Category Archives: Home Design

This How to choose the best fireplace for your family

As the colder weather creeps in, home heating starts becoming a real issue for many reasons. Not only do you need to keep warm but heating can be expensive if you don’t choose the right type.A fireplace not only warms but can become a focal point in your home just like a camp fire does outside.Fireplaces are now increasingly being designed into outdoor living areas. They’re a stylish way to make outdoor entertaining cosy and inviting, allow outdoor spaces to  be enjoyed all year.Fireplaces have a reputation of being environmentally unfriendly because of their inefficiencies and emissions, which can also have adverse health effects. However, good design, as well as choice and handling of fuel, can improve both the efficiency of the fire and the release of emissions.Issues to consider when adding a fireplace in your homeBurning wood compared to burning ethanol or gas requires different appliances due to the emissions they produce. These emissions can cause health and other problems, not only for you, but also your neighbours. Emissions need to be considered and planned for. Wood causes the most potent emissions, gas less than wood, and ethanol the least.Ventilation – When you’re using wood, gas or coal as a fuel source, the emissions need to be vented via a chimney or flue. Ethanol is a very clean burning fuel and does not require flue or chimney. However you do need to be aware of the ventilation issues with ethanol fuelled fire places.Contrary to popular believe ethanol fires can produce a substantial amount of heat and can also be portable.Building codes govern the building of fireplaces and chimneys, so consult your local council before you start, as regulations vary.Energy costs – The cost, availability and storage of the different fuels for your fireplace will also need to be considered when choosing a fireplace. Wood is available from many sources, some free. However wood is bulky and requires plenty of storage space. Gas is also easy to buy and store, but check if you have access to gas mains or bottled gas. If you are on mains your gas will be relatively cheap, but if you only have access to bottled gas your heating costs can be as expensive as electricity. Ethanol is becoming easier and cheaper to fid and buy because renewable energy sources are becoming popular.Comparison fuel efficienciesShown below is a comparison of fireplace fuel efficiencies. However before you make a choice you also need to consider the price of each type of fuel and the efficiency of the fireplace itself.

  • Wood – 4.4 kWh per kilogram
  • Natural gas – 10.8 kWh per kilogram
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) – 13.8 kWh per kilogram
  • Ethanol – 8.3 kWh per kilogram

Wood fireplace efficiencyStandard open fireplace – up to 10% efficiency
Fireplace insert – 20 to 35% efficiency
Simple updraft stove or heater (not airtight) – 20 to 40% efficiency
Airtight stove or heater – 50 to 70% efficiencyA traditional open fireplace is very inefficient on fuel but they do look the part. Only a small amount of the heat it generates radiates out to the room. The remaining heat is lost in air passing out of the room, up into the chimney and then outside. Modifications and inserts can be made to make a wood fireplace more efficient, especially if it does not back onto an external wall. A well designed and located fireplace will enable more heat to be transmitted into your home, while ensuring that emissions are reduced.
Wood fireplace & heater choicesThe most basic fireplace is a simple open hearth. This is what most people envisage when they think of wood heating, with all the ambience of dancing flames. However charming as they may be, they can waste money in construction and energy costs and pollute the air. Improvements in technology allow new technology fireplaces to do a better job of heating a home.Fireplace inserts are hollow metal inserts built into an open fireplace. Rather than the heat going straight up the chimney air circulates around the insert and heats the room. Fireplaces can be further fitted with doors and air controls, as well as fans, to help move hot air into the room.An updraft stove, such as a potbelly stove, is an enclosed fireplace. Air entry is at an uncontrolled rate, which is why they are less efficient than a slow combustion heater.Slow combustion heaters are the most efficient. They combine an airtight firebox, air inlet controls, baffles and secondary air inlets and combustion chambers which maximises the conversion of the fuel into heat. Slow combustion heaters can reduce wood to almost nothing, leaving a smaller amount of ash to be cleaned out at the end.More efficient units can be fitted into existing masonry fireplaces to improve your home heating.The higher initial cost of a more efficient wood heater is repaid with more heat for each load of wood and less emissions.Advantages of wood heaters or fireplaces

  • Wood is a renewable resource
  • You can grow your own free fuel supply if you have the space and time
  • You can cut your own for free if you have access to trees
  • Ash can be used for the garden, but with care. It is a good source of potassium and phosphorus and some micro-nutrients, but be aware that it raises soil pH. Too much ash is not good for a garden.

Disadvantages of wood heaters or fireplaces

  • Wood is a bulky fuel, which impacts on its transport and storage
  • Wood needs a dry place to be stored. It should not be stored against the house, as it is a fire hazard and a home for rodents and termites
  • Wood is messy both before and after you burn it
  • Your flue or chimney will need to be regularly cleaned (so that it works efficiently and does not’t become a fire hazard)
  • Wood needs to be seasoned, which takes time. Burning unseasoned wood is not only less efficient, it will result in a build up of creosote in the flue or chimney, which can catch alight.

In Australia the guidelines are that wood heaters manufactured since 1992 must comply with AS/NZS 4013 to ensure smoke emissions are within a reasonable and safe limit. The installation of wood heaters is regulated by Australian Standard AS/NZS 2918. This states that you should have a minimum flue height of 4.6 metres, that it must be vertical, and the end of the flue cannot be near any windows or doors, so as to prevent expelled air from being pushed back into your home, among other things. If you need to view the Australian Standard ensure you are looking at the latest version, they are updated regularly.Gas heatersA gas fuelled heater burns natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. They come in ‘flued’ and ‘unflued’ models. Remember: flue or not all gas heated rooms require some ventilation.An unflued heater can be a permanent fixture or portable. A portable model has the advantage of not taking up space in the warmer months. However, unflued heaters can be risky if safety procedures aren’t followed.Emissions from a gas heater are water vapour and carbon dioxide, but if there is incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can also be emitted. Room ventilation is needed to ensure that health problems don’t occur from these emissions – but this will cause some of your warm air to be lost.A flued heater permits the escape of harmful gases to the outside. A correctly operating flued heater is usually safe.One advantage of gas heaters over wood heaters is that wood fuelled heaters need to be flued vertically, whereas advances in technology allow gas heaters can be flued horizontally. This means that they can be installed in apartments and other locations that were not practical previously.Gas fuelled fireplaces can be made to look like wood burning fires, with all the advantages of a clean fuel with the traditional crackling fire appearance.Advantages of gas heaters

