How do I build green on a budget?
An award-winning builder asks about the key green building must-haves that don’t blow the budget.
This week’s question comes from Estimator and Marketing Manager, Jason Reynolds, who builds custom designed homes with the multi award-winning Bluewater Building Company in WA.
“What are some of the key things that can be done to reduce a home’s impact on the environment and reduce the day-to-day running costs without dramatically increasing the initial build cost?,” Jason asked.
While Jason’s clients often believe that they need solar panels and other add-ons to make sustainability a reality, they inevitably come back looking for ways to reduce the cost of the build.
“For the most part, a green house will ultimately reward the owner with lower day-to-day running costs as well as the knowledge that they are doing their bit for the environment,” Jason said.
“But the reality is that most of the things that can be done to a house to make it more environmentally friendly are expensive.”
Green initiatives including solar panels, greywater systems and hydronic heating are always the first to go for his clients, as they as they are considered non-essential. These initiatives can add a minimum of 5% to as much as $60,000 to $70,000 (around 10% to 15%) to the total build cost.
Design for efficiency
For Echuca-based building designer, Peter Sutton, there are two kinds of homes: Green homes with stapled-on features and energy-efficient homes.
Sutton Constructions is committed to environmentally friendly building design and recommends building an energy efficient home to reduce energy consumption, rather than putting on panels and other features.
This is a view shared by Craig Riddle, founder of the multi-award winning building company, Living Green Designer Homes.
Adding gadgets to make homes more sustainable actually goes against the green builder’s understanding of sustainability.
“While PV cells, hydronic heating systems and greywater systems are brilliant if used correctly and planned for to suit the particular demands of the local climate," Riddle said.
"Every time you spend money on new things, you are not helping the environment.”
“It shouldn’t cost extra for a green building, because it should come down to design,” the Living Green Designer Homes founder added.
Over the past two years, Riddle has seen increasing mainstream interest in building houses that are sympathetic to the environment, with a whole range of people from young couples to retirees looking to live green.
“Clients tend to be very well versed in particular aspects of green living, but it is our role to offer across-the-board education and come up with the best package to suit the owners’ needs,” Riddle said.
“100% of the time they are driven by concerns over power increases and the carbon tax, with questions over the energy consumption of their prospective house at the top of their list.”
Designing an energy-efficient home comes down to a few key things at Living Green Designer Homes, and choosing energy-efficient fixtures and fittings are also part of keeping a home’s day-to-day running costs down.
“You need correct solar access, so that the house gains the maximum warmth from the sun in winter, yet avoids the sun’s rays (through well-positioned shading) in summer,” Riddle explained.
“A conservative wall surface area to floor ratio will provide efficiency gains: a rectangle is the most efficient shape,” Riddle added. “You should also keep a keen eye on the glass area to floor ratio: if more than 26% of the floor area is windows, then this will detract from the home’s performance. The type of glass you choose also has an impact: our modeling shows that when compared with double glazing, smart glass represents the best value for money.”
Director of architecture and construction company at Earth Spirit Home, Brett Blacklow, also agrees that sustainability is all about design.
“The industry likes to think that solar panels, greywater tanks and so on reduce running costs, but they still involve resource usage, embodied energy and so on," Blacklow said.
"Good design is the most important step towards sustainability.”
Blacklow believes that the choice of building materials is also a key factor in building green. “Up to 15% of a house’s carbon emissions can be saved by buying local,” he explained.
Builders can save up to 2% in construction costs by using
lightweight building materials as it reduces waste and offers quicker
Blacklow often works with fibre cement sheets and usually modifies the geometry of the building design by splitting the sheets into full-sizes, halves, thirds or quarters, so that none of the sheets are thrown away.
Altogether this can result in savings of up to $25,000 when rent, labour costs and interest payments are taken into consideration, because building with lightweight materials usually only requires a carpenter as opposed to the multiple trades need to build with brick.