The house design where you won't need a heater in winter
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The house design where you won’t need a heater in winter

A popular construction method in Europe, Passive House design has plenty to offer Australians keen on an energy efficient, cost effective home

By Josh Bozin
Fri, May 24, 2024 3:16pmGrey Clock 5 min

There’s much talk about Passive House Design—or ‘Passivhaus’ as it was known in Germany where it originated —in 2024 and the energy-saving efficiencies it offers homeowners. From the exterior, you wouldn’t know whether a home has incorporated passive house design or not. But journey inside, and you’ll find a different experience home awaits. 

The first thing you’ll notice from a passive home is it’s incredibly quiet; the outside noise is reduced thanks to exceptional sound insulation. You’ll then come to notice a comfortable temperature range — never too hot, never too cold — with fresh air filtrating each and every room. For those that detest dust, you’re likely to find fewer cleaning tasks each month.

Passive House Design is changing the way people live, the energy they save, and the comfort they’ll come to cherish. Chief Creative Officer of Melbourne Design Studios Felicity Bernstein says it’s only a matter of time until Passivhaus is the go-to for every home — the definition of modern luxury living.

“In Passivhaus, we are a lot less reliant on solar heat gains than in a traditional Aussie home. Passive Houses stay warm through the increased insulation and the continuous airtightness throughout; all rooms of the entire house are equally warm, and there are basically no hotspots or unconditioned spaces,” said Ms Bernstein. 

“You can imagine a Passivhaus a little bit like an esky: the temperature you have inside will be generally kept inside, and is kind of independent from the outside. Humans give off heat and so do appliances and that really is all that is needed if you have a well built Passivhaus. That is why you can hardly imagine to ever live in a non Passivhaus ever again once you experience the level of natural comfort a Passivhaus can offer.

Below, Ms Bernstein explains the principles around Passivhaus and the key factors to its design throughout homes.

Marnie Hawson

What is passive house design? 

Coined by physicists Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist in the 1970s, the leading principles around Passive House Design describe an approach to building design that focuses on passive strategies for achieving optimal energy efficiency and comfort. This is done through such design techniques like utilising sunlight through large windows or skylights, or allowing optimal ventilation throughout designated areas to provide both heating and cooling. Through passive design, the indoor environment of a home is incredibly comfortable, and that translates to other areas like noise and aesthetics, too.

“In Passivhaus, the surface temperature of materials is not much different to the room temperature due to incredible advanced construction detailing and built methods. That means that you have a lot more design freedom in what materials you can use,” said Ms Bernstein.
“You basically can have anything on the inside, as the continuous insulation layer is disconnecting any inside material from the temperature condition of the outside.”

Marnie Hawson


Consider the geometry of your home 

It’s essential to design your home’s layout and orientation in a way that maximises solar gain during the winter months, while minimising solar heat gain during the summer.

“From a design point of view, we try to keep the geometry of the home relatively compact as it will help the home to perform — that would apply to both a Passivhaus or a more traditional home based on passive solar design,” said Ms Bernstein.

“Active shading is important in Passivhaus, especially in summer. While in a Passivhaus you can trust having a warm home throughout winter and don’t have to hope for sunshine to heat your home, a more traditional home working with passive solar design would benefit substantially from lots of north facing glazing in combination with thermal mass underfoot, like a concrete slab that can store that solar heat gain.”

Marnie Hawson


Think about natural insulation

Using high-performance insulating materials throughout main areas throughout your home—like floors, roofs and in walls—will help to minimise the heat transfer between the interior and exterior of your home. It’s also important to ensure that the installation of insulation is continuous across materials to eliminate thermal bridging, which can lead to energy loss.

A great starting point for insulation is incorporating engineered timber flooring throughout your home, which insulates and increases the energy efficiency of your home.

“We [Melbourne Design Studios] are personally big fans of FSC-certified timbers or recycled timber surfaces, as we as humans have an innate connection to timber. It is warm and soft to touch, enhances biophilic connection, is supporting better acoustics and indoor air quality,” said Ms Bernstein.