  • cleaner than wood or coal
  • readily available – if your are on main gas
  • natural gas is a good option if available directly to the home
  • Gas heaters produce approximately one third of greenhouse gas emissions of standard electric heaters.
  • A gas log fire has the look of a wood fire without the disadvantages
  • They have energy labels to help you choose the most efficient models.
  • Gas heaters do not need chimneys

Disadvantages

  • Possibility of leaks
  • Malfunctioning units can emit carbon monoxide
  • They do require some cleaning as dirt and dust can clog them
  • Gaskets must be checked regularly
  • Vented fireplaces need regular checks for debris

Ethanol heaters & fireplacesEthanol is a relatively new fuel for home heating. It is a natural fuel produced by industrial fermentation of sugar in sugar cane or starchy grains. The extracted alcohol is concentrated then dehydrated to form bio-ethanol. Bio does not mean organically grown, it means that it is derived from living plants. This means that it is a renewable energy.Ethanol heaters come in a range of styles, from small table top models to full sized heaters, and outdoor ones. They can be off the shelf ones, or custom designed, but buy from a reputable company, for your own peace of mind.Advantages

  • Ethanol burning fireplaces don’t require a flue or vent, as ethanol burns cleanly.
  • Self installation is possible. The product will work straight from the box.
  • Fuel is clean and easy to handle
  • No smoke
  • No ashes to clean up and dispose of.
  • No chimney to clean
  • Minimal maintenance
  • Can be used to convert an existing wood or gas fireplace
  • Can be stored away in warm weather

Disadvantages

  • Uses oxygen in the room and produces carbon dioxide
  • Produces water vapour

Both disadvantages can be minimised with adequate room ventilation, but they shouldn’t be used in a room without  windows.

  • Some odour is possible with refilling, first lighting and when extinguishing the flames
  • A floor standing model is not a good idea around pets or children; consider a wall mounted one instead
  • Fuel is a flammable substance and care needs to be taken, and a fire extinguisher kept on hand. The units should not be refueled when the fireplace is hot. Hands must be washed after refueling, and before the fireplace is lit.

In conclusionIn the end how you choose a fireplace will depend on your aesthetics, your budget, and the practicality of sourcing a sufficient amount of fuel.

Design and construction of stairs and staircases

When designers are planning spaces within the home stairs are often redesigned many times before they are built. Stairs not only need to be located in an appropriate location, but they must be comfortable to use and safe for their users.

Here are 5 essential tips to ensure your stairs are designed and constructed for comfort, style & safety. Remember all items should be confirmed by referring to the latest Australian building code (BCA).

Location, location, location

Deciding on the location of your stairs needs to occur early in the design phase.

Staircase location can vary depending on your requirements but most stairs are centrally located and handy to the main entrance as well as the main living space. Note in the plan below, the orange coloured stairs are in a good central location; i.e. close to the entry and living areas. This saves travel time around the home and offers privacy to other spaces in the home. The brown coloured stairs are not in a good central location. They force people to go through the dining area and also make users spend more time getting to other areas in the house.

Stairs can take up a considerable amount of space. You may need to factor in circulation space around the stairs as well. You can safely assume that a staircase will require a minimum width of 1.1m and a minimum height of 3.5m long. In a typical Australian house is not uncommon for a staircase to be 1.4m wide x 5.9m long.

Do not forget your stair dimensions will need to be mirrored onto all floor plans.

Avoid designing stairs any narrower than 880mm wide when finished (i.e. with plasterboard on walls). Australian standards for stair construction will allow for narrower stairs but narrower stairs will be uncomfortable to use, especially if you install a hand rail or have winders.

Plan B: Efficient use of space (click to enlarge image)

If space and costs are an issue, keep your stairs simple and multifunctional. Plans A & B above show storage spaces underneath the stairs. This is common with staircase design It is done to avoid wasted space and to hide stairs that would otherwise interfere with head heights in other spaces.

If you have no choice but to include stairs in habitable areas (these are areas that require a ceiling height of 2.4m) there are a few tips from the trades you should know.

Stairs – Section Plan (click to enlarge image)

Tips from the trades

  1. Use the underside of your stair as a lighting bulkhead (See section above)
  2. Only 2/3 of a habitable room needs to have a ceiling height of 2.4 the rest can be lower (please check with the latest BCA requirements).
  3. A bathroom is not considered a habitable space and can have ceilings as low as 2.1m high (please check with the latest BCA requirements).
  4. Ensure the finished underside of your stair in no less than 2m off finished floor level near doorways.

Stair types & dimensioning

There are three types of stairs – traditional, contemporary and concrete. Variations on these are; conventional, spiral, circular and open-riser.

Types of stairs

Straight flights

The simplest form of stairs is the straight flight. These are generally built with or without landings with a maximum of 18 treads in each run. Most straight flight stairs are built against a wall or between two walls. This reduces the amount of space accommodating the stair. Mid-flight landing depths are traditionally the same width as the stair width. The BCA will allow lengths of mid-flight landings to be as little as 750mm.

No landing allowances are included in above table, if required just add a minimum of 800mm to your landing length. Also remember flights must not have more than 18 rises in one flight, landings must be added between flights.

90 degree flights

The 90 degree flight is very space efficient for small two story dwellings or town houses. The 90 degree flight is usually built against many walls meeting internal and external walls.

It is possible to change the direction of a wall and stair to follow a different angle like 30 degrees or 45 degrees.

Return flights

The return flight stair is the most common stair used in Australia for flats and houses and can include Half or Quarter landings. See stair flight drawing below. Return flights may be built as free standing but are normally built against walls (it depends on design requirements).

