FAQs for Architectural services

These are some questions for Architectural services. Please feel free to call us if you have any other question

1. Does a sustainable design cost more than a standard house?

Some principles of solar passive design cost nothing. For instance it costs nothing to orientate the building so that living areas face north, in fact it will save money in ongoing energy bills. Other things that cost little or nothing are reversing the construction of walls so that the brick faces inside and not out, and placing windows in the correct position so as to allow for prevailing breezes in summer. Things that do cost extra money are some material selections. For instance, using double glazed windows or low emissivity glass will cost more to construct, and fitting them into commercial quality frames is also more expensive. However, both are really worth the additional expenditure, because they both help to seal the building and also to stabilize internal tempered air. Hence heating and cooling costs are reduced. In summary, sustainable design modifies life cycle costing and not just the initial capital cost of construction. Whether we recognize it or not energy supply and maintenance are real costs to owners over the life of the building. They cannot be ignored. A builder is generally focused in building the project and moving on. The long-term interests of owners are not their priority. A proficient sustainable designer on the other hand considers all of these aspects and they are built into the design. In the long tern therefore, it is conceivable that sustainable design is overall more economical, and with the added benefit that the internal spaces will be a joy to experience throughout the life of the building.

2. Is it expensive to have an architect to design your house?

It is true that an architect will charge higher fees than a building designer or a builder, but there are offsetting advantages in using an architect that make it more than worthwhile engaging one.

  • An architect’s higher level of training makes him/her more skillful in creative design.
  • Architects’ efficient planning can reduce building envelope and hence reduce capital cost, thus offsetting fee differences.
  • Architects design holistically, meaning they don’t stop at the house design – they consider how the house best sits in its landscape and how internal space relates to the outside.
  • Architects know how to design for climate All of these advantages mean you, as the client, will enjoy the benefits of a bespoke design that fully meets your needs and provides an environment that is a delight to live in.
3. If I build a sustainable house will I need heating and air conditioning?

Most people have not experienced living in a solar passive home. One of the first things one will notice is that the internal spaces are really well sealed from the outside. The other thing that stands out is that in winter the sun penetrates into rooms warming the floor and walls, whilst in summer external shading prevents the sun from reaching internal surfaces. The overall effect of this is that inside temperatures are very stable year round. A solar passive house should therefore be able to cope with weather conditions year round with little or no supplementary heating and cooling. However, due to climate change we will experience more extreme weather events into the future. On these occasions occupants may feel the need to use an air conditioner or heater. How best do we plan for these extreme events? During construction allow for first fix heating and cooling provisions so supplementary heating and cooling can be installed later. We would then suggest going through the first year without heating and cooling to experience how well the building performs. This will then give you a better idea of how to respond to your needs in the extreme conditions, remembering that everyone responds to climate differently. Should you then decide to install heating and or cooling, it only needs to be in one room because (a) there will only be a few times when it will be required and (b) the room will maintain it’s tempered state much longer than other houses. For these reasons you will also find you will not need to purchase as large a unit. Bear in mind sales people will not be able to advise you on size because their experience is generally limited to poorer performing spaces.

4. Does WOBA have a standard range of plans?

Standard plans generally do not specify an orientation to north and therefore perform very differently when the orientation is changed. This approach is not something that WOBA sanctions. However, WOBA has collaborated with two other architects under the name of ATELIER:URBAN+ENVIRONMENTAL to create four standard plans that achieve a rating of 8+ STARS by pre-determining an orientation for each design. These houses are designed for each compass point direction of north, south, east and west in relation to the street frontage. Each building has been assessed according to FirstRate 5 energy rating computer system. To ensure they achieve their rating a selection of wall systems are available to provide choice in external appearance. For more information go to: http://aue.sa.on.net/Atelier_Verdant_homes/Welcome.html

5. Does a 6 star rated house mean it is going to perform well climatically?

Not necessarily! A 6 star energy rating is the minimum standard required under the Building code of Australia. This is the standard used for Development Approval by Councils. There are a number of methods of achieving the rating. The most commonly used method by the building Industry is called “Deemed to Satisfy” and the other method, used by most architects, is a computer programme called “FirstRate”. Both have their shortcomings, meaning that comfort is not assured. Using an architect versed in sustainable design principles is more likely to ensure human comfort levels far beyond a six star equivalent.

6. Do all builders know how to build sustainably?

No. Whilst many will say they know how to build sustainably few have actually built solar passive houses. Building sustainably means a commitment to principles and procedures and following through with their trades to ensure they know and support those systems. If you want to be sure you are working with a builder who actually builds sustainably contact an architect who practices in this field for a list of builders they have worked with, and can recommend.

7. What are the best materials to use to build your house?

There is no right answer to this question because it is more important to consider systems rather than materials. For instance, an appropriate walling system for temperate regions is a reverse brick veneer system. This means that the brick leaf is placed on the inner leaf so the thermal mass of the brick can be used to advantage. Placing the brick on the outside is totally counterproductive because the heat from the sun in summer is stored in the brick and radiates inside, even after the sun has gone down. The result is greater reliance on air conditioning, which increases energy bills and carbon emissions. If the stud frame is well insulated then the exterior cladding material can be selected from a range of materials, providing they do not have high thermal mass. The floor is where it is appropriate to expose high thermal mass to the winter sun. The best material finishes here are polished concrete or tiles. What is not appropriate are materials which insulate like carpet,etc. For the roof, the best material almost exclusively, is metal sheeting because the metal sheds heat rapidly, allowing the building to cool quickly on summer evenings. In tropical regions the response to this question is very different, so the first thing to consider when framing this question, is to identify the climate zone to which it applies.


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