According to the Ipsos Climate Change Report 2022, 83% of Australians are worried about the effects of climate change and global warming, and 70% can already see the debilitating effects of these problems.
As such, millions of Australian homeowners are making important changes to their homes to help reduce power usage, increase energy efficiency and eliminate water wastage to protect the environment.
If you’re designing a new build or looking to renovate your home, you have a golden opportunity to start from scratch and add sustainable features. From solar panels to LED lights and stormwater tanks, many options are available to help reduce your carbon footprint.
Below, we’ve curated a complete guide to building an eco-home and recommend a range of environmental features you can add to your building or renovation plan.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (or solar panels) convert the sun’s energy (light and heat) to clean electricity for your home. For some perspective, enough sunlight reaches the earth’s surface to meet the world’s yearly energy needs every hour and a half… so there’s more than enough solar power to go around!
Australia is one of the sunniest countries in the world, and millions of homeowners are opting for solar panels over traditional power sources. As of February 2022, almost one-third of Australian households officially had solar panels installed, which is the highest rate in the world.
So, what are the benefits of including solar panels in your home build?
- Reduce power bills. One of the biggest benefits of solar panels is the potential savings. Before you install solar panels, you’ll need to gauge how much energy your household uses so you can install the correct number of panels and size. An easy way to do this is by looking at the average daily use (kWh) on your electricity bill. Your energy requirements may also increase over winter and summer due to reliance on heaters or air conditioning. Discuss this with your solar provider to ensure you install an appropriate system to meet your needs, otherwise you may not install enough solar panels and miss out on savings to your electricity bill.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. An average home with solar panels might reduce 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. For a bit of an idea of what you’re saving, 1.3 tonnes of carbon emissions equal more than 600,000 smartphone charges or more than 2,270 litres of petrol.
- Government rebates. If you have solar panels installed by an accredited installer, the Australian government can rebate between $2,800 and $3,600. The rebate varies based on your location, system size and market prices, but an accredited installer can provide a quote based on your needs. The Federal Government’s Rebates and Assistance page can provide guidance on what rebates are available.
- Good for the environment. As well as reducing carbon emissions, solar panels also reduce air pollution — there are no ongoing pollutants associated with solar-generated power, leading to cleaner air and better public health.
- Get paid for excess solar power. You can earn money from your solar panels by exporting excess power back to the grid. Excess electricity produced from your solar panels that is not used in your home can be returned to the grid. If you are paid for this, it is known as a feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariffs can vary from retailer and state so check with your electricity retailer to see if returning solar energy into the gird means you can qualify for a feed-in tariff.
- Fast payback. If you install the right number of solar panels, through the savings in your electricity bill, your solar panels are likely to pay themselves off within four to seven years.
- Energy independence. An additional solar battery will store the solar power you generate during the day so that you can use it at night, on overcast days, or in the event of a blackout. If you haven’t installed a battery, you can still connect to the grid (street powerlines) for your night time electricity needs.
- Long-lasting. Good solar panels will last at least 25 years, and many solar panels come with a 25-year warranty.
If you’re looking to add sustainable features like solar panels to your home, you may be eligible for our discounted home loan which is designed to reward customers who have made the commitment to live in a home that is energy efficient.
Solar battery storage system
If you’re planning to install solar panels, a solar battery storage system can complement them.
Solar panels have the potential to cover all your energy needs and sometimes even more. Without a solar battery storage system, your excess power will be exported back to the electricity grid, and when there’s a lack of power, your solar panels will seek electricity back from the grid.
This is where a solar battery storage system comes in – solar batteries store the extra power produced during the day, allowing you to use that power whenever the energy usage exceeds what the solar panels can provide. This excess solar power can be used to power your home without the need to seek power from the grid.
You can also sell power back to the grid. As a solar customer, all you need to do is add a feed-in tariff (or buy-back rate) to your electricity plan, and you can receive a credit on your bill for any unused solar power.
Feed-in tariffs can vary from retailer and state so check with your electricity retailer to see if returning solar energy into the gird means you can qualify for a feed-in tariff.
Solar hot water system
Alongside solar panels and a solar battery storage system, you can install a solar hot water system that uses Australia’s abundant sunshine to save energy and money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Around 13% of Australian households have solar hot water systems, covering between 50% and 90% of their hot water needs. Here’s how it works:
- Cold water flows from the water tank to the solar collector on your roof.
- The solar collector absorbs heat from the sun and heats up the water, which then returns to the water tank.