A traditional circular stair has treads that are cantilevered of a circular surrounding wall, this type of stair is costly and is uncommon in residential construction. Much more common is the circular stair that cantilevers it’s treads off a central load bearing post typically made of steel or timber. This type of stair requires little space and is self-supporting, but is trickier to travers than a typical straight flight for example.

Ladder stairs

There is another stair option that can take up even less space than a spiral stair, Ladder stairs. They are a cross-between a ladder and a stair and can be bought premade and folded into an attic space or you can build one as a permanent fixture, just like a stair. Ladder stairs need to be designed very well to comply with BCA requirements.

Materials

Before you choose what stair materials you will be using ensure that it is within your budge and meets your usage requirements.

Here are a few ideas on stair materials:

  • Polished concrete & tiles are hard-wearing and very modern but can be very noisy.
  • Timber is traditional but requires maintence and is noisy
  • Carpet = quiet, warm, safe and wears quickly
  • Glass = ultra expensive
  • Industrial grate

Tips

  • Riser min. and max. dimensions = 115 to 190mm
  • Run min. and max dimensions = 240 to 355mm
  • Most comfortable stair rise and run is 160 x 260mm
  • Railings must not be less than 850mm height at the nose of the stair.
  • Open risers must not allow a sphere shaped object 125mm or larger to pass through riser openings.
  • Quietest stair – reinforced concrete stair with carpet, cork, rubber or similar.
  • The safest stair is a return fight with:
    1. a handrail,
    2. carpet,
    3. risers 160mm rise x260mm run
    4. full block hand railing/balustrade

How Reducing noise inside and outside the home

Recent studies have shown that living in a noisy home that endures constant erratic noises can reduce your life span. Not only does it affect longevity but living in a noisy home generally provides an unrelaxing atmosphere.

Reducing noise or poor acoustics in and around your home isn’t difficult, especially if you‘re building a new home. All that is required is a little planning during the design phase to ensure the acoustics inside and outside the home have been considered and addressed.

So what is noise?

Noise is defined as a loud or unpleasant sound that causes disturbance. Noise around the home is often caused by sound bouncing off one surface to another (reverberation). There are three essential rules to reduce reverberation:

  1. Minimise opportunities for reverberation
  2. Introduce sound soakers
  3. Incorporate noise distractors

Generally, the more a surface of a space is flat, continuous and unperforated the more sounds will be bounced around within that space. These types of surfaces will increase noise.

Below we describe how you can incorporate the rules mentioned above to minimise noise in your home.

Inside the home

Reduce the size of open spaces

Open plan areas that contain smooth and continuous surfaces are excellent at reflecting internal noise around the home as well as amplifying external noises into the home. Try reducing the size of open plan areas not only in actual floor area but also in ceiling height as well. Read more about reducing open spaces.

Incorporate perforated panels

If you already have a large open space you can reduce noise by incorporating perforated panels to items like cupboard doors, kitchen cabinets and stair balustrades for example.  This will offer internal spaces more absorbent and irregular surfaces for noise to dissipate in.

Relocate noisy spaces

To reduce house born noises it is very important to locate noise producing areas in well thought out spaces. Halls and stair wells for example can act as noise conductors or speakers. Don’t face TV’s, kitchens, WC’s or stereo systems onto a stair well or hall, as the noises created in these spaces will be transmitted and often amplified into areas close by.

Walls – reduce hard / reflective coverings

There are other options to products like plasterboard. The options are a little more expensive but if you really need to reduce noise try these options.

3D Wall Linings

Acoustic sheets & batts

  • 3D walling
  • Cedar battens
  • Decorative mouldings
  • False curtains

All these products reflect sound in an irregular pattern while absorbing sound at the same time. Even wallpaper absorbs sound much better than a hard flat uncovered wall surface. See more aboutwall linings.

Acoustic sheet & batt insulation

A timber stud wall that contains either batt or sheet acoustic insulation will transmit far less noise than an uninsulated wall. Installing insulative wall products around private areas like bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets, reduces noise transmission into and out of these spaces. Read more aboutinsulation.

Not all plasterboards are the same

New age plasterboards are designed to deaden noise while offering a higher plaster finish, compared to standard pasterboards like Gyprock.Knauff’s OPAL plasterboard wall sheeting has been design specifically for in home use. It’s a sandwich type product (similar to standard plasterboard) containing a high density gypsum core with heavy duty external paper. It not only has much better acoustic abilities but also has superior impact performance.

Detailed windows

Windows that have detail included such as transoms’, mullions and multiple operable parts will also help to reduce noise reverberation. For example a window that is large and has one fixed glazed panel will reflect noise much better than a bank of glass louvres of the same size.  See information on window types.

Ceilings

Gyprocked ceilings are the most economical ceiling option but if you need to further reduce noise reverberation there are other options that can help greatly. Take a look at options like coffered ceilings, perforated ply panels, fabric panels and acoustic sheeting. All these options can greatly reduce sound in a space. See more on ceilings.

Flooring

Use hard floor surfaces sparingly. Noises on surfaces such as tiles, concrete & stone floors reverberate amazingly well. Try replacing these noisy floor coverings with options like rubber, new age vinyl, carpet or cork flooring. Most modern composite floor coverings also offer acoustic underlays to reduce reverberation.

New age composite products are also available.Products like Knauff One Pro are a sandwich type product available in loose-laid tiles. They are easy to clean, have excellent acoustic abilities, come in on-trend large tile formats and are stone like finish.

Ensure you ask about this option before you purchase your flooring product.

Double glazed windows & doors

To ensure your home can be a quiet home if you choose, the entire building envelope needs to be constructed to keep out noise. Windows are a common source of noise transmission, even when they are closed. There are different levels of window quality and most window companies will have an economical range and a high end range. It should be noted that all windows are manufactured to keep water out but it’s only the higher end windows that have better frame and glazing construction and materials that also keep out cold air, hot air as well as noise. Double glazing for example has an air gap between two pieces of glazing and the frame is also enhanced in design to ensure noises are kept outside.

Incorporate soft furnishings

Adding soft furnishings to a space is probably the easiest and most cost effective option when trying to reduce internal noise, great for people that are renting their home. Items like fabric covered privacy screens, cushions, fabric covered lounges, paintings, curtains, large rungs and blinds work a treat in reducing hard surface areas and absorbing noise. These ideas also have the added bonus of keeping your home warmer in winter. See more interior design.

