House Energy Efficiency Suggestion

Discussion point - it seems we are all trying to move to more energy efficient housing but surely we must make provision in building codes that north facing windows, walls and solar panels should not be overshadowed by other buildings or tall trees if at all possible? I am sure there are many views on this!

I doubt it. Most new houses show no evidence of that at all. Look at aerial views of any new housing development and you will see 90% of the roofs are dark, usually charcoal grey, and orientation is to the view or the street not the sun. Part of the problem is that solar orientation is not a criterion for subdivision design, they want to maximise profit. Another reason is that good information on passive and active solar design has been around for decades but house hunters hardly ever read it.

Add to this the burning desire to have a MacMansion with many additional rooms that are hardly ever used so that you get two story houses or single story almost up to the boundaries and you have residents more concerned about neighbours looking in or obscuring the view than solar orientation and shading.

Our suburbs are sprawling outwards and stretching infrastructure ever more, and land prices continue to skyrocket; sooner or later you would think higher density housing must be accepted. This may happen eventually if planning authorities and Councils are pressured enough but you wonder if it will be so given the huge pressure on house prices excluding so many from ownership has not forced any government to take any sensible steps to dealing with land prices. Greater density will bring its own problems of design.

It seems some kind of enforcement will be required to achieve big changes. Such restrictions will of course produce huge screams that any such action will force prices up even more.

This has already occurred in NSW, a new SEPP to include various sustainability measures was proposed but the new Planning Minster killed it. The man responsible could have become leader of the opposition. The new state government may do better but I am not holding my breath while waiting.

Housing land management in this country is a basket case that would require sustained action by courageous statesmen to correct. What we have instead is wimpy politicians whose only sustained objective is to be re-elected.


Being the devil’s advocate, why should a neighbours use of land be limited because a neighbour doesn’t want shading of their property. It can easily be argued that if a property owner doesn’t wasn’t shading, they should buy enough land as a buffer to prevent shading.

The same applies to other land uses. A person carrying out an activity shouldn’t reasonably expect a neighbour to restrict their use and provide some sort benefit (to mitigate an impact) to allow their own use to continue. This removes some basic property rights, especially when there is no compensation paid to a neighbour for the received benefit.


I have the exact same counter view, but we should at least have the debate if we are serious about energy usage and star ratings. If you put in a $10000 solar system to generate electricity and then it is completely shaded by a growing tree or a new structure is that fair?

Solar is about individuals choosing to generate their own power.

Even with solar, the previous information applies.

I’ll use another example. Say you own some acreage next to a business that does abrasive blasting (replace abrasive blasting for solar). You have a right to build a house but you need council approval for the house. During the approval process, the neighbour objects and says your land is buffer for the sand blasting operation and the business will be impacted if a house is allowed to be built. If we assume the business has rights over your property (like someone with solar expecting their neighbours to preserve their ability to have unfettered solar access) and objects to the building of the house, should council refuse the application or approve it. Is it fair that a neighbour can impose control over your land to prevent you doing what you could legally be entitled to do, that being to build a house, plant a tree etc? Or should the neighbour buy your land so that they can carry out the activities they chose and so they aren’t impacted?

Such situations come up in town planning regularly it isn’t possible that a neighbours rights can be extinguished without legal agreement and possibly compensation.

In many areas in Australia, providing shade is seen an energy efficiency measure in summer months to reduce energy use for cooling, whilst in some areas (esp. Tasmania, southern Australia and houses at altitude) solar access in winter months is recommended to reduce heating requirements and assist in energy efficiency. In some areas, both shading in summer and solar access is recommended. There are other energy efficiency measures should shading/solar access not be attainable to reduce energy use.

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Hi, I am not talking about the status quo but what future environmental sensitive development rules should be. I also mentioned only the north side, important for winter warming, not the west, east or south, the first two being much more important for summer months for obvious reasons.

A quick internet search has pulled this up

  • Factor #2. Understand the Necessary Design Guidelines

  • Certain legal regimes in Australia don’t explicitly protect solar access. But that doesn’t mean that you can design and build without any concern for such access. Even though there may not be a strict law, there are still quite a few guidelines to follow.

  • For example, your building should allow for a minimum of two hours of solar access to neighbouring properties in Victoria. In NSW, principal living spaces should receive at least three hours. And both of these guidelines use the winter solstice as a reference point. On the shortest day of the year, properties should receive these solar access timeframes between 9 am to 3 pm.

