, style and operation
  • Increased security within the home
  • Seal tight to reduce noise and disturbance from bad weather



  • Can be a costly alternative
  • Glass and wooden louvers do not provide a security benefit

Awnings are an external window furnishing which have been popular for many years now. Generally made from canvas, acrylic or aluminium, awnings come in a wide range of styles and colours. Awnings also have a large variety of operation types including rope, tape, automatic, crank or motorised options.

Home bush fire compliant

The dry winds in NSW 2013, and the subsequent Blue Mountains disasters have boasted the discussion of poor bush fire compliant homes once more.

For new homes current legislation does a pretty good job of forcing Australians to better withstand a bush fire attack. But what about renovations?

Currently there is no legislation enforcing property owners to upgrade their existing homes to comply with current Bushfire Attack Level’s (BAL). There is only one minor measure in place that only quietly mentions that a homeowner has a property located in a bush fire prone area.

When a property is sold the vendor is required by law to organise a Sales Contract. Within this Sales Contract is a Section 149 Planning Certificate. Within this document it mentions if your property is in a bush fire prone area or not. It does not state the Bushfire Attack Level or if the current dwelling comply’s with current bush fire legislation.

The seller of any property is not legally required to ensure their property meets current bush fire construction standards.


Ensuring your home is bush fire compliant

When selling or buying a property you can find out if your property is bush fire compliant or not by doing a little research. Here is what you should do:

1. Engage council

Engage your local council and ask them to prepare a Building Certificate. The certificate will outline if your home complies with current building standards, and will go into a little detail about bush fire compliance.

If you need further details about bush fire compliance you can engage a private certifier or your local council.

2. Certifiers

  • Council – There are some council’s that can provide a specialist consulting service – assessing bush fire construction compliance. Gosford City Council for example provides a consulting service under their Streamline Group. This is a paid service where a report can be prepared outlining what you need to do to ensure your house complies with your particular Busfire Attack Level.
  • Private – There are some private certifiers that also offer a similar service as above.

3. Bush Fire Consultant

Specialist bush fire consultants are a great resource if you have a high level bush fire prone property.

As a home owner, the choice is yours, as to whether you bring your home in-line with current bush fire construction levels or not. Getting your home to comply with current standards can be a costly exercise but not always. Making the recommended changes could be as simple as replacing timber fascias with Colorbond, but if your house is entirely clad with timber it could be a very costly venture.

Construction process for home design

Starting the process of building a new home? Read this article to get an overview of the processes involved. Note that although the processes are constantly changing, the drawing production process and council preparation process remains relatively unchanged over time.


Step 1. The initial consultation

At this first meeting the architect/building designer (designer) and you the client will discuss all your thoughts in relation to the design of your house or development beg. size, types of spaces how you anticipate these spaces will feel, etc.

Service fees and what they include will also be discussed at this time and a fee proposal as well as a Client Brief and a contract will be sent to your after the meeting. There are services available which can assist you in design and construction costing if you find you need support in this area.


Step 2. Site Analysis

The building designer/architect will analyse your site verbally and/or provide a written report (if you can not be present) and discuss with you the restrictions and assets of your property. This portion of the service is not only valuable to people that have already purchased a property but also to people that are in the process of buying and that have not yet exchanged contracts, as we can discuss issues such as sun orientation versus street face versus outside living and how these factors affect greatly on the quality of living for that particular property. The analysis will also consider such things as wind direction, tree shadowing and many other factors that seem to go unnoticed when purchasing property.


Step 3. Initial Design

The Initial Design process includes council and other government body research as well as the study of your requirements – where sketch design drawings are produced and discussed with you prior to developing the design. See Designing Your Own Home for further information on this stage. The drawings produced at this stage are minimal but should include all floor plans and some elevations or a three dimensional rendering of the proposed building.

Step 4. Developed Design

This stage sees your sketch design drawings developed into a house you should be very happy with – if not you will need to discuss further changes with your designer – most designers allow 2 major sessions of changes in their contract. Once you are happy with the design your drawings will be developed to working drawings that will have loads of information on them including notes and dimensions.


Step 5. Working Drawings

During this stage detailed drawings will be produced that will be used for your council Development Application (DA) as well as for construction. You may also need to produce other reports with your DA to council such as a Statement of Environmental Effects, BASIX Report, Waste Management Report, Site Analysis Plans, Geotechnical Report, Landscape Plan, Flora and Fauna Report and Fire Report – check with your local council.

Products and Bush Fire Attack levels

Renovating or building a new home in a bush fire prone area can be a nightmare when choosing building materials and products. Not only should the roofing, windows, doors, guttering and cladding meet your families requirements, but they must also comply with construction requirements for bush fire prone areas.

To ensure you choose building products that will comply with Bush Fire Attack levels (BAL) it’s important to understand what Bush Fire Attack levels mean.

Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) are given to properties that are:

located in bush fire risk areas, the higher the number, the higher the bush fire risk (example BAL – 40 means you’re in a really high risk area and BAL – 12.5 means you’re at the lower end of bush fire risk). BAL – FZ however means that you are in total Flame Zone and are at extreme bush fire risk. The number behind the BAL acronym relates to the heat flux in kW/m².

Outlined below are the 5 main Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) – you will need to assess which one applies to your property.

  1. BAL – 12.5 – lowest level of bush fire attack.
  2. BAL – 19 – possible requirements – use of fire retardant timbers.
  3. BAL – 29 – possible requirements – gutter guards, use fire retardant timber timbers.
  4. BAL – 40 – possible requirements – gutter guards, stainless steel or bronze insect screens, no exposed timber, use fibre cement sheeting, brick & concrete cladding, brick cladding, metal framed toughened glass windows and doors only.
  1. BAL – FZ – possible requirements – gutter guards, stainless steel insect screens, no exposed timber, brick & concrete cladding, windows & doors that comply with AS3959 – and AS1530.8.2 (generally metal framed toughened glass windows), 10,000 litre fire dedicated water tank, radiant heat barriers (example fire shutters), sprinkler systems, fire hydrants, special barrier housing for gas cylinders and fire door compliant entry and garage doors.