Outside the home

Choose the right fencing

Avoid introducing hard and reflective fencing surfaces into your yard. These fence types will definitely help bounce on site & external sounds around your yard. If you’re looking to reduce the reflective noise quality of your existing fence, add an irregular surface to the fence or build a new fence that has an irregular surface and that can soak up the invasive sounds. Using treatments like Willow fencing and laser cut screens not only reduce the reflective abilities of an existing fencing but also offer visual relief to a plain fence surface.

You can also purchase specialised acoustic fencing product that will help keep out external noises. “ModularWalls” supply a modular fencing system that is simple & quick to install and reduce traffic noise greatly, they even have a DIY pack.

Reduce hard landscaping

As we discussed earlier very flat surfaces reflect the most noise, so large areas of smooth paving and concrete are not a good idea if you’re trying to reduce noise in your backyard. If you must have a large hard landscaped area, try using course stone bitumen instead. This mix uses larger pieces of blue metal which helps absorb and reflect noises in different directions, unlike concrete that reflects noise very well and does not absorb noise.

Plant plants

  1. Plant lots of variety – Generally adding any type of plants to your yard will offer lots of irregular surfaces for sounds like traffic noises to bounce off. The more plants you introduce the more noise will absorbed and not reflected back onto other surfaces. If you plant different types of plants at different heights and structure types, noises will be reduced further as there will be lots of irregular surfaces.
  2. Plant noisy plants – There are quiet plants and noisy plants. By choosing a noisy plant, like a native Casuarina or a dwarf Eucalyptus you can help muffle traffic noise with rustling and whistling sounds that are also very calming.
  3. Plant bird attracting plants – If you’re going to the effort of planting to improve reverberation in your yard choose varieties that will also attract birds. The sounds of birds chirping will not only help to muffle external sounds around your site but it will also offer another historically relaxing sound to users. See more on plants that attract birds.

Water feature

Adding some kind of water feature into your yard will add another distraction to external noises. Whether it’s a pond with a trickling feature or a pool with a waterfall feature, it’s just another item that will help muffle sounds.

Noise pollution in your life can shorten your lifespan and can also create an unrelaxing environment in and around your home.  Reducing reflective surfaces in your home and introducing noise soakers and distractors will reduce noise in your home. Trying just a few of the ideas above will make a difference in reducing noise pollution in your home.

Choose a building designer

Do you need an architect?

For designing houses you usually do not need an architect. All that is strictly required is having an engineer sign off on the structure and council approval. You can design and draft up the whole thing yourself, but don’t go there because it is unlikely that your design will be approved without at least some professional input.

In Australia an architect is (legally) someone who is accredited with the Architect’s Registration Board of each state. For residential projects you do not legally require an architect, so many architecture graduates simply do not bother getting official accreditation and use the generic title “Building Designer” instead. There are other building designers who have lesser qualifications, and they may well be just as good at designing houses (e.g. experienced draftsman), but there are also some designers who really do not know what they are doing.

How to find an architect or building designer

  • Use the Internet – this website, for example, has an online directory of building designers. Try it, just enter your postcode:  
  • Word of mouth: If you have friends or family who recently built or extended their house, ask them how it went and whether they’d recommend that designer.
  • Houses around you: Go for a bike ride and have a look at what’s being built around you. If there’s anything you particularly fancy, contact the owners and ask them who designed their house.
  • Old fashioned methods: classifieds ads, notice boards, etc.

Choosing the right architect or building designer:

Your building designer needs to be on the same page as you with a lot of things. This includes:

  • Budget: Make sure you let them know how much you can afford to spend. Be specific and give a dollar value. Allow the conversation to move on, describe all the things you want and brainstorm ideas together. Then, ask how much they anticipate you will need to spend. Did they remember that you already told them how much you could afford? If not, that’s a massive red light.
  • Scope of the project: What do you need? What is the building going to be used for and how do you plan to use it? What kind of activities do you plan to undertake? Do you paint? Sew? Read a lot in bed? These can all influence the design.
  • Your ideas: What you want. What kind of materials and finishes are you into? This is your vision. The designer should not be trying to “own the idea” or impose a design on you because it will look good in a design magazine.

Your building designer also has to be capable. There are many instance where an architect or building designer draws up plans for a house that are subsequently rejected by council.

  • Ask what will be delivered. Will they be fully dimensioned and complete plans, sections and elevationsor will you end up with a pretty pencil drawing? Make sure this information is included in any contract you sign. If the designer is vague about it, ask to see an example of a finished project. If you aren’t sure if its build-able, find a builder who can verify the usefulness of the end drawings.
  • Find other buildings that have been designed by the same building designer and find out if they had any problems with the drawings. Other important things to find out are whether the builders had any other issues working with the designer, whether they are happy with the end result (did they get what they want) and does the building have any issues? The biggest problem with funky designs is generally leaking windows and rooves (this can be the builder’s fault as much as the designer’s).
  • Ask local builders. This is especially important if you live in a small town with only a few building designers. They know which designer is the best and will be able to give you hundreds of examples of designer’s mistakes (that said, your local architect will be able to provide that same information about builders)!
  • Don’t assume anything. Some older designers haven’t learnt from their mistakes and continue to make mistakes right through their careers. Many don’t keep up with professional development and have outdated techniques. Older building designers who still use pen and paper instead of a computer to draft up their designs are a great example of this. Some young designers have a surprising amount of experience behind them. You can never tell just on looks!
  • Ask lots of questions. Even silly ones. You should get an answer for every question you ask. If they don’t know something they should admit it and at least know where to go in order to find the answer for you.
  • Trust your instincts! If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!

This Your Alternatives Window Furnishings

Window furnishings increase the privacy of your home and many are designed to increase your homes security. They provide noise and light reduction and can insulate your home against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. This article explains the different types of window furnishings available normally available in Australia and lists the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Bars and grills

Window bars/grills are an external window furnishing usually made of steel with a baked on powder-coated finish. Bolted to the outside of the window, they have been a very popular alternative in past years for elderly people, or those who live in neighbourhoods with higher crime rates, due to the strength and protection they provide.

