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National Sustainable House Day 2009

Sustainable Housing DisplaysVisit a Sustainable House in your area. What a great idea if you are thinking of Owner Building!

Remember that Owner Building a Kit Home can and should be sustainable… you simply need some ideas and good advice.

On National Sustainable House Day, Sunday 13th September over 170 private sustainable homes around Australia will open their doors to the public. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about sustainable living from homeowners who have been there, done that, and whose experiences are real. You can the bet there will be a few genuine Owner Builders amongst them. 

For the first time, homes will open for free this year thanks to the support of the Australian Government. It’s paving a way for people seeking to make their own homes or rental properties greener.

Home Sustainability Assessors funded through the Australian Government’s Green Loans program will also be available to discuss the range of energy efficiency actions that people can take around the home.

At UBuild Homes we are very focused on helping our Kit Home customers implement sustainable solutions when owner building their home. We can do this because Matthew Last, one of our Building Customer Managers is a Building Thermal Performance Assessor and a Home Sustainability Assessor. Matthew is also a Member of ABSA (Australian Association of Building Sustainability Assessors).

For home locations around Australia and for more detail on the features of individual homes visit Sustainable House Day.

Do You Have an Energy Efficient Home?

 How do you know if you have an Energy Efficient Home?

Energy Efficient HousingThe simple answer is; take a look at your energy bill! And there are other things to consider…

Take two identical looking houses standing side-by-side in a suburban street. Both houses have four family members of similar ages. Both families have similar habits.

The cost of electricity and water for the family on the left is $3700 per year. The cost of electricity and water for the family on the right is $2500 per year.

Which house would you rather live in? Easy question to answer! Now here is a slightly more difficult question: If they were both for sale how would you know which one would be the better buy? Well, you would have to ask and here are some of the things you would query…

When thinking energy efficiency here are 5 basic things that you can look for in a house, or that you can apply to a new house to make it more energy efficient:

  1. Ceiling Insulation.

    Right now is an especially good time to be installing ceiling insulation with the Government offering free insulation to the value of $1600.  Go for a rating on your ceiling insulation of R2.5 or above.

  2. Wall Insulation.

    Proper wall insulation in the cavity of a brick veneer house will have an impact on both energy and noise. If you are looking at a new house then give this some consideration. Wall wrap or sisalation does provide some benefits but full external wall insualtion will make a difference. 

  3. Heat Pump Hot Water Systerm or Solar HWS.

    Government Rebates also apply to these two items and they will make a difference to your energy efficiency rating. 

  4. Energy Efficient Appliances.

    Do some research. There are many good products out there now that have a long term effect: ie. flouro lighting, efficient fridges, no stand-by power on TV, computer and stereo, etc. 

  5. Avoid ducted Air Conditioning.

    It’s a power killer. Use natural ventilation wherever possible and energy efficient ceiling fans. You use as much energy opening a window as you do looking for the A/C remote controller! The thing about climate is this: Humans adapt over time to various climates. If you continually use A/C systems then over time you will creep up the amount of usage and the push down the temp control. It’s a slippery slope and a couple of degrees can make a huge difference to your energy consumption. Where possible: resist. It is better for the environment and over time you will adapt.

It can really be that simple!

When someone comes knocking on your door in the near future offering you cheap Green Loans don’t pretend you are not home. Invite them in and listen. If you are looking at a new kit home, a project home or owner building a home in the future you will need to do your homework and research on energy efficiency measures. But it will be homework that will be well worth it.

For more information on creating energy efficient designs and sustainable homes give UBuild Homes a call.

Matthew Last

UBuild Homes

Building Consultant, Green Loans Assessor and Energy Efficiency Design Consultant

Green Housing

What’s a Green House? Well, it has nothing to do with the colour you paint it!

In the old days a green house was somewhere out the back where you would grow things. Now a Green House is where you live. Whether you call it Green House Design, Energy Efficient Housing or Sustainable Housing this is an area that is wide in scope and has a significant impact on the building and construction industry.

Talking about the environment these days is now up there with religion and politics. Indeed,  if you want to start a fight then its not a bad place to start! But regardless of where you sit you have to be aware of whats happening in this space.

As a potential owner builder you now have to be up to speed on Green Housing Design and Specifications. Energy efficient housing is the future for all new homes whether they are Project Homes, Kit Homes or Custom Design Homes. This is now mandatory and being driven by the State Government Building Regulators. Every state is different and please note: The Energy Efficiency Compliance Requirements on building approvals for new homes is going to get more regulated and require more active input at the design stage to get approval.

Here is one of the many things you should consider when starting:

Creating a Green HomeThe first thing I ask a prospective customer/owner builder is: “Does your home need to be that big?” We are going to be driven by Governments towards smaller, more efficient homes so we need to get used to this concept. It is the single biggest way to reduce green house gases and costs. Big homes are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. They suck alot of energy to cool and to heat.

The cost in 1 square metre of construction for a new home is in the vicinity of $1100 to $1500 depending on where you are building. How much wasted space is there in the average home? Well usually there is quite a bit. Smart design and compromise will be the future of economical, effective and efficient design in the future.

Therefore every metre you save in design the more money you can put to good use to buy either energy efficient appliances or renewable energy systems. For example photo voltaics to produce your own Green Energy. There are a variety of products you can implement into the design stage to create passive means to heat, cool and light the home reducing the need for costly energy.

