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guide to good design

design for a sustainable lifestyle

enhancing our living environment

guide to good design

design for a sustainable lifestyle

enhancing our living environment

Foreword Getting started Choosing a house The right size for your needs Neighbourhood impacts Design for our climate Orientation Orientation for passive solar heating Orientation for passive cooling Thermal mass Thermal mass properties Typical applications Locating thermal mass Combining thermal mass with lightweight materials Insulation and draught sealing Types of insulation Choosing insulation Where to install insulation Draught sealing Shading Sun path Shading types General guidelines Glazing Glazing types Frames Using the Window Energy Rating System Passive design considerations Fading 5 6 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 10 11 12 12 13 14 15 16 16 18 19 19 19 19 21 21 22 22 23 24

Air tightness Light transmittance Heat loss and gain Ventilation Noise control Condensation Passive cooling Design principles Air movement Indoor air quality Sources of indoor air pollution Choosing materials Carpets General pointers to reduce indoor pollution Energy heat, light, hot water and power Energy sources Hot water Solar hot water Choosing solar hot water systems Energy source selection Solar energy options Photovoltaic systems Energy use - appliances Household appliances energy rating scheme Calculating total greenhouse gas emissions Water Use the rain Irrigation Household applications and fixtures water use ratings scheme

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Designing the outdoors Front yard/back yard Plants Maintenance Surface treatments Garden structures and fences Design to guard against fire Adaptable housing Externally Internally Related publications

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The ACT Planning and Land Authority wants to ensure that people are able to achieve good building design that meets their needs and lifestyles, provides for an acceptable level of amenity for their neighbours, is environmentally friendly and continues Canberras rich tapestry of housing choice. The Authority encourages using sustainable design principles when building. This will result in a building that is more comfortable, has less impact on the environment, is more economical to run and is healthier to live in. This design guide, part of a series to support these principles, has been produced to help home owners, designers and builders incorporate features in developments that achieve high levels of sustainability. It is recommended reading for anyone contemplating residential building work. If you are building, buying or renovating, this guide will assist you to design and build a more comfortable home that has less impact on the environment, both in the short and long terms. Other books in this series are aimed at assisting home owners, builders and design professionals prepare good development applications that result in timely approvals, regardless of the sort of development they are proposing. The ACT Planning and Land Authority aims to encourage good design and share best practice information. In addition to this guide, a range of design examples at may also provide inspiration. Please contact our Customer Service Centre on 02 6207 1923 if you would like more information on building design or the process involved as you create your living space and enhance the living environment of the ACT.

Neil Savery Chief Planning Executive

First published June 2004

These guidelines have been adapted to Canberras climate from the Your Home, Your Future, Your Lifestyle series produced by the Australian Greenhouse Office. The assistance of the Australian Greenhouse Office in providing source material, photographs and images is appreciated. Additional useful information is available at or from the Your Home CD-ROM included with this book.

getting started
Many factors will influence the location and choice of your home design. Your home choice will be based on ideas and expectations about your lifestyle and accommodation needs. Obviously, your budget will be a central consideration, however other questions and issues that you will need to take into account are: What dwelling type is appropriate to your lifestyle and your familys needs? Will a dwelling and its surrounds need considerable time spent on maintenance? Is it close to public transport, employment, schools, shops, health, social and recreation facilities? Lower density housing in suburban areas may have higher time and money costs (i.e. running cars) versus locations in inner city areas Re-use of existing buildings can save energy and materials

Efficient land use reduces energy costs, so it is worth bearing the following points in mind: Rectangular lots permit efficient land use Compact houses are more energy efficient in Canberras climate Site coverage should maximise the area available for landscaping Family members and pets have differing indoor and outdoor space needs

choosing a house
Before choosing or designing your house some key decisions and actions might include: Make a checklist of your priority functions for inclusion as rooms or linked spaces Accommodate a changing lifestyle with adaptable design Plan the home so it can be modified for future needs at least cost and effort Consider how the plan interacts with the site - good indoor/outdoor relationships are desirable in Canberras climate Maximise benefits of solar access, cooling breezes, summer shading and wind protection Avoid windows and outdoor living areas facing the neighbours

the right size for your needs

Building a more compact home will save on material and building costs. Good design creates quality living space, poor design wastes space and money, especially in the long term. Do you need that extra bedroom - could it be added later when needed? How many living areas do you need? Do you need more than one bathroom? How much garaging? Does the car deserve a room of its own? Since home costs increase by the square metre make sure you get the most out of every bit of your house

neighbourhood impacts
Be innovative and adventurous but sympathetic to the neighbourhood by considering: Appropriate materials Forms sympathetic to the area Appropriate bulk, height and style Low glare materials and finishes Colours sympathetic to the surroundings Protect the neighbours solar access, privacy and views and avoid overshadowing or overlooking their property

design for our climate

Canberra has hot summers and cold winters with winds that significantly affect outdoor comfort. Good design, which considers orientation, thermal mass, insulation, sealing draughts and shading can reduce many of the effects of these extremes.

Applying principles of good orientation assists passive heating and cooling, resulting in improved comfort and smaller energy bills. On average, 39 percent of energy consumed in Canberra homes is space heating and cooling. Using passive solar design (which usually means orientation along an east-west axis providing exposure to north sunlight) dramatically reduces ongoing costs.

summer winter shadow winter

summer shadow

orientation for passive solar heating

Passive solar heating is about keeping the summer sun out and letting the winter sun in. It is the least expensive way to heat the home. Passive solar houses are comfortable to live in, cost less to run and can be achieved on any site. The basic principles are: Northerly orientation of daytime living areas Appropriate areas of glass on northern facades with summer passive shading Control solar access to east and west windows Minimising heat loss with insulation and draught sealing Thermal mass for storing heat energy Floor plan zoning based on heating needs

On sites with poor orientation or limited solar access, energy efficiency is achievable through design. Advanced glazing systems and shading can achieve winter solar gains from windows in almost any direction whilst limiting summer heat gain.

orientation for passive cooling

Good orientation for passive cooling excludes unwanted sun and ensures access to cooling breezes. A degree of passive cooling is necessary for Canberras climate. Passive cooling is the least expensive means of cooling a home with the lowest environmental impact. In discussions with your architect, you may consider the following principles: Minimise daily summer heat gains by providing effective shading to windows and glass doors (planting or shade structures) Design to capture air movement and cooling breezes and increase controlled natural air movement by placing windows and vents to maximise cross ventilation Provide adequate levels of insulation and use high thermal mass construction Control solar access to east and west windows Use light coloured roofs and walls to reflect solar radiation and reduce heat gain

