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Wrong way: why north-facing verandas waste energy.

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Media Release

Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC)

8 May 2006

Wrong Way: Why North-Facing Verandas Waste Energy

Building houses with north facing verandas is not the best way to save energy in the desert, research by the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has revealed.

A study of a common house type at Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs, challenges popular assumptions. It shows that rectangular houses with deep east and west facing verandas use less total energy over the course of the whole year.

"The houses were over-engineered towards keeping cool in summer but were designed to rely on insulationduring winter, when they should gather heat from their northern walls, said Michael Duell, a researcher with the Desert Knowledge CRC and Charles Darwin University.

"This leads to large winter heating bills for a small saving on the summer cooling bill."

Mr Duell used advanced computer modelling technology to measure how hot and cold houses become and the energy needed to keep them comfortable in Central Australia's extreme desert climate.

"Simply positioning the kind of house we studied 90 degrees anti-clockwise from north, so that the long axis points east, would result in energy saving of almost 7% per year over one that is not oriented this way," said Mr Duell, who was a finalist in last year's NT Research and Innovation Awards.

"That's before we even consider other energy saving measures, such as insulation, roof colour and wall design."

The findings could add up to substantial savings for both tax payers and desert builders anywhere who are interested in the best passive energy design for their houses.

"With the desert Aboriginal population expected to grow by almost a quarter over the next 15 years, it's clear that we'll need efficiency in house design", said the Desert Knowledge CRC's Managing Director, Jan Ferguson.

"If we build houses with the orientation our research suggests, households and governments stand to save significant amounts of money and energy."

"This kind of desert knowledge makes desert living more sustainable for all," she said.

Mr Duell's results conclude the first stage of a Desert Knowledge CRC research project which is now looking at how people living in community houses actually use energy and how heating and cooling technologies suit their needs and behaviours.

Ms Ferguson hopes the project will lead to changes in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) that reflect the unique social, environmental and economic conditions in the desert.

"Our research aims to develop a building code that all new desert houses would have to meet - a whole new desert standard," she said.

Mr Duell's study looked at how new national energy efficiency measures proposed for the BCA, but not yet adopted by the Northern Territory, would affect desert community housing.

"We found that these measures would not markedly reduce the energy needed to keep the standardised houses we studied comfortable," he said.


More information:

Michael Duell, Desert Knowledge CRC and Charles Darwin University, 08 8946 7280 0408 578 749,

Jan Ferguson, Desert Knowledge CRC, 08 8950 7161 or 0401 719 882,

Elke Wiesmann, Desert Knowledge CRC, 08 8950 7142 and 0427 009 240,