Build it Sustainable

How to: Building sustainable homes for the tropical lifestyle

Living in tropical north Queensland can feel like paradise, but there are a few things to know about designing homes for this idyllic environment. We spoke to Rachel Whymark of Kenick Constructions about designing sustainable homes for the tropical northern beaches lifestyle.

Kenick Constructions are leaders in sustainable tropical design and have won many awards including the HIA GreenSmart Home of the Year in 2015. Tell me about Kenick Constructions vision for building sustainable homes.

Yes, we were lucky enough to win 3 National Awards in 2015, including the prestigious Home of the Year, and are the only builder in Cairns to take out Greensmart Professional, not once, but twice at a National level.  But it really isn’t about awards, these just assist us in getting our message out there.

We have always had a focus on better design and construction in the tropics, and we are passionate about promoting the benefits of more sustainable design that is cost effective not only to build, but will minimise ongoing running costs, whilst improving user comfort and health by not being so reliant on air-conditioning.  Let’s face it, why pay more for electricity year on year if you don’t have to?  By being committed to this as one of our key objectives, clients and visitors to our display home know they are dealing with a builder that has the rungs on the ladder when it comes to smart building in the tropics.  It is not unusual for clients save up to 50% on their annual electricity bills, in some cases even more.

Cost effective naturally cooler homes are just common sense wherever you are building, not just for the tropics.  We are stalwart advocates of building this way and take a hands on approach with educating not only others in our industry, but anyone with involvement or interest in the home building industry.  This is the future, and is relevant to everyone, not just those who are interested in ‘green’ buildings.

 

What makes the Sea Breeze home the perfect design for families living in tropical North Queensland?

Living in the tropics is a dream come true for most people. It is simply gorgeous here. However, particularly in the summer months, it can become less than perfect if your home is not designed to minimise solar gain and maximise the natural breezes. Good design makes an enormous difference to the comfort of your home, but also the air quality and your electricity bills. A ‘passively’ designed home, such as the Sea Breeze display home, will cost you far less to run and will be healthier for your family to live in. The natural flow to our huge two outside deck areas emphasises outdoor living, which is what living in the tropics is all about.

 

When designing the display home, what were the key elements that you wanted to showcase?

 We love to show people what is possible, but also what is practical and works. We are not into gimmicks and fads, but tried and tested products, materials and techniques that we believe are exciting and innovative – such as the new fully automated Velux roof windows; the James Hardie Deck; and the Enphase battery storage system linked to the solar panels. Well-known brands, with new product lines that assist us in building more sustainable homes are what we look for. So whilst the companies may have been around for a long time some of the products are truly leading edge. Cairns won’t have seen some of the inclusions in the Sea Breeze display home.

 

The Sea Breeze home captures a lot of natural light and feels very cool. How was this achieved?

We designed the home passively to allow for plenty of natural ventilation. The position of the windows and appropriate shading ensures that you do not heat up the floor slab or get too much summer sun flooding in. So yes, it is a wonderfully light and airy home with lots of large glass windows, doors and louvres. However, to minimise solar gain, we’ve used tinted Viridian Smart Glass and external shading with wider 850mm eaves overhangs. So you capture the breeze at all times of the year with good cross ventilation in every room and the wonderful feeling of being connected to the outdoors without the downside of your home heating up too much.

 

What are some new trends that we are seeing this year in sustainable design?

It is an exciting time, with technology moving quickly in this space. We are loving the new modular Enphase battery storage systems. Just like their micro-inverter solar roof panels, the Enphase batteries can be added to over time, making it more affordable. Pricing of batteries will be coming down too as this technology improves further. Covering your evening electricity use is crucial, as the feed in tariffs are very low.

Watch the sustainable modular building space. This has been massive in many parts of the world for many years (such as Europe), and we are learning all the time. I am yet to be impressed with what is currently available in Australia, but would love to see this improve. With shortages in housing, affordability of housing and lack of skilled trades, there are many reasons to push for more modular construction methods.

Glazing technology (e.g. Viridian Smartglass and Velux automatic roof lights and blinds) is pretty exciting too, with some great products to help bring in natural light and ventilation whilst reducing solar gain and improve thermal efficiency to the ‘weakest’ points in the home in terms of thermal transmittance.

Look out also for some mighty fine low maintenance decking products to replace traditional timber products. James Hardie Deck and Trex are two brilliant examples.

 

What are your tips for anyone building that wants to increase the energy efficiency of their new home?

Orientation is extremely important to reduce your afternoon summer sun to living areas, patios and bedrooms. Ensure you capture the breeze, particularly in summer, so that you do not have to rely on air-conditioning. Wide eaves overhangs for natural shading; well-insulated walls; and ceilings/roofs with light colours – unless you have restrictions requiring darker colours, such as hillslope areas.

Using construction methods which have good thermal resistance, whether trying to keep a home cool or warm, particularly for large areas exposed to the sun such as walls will make a huge difference to internal comfort and also your electricity bills! Tinted windows and double glazing can reduce air leakage around windows and doors during cooler months.

In short, good ‘passive design’ will make all the difference. By choosing energy efficient appliances and fixtures, such as LED lights instead of fluorescent fittings, will help reduce the need to replace and use a lot less electricity than other lighting alternatives.

Choose your hot water system wisely, as once chosen, it is an expensive item to change. A good quality solar hot water system or an energy efficient electric heat pump would be our ‘go to’ suggestions as hot water can account for up to one third of your electricity bill.

 

To speak with Rachel from Kenick Constructions about your future home, please contact: Rachel@kenickconstructions.com.au or call 0423 182 037.

 

The Bluewater Display Village is open 7 days a week, 10am – 4pm on Midship Street at Trinity Beach.