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Five power-saving tips from a home-owner whose multi-storey abode is 25 per cent more efficient than the standard Australian home.
Story by Peter Barrett
“I’m a wannabe engineer,” laughs architectural photographer Ralph Alphonso who, a few years ago, set out to build the most environmentally friendly house he could on a tiny, 5-by-4-metre block in East Melbourne. Pouring more than 25 years of ideas gleaned from here and overseas into the design, he partnered with 92 eco-building manufacturers to showcase a host of smart, energy-saving products.
The three-storey house, featured on Grand Designs Australia as a “mini- skyscraper”, uses a mix of “passive and active eco-driven processes, materials and performance considerations” to reduce its urban ecological footprint, while adhering to environmentally friendly principles.
In short, Ralph’s 5X4 Hayes Lane Project is a working model of the latest and greatest energy efficiency ideas. Here are his top-five tips to make your existing home more energy efficient.
Ralph Alphonso outside the 5X4 Hayes Lane Project
It may not be the “sexiest” of sustainable innovations but proper insulation is by far the most effective way to save on your heating and cooling costs. That means installing good quality insulation in the roof space and, for some houses, under the floor, too. “I looked out for recycled insulation or natural product so it’s less energy intensive,” says Ralph, adding that where possible it’s better to source local product.
Don’t just stop there, though. Eliminate unwanted heat exchange by installing draught-stoppers under your doors, seal any gaps or cracks in walls and around windows, and check vents, fans and other outlets for escaping air.
Glass windows are great thermal conductors, which means direct contact with the elements can have a huge impact on how your house heats and cools. In summer, ensure your windows are protected with external shading, which can come in the form of canvas awnings, moveable panels, fixed shading (such as louvres) or even clever planting (ornamental grapevines, for example).
“Despite having high-performance double glazing we never let the direct sun touch the glass in summer,” says Ralph. “It’s the cheapest way of reducing your cooling requirements.” And, in winter, the process works in reverse. “You don’t want the cold glass sucking out the heat, so make sure you have curtains or blinds inside your home.”
5X4 Hayes Lane Project
View from the 5X4
Think how many times you turn on your hot water tap for baths, showers and hand washing. Now picture that water running down the sink as you wait for the temperature to be “just right”. Each year that wasted water adds up to thousands of litres. But a new Australian invention can save that water and send it to storage tanks, pools or even to the garden for reuse.
The Redwater Diverter valve costs $176 and can be installed in less than three hours by a plumber. Rainwater tanks are another easy way to save potable water, adds Ralph. “And using rainwater means that you’re not flushing an average of five litres of drinking water straight down the toilet.” A plumber can easily run a pump from your tank to your toilets, washing machine and garden, he says.
With a range of government rebates and incentives for solar power on offer at the moment, now is a great time to consider installing solar panels on your roof. “By using cutting-edge technology we were able to generate the same amount of power on 20-square-metres as an average 60-square-metres can usually do,” says Ralph.
He did this by using micro-inverters, which allows solar panels to be placed individually and at different angles to maximise the solar energy harvested. Also, unlike traditional solar arrays, micro-inverters are not bound to a central point, so no power is lost in the transmission process and the system is not compromised if one panel under-performs. The downside – they are more expensive.
“5X4 has an Asko condensing heat pump dryer that uses less power than a 32-inch LCD TV,” says Ralph, adding that five and six-star appliances are a must in an energy efficient home. He’s also a big fan of LED lighting. “It’s a great example of return on investment. The light bulb is more expensive initially but over its lifetime it pays for itself.”
Ralph says that on average LEDs are 70-80 per cent more efficient in terms of consumption than Halogen globes. On top of that, their lifespan is between 50,000 and 60,000 hours compared to a halogen’s 3000. “The newer generation of LED lights have a greater quality, giving a sense of warmth and comfort and colour resolution,” he adds.
See details of Ralph’s energy-saving design discoveries at fivexfour.com
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With the Labor State Government recently promising $1.3 billion in subsidies for rooftop solar power, solar hot water systems and battery storage if it is re-elected, solar power in Victoria is a hot topic right now.