There have been Owner Builders who have created their own design not realising that it is going to cost them thousands of dollars per year in energy costs. Yes, thousands! The cost of energy is going to go up and exponentially so in the years to come. It is possible, if you start thinking about it early enough, to design a home where the future energy bill will be a fraction of today’s relative cost. That’s good for your pocket and good for the environment. This is what the Government wants you to do and so you need to get good advice from the outset.

Kit Homes can and are often designed to suit owner builders who want a quality energy efficiency outcome. But you have to tackle it early else you will get bogged down in a compliance nightmare. We’d be delighted to help you create a great outcome in energy efficient design.

Matthew Last
Building Consultant, Green Loans Assessor and Energy Efficiency Design Consultant
UBuild Homes

Steel Frame Vs. Timber Frame

Steel or Timber frames? Of course the final decision is one of personal choice, and you need to know that there are some pro’s and con’s associated with both products.

Timber Frame HomeTimber Frame and Truss companies do not market their product. They don’t need to. Over 90% of residential construction is undertaken using timber frame and truss systems. Steel Frame and Truss manufacturing companies market their product. They need to. This is where the problem lies. In order to get their product into the market place Steel Frame manufacturers have to “hype” the benefits of steel. The reality is that these benefits are all relative and many of the benefits are equally inherent in timber.

If you’re an Owner Builder it’s important to get independent advice and then make your own decision. UBuild Homes does not own a frame and truss manufacturing plant for either Timber or Steel and therefore can offer unbiased advice on the best product for your needs.

Cost

Steel is more expensive than timber. Late in 2008 and early 2009 steel was very expensive due to the cost of the raw materials involved. Also the steel production industry is dominated by a few large players who make very good margins on their product. Steel is also more expensive during construction because trades will charge more to work around steel as it can be more labour intensive.

Cost is the main reason why most homes are built in timber. If steel were equivalent or cheaper in cost across an entire job then it would be the number one material used in residential construction. 

How much more expensive is more difficult to quantify, but there is a rule of thumb in the construction industry: you get what you pay for. This applies to all things, not just frames and trusses (steel or timber). You have to assess value by doing research. Remember that the number one reason why people owner build is to save money, so most Owner Builders choose a timber frame and truss system. 

White Ants and Termite Protection

Steel frame and truss systems are fully protected from white ant infestation. This is a good thing and seems to be one of the main reasons people choose them. However it does not protect your entire home so you still need to have a termite protection system. Not having one is very dangerous because there are many other products in your home that have timber or composite materials that will attract termites. You must protect yourself against this because the Steel Frame Manufacturer will not guarantee you against an attack.

Timber Frames and Trusses will attract termites. So you must have a proven and effective termite management system in place. Termites damage homes because of a failure to regularly check the home. It’s a people problem, not a system problem. Termite management systems are only as good as the diligence of the home owner to check the house on a regular basis (every six months). Please bear this in mind.

Strength and Quality

All homes must be engineered to Australian Standards and are independently inspected during construction and at the completion of construction. So arguing the points of strength in materials is a relative game. A professionally engineered home will meet the test of time every time.

Environment

The environmental argument today is a highly emotive one. So many half truths abound. If you are environmentally conscious then you have to consider the entire environmental impact on a comparative basis. You can’t be selective about which facts you use to base your decision.

Timber is a natural product that is environmentally friendly and a renewable resource. Of course it would be best to use timber that is ethically sourced – no illegal logging of natural habitat, etc.

Steel production uses high levels of energy for production. So much so, that steel production is one of the largest polluters on the planet. Aluminium production is even worse, so if the frame company is a steel/alloy composite then there are even bigger issues to consider. These mills leave a huge carbon footprint along the entire production process and if manufactured overseas then even more so as they have less regulations imposed.

The upside to steel is that it can be recycled and often is.

The thermal transfer of heat is greater on steel frame houses than in timber frame homes. So if you were to have two houses with the same amount of insulation and air conditioning then your timber framed home will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Basically and timber framed house will save you money on energy bills and save the environment from lower energy production. 

The environmental impact has a direct relationship with energy efficient and sustainable building. UBuild Homes offers energy efficient building design and sustainable homes. For more details please contact us.

Installation and Trade Management

Steel frame kit homes should only be put together by highly experienced framing specialists. Usually they will be recommended by the manufacturer. Be sure that you have access to such specialists prior to going ahead. This is no different to timber frame kit homes. You should use experienced carpenters. The frame and truss system is one of the critical structural elements to your home.

Installation of steel frame kit homes require a precision manufacturing outcome and require that all the holes and grommets are pre punched and prepared. This is so the erection of the frame and trusses and installation of other services such as plumbing and electrical run smoothly. Remember that you simply cannot make any changes on site with steel. Timber will provide you more flexibility and if you are building a unique home then this is a must. 

Trades must be experienced working around steel. Don’t use trades who have never worked around steel before. Because steel is not used as often, you have to find the right trade team for every part of the house. This reduces your choice of trades and increases your cost.

Rust / Corrosion

A steel frame is particularly risky in a coastal environment. Actually, all building products are – due to the effects of wind, water and salt. But steel is a highly corrosive material. This issue is much like the termite protection issue. It’s the human complacency element that causes the damage, not the system. If you live in a coastal area, regardless of which materials you have used, get regular building inspections and take any water leakage seriously.

A timber frame only requires protection by the use of correct connect plates and bracing within the frames and truss manufacture. So if you are going with timber then be sure to check the quality of your connection plates, regardless of your location.

UBuild Homes does not force an Owner Builder to go one way or the other. We can, and we have, provided kit home packages for both Steel Frame Kit Homes and Timber Frame Kit Homes. There is no difference to the level of service provided.