Overall principles for solar orientation applying to both new homes and extensions to existing homes

thermal mass
Thermal mass is the ability of a material to absorb, store and then release heat energy, a little like a thermal battery. In summer, it stabilises temperatures, keeping the house comfortable; in winter, it can store heat from the sun or heaters to release at night to help warm the house. Thermal mass is particularly beneficial in Canberra where there is a big difference between day and night outdoor temperatures. Greater density equals greater energy storage. A lot of heat energy is required to change the temperature of high density materials like concrete, bricks and tiles. Light materials like timber have low thermal mass Thermal mass can significantly increase comfort and reduce energy consumption when used correctly



Thermal mass is not a substitute for insulation but stores and re-radiates heat. Insulation stops heat flowing into or out of a building. High thermal mass material, such as uninsulated double brick, is not a good thermal insulator. Ideally you should be aiming to have appropriate thermal mass and good insulation.

Thermal mass evens out variations in day time temperatures


thermal mass properties

Materials that have good thermal mass contain the following properties: High density - The more dense (in other words, the less trapped air) the higher the thermal mass, for example, water has very high thermal mass, concrete has high thermal mass, aerated autoclaved concrete block has medium thermal mass, timber has low thermal mass and insulation has none Good thermal conductivity - It must allow heat to flow through it. For example, rubber is a poor conductor of heat, brick is good, and reinforced concrete is better. If conductivity is too high (for example, steel) energy is absorbed and released too quickly for the lag effect required for diurnal moderation Low reflectivity - dark, matt or textured surfaces absorb and re-radiate more energy than light, smooth, reflective surfaces


typical applications
Thermal mass can be incorporated into a building in a number of ways: A suspended slab with an insulated underside provides effective thermal mass. To avoid the loss of heat to the surrounding soil, a slab on the ground should at least include an insulated perimeter where the slab meets the surrounding soil. In colder alpine areas the whole slab must be insulated from earth contact Polish or tile the slab. Do not cover slab areas exposed to winter sun with carpet, wood or other insulating materials as this negates the thermal mass effect Masonry walls provide good thermal mass. Insulate on the outside, much like reverse brick veneer. Masonry walls with cavity insulation and rammed earth walls provide good thermal mass Place thermal mass on the inside of lightweight structures as opposed to traditional brick veneer construction that has the thermal mass on the outside where it provides no benefit in stabilising internal temperatures Water can provide thermal mass, for example, internal water features, water tanks and walls built with water-filled containers

locating thermal mass

Locating thermal mass within a building has an enormous impact on its year round performance. Generally the best place for thermal mass is inside an insulated building envelope. For example, reverse brick veneer construction with masonry walls inside an insulated frame and lightweight external cladding is much more effective than the traditional external brick veneer. Remember that: Better insulation means more effective mass Thermal mass must be exposed to interact with the house interior Winter heating application: locate in areas receiving sunlight or radiant heat from heaters Summer cooling application: protect from summer sun and allow cool night breezes and air currents to pass over it, drawing out the stored energy Brick veneer houses with tiled roofs have thermal mass on the outside and insulating materials inside minimising the value of the thermal mass. Brick veneer is an inefficient, energy cladding system. The brick veneer has no structural role and its thermal performance is no better than lightweight materials Avoid using thermal mass in rooms and buildings with poor insulation from external temperature extremes and rooms with minimal exposure to winter sun or cooling summer breezes


combining thermal mass with lightweight materials

Different combinations of materials used to build the main elements of homes (roof, walls and floor) have advantages and disadvantages with regard to thermal comfort, lower construction and maintenance costs and overall environmental impact. In most situations, a carefully designed combination of lightweight and heavyweight systems will produce the best overall outcome in economic and environmental terms.

Use of heavy and lightweight cladding systems can help optimise ongoing thermal performance, offer similar durability to brick and reduce embodied energy in the building.


insulation and draught sealing

Insulation acts as a barrier to heat flow and is an essential part of passive design, keeping your home warm in winter and cool in summer. A well insulated and well designed home will provide year-round comfort, cutting cooling and heating bills by up to one half. In turn, this will reduce greenhouse emissions. Insulation caters for seasonal as well as daily variations in temperature.

Typical heat gains and losses in Canberras climate


Its worth considering the following points when deciding what sort of insulation you will use and where: Passive design must be used in conjunction with insulation If insulation is installed but the house is not properly shaded, built-up heat can create an oven effect Draught sealing is important, as draughts can account for up to 25 percent of heat loss from a home in winter Insulation can assist with weatherproofing and eliminate moisture problems such as condensation Some types of insulation also have soundproofing qualities Most common construction materials have little insulating value, with some exceptions where little or no additional insulation may be required. Suitable materials include aerated concrete blocks, hollow expanded polystyrene blocks, straw bales and rendered extruded polystyrene sheets The most economical time to install insulation is during construction

types of insulation
Insulation is available in two forms, bulk and reflective, which are sometimes combined.

Bulk insulation
Bulk insulation mainly resists the transfer of conducted and convected heat, relying on pockets of trapped air within its structure. Its thermal resistance is essentially the same regardless of which way heat flows through it. Common types of bulk insulation are: Glass fibre - made from melted glass spun into a mat of fine fibres Rockwool batts and loose-fill - made from melted volcanic rock spun into a mat of fine fibres Polyester - made from polyester threads spun into a mat, produced in rolls and batts Wool batts and loose-fill - made from spun sheeps wool, treated against vermin and rot Cellulose fibre loose-fill - made from pulverised recycled paper Extruded polystyrene [Styrofoam] - rigid boards that retain air but exclude water Expanded polystyrene [EPS] - semi-rigid boards of polystyrene beads

Reflective insulation
Reflective insulation uses high reflective properties and its ability to re-radiate heat. Its effectiveness relies on the presence of an air layer of at least 25 mm next to its shiny surface. Its thermal resistance varies with the direction of heat flow through it. Common types of reflective insulation are: Reflective foil laminate [RFL sarking] - aluminium foil laminated with glass fibre reinforcement Multi-cell foil batts - made from layers of RFL with enclosed air cavities between the layers


Concertinatype foil batts - concertina-folded foil/paper laminate

choosing insulation
When choosing what sort of insulation is appropriate for your home you may want to: Compare R-values, the bigger the R level the better Check for performance guarantees or test certificates Compare environmental benefits, for example, recycled content Consider if it suits the application and will it fit in the space available?

