16 Apr, 2018
5 features to look for when buying a new home
You probably have a list of the features you’re looking for in your new home - the number of bedrooms, size of the garden, whether it needs renovations or if it’s ready to move in.
Have you thought about how much your home will cost to run, and how comfortable it might be to live in throughout the hot months of summer? Some careful thought and planning to add a few extra considerations to the list, can ensure that you buy a home that is comfortable to live in and that will save you money year-in and year-out.
We’ve put together five of the top features you should be looking for, when buying a house in our sub-tropical region.
Orientation - keeping cool and comfortable
Good orientation is one of the most important, and easiest ways to achieve a comfortable and cost-effective home. In our sub-tropical environment, the majority of your day-time living spaces and windows should face north or north-east, and all windows and doors should have good sized eaves or awnings to protect them from summer sun. Remember that you can add eaves and awnings as a retrofit later, for more information see [add ref].
Having bedrooms on the southern side of the home will mean these are cooler in the evening, which is ideal for sleeping.
If a home doesn’t have the ideal orientation, it may still be possible to make it work well through good use of shading and ventilation. The most important points are that northern facing windows have fixed shading above them that are big enough to provide full shade during summer, and east and west facing windows can be fully shaded in the morning (on the eastern side) and in the afternoon (on the western side). It may be well worth paying an architect or building professional who understands passive solar design principles to look at the home you’re considering, to provide you some advice for how it would be likely to perform and whether you could easily make some retrofits to improve it.
More information: www.yourhome.gov.au/passive-design/orientation
Access to cooling breezes
After managing the way that sunlight enters your building, the next biggest tool in your kit is allowing natural breezes to cool your building during summer and preventing heat loss during winter.
Breezes actually enter a building due to a pressure difference between the inside and outside - they are sucked into the building, rather than forced in by the wind.
So, cross-ventilation requires both inlet and outlet openings - most effective when they’re directly opposite each other and of similar size. In our region, breezes come mostly from the south-east, and to a lesser extent from the north-east - particularly during summer, so it’s particularly useful to have good sized windows in these directions. You can also use fins, fences and vegetation to direct breezes into your home if the windows can’t face the breezes - and you can also use these to create more privacy or as an attractive feature on your home. Fans can also help, and use far less energy than air conditioners.
Remember that any east or west facing windows will be exposed to a lot of sun, and that they should have adjustable shading (like vertical fins) or vegetation to shade them.
If the home you’re considering is in a hinterland or hilly area, it is worthwhile spending a bit of time in the area to work out where the breezes seem to come from - and also see if you can talk to some of your future neighbours. Hillsides can change the direction of predominate breezes, so it is worthwhile checking in.
For more information: www.yourhome.gov.au/passive-design/passive-cooling
The finer details
There are several additional features that will make a big difference to how your home performs, in terms of keeping you comfortable throughout the year and keeping your energy bills low.
Good insulation in the ceiling and walls will stop the heat from the sun from coming in through your ceiling and external walls - and can also assist with blocking noise if the house is near a busy road.
In addition, a light coloured roof will reflect a much larger proportion of the sun’s heat, and make a big difference to your home. White is best, and remember that an unpainted silver corrugated iron roof will actually heat up substantially due to its properties, even if it might seem that the silver colour would be reflective!
Roof vents can also help to release heat from the ceiling cavity and can be a great feature.
Where possible, look for houses that take advantage of the traditional ‘Queenslander’ style, with lighter building materials such as wood and steel, which are elevated. These light building materials wont store heat during the day, and the elevated home will allow breezes to pass underneath to keep you cool. If you are thinking about a house with heavy building materials such as brick or concrete, look for opportunities to shade these with vegetation or shading structures - especially on the east and western sides.
Energy efficient appliances and hot water system
Once you’ve thought about the physical structure of the home, and looked for features that will help keep you comfortable and cost-effective, the next thing to check is the appliances installed in the home. Whilst these can be replaced, it may be costly to do so - and taking advantage of homes that have already integrated energy efficient appliances could save you money.
Ceiling fans: fans use a tiny fraction of the energy of an air conditioner, and can keep you comfortable on hot days. Look for houses with ceiling fans in bedrooms, living areas as well as outdoor verandahs. Otherwise, consider the ceiling height of the house and whether you could add fans in.
Hot water systems: The hot water system will account for as much as 30% of the average electricity bill, so it’s worth checking if the system is energy efficient. A solar hot water system or heat pump are by far the most cost-effective.
Air conditioner: Whilst having an air conditioner might seem like a great feature, keep in mind that this may indicate that the house really heats up over summer. If there are air conditioners installed, look for the energy rating if this is still available. The more stars, the more efficient it will be.
Pool pump: If the house has a pool, the pump, chlorine or saltwater sanitiser, heaters and lights could add as much as 40% to your energy bill. Ask about the age of the equipment, and whether energy ratings are available.
Travel times and choices
One of the biggest considerations for any new home purchase is whether you can afford the mortgage repayments. Looking for a more affordable home can often lead new home buyers to look at houses further from the city centre, even if that will add to their travel times for work and other activities.
However, many new home buyers forget to factor in is the costs of transport, and can be very surprised to learn that this can add several hundred dollars to their budget each week. In fact, if you consider your mortgage repayments and transport costs together when comparing homes in different locations, you may be surprised to find that buying a more inner-city home with access to good public and active transport can be cheaper, and save you a lot of time each week in travel as well.
In particular, finding a home that may let you downsize to having fewer cars amongst the family by being able to walk, cycle or catch public transport to work may save you several hundred dollars a week.
For more information on choosing a home: