What Is The Most Energy Efficient Type Of Home?

Unsure what the most energy-efficient home is? It's not just about the type of construction! It’s more about location, orientation, insulation and design.

What Is The Most Energy Efficient Type Of Home?

For quite a number of years now, consumers have become more aware that they need to strive to make their homes as energy efficient as possible. It’s become even more important over the last few years as energy prices continue to rise and frequent storm events have left people without power, sometimes even for days on end.

This had led to a wealth of questions from both homeowners and potential homeowners regarding energy efficiency in the home. It’s even led to questions such as “What is the most energy efficient type of home?”

And there’s a whole range of different opinions out there that you might have come across. Some people will tell you that a brick home built on a slab is going to be the most energy efficient and other people will tell that building on a raised floor and using weatherboards is the most energy efficient. But in many cases, neither of those situations are necessarily the best.

In fact, it is possible to build an energy efficiency home, no matter what it’s constructed of by doing certain things. We’ll discuss what can influence the energy efficiency of your home a little later.

But let’s first understand about the energy rating systems that have come into effect over the past couple of decades and what the government’s implemented to make builders aware of how the energy efficiency can be improved, even during the construction phase.

Modular Home Building Process
Energy star rating system history.

Way back in 2003, The Australian Building Codes Board first introduced the nationwide house energy rating scheme. This new energy efficiency code was adopted by all Australian states and territories.

The rating system ranged from 0 to 10, with a house that had a 0 star rating being the least energy efficient and a house with a 10 star rating being perfectly energy efficient.

So what does this actually mean?

A house with a 0 star rating, in theory, would have an internal temperature that is the same as the temperature outside. You would imagine that an energy deficient home like this would cost an absolute fortune in heating and cooling costs to have anything close to a comfortable internal temperature.

On the other hand, a house with a 10 star rating would stay the same comfortable temperature inside all year round without any need for heating and cooling. This is regarded as the most energy efficient house and, as you could imagine, is virtually impossible to achieve.

Back in the early days, it was considered that a house with a 5 star rating was relatively energy efficient and many states adopted this standard for newly built homes.

Then in 2010 to 2011, the minimum standard for newly built homes was raised to a 6 star rating and this rating was standard until October 2023.

Standards revised.

From the 1st of October 2023, the National Construction Code revised the minimum energy rating to 7 for all newly built homes under the BASIX system which was introduced in 2004.

However, in an article published on August, 2023, it was stated that the New South Wales government was planning to delay the introduction of the higher energy rating requirement for new homes. This comes in response to the additional upfront costs that the construction sector and home buyers will need to consider when implementing these changes.

According to the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Paul Scully, special transition arrangements would be put into place for home buyers who are planning a new build at least until the 30th of June, 2024.

Other states have also implemented delays in the need to adopt these updated energy rating standards to allow for a smoother transition.

Does the construction type affect the energy efficiency of a home?

In a nutshell, the type of building construction does have some bearing on the energy efficiency of the home but not a lot. Whether your home is built from bricks, timber, weatherboards or some of the newer types of building materials, this won’t always determine that it’s going to be more energy efficient than a house built from a different material.

Essentially, energy efficiency comes down to a number of different factors which we’ll discuss in more detail.

What factors can determine the energy efficiency of a home?

While there is no type of house that could be considered the most perfect in energy efficiency, or not yet anyway, there are numerous factors that can help to increase the energy efficiency of a home.

Geographical location.

Your geographical location exposes you and your home to local climatic conditions. For this reason, a house in a more southern coastal location would generally require more heating than one that’s located in Queensland.

In the same way, a house that’s located in Darwin would generally require more cooling in order to be comfortable.

To make these homes more energy efficient would mean that they need to be designed for the climate. And for each extreme in temperature, this means different design features need to be incorporated.

Orientation.

Essentially, the orientation of the home can affect its energy efficiency especially when you also consider window placement. For example, a north-facing home with lots of windows facing this direction will let in the winter sun which is ideal in cooler climates.

Using the sun to warm a home is known as a passive solar design feature and has actually been used for a few decades to determine the best orientation of a new home on a block of land.

But, what happens in summer also needs to be considered. So, blinds or awnings can be installed to keep the sun out in summer and keep the home cooler.

Placement of windows and air flow.

Another important factor to consider when aiming for maximum energy efficiency is the placement of windows and how much air can flow through the home.

This is especially important in summer because windows that allow the cool evening breezes in can be a real bonus but there also needs to be windows on the opposite side so that the warm air inside can be pushed out.

This is often achieved when the home is designed well from the beginning. An expert and professional designer will factor in energy efficiency as part of the design phase of the home.

The type of windows used in homes can also add to its energy efficiency. For example, double-glazed windows can be very effective at regulating indoor temperature.

The use of good insulation.

Proper insulation is crucial to making a home more energy efficient. This includes insulation under the floor, in the ceiling and in the walls. In fact, a house that is well-insulated has more chance of providing a consistent indoor temperature with less reliance on mechanical heating and cooling.

Interestingly, that’s why concrete slabs are often poor insulators and why builders will often put waffle pods under slabs to add some much needed insulation.

Ceiling height.

The height of the ceiling can also play a role in how energy efficient a home is. Higher ceilings in warmer climates are ideal because hot air rises. This means that the cooler air generated by air conditioning keeps the living zones at a more ambient temperature.

But, in cooler climates, high ceilings can make keeping the home warm in winter much more difficult as the warm air provided by heating will always rise up towards the ceiling, leaving the living zones cold.

This is where ceiling fans can be of benefit. Many ceiling fans have a summer/winter setting. This setting changes the direction of the airflow.

On the winter setting, the fan spins in a clockwise direction so the warm air is pulled upwards into the centre of the room and then directed down the walls to the floor. This can save you around 15% on your heating costs according to one ceiling fan manufacturer.

But on the summer setting, the fan spins anti-clockwise which means that the cool air from the air conditioning is directed downwards to make the room cooler. In fact, some ceiling fan manufacturers claim that using a ceiling fan in summer can reduce your air conditioning costs by up to 40%.

Room sizes.

It makes sense that smaller rooms that can be closed off from the rest of the home will be more energy efficient to heat or cool as opposed to large open spaces. But, this needs to be taken in context with the geographical location of the home as well as the local climate.

Homes in colder regions benefit more from having smaller rooms closed off while open plan designs are much more functional in warmer climates.

Type of lighting used.

Energy efficiency isn’t just about the internal temperature. The type of lighting used within the home can also lower energy consumption if newer types of energy-saving globes such as LEDs are used.

Any type of home can be made more energy efficient.

This brings us back to the conclusion that there is no one type of house construction that is the most energy efficient. It doesn’t matter whether the home is made from bricks, weatherboards or any other type of construction material as energy efficiency can be achieved with all of these types of building materials.

Energy efficiency is basically the cost to run a home to keep it at a comfortable temperature level all year round. It’s not about going for a particular type of build but more about the location, orientation and design of the home.

So, don’t focus on looking for the type of home that you think is going to be the most energy efficient. Instead, think first about what you want. For example, what style of home particularly appeals to you and what will suit your lifestyle.

Then, leave the energy efficient elements of design up to the professionals. This way, you’ll get a home that you’re totally happy with and that is going to cost less to run as a bonus.

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