What are R-values?

R-values measure resistance to heat flow. Higher R-values mean higher levels of insulation. Material R-values of bulk insulation refer to insulating value of the product alone System R-values of reflective insulation depend on installation Depending on direction of heat flow R-values can differ - this is marginal for bulk insulation but can be pronounced for reflective insulation Up R-values: resistance to heat flow upwards (winter R-values) Down R-values: resistance to heat flow downwards (summer R-values)

Recommended insulation levels for Canberra

Ceilings R3.5 R4.0 Walls R1.5-2.0 Under floors R1.5-2.0

Note that R values will only be achieved if sufficient space exists for bulk insulation to fully expand.

where to install insulation

To make the best use of insulation, it should be installed in the following locations: Under roofing materials - to reduce radiant heat gain (including under veranda roofs) In ceilings and bulkheads - to reduce heat gain and loss (usually between joists) External walls - to reduce radiant, conducted and convected heat transfer, including: Within cavities Within stud frames On the outside of stud frames On the inside or outside of solid walls Floors require insulation in cool climates like Canberras

Insulation can be added to existing buildings with varying effectiveness and cost depending on the construction type and where it is being placed. Ceilings and suspended floors with good access are easiest to insulate Insulation board can be laid beneath floor finishes Walls and skillion roofs require removal of internal or external linings Insulate during re-cladding or re-plastering


External insulation or cavity fill may be appropriate for brick veneer and double brick walls

General guide to the installation of wall and ceiling insulation

Punctured foil, building paper, or housewrap Slab

R1.5 bulk insulation Ground level Waterproof membrane R1.0 polystyrene edge insulation

External weatherboards




draught sealing
Whatever construction system is used, air leakage accounts for 15 to 25 percent of winter heat loss in Canberra homes. Use airtight construction detailing, particularly at wall/ceiling and wall floor junctions. Control ventilation so it occurs when and where you want it Choose well made windows and doors with airtight seals Improve the performance of existing windows and doors by using draught-proofing strips Seal gaps between the window/door frame and the wall prior to fitting architraves Avoid using down lights that penetrate ceiling insulation Duct exhaust fans and install non return baffles Avoid open fires and fit dampers to chimneys and flues Do not use permanently vented skylights Use tight fitting floor boards and insulate the underside of timber floors Seal off air vents, use windows and doors for ventilation as required

Air leakage as illustrated accounts for 15 to 25 percent of winter heat loss in Canberra homes.


Shading your building and outdoor spaces will reduce summer indoor temperatures, improve comfort and save energy. Shading can block up to 90 percent of the heat created by direct sunlight. Unprotected glass is often the greatest source of unwanted heat gain in a home.

sun path
During winter the suns path is very low in the sky compared with its summer path meaning that shading can be designed to maximise winter solar radiation gain but exclude summer solar radiation.

shading types
Types of shading you can use will vary according to house orientation. Different sizes or types of shading devices will be needed for different parts of the house. The following chart outlines a general rule of thumb for Canberra:

North East and west North-east and north-west South-east and south-west

Suggested shading type

fixed or adjustable shading placed horizontally above window external adjustable vertical screens adjustable shading plantings

general guidelines
Ideally, your main windows will be orientated towards the north, you can exclude the sun in summer and admit it in winter using simple horizontal devices, such as eaves, awnings and pergolas with louvres set to the correct angle. East and west openings will require adjustable shading to control heat from low morning and afternoon sun. Examples include deep verandas, pergolas with deciduous vines, external blinds and louvres. In Canberra, use deciduous vines or trees to the north and deciduous or evergreen trees to the east and west.


Correctly designed eaves can regulate solar access on northern elevations throughout the year, without requiring any user effort.

Fixed horizontal louvres set to the midwinter sun angle and spaced correctly will allow full winter heating and total summer shading. In Canberra the appropriate louvre angle is 31.


Windows are important to provide daylight, ventilation, noise control, security and views connecting interior and outdoor spaces. However, windows and other glazed external surfaces also have a major impact on a buildings energy efficiency. Windows are the major source of heat transfer in a well insulated home. In summer, each square metre of glass in direct sun can allow as much heat in as would be produced by a single bar radiator In winter, heat losses through a window can be ten or more times the losses through the same area of insulated wall

glazing types
Your choice of glazing type will determine energy efficiency, light transmittance, noise control and security. If the glass you select does not reflect or absorb solar radiation, it will be transmitted through the window. Some of the types of glass available with their properties are: Tinted or toned glass is the most common absorbent glass, acting like sunglasses to reduce transmission of solar radiation Reflective glass has a coating, either vacuum-deposited (soft, must be glazed facing indoors) or pyrolytic (hard, can be glazed facing outdoors). Where glare may annoy neighbours, reflectivity should be below 15-20 percent Spectrally selective glazing maximises light transmission whilst reflecting unwanted solar radiation Low emissivity (low-e) glass allows short wavelength energy from the sun to enter but reduces loss of long wavelength (infrared) energy Polymers can replace glass, for example with skylights. May also be in laminates for impact resistance or in double-glazing to improve insulation


Single glazing provides very little insulation and should not be used except in small glazed areas such as the laundry and bathrooms Double-glazing offers much better insulation and comprises two panes of glass with a sealed space filled with air or inert gas. A low cost alternative is a thin, transparent polyethylene membrane in place of the inner pane

After glazing, frames have the greatest impact on window energy performance: Aluminium frames are light, strong and durable but aluminium is a good heat conductor and can decrease insulation values by 20 - 30 percent. Large amounts of energy are used to make aluminium. Aluminium windows can eventually be recycled to reduce this impact and some frames are available in recycled aluminium Timber frames insulate well but require more maintenance than aluminium. Timber swells and shrinks with changes in temperature/humidity and requires larger tolerances. Any resulting gaps should be sealed against draughts. It is important to check that timber is from sustainably managed forests uPVC plastic frames are relatively new in Australia. Their insulating properties are similar to timber. Fibre-reinforced polyester plastic frames are used overseas and are the most thermally efficient framing materials available. Polyester is much less toxic than PVC Composite frames typically use thin aluminium on the outer sections with either a timber or uPVC inner section. They insulate about twice as well as standard aluminium frames but are more expensive

using the Window Energy Rating System

The Window Energy Rating System (WERS) rates energy performance of residential windows from zero to five stars for cooling (summer) and heating (winter). WERS rated windows carry a sticker, certificate and material showing ratings for heating and cooling performance plus other useful information. Canberra is a heating climate so you should select windows with a heating climate classification which are designed to keep heat inside. Compare WERS star ratings for suitable generic windows with available products and select according to cost and performance. The heating star rating is more important in the Canberra heating climate. WERS ratings will be less accurate where total glass area is greater than 35 percent of floor area and where buildings have large areas of overhead glazing, sunspaces, attached conservatories and large skylights.


