How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

Whether new or old, here's how your home can be energy efficient, with minimal cost
How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency
Max KwokDecember 7, 2020

With summer renovation season upon us, Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, have shared their top tips on renovating and retrofitting your home for energy efficiency.

Australian homes could see a 30–50 per cent reduction in your heating and cooling needs, with energy-efficient home improvements, saving you money.

The average family spends between $2,000 and $3,000 on energy per year, according to CSIRO’s research lead of building simulation and communication, Anthony Wright.

“Of that, roughly 40 per cent will be heating and cooling energy, 25 per cent will be hot water, and the rest will be lighting and appliances”, he said.

But, whether new or old. You can retrofit your home or apartment, and get results, with minimal cost.

How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

The average existing house is rated 2.2 stars for energy efficiency according to data from CSIRO’s Australian housing data portal – the most energy-efficient houses are 10 stars.

But the average renovation jumps up to 4.9 stars, reducing heating and cooling demand by 40 per cent and saving up to $480 per year. Here are CSIRO’s tips for how to do this:

1. Choose and use your appliances wisely

CSIRO's research lead of building simulation and communication, Anthony Wright, explained that replacing appliances with energy-efficient ones is probably the first thing to do, especially in apartments where retrofitting proves difficult.

If homeowners upgrade their hot water, heater and air-conditioner, as well as their other appliances, such as the energy-hogging fridge, they could halve their other energy use, Wright told But what about the rest…

2. Install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels

The rest of their energy consumption could be cost effectively offset with solar panels,” he said.

As panels reach grid parity, more Australians are choosing to install solar panels to not only reduce their carbon emissions but their energy bills.

According to CSIRO, homes rated at eight stars and above can often generate their own power from a standard solar array over a year.

3. Seal, glaze and insulate

Draft sealing, including around windows and doors, wall vents and exhaust fans are the best bang for the buck when trying to make your home more energy-efficient. But what about apartment owners?

“Sealing gaps and cracks is also still a good idea in older apartments but not always possible in a high-rise where wind pressure is much higher and façade treatments are shared across multiple apartments”, said Wright.

4. Install external shading

Heat gain can be a great problem in homes and apartments – however, installing external shading is an easy way to prevent this. This could include awnings, shutters, blinds and landscaping.

For apartments, particularly for those that face west, heat gain can be an even bigger problem and external shading may often not be allowed. For this, Anthony Wright advises residents work with the body corporate to find a solution to find the best way forward.

“External shading, window films, or replacing glazing are all possible but vary in complexity and cost depending on the building.”

5. Don’t neglect the small stuff

Making sure all your light globes are LEDs and installing ceilings fans often deliver the best bang for your buck in both homes and apartments.

Whilst expensive, replacing major appliances with five- and six-star new appliances will only save you money in the long-term.

But energy-efficient retrofitting can include anything from ceiling insulation top up, installing heavy drapes and pelmets, installing underfloor insulation or replacing windows with double or triple glazed windows.

Here's Wright's list for retrofitting from the best bang for your buck to the least:

  • Draft sealing Including around windows and doors, chimneys, wall vents, exhaust fans, evaporative cooling vents etc.) There are products for all these applications that can be easily installed.

  • Make sure all your light globes are LEDs

  • Install ceiling fans

  • Ceiling insulation top-up

  • Replace major appliances with 5-6 star new appliances

  • Install heavy drapes and pelmets (in cool climates where you want to retain heat in winter)

  • Install underfloor insulation (if you’re in a cool/temperate climate and have a raised floor)

  • Install external shading to windows where heat gain is a problem in summer, such as awnings, shutters, blinds, landscaping

  • Replace windows with double or triple glazed window

  • Consider retrofitting wall insulation where possible

A few energy-efficient developments on the market right now

How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

If you’re looking to beat the summer heat and find a new home with energy-efficient features, CSIRO has also passed on tips that can help you save you money. 

“A first home buyer should always ask for an accredited NatHERS energy rating”, Wright tells us.

For every additional star under the energy rating scheme, a house or apartment should use approximately 20-30 per cent less energy to heat and cool.

A 10-star house uses almost not energy to stay comfortable year round, yet the average older house in Australia rates at just two stars. The average new house is rated at six stars, the minimum required for newly developed homes.

When getting an energy rating done, Wright advises homeowners to ask your energy rater to show you how the house will perform in a summer heat wave or a winter cold snap.

“Knowing how it will operate without the heating and cooling turned on will give you an idea of how uncomfortable it is likely to be”, he said.

Residents should always ask raters for tips on how to improve, especially following a renovation or retrofitting project. Here are our top energy-efficient and sustainable picks for December 2020:

1. Daracombe, Kew

How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

Situated in Melbourne’s inner-East, Daracombe offers residents the opportunity to save 30 per cent on their utility bills thanks to their sustainability features and include sustainable features such as LED lighting, full-height double glazed windows, rain water harvesting and cross-flow ventilation

2. Salt Townhomes, Torquay 

How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

Salt Townhomes offers residents sustainable living amongst the Surf Coast lifestyle with an average 7.5 star energy rated design that boasts natural materials, double glazing and solar panels.

3. Tullamore, Doncaster

How to retrofit your home and apartment for energy efficiency

Located on Doncaster Road, Tullamore offers residents sustainable living from an entry price point of $400,000 at their Folia apartments development.

Folia achieved a six-leaf EnviroDevelopment accreditation, the highest available in Australia with sustainable features such as a 70kWh solar panel array, integrated water management plan and the option to include a Tesla Powerwall II battery. 

To view the full list of projects, read 5 new sustainable developments for the environmentally-conscious buyer

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Max Kwok

Max Kwok is a staff contributor at Based in Sydney, Max has previously worked at Property Observer where he specialised in content creation and editorial research.

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