Advantages:

  • Very hard for intruders to break in
  • Hard wearing and long lasting

Disadvantages:

  • Not a large benefit in terms of privacy unless coupled

    with an internal furnishing

  • Not generally considered a modern or attractive alternative
  • No other benefits e.g. noise reduction, light reduction or insulation

Blinds and curtains

Blinds are an internal window furnishing which are available in a huge range of different styles and operation types. Different blind alternatives include vertical blinds, Venetian blinds, roller blinds, Roman blinds, panel glide blinds, cellular blinds and drapes. These alternatives are generally made from polyester, aluminium or timber laminate and although they look different general serve a similar purpose.

Advantages:

  • Increased privacy
  • Provide excellent light control
  • Provide some sort of insulation

    against heat and cold

  • Available in an enormous range

    of colours and styles guaranteed

    to suit any home

Disadvantages:

  • Generally no added security provided from these types of window furnishings
  • Insulation benefit not as large as other alternatives

Louvres

Louvres are an alternative to standard glass windows, so in essence they are both an internal and external window furnishing. Louvres comprise of thin horizontal blades which can be adjusted anywhere between opened and fully closed. These sheets are generally made from timber, glass or aluminium and come in a wide range of colours and styles. They are also available in a wide range of operations including manual and motorised.

Advantages:

  • Increased privacy
  • Light control
  • Aluminium alternatives provide noise reduction

    and insulation benefits

  • Wide range of alternatives in relation to material,

    colour, style and operation

  • Increased security within the home
  • Seal tight to reduce noise and disturbance from bad weather

Disadvantages:

  • Can be a costly alternative
  • Glass and wooden louvers do not provide a security benefit

Awnings

Awnings are an external window furnishing which have been popular for many years now. Generally made from canvas, acrylic or aluminium, awnings come in a wide range of styles and colours. Awnings also have a large variety of operation types including rope, tape, automatic, crank or motorised options.

Advantages:

  • Privacy
  • Light reduction
  • Considered aesthetically pleasing by some
  • Wide variety of materials, styles and operations
  • Moderate insulation benefit

Disadvantages:

  • No added security
  • Can be inconvenient and obstructing
  • Noise/light reduction and insulation benefits not as large as some other alternatives

Roller Shutters

Window roller shutters have been an Australian favourite for many years. Usually made from insulated aluminium roller shutters come in a wide range of colours and styles. Roller shutters also have a large range of operation methods including winder, strap and motorised electric options.

Advantages:

  • Privacy
  • Light control
  • Noise reduction
  • Insulation against heat and cold
  • Security benefits
  • Wide range of colours and styles available

Disadvantages:

  • Not considered attractive by all
  • Can be a costly investment

Window Tinting

Window Tinting has become a more popular alternative during recent times. Window tints come in a variety of types such as reflective, coloured reflective, silver reflective, bronze reflective and non-reflective.

Advantages:

  • Reduce glare into homes and offices
  • Reduces UV rays
  • Provides some insulation against heat and cold
  • Increase in privacy

Disadvantages:

  • No security benefit
  • No noise reduction

Australia Buying building and owning a swimming pool

Do you really want a swimming pool?

Stick to your budget. Your kids will have just as much fun in the low cost swimming pool shown above as in the custom inground pool shown below.

Do you want to provide endless hours of fun and exercise for your children in summer? Is there a need to escape the heat? Then you should consider getting a swimming pool.

However, because swimming pools are not cheap to build, buy or maintain, there are many factors to be considered before going any further.

Budget is a huge factor, but not the only consideration. Firstly, evaluate your reasons for installing a pool. Is it to be purely for recreation? Do you have a family member who has a health condition that would benefit from swimming? What space do you have for a pool, and what problems may this space present? Will the pool be used year round? What building codes apply in your area? What extras would you like with your pool: spa, waterfall, slides? How will your pool affect your landscaping, and what other things could you do with the space that a pool will use?

Choosing a pool

First of all, make sure you know your budget and stick to it. Be confident that you can afford the swimming pool that you choose, and that you have allowed for the extras that go with a pool. You won’t have fun swimming if each time you do a lap you think of how much debt you are in!

Research the kind of pool you want, and why. Good planning will help you minimise extra expenditures. Give consideration as to how you would like the area around the pool landscaped and factor in that as an expense. Also give serious consideration to maintenance costs – pumps, filters and chemicals are regular expenses that need to be budgeted. Filling your pool will cause your water bill to rise significantly, unless you have water tanks installed. You will also want to account for the expense of water loss through normal usage of the pool. Water restrictions in times of drought may mean having to buy in water. And don’t forget pool fencing – it’s mandatory.

Types of pool

The material that your pool is built from will determine a lot of features about it, like the frequency of maintenance and how flexible it can be in terms of design.

The three types of swimming pool to choose from are:

1. Above ground pools

This type of pool is the cheapest to buy, the simplest to install and is easy to dismantle if you move, or grow tired of it. Above ground pools can be set up with decking and landscaping to look almost as good as more expensive in-ground pools.

Prices range from $3,000 to $8,000 for the pool, with landscaping, filtering, electrical equipment and decking extra. One advantage of an above ground pool is that they don’t need to have concrete coping, which can add an extra $1200 (approximately). An above ground pool can be installed into a hole dug in the ground so that it resembles an in-ground pool. They have a steel frame and a vinyl liner. The frame should last approximately 25 years, depending on the local conditions, and the liner should last around 15 years before it needs replacing.

2. In-ground fibreglass pools

These are the second most affordable pool.

Prices for a fibreglass pool are around $20,000 – $25,000. This price is just for the pool to be placed in the ground, without filtration, electrical connections, landscaping or fencing. Fibreglass pools are manufactured off site in one piece, and then placed in an excavation on the site. Fibreglass is a durable and flexible material that can be made and shaped into a wide array of sizes and shapes. Fibreglass has a smooth surface and is algae-resistant.