Easy to understand star ratings for cooling and hearing performance. The more stars, the more energy efficient the window.

Indicative percent reduction in heating and cooling needs for the whole house, compared with base-case, single-glazed, standard aluminium window. the higher the percentage, the more you will save on your energy bills by installing the window.

Basic thermal, solar and optical performance data including the U-value for the window; the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient; Visible Transmittance; Fabric Fading Transmittance and Air Infiltration for explanations of these terms. These figures help to determine if the window is right for your specific application and climate.

passive design considerations

The overall insulation value of window assemblies needs to be considered along with overall passive design issues. U-value measures heat transfer - the lower the U value the better the performance. WERS uses U-values to describe window insulation performance Double glazing and/or specially treated glass will lower the U-value R-values (see Insulation) describe similar insulating properties in other building materials. Higher R-value means better performance. To convert U-values to R-values, divide U value into 1 (R = 1/U) U-values are listed on the lower part of WERS rating labels


Reduction in heating energy (%) compared to using 3 mm single glass in aluminium frame in Canberras heating climate

Exposure to sunlight causes many modern interior furnishings to fade Appropriate glazing will reduce fading but will not prevent it completely Fabric Fading Transmittance is a measure of the extent to which a window transmits those wavelengths of light that cause fading. It is shown at the bottom of WERS rating labels The lower this number, the lower the potential for fading

air tightness
Thermal performance of windows and doors is lowered if they are not airtight. Heat loss and gain can occur from air infiltration through cracks in window assemblies. Well-made frames, seals around opening sashes, sealing between wall and window frames are all important. Infiltration is measured in terms of the amount of air that passes through a unit area of window under given pressure conditions. Air infiltration for a particular window is shown at the bottom of WERS rating labels. The lower this number the better.

Air infiltration through cracks in the window assembly is a key means of energy transfer


light transmittance
Visible transmittance (VT) measures visible light transmitted, WERS rating labels show VT performance. Some points to bear in mind when you are choosing glass include: Glass with VT of at least 0.5 (50 percent) will preserve the benefits of natural lighting High VT helps maximise daylight and view but must be balanced against the need to control solar gain and glare in hot climates Diffuse lighting (as opposed to direct sunlight) is generally best for illumination without glare

Skylights provide excellent natural lighting, particularly where shading and other passive design elements can reduce light transmittance through windows. A Skylight Energy Rating Scheme (SERS) has been developed in Australia, similar to WERS. Remember that permanently vented skylights in heating zones of your home will be a major cause of heat loss.

heat loss and gain

You can make a substantial difference to the amount of heat lost through windows using internal insulation such as: Closely woven curtains and sealed pelmet boxes (most effective). Curtains can provide extra summer protection, especially if they have reflective linings. A snug fit on both sides of the window and boxed pelmets or solid strips at the top of the curtain is important for best performance Tightly fitting Roman type blinds and insulated shutters may be effective provided they form a sealed air space next to the window

External shading, such as eaves, overhangs, pergolas and sun blinds, helps reduce solar radiation passing through windows.


The amount of ventilation that you can provide through your windows will depend on their placement, opening size and the frame type. Cross ventilation is five times as effective as single-sided ventilation. Balance summer ventilation against air leakage and winter heat loss. Remember that: Hinged windows ventilate through the full window area Louvres allow 100 percent openings. They are not easily double glazed and are less airtight and should be avoided in the Canberra heating climate Sliding windows open to half the window area Double hung windows restrict opening area but can allow hot air to escape at the top of the room or cool air to enter at the bottom


noise control
Noise control issues should be considered when selecting windows. Standard single glazed windows are poor noise barriers. Sealed double glazing reduces transmission of medium to high frequencies such as the human voice Reduce low frequency noise (for example, traffic) by using thicker glass - double-glazed with a large air gap (100 mm plus) is most effective. Such large gaps allow convection to occur between the panes and reduce insulating properties Thick laminated glass also reduces noise transmission but offers little in the way of thermal performance Sealing cracks and gaps helps control noise

Windows can play a part in controlling condensation in your house: Energy efficient windows reduce condensation and the build-up of unsightly and unhealthy mould and fungus because interior and exterior glass surfaces are closer to the adjacent air temperatures Less efficient windows create greater differences between room temperature and glass surface temperature, facilitating condensation Most double glazed units are sealed, with a desiccant in the spacer bar to eliminate condensation Open windows can promote condensation and mould growth when warm, moist air meets colder air inside or outside the house

Condensation and draughts


passive cooling
Ventilation is an essential part of designing and modifying homes to achieve summer comfort through passive cooling. While Canberra is essentially a heating climate you also should carefully consider the need for summer cooling. Ventilation contributes to passive cooling through: Air movement Cooling breezes Assisting evaporation

Ventilation is the least expensive means of cooling, it has the lowest environmental impact and is appropriate for the Canberra climate.

design principles
Good design that allows air movement to cool your building and its occupants will reduce or eliminate external summer heat gains during the day. It is worth considering local conditions and the microclimate of your site as a part of the design process. The design should: Orientate openings for exposure to cooling breezes Increase natural ventilation by reducing barriers to air paths through the building Zone floor plans to maximise comfort for daytime activities and sleeping comfort Place windows and glazing to minimise unwanted heat gains and maximise ventilation Maximise convective ventilation with high level windows, ceiling and roof space vents Zone living and sleeping areas for climate - vertically and horizontally Design ceilings and furnishing positions for optimum efficiency of fans, cool breezes and convective ventilation

air movement
Moving air increases evaporation rates and is the most important ingredient for passive cooling. Cross ventilation generally is the most effective for air exchange (building cooling) and fans for air movement (people cooling).