So how do you know what BAL your site is?

1. Assess your risk

To assess your sites BAL you need to confirm the following:

  1. Distance from your site to the fire hazard.
  2. Type of fire hazard (grassland or forest for example).
  3. Slope type and gradient from the fire hazard.
  4. Your sites Fire Danger Index (FDI)

To find the answers to the above you will need to read over the latest release of the RFS Guidelines for Single Dwelling Development. You could also speak with an industry professional like a builder, building designer or an architect, they should know the latest requirements for building in bush fire prone areas.


  • If the outside of your dwelling footprint is located at least 100 metres from a fire hazard you can use any building materials you like, but it is highly recommended that window screens and gutter guards be installed to reduced possible ember attack.
  • Construction materials alone will not provide sufficient protection from fires, you must create and ample buffer zone and a safe exit from your property.
  • If you cannot find wall cladding or windows and doors to comply with your sites Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) you can increase your buffer zone to reduce your BAL.
  • All materials on your building need to comply with the highest BAL calculated on all elevations of your home. It use to be that if your building had a higher BAL on one side of your home than another you could use materials to comply with different BAL’s. Previously this saved on window and door costs for example.


2. Confirm that your products comply with your site BAL

All building materials will have a product specification document that should state what BAL level the products are able to withstand. Unfortunately there are many wonderful products on the market that cannot be given specific BAL compliance levels as they are considered composite products.  Currently CSIRO’s methodology for testing building products does not allow for composite products to be tested, only products that are of one material can be tested. So products like bitumen roof shingles (which are composed of a few different products) cannot be tested, but single component materials like Colorbond sheeting or terracotta tiles can. As a result resellers of new and innovative products are finding it difficult to gain market traction in the bush fire prone market and consumers are limited to a small selection of products.

Choose awnings for the home

Awnings are a low-cost, low-tech way to summer cooling. They can serve two functions, to supply shade for the summer sun to control heat entry to the home, and also to offer more protection from rain and hail, to extend the life of the building structure and to offer shelter. About 40% of unwanted heat that enters the house is through the windows.

An awning is a fixed structure attached to the outside of a building, over doors, windows or walkways. Awnings were first used by the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians. The Coloseum in Rome was shaded and protected by large retractable canvas awnings.


Awning materials

Awnings can be made from a number of different materials, can be permanently fixed or retractable, decorative or purely functional. The angle and size of the awning is important to get the best result from an awning. The right placement ensures that summer sun can be excluded from the windows, yet allows the winter sun to penetrate to warm the house.

A light coloured awning will also reflect sunlight and heat. A slight gap left between the awning and the house will help to vent the heat that builds up under the awning. Installing the awning at an angle of 45 degrees looks and functions best.

The awning pictured right, is a permanent structure, and can be constructed from various materials. The advantage of this type of awning is that it is set and forget, apart from painting and cleaning. The disadvantage is that you are stuck with one level of setting.

There are other awnings which can have various configurations of control. You can have the mounting arms movable and adjustable, and the awning covering removable or retractable or partially so. This will give you greater levels of control over your covering options. You also have a choice of manual or motorised controls and adjustment.

The Ventian awning pictured below left, has either fixed or movable louvres for shade control. The advantage of these is that they allow some degree of light and vision through the louvres. If the louvres are movable, this allows for more light when needed. The louvres can be of wood, aluminium or various plastics. The latter two are maintenance free apart from cleaning.

Best fireplace for your family

As the colder weather creeps in, home heating starts becoming a real issue for many reasons. Not only do you need to keep warm but heating can be expensive if you don’t choose the right type.

A fireplace not only warms but can become a focal point in your home just like a camp fire does outside.

Fireplaces are now increasingly being designed into outdoor living areas. They’re a stylish way to make outdoor entertaining cosy and inviting, allow outdoor spaces to  be enjoyed all year.

Fireplaces have a reputation of being environmentally unfriendly because of their inefficiencies and emissions, which can also have adverse health effects. However, good design, as well as choice and handling of fuel, can improve both the efficiency of the fire and the release of emissions.


Issues to consider when adding a fireplace in your home


Emissions – Burning wood compared to burning ethanol or gas requires different appliances due to the emissions they produce. These emissions can cause health and other problems, not only for you, but also your neighbours. Emissions need to be considered and planned for. Wood causes the most potent emissions, gas less than wood, and ethanol the least.

Ventilation – When you’re using wood, gas or coal as a fuel source, the emissions need to be vented via a chimney or flue. Ethanol is a very clean burning fuel and does not require flue or chimney. However you do need to be aware of the ventilation issues with ethanol fuelled fire places.

Contrary to popular believe ethanol fires can produce a substantial amount of heat and can also be portable.

Building codes govern the building of fireplaces and chimneys, so consult your local council before you start, as regulations vary.

Energy costs – The cost, availability and storage of the different fuels for your fireplace will also need to be considered when choosing a fireplace. Wood is available from many sources, some free. However wood is bulky and requires plenty of storage space. Gas is also easy to buy and store, but check if you have access to gas mains or bottled gas. If you are on mains your gas will be relatively cheap, but if you only have access to bottled gas your heating costs can be as expensive as electricity. Ethanol is becoming easier and cheaper to fid and buy because renewable energy sources are becoming popular.