“And topping all this, it sequesters carbon which hugely helps to remove carbon from the atmosphere and is our number one material to achieve carbon zero constructions.”

Marnie Hawson


Airtight construction is
pivotal

Implementing airtight construction techniques ensure that there is no way for air leakage or drafts to occur, which can significantly reduce heating and cooling expenditure. One key way of factoring this in is through the Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation (MHVR) system, which is crucial for maintaining indoor air quality and comfort (with minimal energy consumption).

In Passivhaus, a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system supplies fresh at the indoor temperature all the way through your home,” said Ms Bernsstein.

“This, combined with the airtightness and continuous insulation, completely cuts out the feeling of drafts which brings an unknown comfort to the inhabitants.”

Marnie Hawson


You don’t need traditional design methods to warm your home

Unlike traditional homes, in Passivhaus, the use of temperature control elements, like a fireplace, curtains, or specialised windows, aren’t necessary in heating and cooling your home. In fact, in Passivhaus, there really is no need for a heat source of this kind at all.

There is, however, a way to merge both worlds of Passivhaus and a more traditional home to create a warm and welcoming look and feel.

Ethanol fireplaces don’t give up too much heat and don’t need a flue – they are clean and easy to maintain and you have a lot of design freedom too,” said Ms Bernstein.  

“Otherwise we find that natural materials like timber, marble, clay render, and lime wash paint vibrate some warm hues into any space. Combined with some cushions, rugs, and throws this can feel very warm. And the best thing is, in Passivhaus, it is always nice and warm – no cold feet anymore!”



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The two Australian states where it’s a buyers’ market

Property values have experienced strong growth around the country, but there are two highly desirable areas where oversupply is putting downward pressure on sales

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 2 min

While property values are rising strongly in most markets across Australia, it’s a vastly different story in Victoria and Tasmania, new data from CoreLogic shows. Over the 12 months to May 31, the median house price lifted just 1.8 percent in Melbourne and fell 0.6 percent in regional Victoria. The median dipped 0.1 percent in Hobart and ticked 0.4 percent higher in regional Tasmania. This is in stark contrast to Perth, where values are up 22 percent, and regional Western Australia, up 14.8 percent; as well as Brisbane, up 16.3 percent, and regional Queensland, up 11.8 percent.

CoreLogic Head of Research, Eliza Owen says an oversupply of homes for sale has weakened prices in Victoria and Tasmania, creating buyers’ markets.

On the supply side, there has been more of a build-up in new listings than usual across Victoria, even where home value performance has been relatively soft,” Ms Owen said. Victoria has also had more dwellings completed than any other state and territory in the past 10 years, keeping a lid on price growth. The additional choice in stock means vendors have to bring down their price expectations, and that brings values down.”

Melbourne dwelling values are now four percent below their record high and Hobart dwelling values are 11.5 percent below their record high. Both records were set more than two years ago in March 2022. The oversupply has also affected how long it takes to sell a property. The median days on market is currently 36 in Melbourne and 45 in Hobart compared to a combined capitals median of 27. It takes 55 days to sell in regional Victoria and 64 days in regional Tasmania compared to a combined regional median of 42 days.

Changes in population patterns have also contributed to higher numbers of homes for sale in recent years. Since COVID began in early 2020, thousands of families have left Melbourne because working from home meant they could buy a bigger property in more affordable areas. While many relocated to regional Victoria, a significant proportion left the state altogether, with South-East Queensland a favoured destination. Meantime, Tasmania’s surge in interstate migration during FY21 was short-lived. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the island state has recorded a net loss of residents to other states and territories every quarter since June 2022.

Record overseas migration has more than offset interstate migration losses, thereby keeping Victoria’s and Tasmania’s populations growing. However, the impact of migrants on housing is largely seen in the rental market, so this segment of population gain has done little to support values. Growth in weekly rents has been far stronger than growth in home values over the past year, with rents up 9 percent in Melbourne and 4.8 percent in regional Victoria, and up 1 percent in Hobart and 2.7 percent in regional Tasmania.

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