Cooling breezes
Your design should maximise the flow of cooling breezes. In Canberras warmer months cooling breezes come from the east and openings on the eastern walls will help capture this natural cooling effect. Night cooling means cool breezes often flow down valleys in late evenings and early mornings. Thermal currents in flatter areas are often brief in early morning and evening but with good design can yield worthwhile cooling benefits. When designing to capture cooling breezes: Maximise multiple flow paths, minimise barriers (single depth rooms recommended) Use windows to deflect/capture breezes Allow airflow at levels suitable for proposed activity Use plantings to funnel breezes in and through building, filter strong winds, exclude adverse winds


Wind patterns in Canberras warmer months. The length of lines along the sixteen compass points show the frequency of wind from that direction. The percentage of calm weather is shown by the figure in the centre.

Courtyard design with evaporative cooling pond

Convective air movement relies on hot air rising and exiting at the highest point, drawing in cool air, for example, from shaded external areas or over ponds or cool earth. Remember: Convective air movement is able to cool a building but has insufficient air speed to cool occupants High level windows, roof ventilators, vented ridges, eaves and ceilings allow convected heat to exit buildings when there are no external breezes to create air movement. You must be able to close down convective air vents in colder months


indoor air quality

Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air. Design for good air quality can improve health and well-being. Indoor pollution has been linked to numerous health problems. Unhealthy indoor air can cause headache, fatigue, coughing, sneezing, dizziness and eye, nose, throat and skin irritation. Some health effects may be experienced soon after exposure; others may be felt years later. The CSIRO estimates that occupants of new homes may be exposed to many times the maximum allowable limits of some indoor air pollutants and that exposure can continue for many weeks after occupation.

sources of indoor air pollution

Although individual sources may not pose significant health risks by themselves, multiple sources of indoor air pollution may interact and may include: Synthetic building materials, finishes and furnishings that release or outgas pollutants Personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners Biological sources for example, insects, pests, moulds and other fungi

A number of potential pollution factors need to be considered when selecting materials and finishes for your home. These include the potential for emissions, the toxicity of the materials, the quantity you will be using of each and their proximity, or the location in the home.

choosing materials
Choose products with very low or zero solvent and harmful particle emissions. These include: Termite barriers in stainless steel or granite Hard finished flooring such as ceramic tiles or polished concrete Timber finished with plant based hard oils or waxes instead of polyurethane finishes Linoleum or cork glued with natural rubber latex Rugs on hard floors are cleaned more easily than carpets Sisal, coir or jute flooring materials


Plant or mineral based paints instead of petrochemical paints and varnishes. Low VOC conventional water-based paints are generally preferable to oil based finishes Jute or recycled textile underlay instead of synthetic

Use low emission carpet and ask your supplier to unroll and air carpet before installation. Opt for mechanical fixing. Ask for low-emitting water base types of adhesives if they are needed. Leave the premises during and immediately after carpet installation and open doors and windows. Install low pile carpet and clean regularly to minimise dust mites. Use low emission alternatives, for example, linoleum, coir, seagrass, cork and hard floor finishes - be aware of finishes used to treat such surfaces.

general pointers to reduce indoor pollution

Some general points to bear in mind around your house: When you are controlling pests and using other chemicals use non-aerosol products and, as an alternative to chemicals, try traps or herbs to control pests. If chemical controls are needed, use low toxic pyrethrum-based or biologically-based products Good ventilation will ensure that pollutants do not accumulate to levels that pose health and comfort problems. Air filters may be necessary for people with high chemical sensitivity Keep gas releasing products for example, solvents, paints, glues in sealed containers or cupboards, preferably outdoors Indicators of poor ventilation can include condensation on windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, and areas where books, shoes, or other items become mouldy Good ventilation is essential when you are using unflued gas stoves or heaters Buy only low-NOx heaters, do not use in confined spaces for prolonged periods Use correct installation/maintenance procedures for chimneys and flues Control dampness to minimise mould, fungi, mites Enable occupants to open/close building and cross ventilate when needed Balance need to introduce fresh air with maintaining comfortable temperatures Do not ventilate excessively in cold weather or you waste energy In cooler weather it is preferable to flush air through the house at warmest time of day Use low or zero emission paints and varnishes Ensure flue outlets of gas, water, room heaters are away from open windows Indoor plants can improve indoor environment quality


energy heat, light, hot water and power

Home energy use in Canberra generates around eight tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) (the main greenhouse gas) per household per year and is the largest source of greenhouse emissions. Annual sources of greenhouse gas emissions (tonnes CO2 per annum) from the home are: Water heating, refrigeration, space heating and cooling produce most greenhouse gases Cooking, lighting and stand-by energy use

Greenhouse gases from home energy use (AGO 1999)


energy sources
Energy can be renewable or non-renewable. Renewable sources - solar, wind, hydropower - are naturally replenished and produce very few greenhouse gas emissions. Nonrenewable energy comes from diminishing stocks of fossil fuel and produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. Electricity from coal fired power stations releases high levels of CO2 and other pollutants and transmission losses create inefficiency. Natural gas produces about one third of the greenhouse emissions of grid electricity. Hydro-electricity produces almost no greenhouse gas but may have other environmental effects.

You consider the following when deciding on the level of electricity usage in you house: Electricity can run the full range of household appliances It is the most greenhouse intensive energy source It is usually most expensive per unit of energy used Electricity provides a way of buying renewable energy through Green Power purchase at It can be generated by households from renewable sources Reduced consumption can be achieved through energy efficiency and fuel switching

Gas can be: Less expensive than electricity, with fewer greenhouse emissions but is a non-renewable fuel Largely used for water heating, room heating, cooking Used for clothes drying, fuelling vehicles, refrigeration

Reticulated gas may not be available everywhere but liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) can be used as a substitute. LPG has similar greenhouse emissions but costs twice as much as reticulated gas and transportation adds financial and environmental costs. Remember that rooms should be adequately ventilated when unflued gas appliances are used.