3. Concrete pools

Concrete pools are often custom or semi-custom designs, and cost the most to build.

The cost of a concrete pool is varied by the interior finish of the pool. The cheapest finish is a pebble interior, followed by a glass bead interior, with tiling the most expensive option. Pebbles and glass finishes are plastered on, and then blasted off to expose a smooth, durable finish. Glass beads can come in any desired colour. Tiles are even more variable, but are the most expensive because they are labour intensive to apply.

Your budget for a concrete pool needs to be in excess of $50,000.

NOTE: Prices quoted above were researched in 2012.

Getting started with building your pool

Once you have made the decision on which pool is right for you, there are some steps you then need to take before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Shop around for a contractor
  • Obtain at least three written quotes
  • Make certain that ALL labour and materials are included as well as building permits. A written list of inclusions and exclusions is a must.
  • Ask for a list of previous customers and their phone numbers and call a few of them for a reference.
  • Don’t make a hasty decision. Take your time and don’t be pressured into signing a contract.
  • Check with the Department of Fair Trading (or the equivalent) in your state (if you are in Australia). You can do an online check of your swimming pool contractor on their website, and they also have a section on things to consider when building a pool. Well worth a visit. Here is a link to the NSW Fair Trading site: Building a Pool: Dept. of Fair Trading, NSW
  • Never pay a contractor in cash. Always use a cheque, money order or credit card so you have proof of purchase.
  • Investigate what limitations there are to your pool site. If it is close to the building it may need extra structural reinforcing. If the ground is sloping retaining walls may have to be built, and these all need extra care to ensure that they can take the extra strain that a pool will cause.

Solar energy systems for pools

When most people think of solar energy systems, they think of the large crystalline structures that are meant to collect solar energy to convert to solar power. However, there are other uses for solar energy systems. One of the more ingenious uses for this technology is the use of solar energy systems for heating pools. By using solar power to heat your swimming pool you can be sure that your morning swim will always be pleasant, less taxing on the environment and affordable.

Unless you live in a tropical climate where the temperature doesn’t drop at night you will need to heat your pool to make it comfortable for year-round swimming. Most people simply to purchase a pool cover, but pool covers only work to limit heat loss they do not heat the water. Gas heaters work well, but the operating costs of a gas heater can really add up. A low initial cost can draw pool owners to gas heating, but the costs over the life of the use of the pool can be large, and will only get larger as energy supplies diminish.

Using a solar energy systems for heating your pool can solve all of the problems mentioned above. Usually, solar energy systems are installed on the roof of your house, where there is the sunlight. Solar energy systems collect heat, which is transmitted to water stored in hoses behind the solar collectors. This warms the water, which is then circulated through the pool. This method of pool heating does cost more, initially, than other heating system, but the solar collectors and other accessories pay for themselves in a few years. If you plan to live in the house for some time, the cost will be a fraction of any other heating system. If you plan to sell the house in the near future, the solar energy system will add to the value of the house since they are considered energy savers over time.

The use of solar energy systems for heating pools is a time tested strategy. If you live in an area where lots of homes you may notice a few homes with pools that have solar energy systems. The only downside to this approach is that the government does not offer any financial incentives for heating your pool with solar. However, given the savings, it really doesn’t matter.

Swimming pool sanitation

Sanitation involves filtration to remove pollutants, disinfestation to kill infectious organisms, good hygiene to lessen the introduction of contaminants to the pool water, and regular testing and adjusting of PH levels, alkalinity and calcium levels.

The World Health Organisation has published international guidelines for the safety of swimming pools, including standards for minimising microbial and chemical hazards.

There are basically three different types of filters: sand, diatomaceous earth and cartridge filters. A filter is placed in-line immediately after the water pump. A well maintained filtration system is the first barrier in combatting contaminants. Preventing the entry of pool contaminants, both pathogenic and non-pathogenic, into the pool water is impossible, therefore effective treatments for sanitising the pool water is needed.

Chlorinating a pool is still the most widely used method of sanitising water. It does an excellent job, because it attacks anything organic. Because of this, it can be irritating to eyes, skin and hair. Optimum chemical levels should be maintained to adequately disinfect the water.

Salt water pools are not chlorine free pools. A salt water pool is one that utilises a chlorine generator. This produces chlorine from salt; i.e., sodium chloride. Water passes over the chlorine generator producing chlorine which is straight away converted into hypochlorous acid, which is the active sanitiser that kills algae, bacteria and fungi. The advantage of salt water pools is that chlorine does not have to be manually added to the pool, thus the owner does not have to buy, store or handle it. A disadvantage is that they consume a lot of electricity to run the system. Another is that the generator chamber has a limited life due to the corrosive nature of chlorine.

Equipment housing

Most swimming pool constructions incorporate a housing for the filtration equipment. This protects the equipment from the sun and rain, and it reduces the noise from the running filter. There are regulations in place to protect neighbours from the noise generated by pool equipment.

Extras for your pool

Extra features that can be added to pools are artificial streams and waterfalls, fountains, water slides, artificial pebble beaches, submerged seating, plunge pools, spas and hot tubs and shallow children wading pools.

A good landscaper can integrate the pool with the surroundings to expand the recreational opportunities associated with a pool. Outdoor BBQ areas and kitchens, shade areas, gazebos, garden furniture and inbuilt seating structures are all possibilities to expand your outdoor area.

Swimming pool safety guidelines

Tubular and glass pool fencing.
Images supplied by Fencing Manufacturers.

