10 energy-efficient house features to love

The higher a home’s energy efficiency, the more the environment – and your power bills – will benefit. Plus, energy-efficient homes are just more comfy to live in. Discover 10 features that can bump up your home’s credentials in this space.

Home Design

Love splashing your cash on power bills? Yep, we didn’t think so. If you’re building a new house, we’re going to go out on a limb and assume you’d want to make it as energy efficient as possible given how much the price of electricity has recently mushroomed. 

That’ll be particularly true if – like 75 per cent of Australians – you’re also becoming increasingly concerned about the climate, considering residential buildings are responsible for around a quarter of the country’s overall electricity use and at least 12 per cent of its carbon emissions.  

“The weather extremes over the past five years have meant that the general public is starting to understand that something is changing in our climate, irrespective of whether they believe in the concept of ‘climate change’,” says Karen Greaves, Lendlease’s National Sustainability Coordinator and Regional Sustainability Manager – Communities, Queensland.  

We’re seeing more extremes, heatwaves, bushfires, floods and severe storms – and each is reported as the worst on record,” says Karen. “This, combined with rising electricity prices, means people are now looking at what they can do to make their new homes more energy efficient.”

There are many practical ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. This list is a great place to start. 

1. The right orientation 

A key component of passive house design is positioning – or orientating – a property on a lot of land to take advantage of sunshine and wind, as well as the climate zone of where you’re building. Getting this right can significantly improve your heating and cooling needs and costs. Hear that? That’s the sound of your bank balance cheering.  

The sun’s path in Australia generally means “good orientation” involves having north-facing living spaces which maximise winter sun exposure but are protected by the roof’s eaves in summer. “And if you can, locate garages to the west to block hot summer afternoon sun,” says Karen.  

2. Well-considered construction and building materials 

What you choose to construct your home with can affect everything from its energy use to its life-cycle environmental impact, as well as its durability. From sustainable building materials to low-embodied energy and ones that deliver thermal mass, there’s a lot to consider, and the best choice comes down to a variety of factors, including where you’re building. A house and land package which is designed with a specific land lot, location and climate in mind means a lot of these decisions are already made for you. Simple! 

3. Hard-working glazing 

On top of the size and placement of windows and how well they’re shaded, the quality of a home’s glazing can have a huge impact on its thermal performance. An impressive 87 per cent of a home’s heat can be gained through its windows – and a whopping 40 per cent of it lost the same way. Consider upgrading to double- or even triple-glazing, which is more efficient at preventing heat loss than single-glazed units, and can also reduce peak cooling loads, so that a house can often get away with an air-conditioning system that’s 30 per cent smaller than it otherwise would be. 

4. Sufficient shading

But make it smart too. Good shading designs and structures – everything from fixed elements like eaves and evergreen trees to adjustable ones like blinds, awnings and deciduous trees – should deliver on both quantity and quality, helping to protect glazing from scorchy summer sun, while allowing those rays to work their warming magic in winter. 

5. Energy-efficient exterior colours  

In all but one of Australia’s eight climate zones (looking at you Alpine zone!) it’s more energy efficient – and star-rating friendly – to opt for light-coloured roofs and exterior walls, over darker palettes. “Choosing light-coloured materials, especially roofs, costs nothing and is effective at helping to keep your house cool,” says Karen. 

6. A clever lighting plan 

Think about how to utilise as much natural light as possible (without bumping up the need for a cooling system) combined with strategically placed electric lights – ideally ones that run on light-emitting diode (LED) or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, for efficiency. It’s also worth noting that homes with fewer ceiling infiltrations for lights can attract higher star ratings from NatHERS 

7. And a fan plan, too  

Kitting out the majority of rooms with ceiling fans is another way to improve a home’s star rating. “These are so much cheaper to run than air-conditioning,” says Karen, “and the airflow they generate will help you feel cooler.” Pro tip: look for ceiling fans that have summer and winter settings. While the summer setting forces air downward to maximise that airflow, the winter setting draws cool air upward to encourage warmer air downward. 

8. Smart zoning  

Homes that feature more rather than fewer internal doors allows zones to be created for more efficient use of heating and cooling systems when you do need to flick them on. Think about placing doors at the bottom of stairs and ends of corridors, as well as making sure you can shut off rooms that are only used occasionally.  

9. Sympathetic landscaping  

If you plant and landscape wisely, your garden can help shrink your energy use (like using those deciduous shade trees we mentioned earlier, which lose their leaves in winter to allow the sunshine in), provide habitat for birds, insects and lizards, and, if you grow your own fruit and veg, reduce your ecological footprint, too. It can also help with water management – minimise hard surfaces by planting gardens and grass to reduce the impact of stormwater. 

10. Connected home devices 

When your heating and cooling systems, as well as things like lighting and other appliances, can be controlled automatically and remotely via your phone or home Wi-Fi, it means they can communicate with each other to automate their activity. As well as making life more streamlined, this also saves energy consumption. So clever! 

The lowdown on the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme 

Improving how energy efficient things are at your place is always a savvy move, but it’s a particularly important consideration to throw into the recipe when you’re building a new home. 

Improving how energy efficient things are at your place is always a savvy move, but it’s a particularly important consideration to throw into the recipe when you’re building a new home. 

For one thing, it’s actually essential. Since 2010, all new homes built in Australia have had to hit a minimum star rating under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (aka NatHERS) with ‘stars’ being a measure of how much – or actually how little – heating and cooling it takes to keep a home comfortable. As of 2022, all newly built Australian houses are required to meet a minimum energy efficiency rating of 7 out of a possible 10 stars.   

For another, it’s always better to get it right at the start. “Many energy efficient features are incorporated into the structure of a home,” says Karen, “and things like adding extra insulation or changing windows to improve performance is costly after a house is built. 

“Ask your builder to cost a better performance at the start and you may well find that the additional cost over the seven to 10 years people typically live in a home, works out at only a few dollars a week – or the old ‘less than a cup of coffee a day’ – and even less if you take into account the savings on your electricity bill.” 

Keen to learn more? Check out this series of simple videos which explains more about what it takes to build a sustainable home or explore Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes. 

With welcoming communities all over Australia that strive for 6-Star Green-Star certification by the Green Building Council of Australia, now is a great time to explore the possibilities.