Wood can be a renewable energy source if it comes from sustainably managed forests. They make no net contribution to greenhouse gases if trees are planted to replace those used, but usually fossil fuels will be used in collecting and transporting wood. Local air pollution and health problems mean wood is generally not desirable in urban areas. Some efficient, low pollution stoves are available but are more expensive and must be operated properly. For more information about wood burning heaters contact Go to Your environment at home work and play then to Home fires and firewood. In 2004, the ACT Government began a program to encourage the replacement of some wood burning heaters with cleaner systems.


hot water
About 30 percent of household energy is consumed in heating water. Solar, gas and electric heat pump systems produce fewer greenhouse emissions than conventional heaters. Gas boosted solar is the most greenhouse efficient means of water heating. The ACT and Federal Governments provide rebates to assist with the initial purchase of solar systems. For more information visit Environment ACTs website: Go to Air and Water, click on Greenhouse and scroll down to Solar Hot Water Rebate Scheme. Some points to remember: Gas heaters have industry star ratings that also cover gas ducted and space heaters Locate heaters close to where hot water is used Install AAA rated water efficient showerheads Set thermostat at 60 to 65C on storage hot water systems, 50C on instantaneous systems Insulate hot water pipes Turn off hot water system when on holidays Put timer on solar booster and on-peak electric storage systems

solar hot water

Solar hot water is one way in which a householder can harness renewable energy from the sun. Solar collectors trap the suns heat to raise water temperature. Flat-plate collectors, the most common, comprise an airtight box with transparent cover, dark metallic absorbing plate containing water pipes and insulation to reduce heat loss. Solar thermal collectors should outlast their storage tanks. Frost protection is essential in Canberra. In open circuit systems, water flows through the collectors, into the storage tank, then through pipes into your home In closed circuit systems, a fluid other than water flows through the collectors, picks up solar heat and transfers this heat to water in the storage tank through a heat exchanger

Passive systems In passive thermosiphon systems, tanks are placed above collectors so cold water sinks into the collectors, where it is warmed by the sun, then rises into the tank. Continuous water flow is created without pumps. In close-coupled systems, horizontal storage tanks are mounted directly above the collector on the roof. Heated water is supplied at mains pressure. These systems are cost-effective to install but insulation of the tank or placing tanks inside the roof space is required in Canberras climate In gravity-feed systems, the storage tank is in the roof cavity. This system is the cheapest to purchase, but plumbing must suit gravity feed


Active systems
In active (pump or split) systems, solar panels are roof mounted and water (or fluid) is pumped to storage tanks located anywhere that is convenient. Visual impact is minimised because the tank is not mounted on the roof, but active systems are usually more expensive, use more energy (because of pumps and heat loss through pipe work) and require more maintenance Active systems have lower roof loadings and suit conversions where collectors are added to an existing hot water system

Booster systems
Generally, you will need some form of heat booster to provide for periods of overcast weather. Solar water heaters can be gas, electric or solid fuel boosted Electric boosted heaters use an electric element inside the storage tank Gas boosters burn natural gas to heat water either in the tank or in a separate unit downstream Boosters should be controlled with thermostats, timers and manual on/off switches to maximise the solar contribution

choosing solar hot water systems

The following are relevant considerations when selecting a solar hot water system: Compare greenhouse gas emissions and costs Seek expert advice from building industry or the energy advisory centre The Australian Consumers Association provides helpful detailed information Manufacturers and retailers may also help with selection guidelines Check the Environment ACT website at Go to Air and Water, click on Greenhouse and scroll down to Solar Hot Water Rebate Scheme

Sizing, positioning and operation

The ideal tank and panel sizes will depend on the number of people, water saving devices and behaviour and heater efficiency. For best results, you may want to consider: Reducing hot water demand to reduce size and cost of the system Facing systems to solar north. Up to 45 deviation from north has little impact on efficiency. If north orientation is not possible, west orientation can be used by adding additional collection panels Ensuring collectors are not shaded by trees or buildings, particularly in winter Angling collectors at about 35 to the horizontal to maximise sunlight capture with panels for best winter performance. It is often cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing to install collectors flush with the roof, rather than use supports even if winter efficiency is slightly reduced. For many Canberra houses this achieves an angle of about 20


Following manufacturers recommendations Setting the booster thermostat to 60C for minimal energy use whilst preventing harmful bacteria growth Install mixer valves to reduce water temperatures to safe levels at the tap Using most hot water early in the day to allow reheating by the sun for use at night Cleaning panels regularly, remove sludge by flushing Turning off booster when on holidays and during summer if conditions are favourable

energy source selection

The following sources, in order of priority, will minimise environmental impacts: Renewable sources - for example, Green Power, on-site generation, and solar hot water systems Natural gas Grid electricity

solar energy options

Solar energy can be captured and used in many ways in addition to heating water: Passive heating through capture by the building envelope Passive cooling by enhancing airflows, for example, using convection Creating electricity with photovoltaic cells Growing crops for energy and food

photovoltaic systems
You might like to consider the use of a photovoltaic (PV) system to provide some of your energy needs. Sufficient sunlight falls on Australia to provide the nations total energy needs. With a few solar modules homeowners can capture some of this abundant energy. Historically a niche product, photovoltaics are being used to provide price-competitive energy to homes and businesses.

Solar modules
Solar modules are available in two categories - crystalline silicon and amorphous silicon thin film. Both are commonly used in grid-connected and stand-alone installations. More solar modules are fabricated as building materials able to be integrated into the building fabric, for example solar roof tiles, wall materials, semi-transparent roof material for atriums and skylights.


Siting and elevation

Solar modules should be pointed directly at the sun if possible, aim for full sun from 9 am to 3 pm in mid winter. A wide range of elevation and orientation angles provides useful output Where winter operation is crucial, stand alone PV systems should be tilted at 45 Grid-connected systems should be 21 to maximise annual energy capture Output power will vary throughout the day Shading some cells in crystalline modules can affect current flow and cause damaging hot spots. Arrays should not be located near trees that will grow and shade the modules

Building integrated PV modules

PV panels can be fully integrated as prestigious elements of modern architecture, replacing conventional roofs, facades, skylights or awnings. Solar tiles can replace conventional roofing. PV panels integrated in shade structures can reduce cooling load whilst generating electricity. Semi-transparent PVs can replace glass skylights and roofing.


energy use - appliances

Household appliances energy rating scheme
The Energy Rating Scheme is a mandatory national labelling scheme for, refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and air conditioners. Look for the Energy Rating Label that shows the efficiency rating (1 - 6 stars) and other information about energy consumption. Choose a high star rating.

