Sustainable Living for Buyers

Rising greenhouse gas emissions, the cost of energy use, concerns about the impacts of climate change and global financial uncertainty means that we all need to make changes to the way we live. Sustainably designed homes use less energy and save you money by reducing the need for artificial heating, cooling and lighting.

Sustainable living also provides for more naturally comfortable living and there are aspects of sustainable design which don’t need to be expensive.
We’ve provided some handy hints below to help you on your sustainable home journey.

Building a sustainable home - the three most important decisions

Location, Location, Location

A home that is close to everything you need will save on transport and fuel costs. Consider the walking and cycling distance to public transport, shops, parks and schools.


Bigger isn't always better. If you really want a sustainable home, choose one with a smaller footprint. Larger homes require more heating, air conditioning and lighting and also take up valuable garden space.


Look for a block with good orientation that allows for the placement of living and entertaining areas in the north and minimal windows on east and west.
If your house has a longer north side orientation, you can take advantage of winter sun for warmth and natural lighting. If you can’t choose a block with a longer northern orientation, you can adapt the layout of your home to maximise solar passive design.

Download the Building a sustainable Home Checklist.

Cockburn eco-homes

In partnership with the University of Western Australia and Solar Dwellings, the City of Cockburn has developed six innovative and inspirational house designs for sustainability. These designs are intended to help residents create a home that is climate sensitive and site responsive. A home that will keep warm in winter and cool in summer, while minimising the impact it has on the environment and saves money.

Each home has been designed for a different lot orientation to achieve optimal performance. Visit Cockburn Eco Homes to view and download the plans.

Principles of sustainable design

House layout 

North facing rooms are ideal for living areas, such as family rooms, lounge rooms and kitchens. By grouping like rooms together you will find it easier to control the heating and cooling of different areas within your house. Similarly, grouping ‘wet areas’ (bathroom, toilet, laundry) together can reduce plumbing costs and hot water heat loss.

Living areas and windows in the north gives your home natural lighting all year round. This allows winter sunlight to enter the home during the colder months and means easy shading from the harsh summer sun with eaves.

Windows and ventilation 

You can reduce heating and cooling costs by planning where to place your windows and natural ventilation. Avoid exposure to the morning and afternoon sun by moving, deleting or reducing the size of windows on the east and west. These windows are exposed to morning and afternoon sun for longer periods of time.

Eaves and verandahs on the east and west side of your house will help protect against extra heat.
Make the most of the cooling south west breeze and allow for cross ventilation by aligning windows and doors opposite each other for natural air flow through your house.

Windows on the prevailing breeze side of the house should be lower if possible than those on the opposite side to assist natural air flow.


Insulation is a good way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Consider increasing the insulation levels in walls, ceiling and lining the roof to keep the heat out in summer and retain warmth in winter.

When selecting insulation, compare the ‘R’ values, which are a measure of resistance to heat transfer. The higher the ‘R’ value, the greater the resistance. An ‘R’ value of 5 is more efficient than an ‘R’ value of 1.


External doors should be sealed to keep cool air in during summer and outside in winter. Window frames should also be well sealed, to minimise heat loss in winter, and heat gain in summer.

Thermal mass

Concrete and tiles store heat longer than timber floors. They are good at absorbing winter sun on the north side of a house when the sun’s rays penetrate from a more northerly angle.

Dark tiles or exposed concrete in north facing rooms (that are exposed to winter sun) help to stabilise internal temperatures both during the day and at night.
Window treatments, such as well fitted curtains and pelmets will also reduce extra heat gain.

Colour and exteriors 

Light colours reflect heat and solar radiation, while dark colours absorb it. Lighter roof and wall colours can keep your home cooler in summer, especially when combined with insulation. This is particularly important in Perth’s temperate climate.

Shading and landscaping 

Use verandas, eaves, trees and shrubs to shade walls and windows on the east and west. A pergola with tilted slats, removable sail shades or deciduous vines on the north side will allow winter sun in, while shading the harsh summer sun.

Plants that are common to your soil type and local area need much less water or added nutrients. They also provide habitat for native fauna.


Plan ahead by creating a liveable and universally accessible home that is easy to move around in. Check your design has wide doors (minimum 820mm), hallways (minimum 1000m), flush entry doors, hobless showers and an easy access toilet with strong walls.

Renewable / solar energy

Installing a Photovoltaic (PV) system can be beneficial to both the environment and homeowners. It not only produces energy from a renewable resource (the sun) and reduces your carbon emissions, but can also increase the value of your home and provide you with a level of energy security.

How do solar panels work? 

Solar panels also known as Photovoltaic (PV) systems, convert light energy from the sun into Direct Current (DC) electricity. In order to convert this energy into electricity we use in the home (known as Alternating Current (AC) electricity) a device called an inverter is used. This AC electricity is then used to power your home. If the system is grid connected (most common for households) any excess energy is fed back into the main electricity grid.

What size solar system will I need?

A typical West Australian household consumes 18 kWh of electricity a day which produces approximately 5,300 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The most common size Photovoltaic (PV) system for households is 1.5kW which would produce approximately 30% of household electricity and prevent 1900kgs of greenhouse gas emissions being emitted. Overall this would save the household approximately $525 a year with savings increasing as electricity prices increase. To find out what size system you need, it is useful to examine your electricity bill to find out your daily average consumption in units.

What is a unit or kWh? 1 unit = 1000 watts = 1 Kilowatt hour (kWh)

There are a range of solar panel rebates and subsidies available to home owners to encourage uptake of renewable energy in the home.

Appliances and fittings

Energy efficient appliances will improve the sustainability of your home. Check the water and energy rating of appliances before you buy them and aim for the stars (the more stars, the more efficient).

Gas-boosted solar hot water systems or heat pump systems will save hundreds of dollars off your energy bills annually, compared to standard electric systems. By locating your hot water system near the bathrooms, laundry and kitchen you can reduce the amount of cold water that needs to be run while waiting for hot water to arrive at taps and shower heads.

Rainwater tanks can also help you to save water, but make sure you check the City’s guidelines on water tanks before you install one.

Renovating for sustainability

 Many of the tips provided above apply to both building and retrofitting a home for sustainability.
If you have purchased an established home, while the basic orientation of your home can’t be changed, there are passive solar and thermal additions you can make to make your home more comfortable and efficient, such as:
  • Insulation
  • Window ventilation
  • Sealing draughts
  • Installing floor and window coverings
You can also install energy and water efficient appliances and tanks. You can consider compost and worm farms to reduce your waste and you can landscape for water conservation and cooling / shade.

Of course – renewable energy and solar hot water installation is an option for most homes, and will instantly reduce your energy costs and environmental impact.


If you are thinking about retrofitting your home, please consider  preserving the heritage aspects of your house. The City has produced information brochures on the heritage components of five historic housing styles commonly found in Cockburn.

For more information on this please see the City’s residential heritage.  

Sustainability subsidies and rebates

The City of Cockburn offers a number of environmental and sustainability grants and subsidies, which can help you improve the sustainability of your home.

More information and contact 

Please contact the City’s sustainability officer for more information on sustainable living on 08 9411 3444 or at

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9 Coleville Crescent,
Spearwood 6163

Po Box 1215, Bibra Lake DC,
Western Australia, 6965

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