E117 – Top Approaches to Create a Low Energy Home – Sustainable Homes and Living Season E7

Learn the best ways to create or improve the energy load in your home in this practical and informative episode of the podcast with Anna Cumming, Editor of Sanctuary Magazine.

Frances and Anna discuss how you can design, improve, renovate or build a home to create a low impact, sustainable and low energy home that doesn’t have to break the bank.  

From the 7 star natars ratings, how to brief your designer and go shopping for an energy efficient home, right through to the reasons for only going electric and eliminating gas.

A great episode if you’re looking at making small energy efficient changes, right through to designing a new low energy home. 


Guest: Anna Cumming, Editor of Sanctuary Magazine

Anna Cumming is a writer, editor and communications professional with a longstanding interest in the built environment, in particular the design of sustainable, energy efficient and comfortable homes that tread lightly on the earth. She has held a variety of communications roles at national not-for-profit Renew since 2010, and in 2019 took over as Managing Editor of Sanctuary: modern green homes – Australia’s premier magazine dedicated to sustainable house design. She loves being part of the mission to inspire and educate people about the design strategies, materials and systems available to achieve truly sustainable, delightful homes. 

Naters Rating 

  • What increase from 6 to 7 stars mean in terms of energy efficiency? 

Increase in rating from the old minimum of 6 to the new minimum of 7 means a decrease in energy needed to heat and cool the home between 18%-28% (most locations it’s 20%-25%).  

The Naters energy rating is a rating of the design of the house. It is not a rating of the final built home. It’s important not just to get the house designed right but to get it built to the design. The measure is of the overall performance such as energy it takes to heat and cool the home. 

Using the Nater’s Energy Rating is advised during the design process so you can use it as a design tool, rather than only having the home rated at the end of the process. 

Home Size  

  • How to reduce the size of homes being built  
    • Clever design for multi-purpose rooms and minimal wasted/underused space, to allow for building the ‘least house possible’ as a key part of sustainability 
  • Other impacts of building smaller 
    • Environmental sustainability – by needing fewer materials to build the house and lower energy to heat and cool  
    • Financial sustainability – reduced maintenance cost 
    • Social sustainability 

Home design flexibility 

  • Benefits in creating future flexible and adaptable spaces 
    • Zoning and minimising built-in furniture when spaces could be used for more than one purpose, now or in the future and the use of doors so rooms can be made private, if need be, and to promote zoning. 
    • A home that can adapt to changing lifestyle needs over time, but also for rooms and spaces able to have more than one purpose over time, along with being multi-functional 
    • Create a values brief – a brief on what you want your home to be like 


  • Advantages of retaining existing home and renovating? 
    • Current cost of building and materials is making this option more and more financially attractive 
      • Historical homes tend to hold their value more and have character 
    • Environmental benefits of retaining and reusing all the materials in the existing home 

 Electric Vs Gas 

  • Annual Energy builders are projected to rise for homes using gas by somewhere between A$1,200 – 1,900 a year by 2024. Bills will still increase for all electric homes but only limited to A$550 – 700.  
  • If a home is upgraded to efficient electric appliances for space heating, cooling, and hot water, the energy needed to heat the house is dramatically less. 
  • Going off-grid – if you have an easy grid connection, it’s not really recommended to go off-grid entirely. Batteries are still expensive.  

Anna’s top tips: 

  1. Find a designer/ builder who’s passionate about designing and building sustainably.
  2. Use the Nater’s energy rating early in the piece as a design tool. 
  3. Spend money on things that improve the energy efficiency and thermal comfort and that are hard to retrofit later. Spend money on the building envelope. Spend it on the insulation! 
  4. Go all electric. 

 If you’re after some good sustainable home reading, I encourage you to check out Sanctuary Magazine (https://renew.org.au/sanctuary-magazine/). It’s super inspirational and there are fabulous articles on the latest products and technologies.  

 Useful Links: 

Small changes to your home’s floor plan can completely revolutionise its functionality and reduce the thermal load in the home, – saving you thousands of dollars. 

Want a second professional opinion on your floor plan? Find out more, and Book a Floor Plan Sanity Check™ here. 

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