Calculating total greenhouse gas emissions

In order to achieve targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the average home in the ACT is encouraged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to between 5.1 to 7.5 tonnes per annum. The table below is a simple tool to quickly estimate the emission profile of your home.

Heating 150 Primary heating source Standard electric* Gas (no pilot light) Heating oil Electric reverse cycle Secondary heating Standard electric Gas (no pilot light) Heating oil Electric reverse cycle Air conditioning Cooking Hot Water Refrigerator Lighting Other Appliances Total emissions 5.642 1.113 1.512 1.880 2.821 0.556 0.756 0.940 1.5 Gas 0.190 Electric 4.800 1 tonne Incandescent 0.560 .750 200

Total floor area (m2) 250 9.561 1.892 2.571 3.187 4.796 0.946 1.2857 1.599 2.5 Gas hob / elec oven 0.413 5 star gas 1.300 Your home

7.522 1.484 2.017 2.507 3.761 0.742 1.008 1.253 2.0 Electric 0.633 Electric solar 1.900 Fluorescent 0.112

*Standard Electric refers to radiators, fans, oil-filled heaters and off-peak heating devices such as heat banks and slabs.


Water is a finite resource, but through properly managing it we can keep our Garden City, improve the quality of our rivers and maintain our water reserves for growth. Water that we drink (potable water) is reticulated throughout the ACT and plumbed into every house and garden. However, using high quality drinking water is not necessary for garden applications or for some household uses. Measures are being introduced to minimise wasting this precious resource. For example, dual flush toilets significantly reduce water usage and are compulsory for all new installations. Water efficient shower roses can reduce your water and energy bills. AAA-rated shower roses use only nine litres of water per minute, about a third of the water used by a standard shower rose. In Canberra, the average house consumes around 330kilolitres of water per year and, of that, about half is used outdoors. Collecting and redirecting rainwater from your roof for use outdoors can reduce demand on the public water supply. However, if tank water is used for other purposes, such as toilet flushing and in the washing machine, then more water can be collected from the tank as it is less likely to overflow, particularly during the colder months when there is little call for garden watering. The Rainwater Tank Guidelines produced jointly by ActewAGL, Environment ACT and the ACT Planning and Land Authority provide detailed information about selecting and installing rainwater tanks in the ACT.

use the rain

You can reduce water consumption and the amount of water entering the piped stormwater system from your block by redirecting flows onto your garden. The water can soak into the ground to provide water for healthy garden plants and street trees. Take care that you do not direct stormwater onto neighbouring properties or cause erosion. Stormwater should be redirected into the stormwater pipe system (for example, via an inlet sump). It is illegal to connect rainwater including roof water and overland runoff to the sewer system. Ideas for retaining water on the site include: Modifying your downpipe connections to flow into an infiltration trench or to flow across a garden or lawn area Creating garden soaks (swales) Building ponds that can collect water and be attractive garden features Choosing plants for a purpose and grouping plants that demand similar amounts of water in one area Using plants suitable for Canberras dry climate, heavy winter frosts and high summer temperatures


Using mulch, which comes in many forms and reduces evaporation and runoff. Choose a mulch to suit your situation Keeping impervious paved areas of driveways, footpaths, and patios to a minimum Considering using paving materials such as gravel and porous paving that allow water to penetrate the soil Directing flows from paved areas onto your lawn or garden areas rather than draining straight into the piped stormwater system

The use of well-designed irrigation systems has been demonstrated to cut down water use in gardens with high water demands. The choice of irrigation systems available ranges from simple soaker hoses connected to a tap to in-ground pop-up sprinklers with timers. In times of water restrictions some irrigation systems may not be allowed. In Canberras climate, you should not need to water your garden all year round. In drier years or hotter seasons such as summer, it is best to water your garden deeply rather than often. A good soak once a week is better for the plants than a surface sprinkling once a day. Watering in the early morning and late evening is recommended to minimise direct evaporation losses. Before installing an irrigation system, you may want to consider what is appropriate to the size and character of your garden and the water needs of particular plants. Systems that allow adjustment and can be time-controlled add efficiency. It is important to ensure that the soil is permeable to maximise penetration and reduce run-off. This is particularly important in lawn areas. You may need to core, spike or slice the ground regularly.

Irrigation as a defence against fire

An extension or modification to your garden watering system can be extremely valuable in defending your house and garden against fire. For example, large sprinklers placed on the windward (north-western) side or adjacent to open spaces so that the roof, eaves and surfaces are kept wet before and during a fire will provide protection in addition to other measures. Be aware that during bushfire attack, sprinkler systems may need additional water supplies due to loss of water pressure and increased demands placed on the areas water resources. Remember above ground hoses and plastic piping can burn or melt.

household appliances and fixtures water use rating scheme

Household appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers use a lot of water. When buying new appliances, look for those with AAA ratings or better, which indicate a high level of water efficiency.







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Water Conservation Rating

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Water Conservation Rating

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Water Conservation Rating

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Water Conservation Rating

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Water Conservation Rating









A moderate level of water efficiency

A good level of water efficiency

A high level of water efficiency



A very high level of An excellent level of water efficiency water efficiency

Remember: The more As, the more water efficient the product














designing the outdoors

You should give the design of outdoor areas the same attention as indoors to optimise your quality of life. Outdoor spaces are often larger than indoors and need to be designed to meet needs ranging from vegetable growing to dog exercise. The layout of the outdoor areas and the materials used are also important in reducing water use, minimising fire risk, reducing maintenance and maximising lifestyle benefits.

front yard/back yard

Your front yard presentation contributes to the overall streetscape qualities and is important to your neighbourhood. The spaces available around your house need to accommodate many functions, some of these are more public and suited to the front yard and others are best located in the side or rear spaces. Consider the best placement for the functions listed below in your outdoor spaces.
Front Yard vehicle and pedestrian entry letter box and house number landscape setting for house visual screen planting for privacy fruit and vegetables and herbs outdoor entertaining area Back Yard childrens and pets play garden waste and materials storage clothes drying

Front, Side and/or Back

Most gardens should be able to accommodate a full range of plant types including trees, shrubs, ground covers and climbers. Each type has different growing requirements and species should be selected for your particular site and your maintenance intentions. Consider using native plants, and water features such as birdbaths to attract wildlife to your garden. Nurseries provide advice on potential weed plants and highly invasive species are generally not sold locally.

