Building A Sustainable Home Through Passive Design

green house sketch

Building A Sustainable Home Through Passive Design

While not an entirely new concept, interest in passive design has grown in recent years, largely due to the global movement towards constructing more comfortable, energy efficient and sustainable buildings. Passive design responds to the local climate and site conditions to maximise comfort and health whilst minimising energy usage. At Elliott Hardie, we are the award-winning custom builders Canberra locals rely on for innovative home designs, high quality craftsmanship and impeccable attention to detail. Read on to learn more about passive design and why it is important.

What is Passive Design?

Passive design is a sustainable building standard which takes into consideration the local climate and conditions to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home without the need for high energy-consuming appliances and systems. It focuses on renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind to provide heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting. Passive design reduces temperature fluctuations, improves indoor air quality and can make a home enjoyable to live in whilst significantly lowering energy consumption and emissions.

What Are the Features of Passive Design?

There are several key elements of passive design, all of which work harmoniously to achieve the desired results.


This refers to the position in which you build your home on its site. The right orientation can enable you to take full advantage climatic features such as the sun and wind for natural heating and cooling. Ideally the orientation of your home will allow for maximum exposure to the sun in winter, while receiving shade to walls and windows in summer.


Shading is important in passive design to help reduce summer temperatures, improve comfort and save energy. The proper use of eaves, awnings, shutters, pergolas and plants, can enable you to block up to 90% of the heat generated from direct sun. Keep in mind that it is important that you calculate the sun’s angles in your location so that you do not shade the winter sun.

Building Layout

Rooms and outdoor spaces should be laid out to maximise solar gain when needed. Generally, this will mean:

  • Living areas should face north for all day sun – horizontal shading may be required in summer to prevent overheating.
  • Kitchens are best suited facing east – this provide light and solar gain in the morning, and cool afternoons during meal preparation times.
  • Bedrooms should also face east – this makes for more comfortable summer during the hot summer months.

Rooms facing west receive good afternoon sun, but are susceptible to overheating.

South-facing rooms typically have little or no heat gain and offer poor natural light, so are best utilised as non-living spaces.

Thermal Mass

This refers to the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy. High density materials such as concrete, bricks and tiles tend to have a high thermal mass, and as such require a lot of heat energy to change their temperature. Lightweight materials such as timber have low thermal mass. Good use of thermal mass will help to moderate indoor temperatures by averaging temperature extremes. 

Natural Ventilation

Fresh air is required to eliminate odours, provide clean air to breathe, and improve thermal comfort. Passive design makes use of the wind to deliver fresh air naturally into homes and buildings. The approach to ventilation will vary based on the location, building type, placement of openings and the design of internal spaces.

Window Design

While windows allow for light and fresh air to enter a home, they can be a major source of unwanted heat gain and heat loss. Improving the thermal performance of windows with specialised glazing systems and ensuring smart window design in relation to size and placement is a key element of passive design.


Insulation provides a barrier to block heat flow and is vital for keeping a home warm in winter and cool in summer. The type and amount of insulation required will depend on the local climate as well seasonal changes and daily temperature variations. It’s essential that insulation works alongside other passive design principles to achieve the desired results.

Incorporating Passive Design into a New Build

It costs very little to incorporate passive design when building a new home, and the benefits are greatest when passive design principles are incorporated into the entire design and build process. As experienced Canberra home builders, we place a strong emphasis on innovation and sustainability. We strive to design and build contemporary custom homes which create minimal impact on our environment now and into the future.

To start the journey to building your new home, get in touch with the local Canberra builders who have the knowledge and expertise you design and build an architecturally beautiful, passive home. Contact the team at Elliott Hardie today online or by calling 0479 106 944.