Solar Access and Building Designs – The Six Factors to Consider - Archistar.

I understand what you are saying and years ago, it was often a question which was asked of local councils (where I worked for a short time). Protecting solar access is counterproductive to energy efficiency.

If you want urban design to protect solar access, this means that urban lot size will need to increase to ensure that activities/land use on one property won’t impact on the solar access on another. Increasing lot sizes will contribute to urban sprawl, reduce energy efficiency or urban areas as a whole and reverse long term sustainable urban areas where densification is required to minimise impacts on the broader environment and food production.

The alternative outlined above it to allow one neighbour to impose their choices on another…without any legal right or compensation. This goes against established property rights that a neighbour has the right over its neighbours and not a good precedence to set as it may also start others lobbying for other rights to be extended onto their neighbours (e.g. what colour they paint their house etc).

Solar access should be a goal where it can be achieved (like that presented in the link that you posted), but not a right which needs to be protected at the expense of others.


Because the local building regulations require certain outcomes, and governments are supposedly encouraging eco outcomes? IE greater energy efficiency, reduced total energy consumption, etc.

Alas the great Aussie backyard is no more. Similarly the one chain frontage of the quarter acre block is no longer an urban reality. IE Approx 20m frontage and slightly more than 1,000sqm.

Today here are imposed limitations including built heights, boundary set backs and open space. Consider also building covenants that include roof colour, precise frontage layouts and facade restrictions. Often for blocks of 200-300sqm. It’s no surprise such housing escapes cooling sea breezes, causes accelerated runoff during peak rain events (flooding) and encourages a largely indoor climate controlled life style.

The one benefit to some is the limited outdoor lawn and garden space appropriate for all but the most modest of plantings. Curiosity is that while impractical, there are few rules that prevent one from planting a row of Douglas Fir (aka Oregon pine) in the front yard, or a Moreton Bay Fig out the back.

It’s also interesting to note the majority of the houses that feature in the various ‘Grand Designs’ programs promote eco credentials. Nearly all sit on large unrestricted plots, and with very few exceptions are cold climate homes.

South facing or north facing, we had a recent outing to a new Stockland developed estate master planned for tens of thousands. Few options unless one looked to a premium NE corner block with an east facing main entry.

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If you had two storeys on the north side of a house on a 20m wide block, sloping to one storey for the southern edge of a block, you would preserve solar access for everyone on the south side without inducing too much urban sprawl.

I hear the comments about sprawl but many developers also maximise profits with smaller blocks (and few facilities) and companies promote project homes that are much bigger and with more bedrooms than what most families need, so the discussion needs to be had as to what is eco friendly for solar and use of increasingly expensive building materials.

The sprawl is more likely to be solved by suitably-sized apartments near major transport hubs, which is happening to some extent.

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It is also the case it is allowed and common in new estates for homes to be built right to the lot line or close enough so a person can just pass through. We have a neighbours garage a few cm from the lot line. Ugly and sloppy brickwork so we had a screen built to hide it.

There are also many cases of new flats overshadowing existing houses including sometimes blocking light with essentially zero lot line approvals.

Many things need to be fixed before noble aspirations are introduced but maybe those noble aspirations could be a catalyst.

As for ‘rights’ it is zoning and overlays. Don’t like them, build somewhere more amenable for you.


This is why possibly it will never be adopted. If it is, it may be the end of unit/multi-rise developments in Australia as it is impossible to ensure that such developments don’t shade adjoining properties.

Unfortunately adopting such measures would be used by ‘anti-development’ groups to stifle approval processes, knowing that it would be impossible to meet such requirements for all building developments.

Building design and choices should be of the person building. If they decide to pay for and modify their own buildings to ‘guarantee’ in some way solar access irrespective of what neighbours do, then they should factor this into the building design and land purchases. Meeting an individual’s solar access expectations (such as having a solar panel system in sunlight all day) should imposed on neighbours as they will bear the costs or and reduce their own property rights.

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I hear you, but Victoria already dictates 2 hours to neighbouring properties and NSW 3 hours to living areas between 9-3pm at winter solstice, so hasn’t that reasoning already been bypassed to some degree? I am talking about new builds, not retrofits.

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The NSW and Victorian values are targets for planning assessment purposes and isn’t mandated as minimum number of hours.

