Building your first home is an incredibly exciting project, but it’s important to make sure you don’t get too excited and rush past some of the logical steps in planning. If you’re hiring professional builders to help you, it will simply be a matter of checking the plans and making sure all is as it should be. If you’re undertaking the project as an owner-builder, however, you’ll have to do all the planning yourself.
Orientation is another way to customise your kit home to your needs
If you think that sounds a bit tedious, don’t worry, because it’s actually kind of fun. In fact, in many ways, being an owner-builder can be more rewarding because you’ll feel more connected to the project at every stage. In this stage, when you’re planning everything, you get to dream about exactly where you’re going to locate the house on your property and how you’re going to orient it.
When you’re building from a kit you’ll have the benefit of already possessing detailed architectural drawings showing the floor plan of the house. With this, you can see the location of every window, door, and other feature. From there it is simply a matter of deciding which way to orient these features to give you maximum advantage.
Key learnings for orientation in Australia
Each region of Australia has different weather patterns, different amounts of daylight, and even the altitude of your property will make a difference. In some areas, you want to orient for maximum cooling efficiency, while in others, maximum heat retention is the goal. You’ll also want to take into account the natural features of the property, the position of other structures (existing or planned) in relation to the house, and whether or not you intend to use solar power.
If you are going to be installing solar panels on your roof, then the primary deciding factor is less about climate and more about ensuring your solar panels receive the maximum amount of sunlight during the day.
The Earth rotates about its own axis 360° every 24 hours, which means each hour it rotates 15° (360÷24=15). During the hours when this rotation causes the Australian continent to be facing towards the sun, sunlight will shine through the atmosphere to reach the ground. The continuing rotation of the Earth creates the illusion that the sun is moving through the sky from east to west. The actual path the sun appears to take is called the solar track or solar arc.
The solar track and your kit home
In the Southern Hemisphere, the solar track always begins with the sun appearing in the east, seeming to track north, and then finally disappearing in the west. This means that the north face of your house will receive the most direct sunlight, and the south face of your house will not receive any direct sunlight. The east face will receive the most direct sunlight early in the morning, and the west face will receive the most direct sunlight in the late afternoon.
During summer, the solar track will appear to have a higher arc than during winter, and the arc will take longer to complete. During winter, when the arc angle is low, objects will cast longer shadows (they’ll also do this early in the morning and late in the afternoon, regardless of the season).
If you are using solar, you’ll want to ensure that the longest expanse of your roof is facing north. Also if you place solar panels on the south side of your roof, you’ll be wasting money.
When you want to maximize the amount of heat and light entering the house, orient the house so the majority of windows are facing north. If you want to minimize heat retention, do the opposite.
Consider surrounding natural structures
One final thing to think about is to take note of the physical geography when you are selecting a property to purchase. If there is a towering mountain immediately to the north of where you plan to situate your home, you are not likely to see very much direct sunlight during winter, and consequently your winters will be colder than usual.