Fencing requirements

When building a pool. It is necessary to:

  • Install temporary fencing around the pool area while it is under construction
  • Inform your local council about where your permanent pool fence is going to be located, to make sure that its location meets council guidelines
  • Arrange a final inspection by your local council or private building certifier as soon as possible after the permanent compliant fence has been installed

After the pool is built, the owner should ensure:

  • The pool is surrounded on all sides, at all times, by a child-resistant fence separating the pool from the house and any adjoining premises
  • All doors and gates providing access to the pool must be kept closed at all times
  • A warning sign must be displayed near the pool

Child safety

  • If a child is missing, check the water first
  • Always watch children when they are in or near the water
  • Learn adult and infant CPR, and have an approved CPR chart in the pool area, these can be obtained from your local council, pool shop or community organisations such as St Johns Ambulance, Australian Red Cross or the Royal Life Saving Association
  • At outdoor gatherings, designate an adult to be responsible for supervising children
  • Ensure the pool gate is always closed and never propped or left open.
  • Keep trees, shrubs, pot plants and furniture away from the pool fence so that kids can’t use them to climb in

Electrical safety

Pools and electricity can be a lethal combination. Be very careful if you have a swimming pool that has a portable electrical pump and filter system where there is no protective housing. When buying pool with electrical pumps and filters you should

  • Make sure the pump and filter have an electrical safety approval number or Regulatory Compliance mark.
  • Check that they are suitable for outdoor use
  • Fit a safety switch to the house where the pool will be used
  • Arrange for a licensed electrician to install a suitable weather protected electrical power point close to where the pool equipment will be located

This Awnings for climate control

Why choose awnings for the home?

Awnings are a low-cost, low-tech way to summer cooling. They can serve two functions, to supply shade for the summer sun to control heat entry to the home, and also to offer more protection from rain and hail, to extend the life of the building structure and to offer shelter. About 40% of unwanted heat that enters the house is through the windows.

An awning is a fixed structure attached to the outside of a building, over doors, windows or walkways. Awnings were first used by the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians. The Coloseum in Rome was shaded and protected by large retractable canvas awnings.

Awning materials

Awnings can be made from a number of different materials, can be permanently fixed or retractable, decorative or purely functional. The angle and size of the awning is important to get the best result from an awning. The right placement ensures that summer sun can be excluded from the windows, yet allows the winter sun to penetrate to warm the house.

A light coloured awning will also reflect sunlight and heat. A slight gap left between the awning and the house will help to vent the heat that builds up under the awning. Installing the awning at an angle of 45 degrees looks and functions best.

Federation awning

The awning pictured right, is a permanent structure, and can be constructed from various materials. The advantage of this type of awning is that it is set and forget, apart from painting and cleaning. The disadvantage is that you are stuck with one level of setting.

There are other awnings which can have various configurations of control. You can have the mounting arms movable and adjustable, and the awning covering removable or retractable or partially so. This will give you greater levels of control over your covering options. You also have a choice of manual or motorised controls and adjustment.

The Ventian awning pictured below left, has either fixed or movable louvres for shade control. The advantage of these is that they allow some degree of light and vision through the louvres. If the louvres are movable, this allows for more light when needed. The louvres can be of wood, aluminium or various plastics. The latter two are maintenance free apart from cleaning.

The Canvas awning pictured far right can be slid down to any position on the rods. In winter, it can be retracted back into the hood for maximum sun penetration to the home. The advantage of these is that they are light, inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Selecting the most suitable awning for your home will ensure you have the best low-cost, low-tech way to cool your home in summer.

Here Your Alternatives Hot Water Systems

Did you know that on average hot water systems make-up 31% of your total energy bill? On top of that the cost of providing instant hot water to your home is continuously increasing.According to the Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal(IPART) hot water systems consume more energy than any other device within the average household. In their 2009 report IPART also predicted a 60% increase in the price of electricity from 1 July 2010 – 30 June 2013. You will have experienced some of these increases already, but further increases are coming soon.This article compares the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the three major hot water alternatives commonly available to Australians: electric, gas and solar.Electric Hot Water Systems

Electric hot water has been continuously developed and used over the last century and has been the main source of hot water in homes for several decades. In 2008 the ABS recorded that around 58% of homes in NSW use electric hot water systems.With the continuously rising cost of electricity and the introduction of the Carbon Tax, it is becoming increasingly expensive to run an electric hot water system.The government has stated that it will try and phase out electric hot water systems by 2013. This will make it harder to purchase replacement tanks and parts.From an ‘initial investment’ point-of-view, electric tanks are currently your most affordable option. They range in price from $500 to $2000, with many second-hand tanks available for less.Although costly to run, electrical hot water systems are reliable.Until recently all electric hot water systems heated water with an energy-hungry electrical element. However there is now an energy-saving alternative: the electric heat pump.Electric heat pumps are approximately three times more efficient than electrical-element based systems but the initial investment is between $1500 and $4000. Heat pumps are more efficient in warmer weather and in warmer climates.

Gas Hot Water Systems

Gas hot water systems have become increasingly popular over the last 5 years. Improvements in technology have seen gas systems, both storage and continuous, become more efficient and affordable.According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 76% of households in Melbourne are using a gas hot water system.Gas hot water requires a gas connection in the household but can also be run on gas bottles.Some gas hot water systems are considerably more efficient than others – look at their energy star rating before purchasing.Gas Hot Water Systems usually cost between $800 – $2500. The price depends on size and efficiency.Gas Hot Water Systems are not as cost effective as solar or heat pump based systems, however they are more efficient than traditional electric-element based systems.

Solar Hot Water Systems

Australia has an abundance of sunlight. Our solar insolation levels (amount of sunlight per square meter) greatly exceed those in Europe, Russia and North America. Some parts of central Australia receive an enormous 5.89 kWh/m2 per day. Australia’s solar insolation levels make solar hot water the most energy efficient water heating alternative for Australians. (Source:SolarInsolation.org).Solar Hot Water systems can reduce the energy used to create hot water by up to 90% (when compared to electric element-based hot water systems).Solar hot water helps the environment, saving around 4,000 kg (4 tonnes) of green house gases each year.A solar hot water system can cost anywhere between $4000 – $8000, depending on the size of the tank and the number and efficiency of the collectors.There are two types of solar hot water tanks available; ground-mount tanks and roof-mount tanks.Roof-mount tanks are useful for those with limited space around the house but they can be harder to maintain and are not suitable for those with brittle or weak roofs.Ground-mount tanks are placed, as the name suggests, on the ground rather than on the roof above the collectors. This provides the panels with a more slimline look, although requires a place on the ground for the tank to be stored.

