House orientation is the strategy of designing and siting your home to harness the natural advantages of your land. A properly oriented home will use less energy and be more comfortable.

Orientation is often overlooked during the design phase. It’s easy to get caught up in Pinterest and Instagram pictures, obsessing over facades, finishes, colours, and the latest trends. But fads and trends will change, while the orientation of your house layout is almost impossible to change once your home is built, so it’s important to get it right.

Key Considerations

When you start thinking about house orientation, the key factors to consider are:

  • Climate zone

    The first step in determining the best orientation for your new home is to work out what climate zone you are in. Most parts of Australia experience warm or hot summers and mild or cool winters. In these zones, including the Coffs Coast, the main focus is on keeping your home cool in summer. If you are in a Cool Temperate or Alpine zone, your focus will be on keeping your home warm in winter. You can work out which climate you’re you are in by visiting the Australian Government’s Your Home website.

  • Solar access

    Solar access refers to the amount of direct sunlight hitting your home’s windows at different times of day and different times throughout the year.

  • Prevailing winds

    Aim to take advantage of the prevailing winds – why turn on an air conditioner when you can open a couple of windows? On the Coffs Coast, the afternoon sea breeze is generally from the north east.

  • Site specific conditions

    The unique conditions on each site must be taken into consideration. Are buildings on adjacent blocks shading your block? Do you have views? What is the difference in elevation between your block and your neighbour? Is there a noisy road or train line nearby?

Tips for Orientation

Once you have determined which factors apply to your particular block of land, it’s time to start thinking about how these factors will influence the design and orientation of your home.

Determining the best orientation for your block will involve a series of compromises. For example, what do you do if your views are to the south but you want good solar access to the north? These contradictions must be considered on a case by case basis, but in general, the following principles are good starting points:

  • Orient living spaces to the east and north for passive heating on winter mornings, with less used parts of your house facing west to take the brunt of hot summer afternoons.
  • Build close to the south boundary to maximise access to the northern sun
  • Protect your home from direct summer sun with eaves, awnings, trees, and other means of shading.
  • Limit west-facing glazing to minimise heat gain on hot summer afternoons
  • Locate less-used parts of your home, like garages, laundries, and spare rooms to the west.
  • Create paths for breezes to blow through your house
  • Open plan layouts encourage good ventilation
  • Use vegetation that provides shade in summer but can be pruned to allow winter sun access. Otherwise, consider deciduous vegetation that allows winter sun.
  • Shield living spaces and the most used bedrooms from road or train noise by locating them on the opposite side of the house to the noise source
  • Where access to northern sun is difficult, consider using a skillion roof with high level openable windows to bring in sun and encourage air flow.

It helps to use an accredited building designer or architect at this stage, as they will often know intuitively how to harness the potential of your land. Our lead building designer at Balance Design and Construction has achieved HIA Green Smart accreditation, and is well placed to help you make the most of your land.

Shading

The climate on the Coffs Coast is forgiving. It rarely gets too hot, and it rarely gets too cold, so we can get away with design compromises that would be unadvisable elsewhere. However, it is still important to get the solar orientation of your home correct.

The sun passes higher overhead in summer, so it is vital to have eaves at least 600mm wide to shade your windows from direct sun. In winter, when the sun passes lower in the sky, the sun will shine directly into properly oriented windows, providing free heating for your home. Extra shading or vegetation on the western side of your home will help to keep your home cooler on summer afternoons.

Solar Aspect

The Northern Hemisphere Confusion

One word of warning – if you are searching for advice on house orientation, be careful to choose advice from a local Australian source. Many architects, designers, and consultants from the United States, Canada, and Europe have great advice about this topic, but in the northern hemisphere, homes are oriented to the south, not the north. Northern hemisphere designers (particularly those in Europe, Canada, and northern USA) are also usually trying to find ways to warm their houses, not keep them cool, due to their prevailing climate conditions. Orienting your house to the south west may make sense in Canada (where the locals joke there are two seasons – this winter and next winter), but in Australia that will produce a hot and dark house.

More Information

The Australian Government’s Your Home site includes a huge amount of information about building a comfortable, well designed home. Information about orienting your new house properly is available at https://www.yourhome.gov.au/passive-design/orientation

Our Green Smart accredited building designer is available to help you start planning your comfortable, sustainable new home. Give us a call to arrange your free consultation!

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