- Hot water rises to the top of the water tank, and cold water is taken from the bottom to be sent to the solar collector. When hot water is used, it’s taken from the top of the tank where it’s hottest.
If your hot water needs to pack more of a punch, you can choose from a gas (natural or LPB) or electric boosting system.
Solar pool heating system
Solar heating can be used to naturally heat pools and extend the swimming seasons.
Like the hot water in your bathroom or kitchen, the cold pool water is pumped into the solar collector on the roof, where it’s heated by the sun’s rays. Once the water is warm, it’s pushed back to the pool via a series of pipes.
Most solar pool heating systems have an automatic controller that diverts pool water to the solar collector when the pool needs heating, so you always have total control over the temperature.
In addition, solar pool heating systems are more durable and reliable than gas or electric systems. There are fewer moving parts with a solar system, and there’s no risk of corrosion, rust, or motors and fans breaking down.
Insulation is a crucial part of building an eco-friendly home.
Insulation is used as a barrier to minimise the movement of heat in or out of our living spaces, ultimately keeping our homes cool in summer and warm in winter. Thanks to the reduced heat flow, the need for artificial heating and cooling is lower, meaning your home will be cheaper to run and better for the environment.
When choosing insulation for your home, keeping an eye on the R-value is important. The R-value signifies how well the insulation resists heat flow — the higher the R-value, the higher the insulation.
Your ideal R-value will depend on the climate zone where your home is based. The Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) uses 69 climate zones to generate home energy ratings — you can use their interactive map to find your climate zone. Be sure to discuss this with your home builder or architect, so you get the best insulation possible.
Energy efficient air conditioning
There’s no doubt that Australian summers can be blisteringly hot, and the winters freezing. Sometimes, insulation isn’t going to cut it to keep the temperature under control in your home, and air conditioning is essential.
To keep your home as environmentally friendly as possible (and increase your eligibility for a Green Home Loan), purchase an air conditioning unit or system with an energy rating of 4/6 stars or a minimum of 6/10 stars. These stars are based on the power and capacity of the air conditioning unit or system in kilowatts.
You should also check the NatHERS interactive climate zone map to understand what star rating is best for your geographic location. If you’re in a particularly hot or cold zone, you may need a higher star rating for the best performance and energy efficiency.
Other considerations include:
- The size of the house/room
- External wall materials
- Insulation levels
- How many windows you have
- The glazing of your windows
- The orientation of your home in relation to the sun
We recommend talking to an air conditioning specialist before making a big purchase decision.
Certified double-glazed windows
Installing double or triple-glazed windows is one of the most effective ways to make your home more energy efficient.
Double-glazed windows have two glass panes bonded together by a spacer. These panes are separated by a gap between 6mm and 20mm, which is hermetically sealed and filled with argon to provide better insulation.
Be sure to have the windows designed and installed by a certified tradesperson. Based on your home design and the local climate, the experts can determine the best U-value (the insulation performance) for your double-glazed windows.
Awnings are a simple and effective way to minimise energy consumption in your home from air conditioning and heating. An awning will minimise the sunlight that reaches your home’s facade, specifically your windows — in fact, awnings can block up to 80% of the direct sunlight and heat on your windows, minimising the heat transfer into your home.
Stormwater tanks collect rain that can be used to run your dishwasher, washing machine, toilets, showers and hoses, reducing the need to waste the water that usually comes from the taps.
Stormwater tanks also reduce the strain on the local stormwater drainage system and reduce site run-off and flood peaks.
Energy efficient LED lights
The higher the wattage of a lightbulb, the higher the running costs and power consumption. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) cost far less than traditional halogen and incandescent lights while still offering the same brightness for a fraction of the electricity used.
We recommend opting for pendant lights or fluorescent fittings over downlights where possible. Downlights don’t spread light as well as pendant and fluorescent fittings, meaning you will need to install more and increase running costs.
Plus, if you plan to have LED lights in at least 80% of your home, you’ll increase your eligibility for one of our Green Home Loans.
Good for your pocket and good for the planet
If you’re looking to add any of these environmental features to your home–and feel as passionate about doing the right thing for our planet like we do–consider making the change to Gateway.
At Gateway, we believe banking shouldn’t cost the earth – that’s why we’re committed to providing a range of environmentally conscious and responsible banking products for our members and the broader community.
From our plant-based Eco Debit Card, to our Green Home Loans that offer a discounted interest rate for adding sustainability features to your home, we reward members who want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and energy efficient environment.
Plus, you can rest assured knowing that we’ve established ethical banking policies, and do not fund industries that harm the environment, like fossil fuel, deforestation, tobacco, or live export industries.