How Choosing the right windows and doors

If you are currently building or renovating a home, than you know that there is a huge variety of window and door options out there. Windows and doors say a lot about a home. They are functional and need to perform well, yet they can also be statement pieces and express so much about who lives there. What you choose will depend on the functions you need, the style you love and the security you expect.

When you start researching your windows and doors always remember that the Australian building industry often refer to both windows and doors as “windows”.

To help you find the right windows for your house, here is an outline of your choices and things to consider.

Panel Lift windows

Panel lift windows and doors are so modern and allow the entire wall to be opened at the touch of a button. This window type is based on the same system as a panel lift garage door and requires a substantial beam overhead to take the load of the building as well as the weight of the door.

Awning Windows

Awning Windows were once popular in the 1920’s and 1950’s, but due to their unique design quality are seeing resurgence in new homes built in temperate climates, often constructed from attractive and durable aluminum. Awning Windows have a sash along the top of the window, and open from the bottom, creating an awning that allows air to circulate freely but doesnt allow the rain in. Larger Awning Windows are often operated by a manual crank, whereas smaller windows, such as those used in smaller bathrooms, can be pushed open and pulled closed by hand.

Casement Windows

Casement Windows are an attractive and traditional window model that swing open like a door, but can be shut with an air-tight seal. They have a vertical, side-hung sash that allows the window to be opened inwards or outwards, inviting sea-breezes into your home. Aluminum Casement Windows provide some of the best thermal performance of any window type, and have very secure locking mechanisms. They are completely streamlined, and cranks are foldable to allow curtains and blinds to fall naturally. They allow for very large panes of glass, and are therefore perfect for homeowners with a view they want to showcase completely unobstructed.

Breezeway Louvre Windows

A unique style used exclusively in warmer climates, traditional Louvre (or Jalousie) Windows look beautiful in screened-in porches and sun rooms. The window is constructed with horizontal slats of glass, similar to venetian blinds yet wider. These can be opened, closed, or tilted depending on how much light and fresh air you want to let in. Aluminum Breezeway Louvre Windows are more versatile than their predecessors, and can be shut tight to keep harsh weather out. Whats more, they allow not only natural light and air into your room, but add a uniquely stylish touch that pulls together a contemporary look.

Double Hung Windows

Some looks are too good to ever go out of style, and aluminum Double Hung Windows look equally good on classic homes as they do brand new constructions. New Double Hung Windows offer a contemporary twist on an enduring classic; the beautiful, old fashioned look you want with the modern performance you expect. Also known as a sash window, Double Hung Windows are essentially two windows separated horizontally, and can be of different sizes and shapes (such as a semicircle atop a rectangle). They open from both the top and the bottom, and can feature a combination of large and small glass panes, customizable to your specifications.

Sliding Windows

Sliding Windows are now one of the most popular window options out there, and offer a contemporary look. Since they slide completely open, they offer a good air circulation in bedrooms, bathrooms and over kitchen sinks. They slide open and shut manually with ease, without using any additional space, which is perfect in rooms where there isnt an inch to spare. Sliding Windows are very easy to clean as they can be lifted out of their casement from the inside, and their light aluminum construction makes the process of washing both sides of the glass quick and painless.

French Doors

French Doors are a classic choice that looks good in both modern and traditional home decor. They are essentially large aluminum Casement Windows that are used as doors, sometimes between adjacent rooms, and other times it is an attractive entrance to a garden or patio. Their charm lies in the fact that they let full light into the room, creating an open and breezy feel. Usually 2 doors are hung alongside one another, but a single door can also do the trick.

Pivot Doors

Pivot Doors not only add architectural interest to your entryways, but they are extremely functional and last longer than traditional doors. These doors are hinge-less, which means less tension and friction, allowing for effortless opening and closing. The weight of the door is supported by the floor instead of a door frame, as pivots, instead of hinges, are placed on the floor and ceiling. This eliminates wear and tear on the door frame.

Bi-Fold Doors

Bi-Fold Doors are ideal in tight spaces, where there isnt enough room for a door to swing open. Often Bi-Fold doors are a pair of doors divided vertically into 2 parts attached by a set of hinges. The doors run along a track on the floor, so to open a door the knob is gently pulled and the door folds open. These doors are excellent as closet doors, but work in a variety of ways.

Sashless Double Hung Windows

Sashless Double Hung Windows function almost the same as Double Hung Windows, but they are a far more contemporary design. These windows provide a seamless view, because there is no sash holding the sturdy glass panes in place. Two glass panels glide along aluminum tracks, to give a custom amount of ventilation. Washing these windows is extra easy because they are perfectly uniform and smooth.

Aluminum windows and doors provide all the function and style that Australian homes are known for. As well as being beautifully designed, they are durable so you know that your purchase is a true investment in your home.

This How to make the most of the sun in your home

Whether you want to watch sport on TV away from the glare of the afternoon sun, or have a sunny kitchen window to grow basil and parsley, the way that your home is oriented can make a big difference to how you use your home.

When you choose a floor plan that faces the right way on your block, you’ll make your home more comfortable, and you can save money on heating, cooling and lighting. Your home builder can flip or rotate your floor plan to make the most of your block’s orientation.

Here is a quick guide to help you work out which rooms to position where in your home:

North- This is side of your home that will be warmer in winter. The north side is generally the best place to have living areas and rooms that you use the most.

South- This is the coolest side, so it is generally the best place for bedrooms in warmer climates, or rooms that you don’t use during the day.

East- This side is where you will receive morning sun, so it is a great idea to have your kitchen or bedrooms on this side so you can enjoy a relaxing breakfast in the sunlight.

West- Since this is the direction the sun sets, the western side of your home is more likely to get hot in the afternoon. This is a great area to place rooms that you don’t use often, such as your bathroom, garage or laundry.

You can also make the most of the sun within your home by using eaves. In summer, eaves will shade your walls and windows from the sun – and in winter when the sun is at a lower angle, the eaves will let the sun into your home.

When you’re working out the orientation of your home, always keep the amount of glass you have in mind. Glass looks great, but it can turn your home into an oven in summer and an igloo in winter!