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Building an energy-efficient home

If you’re building from scratch, you have the perfect opportunity to make your home energy-efficient. Along with passive design features (such as location, orientation, layout, window-sizing, insulation, and shading), the main consideration is thermal mass – a material's ability to store heat energy.

Materials that provide thermal mass include concrete floors and masonry walls, such as cavity or feature brick walls, which will:

  • steadily absorb summer heat at their surface, conducting it inwardly and storing it until exposed to the cooler air of the evening/night (at which point, the heat begins to migrate back to the surface and be released);
  • in winter, capture and recycle heat gains from north-facing windows - along with those produced by lighting, people and appliances. As the temperature drops overnight, this is slowly released back into the building.

Lightweight materials such as timber or plasterboard can also be used internally to allow rooms to heat up and cool down quickly.

Internal planning for home energy efficiency

When deciding where to site rooms, aim to maximise the amount of sunshine to assist with warming the house. This should be balanced with appropriate window-shading and ventilation to keep you cool in summer.

To make the most of available sunlight:

  • As far as is possible, site main living areas on the northern side of your home.
  • Locate bedrooms on the southern or eastern sides of the house. 
  • Locate service areas (e.g. bathroom, laundry, garage) on the southern or western sides, as they have minimal heating/cooling requirements.
  • Group together rooms that use hot water (kitchen, bathroom, laundry) to minimise heat loss in pipes.
  • Create zones by grouping rooms with similar uses together, separated by doorways.
  • Avoid open-plan living areas or very high ceilings, as these can lead to high heating costs.


When landscape-designing, think about the rooms you want to receive sunlight in winter and shade in summer. Trees can also provide wind-breaks and channel or deflect breezes to suit your needs.

Summer shading

  • Deciduous trees to the north provide shade to a home in summer and let in winter sunlight. 
  • Tall, cylindrical-shaped trees planted in rows are ideal for shading low-angle sun on eastern and western sides.
  • Take advantage of variations in different heights of mature trees/shrubs for shading walls and windows.
  • Consider including courtyards sheltered by vegetation.

Winter warmth

  • Deciduous trees allow sun to warm the home.
  • If evergreens are planted within the northern quadrant of a dwelling, ensure they don't block winter sun.
  • Tall trees with wide canopies and bare trunks (e.g. many species of eucalypt) will shade a roof, but not walls and windows, if planted near enough to the home.
  • If you have installed solar panels, ensure that trees do not cast a shadow over them at any time of the year.

Your Home guide

The Your Home guide contains all the information you need to plan your environmentally sustainable home.

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Page last updated: 10 December 2015