Sunny in all the wrong places

I’ve been thinking lately of setting up the lounge in the toilet. The dining room table too, and maybe the kitchen, if I can squeeze it in. There’s the obvious matters of hygiene to overcome but at a pinch, you can always do at least some of the ho-hum toileting stuff in the old kitchen sink, as shown by New York Post editor Col Allan when he was on Aussie shores.

In this chilly weather it’s been easy to sort out where the warmest, sunniest part of the house is. Yes, the smallest room in the house is also the brightest, while the places you actually want to spend time in (for longer than it takes to read the morning news or a trashy mag) are darker and cooler than a cave.

In an old house it’s easy to think ‘well that’s how they did things 100 years ago’. But the loo in question is actually in a newish rear extension that also houses the south-facing kitchen and dining area. Someone needed to give that draughtsperson a compass and show them which way was north.

It’s little wonder that we have one of the highest environmental footprints in the world (per capita) if this is how we continue to design houses. Short of hanging out in the toilet all day, or the bedrooms (which also face north), enticing though it is to sleep until lunch, the only way to get warm in the “dark zones” that are the living areas is to really crank up the heater. Last power bill? $600. And that’s not even including the gas for the main heater, so you can probably factor in another few hundred dollars there. If the house design is hurting my hip pocket, it’s also sucking up a more natural resources than it has to.

The place I’m talking about is a rental. If it was mine I’d be tempted to call in a builder to sort the mess out. But realistically, it’s much harder and way more expensive to fix something once it’s built rather than just plan it well in the first place.

Admittedly it doesn’t help  that it’s a home with gorgeous old high ceilings, up near which there’s probably a metre-thick blanket of warm air floating, hovering enticingly above our heads. But I can live with them, they look great and help keep the house cool in summer, even though they’re not recommended in modern green homes.

But a home that takes advantage of the lower-in-the-sky winter sun and baths the living areas in warmth is high on my wish list at the moment. Building codes such as BASIX in NSW have done a lot to raise awareness amongst home builders that the direction you face your main living areas is important. But it seems there’s still a fair way to go.

It makes sense that as energy prices rise over time, home buyers will also be prepared to fork out more for energy-efficient properties that keep them comfortable and cut their utility bills. We’re not there yet … but we can only hope the day comes soon. Then many more homes would be designed with such basic but vital things as the path of the sun in mind.

Carolyn Boyd is a property journalist and keen follower of Australia’s housing market.

She writes for domain.com.au

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