A garden is a dynamic system that constantly grows and changes and maintenance requirements will also change with time. Regardless of the plant, suitable preparation of the ground before planting is most important for successful growth. Adequate and timely maintenance is required to a garden just as it is to a building. Many plants are able to live through drought, storms or the intense heat of fires and will reshoot from branches, even if they are damaged. Soil moisture is required for recovery and after new shoots appear, prune back damaged growth.


Your garden, and the plants in it, should be maintained throughout the year. The following check list may help if you are going away for a period and at times of high fire danger weather. Remove any build-up of dried materials Remove debris from ground and gutters Remove tree branches touching or overhanging the house Mow grass areas (lawn or tussocks) to heights suitable for species and remove clippings Water thoroughly around the house including plants and combustible materials, such as compost piles and organic mulched surfaces

surface treatments
Most outdoor areas should have some type of surface treatment, not left as bare earth. The choice of surface treatments should be determined by the functions they are to perform. For example: Paving or compacted gravels will take heavy wear from vehicles Ground covering plants (including grasses) with organic or gravel mulches suits low wear areas Lawns (watered) take moderately high wear foot traffic but also require relatively high water use and maintenance It is recommended that you minimise areas covered by impermeable surfaces (paving) to allow maximum water penetration into the soil and to reduce water runoff (stormwater) into drains. Water runoff from paving is best directed onto your garden beds or lawns. The layout or design of surface treatments depends upon your needs, however pathways of hard wearing and non-combustible material beside the exterior perimeter of the house are desirable. Paths should be wide enough for at least one person with a wheelbarrow. Garden beds that are immediately beside buildings and not frequently dug over are best mulched with inorganic mulches such as gravels to deter insect pests and minimise fire risk.

garden structures and fences

In Canberra front fences are generally not permitted, however hedges can provide privacy and enclosure. The Fences Guidelines are available at More information about fences is available in the Authoritys Facts on Fencing brochure available from the Authoritys Customer Service Centres or from the website.

design to guard against fire

You can enhance bushfire safety for your home through a combination of design (layout), appropriate vegetation, paving and other landscaping materials and effective and timely maintenance. Ignition of flammable materials around the house by ember showers associated with bushfires is the most common fire risk factor.


The following tips in outdoor design will assist minimising fire risk. Plant trees at a distance from the house so that limbs and branches do not overhang the roof and gutters do not fill up with leaves Select less flammable plants and landscape materials generally, and particularly against windows or timber parts of the house Use non-flammable surface materials all around the house e.g. paving, gravel mulch or watered lawn Avoid highly combustible fencing/wall materials Design irrigation and garden sprinklers to water areas near the house Keep wood piles inside a metal shed and compost away from the house or flammable fences

For more information, please refer to the Firewise Gardens brochure available from the Authoritys Customer Service Centre or visit and follow the links under Publications.


adaptable housing
The term adaptable is used to describe a dwelling that has the ability to be modified or extended at minimum cost to suit the changing needs of the people in the house. Thoughtful design can provide the flexibility for these needs to be met without requiring expensive and energy intensive renovations. Some may wish to run a business from home, or look after grandchildren. Others may need assistance either from mechanical aids or carers. Therefore, housing should be designed and built to be adaptable so that it can be used by everybody, irrespective of the users age, level of mobility, health or lifestyle. Adaptability is not a separate issue in house design. It is a concept that contributes to a package of principles, which collectively contribute to good design.

When you site your home on the block, consider the possibility of future additions. Avoid bends in driveways where cars are required to reverse and areas of limited vision, especially where cars move out onto the street. Carports and garages should have a minimum internal width of 3.8 m with a ceiling height of 2.5 m and an internal length of 6 m to permit a wheelchair user to access and use a vehicle. Carport supporting posts should not obstruct car doors. Outdoor parking spaces should have a minimum size of 2.4 m x 6 m with provision for width enlargement to 3.8 m. All car parking spaces should not have a surface slope exceeding 1:40 in any direction.


Minimise the need for ramps and steps, especially to the main entrance, by integrating the house with the site. Building access should be as level as possible and usually can be achieved by gently sloping elevated walkways.

Provide a safe and comfortable home suitable for any occupants of any age and level of ability. It is important to avoid creating an institutionalised atmosphere through the over-use of grab rails and similar features. Take care to preserve a home atmosphere, especially within the bathroom. Plan the layout of the house so that the size of each area allows for multiple uses. Room sizes are critical to the success of an adaptable house and they can vary considerably, depending on the size and layout of furniture. Design for your present needs, but plan for modifications that will help to suit the needs of people who may wish to buy the house in the future. Reversibility is another benefit of adaptable housing. As the occupants of a house change so do the functions and lifestyles in and around it. Modifications should be simple and cost effective when they are planned into the initial design of the house.

Note: this circulation space should be applied to all inward opening doors


Wheelchair users should be able to freely access all essential areas of the house without assistance. If the house is on more than one level it should incorporate all the areas required by a person in a wheelchair at the main entry level, or provide access to the other levels that have these facilities via ramps or lifts. Allow for wheelchair circulation space adjacent to all doors. This space varies depending on the swing of the door and the direction a wheelchair approaches the door. The Australian Standard Design for Access and Mobility (AS1428.1 1998) should be consulted for these circulation spaces. Corridors between areas of the house should be kept as short as possible and have a minimum clear width of 1 m (1.2 is recommended). Doorway openings of at least 800 mm are recommended, measured between the face of the open door and the opposite door frame. Door handles are not considered an obstruction in this width. Consider increasing the clear doorway opening above these minimum sizes, particularly for external doors. Always allow for a minimum unobstructed area, free of furniture, of 2.25 m diameter in living areas, 2.07 m x 1.55 m in at least one bedroom and a distance of 1.55 m between opposing base cupboards in the laundry and kitchen. For more information on adaptable housing, refer to the ACT Guidelines for Access and Mobility available at


related publications
Guide to building and renovating in the ACT

Development Application Guides

Single residences in new estates, small scale alterations & additions, outbuildings & swimming pools Single houses in established areas, Dual occupancy developments ACT Guidelines for Access & Mobility Rainwater Tank Guidelines for residential properties in Canberra Firewise and Gardens Waterwise

Other sources of information

Environment ACT website Australian Greenhouse Office