In many developments these targets can’t be achieved, such as south facing units in larger apartment complexes.

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Agree, but from the beginning I have only been talking about north-facing windows and walls and solar cells in housing developments, to help reduce energy wastage - I agree that not much can be done about south facing units in larger apartment complexes (but on a related matter electric car charging should be mandated in new builds)

The conversation elsewhere is talking double glazing, increased Basix requirements, 7 star house ratings, mandatory energy efficiency ratings advertised for new and preexisting housing (such as what ACT already has mandated). Why not consider housing designs that impact neighbours’ solar access less - already in NSW we have building bulk as another consideration for planning assessments, so we are not extending the idea too much.

Areas designated as medium to high density, such as units near major transports hub may be exempt.

The current schmozzle of a situation does not need to be the future and should not stop or stifle discussions of possible affirmative steps.

Even if say the NSW or Victorian solar access was mandated by law, it wouldn’t benefit PV owners terribly much.

Say it was mandated that 2-3 hours of unshaded sunlight must be allowed to fall on every property. Some properties may have this in the morning hours, some in the afternoon hours which the rest around peak PV production times in the middle of the day. PV generation would still be significantly compromised by the shading hours, especially those where solar access times don’t correspond to PV system orientation.

The cost of a PV system, one might be better spending the money on insulation, more energy efficient appliances, smart control systems etc.

Mandating EV charging points in every new build may also not be good policy in the future as some may chose not to have private vehicles (which is common in many other countries), chose to charge elsewhere (say where the vehicle sits for some time each day) or the local electricity infrastructure may not be suited to every new dwelling having chargers installed - which is more likely in large multi-dwelling developments. ‘A one size fits all solution assumes everyone is the same size.’

I agree that Australia’s housing stock should be more energy efficient, but disagree every houses PV system should have protected sun access. Small scale domestic PV systems are more expensive generator (capital, maintenance etc) than some other renewable sources, and maybe it might be better to invest in off site renewables.

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It is not impossible to mandate open space between buildings though. Even that is in the too hard basket. If everything is impossible nothing will ever evolve, eh?

Some development should never be allowed so there is a balance that for now is not a balance, but a pro-developer/pro-bulider free for all - as some such as myself sees it.

Allowing a structure to go existentially to the edge of a lot to the dteriment of owners on adjacent lots seems pretty rich.

So long a they respect their neighbours, not often done.


It could be possible, but then it adds to the urban sprawl.

Everything is possible, but not without impacts/consequences.

A solution could be we live in an Australian Neom, but Australians would need to make some major lifestyle changes.

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Changes to allow trees between buildings, and windows to the left and right, not just front and back? Historically that is how ‘we Australians’ built houses for a while when row houses became ‘old style’. It is reverting to how it has been until recent times when profit trumps good planning outcomes.

New estates seem to have ‘qualities’ of row houses with the appearance of single family dwellings.


But for trees, additional land can be significant and more than that which has been allowed in the past with the 1/4 acre block. More land will.most likely mean tall shrubs and trees.

But then you can ban the planting of any vegetation which has the potential to cause any shading. Urban areas would look like spread out new housing estates without any shade and heat sinks in the summer. Out goes shading for cooling purposes.

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One way in which Australia stands out from many others is how our society incorporates collective decisions. Whether it’s planning and development that restricts what a neighbour can build on their side of the fence, or whether it’s acceptable to perform target practice with an AR on the front lawn. Our society has over time changed what we once considered acceptable to be no longer permitted, restricted or only permitted in another form.

Property owners have long faced the risk of changing rules and regulation. They have included mandatory protection of electrical power circuits to reduce risk of electrical shock or fire, smoke alarms, safety glass in doors and other areas, bush fire and cyclone protection, etc. Planning regulations have also determined/restricted the use of land by zoning. And over time developers and governments have chosen to change zoning, resume properties, and move boundaries.

There are precedents that demonstrate the power of elected governments to make rules that change how a property can be used and developed. It’s also evident that changes whether they cause a cost or loss to the current owner are not due compensation - resumption’s being an exception.

It seems more than reasonable for consumers to demand protection of their access to sunlight through regulation. Retrospective application has many precedents. Even where it imposes a limitation on future use or development of an adjoining property. The same expectations of access can be attached to any new property purchase or build.

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