Warmer Homes: Six Ways to Keep the Frost Away

With temperatures dropping, Aucklanders are beginning their annual stock up of beanies and woolen socks, requisite winter clothing if you’re a local villa dweller. However, you shouldn’t need to suffer in the cold. The Auckland Design Manual looks at how you can beat the chill by following some simple design solutions.

Living in Auckland during winter can be tough going. While our city experiences a relatively mild climate by global standards, the majority of our housing stock is designed for summertime living. As soon as temperatures begin to fall, the typical villa or weatherboard house becomes an icebox. Duvets, beanies, and a cup of Milo become staples from May – September, whilst energy bills, at least in the houses which can afford heating, skyrocket. Its not the most pleasant, or environmentally friendly, way to live.

Cold houses can also be the root cause of a more serious issue. Their uncomfortable living often leads to the poor physical health of occupants, whilst also negatively impacting on their happiness and mental well-being.

With some consideration at the design stage, these outcomes can be avoided in new builds, ensuring occupants can enjoy  life at home through the coldest months.

They may look nice, but Auckland's villas have a tendency to become iceboxes in winter.

They may look nice, but Auckland’s villas have a tendency to become iceboxes in winter.


Below are the key principles to consider when designing a warm, dry, and healthy home.

Site selection

Often overlooked, site selection can have a significant impact on the performance of a home. It is best to choose sites with good access to the morning and midday sun, while also being sheltered from cold southwesterly winds.  This allows you to make the most of the warming power of the sun, and is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly method of heating your home.

The site the Zero Energy House is located on allows for the building to be north-facing, whilst minimising potential shading.

The Zero Energy House is located on a site which allows the building to be north-facing, whilst minimising potential shading from neighbouring properties.


Placement and orientation

The shape of a site, as well as its orientation and topography, should be taken into account when placing a building. In New Zealand, it is best to locate the building near the southern boundary to reduce the risk of neighbouring developments blocking your access to sunlight.

With infill development, in already built up areas, the ideal home orientation is often not possible. In these circumstances compromises will need to be made, though steep slopes and shaded areas should be avoided.

This north-facing facade has extensive glazing to capitalize on the heat of the sun (Zero Energy House).

This north-facing facade has extensive glazing to capitalize on the warmth of the sun (Zero Energy House).


Thermal massing

Thermal mass refers to solid materials such as concrete, which absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release it at night when temperatures drop. This will help keep indoor temperatures comfortable without the need for additional heating. For thermal mass to effectively store heat is must be directly exposed to sunlight.

Exposed thermal massing helps to absorb and retain heat within the home (Zero Energy House)

Exposing thermal massing, such as a concrete floor, helps to absorb and retain heat within the home.


Design and dimensions

In terms of warmth, it pays to keep the design of a home simple. Compact square or rectangular shapes have less external surface area than more complex building forms. This means they lose less heat and are easier, and cheaper, to keep warm.

The number, size and location of windows also influences the warmth and dryness of a home. Whilst glazing allows the warmth of the sun to enter a home in winter, its high thermal conductivity also results in heat loss when temperatures drop. Excessive glazing can also result in overheating in summer if adequate shading and ventilation are not provided for. For optimum results the majority of glazing should be located to capture the morning and midday sun.

Louvres are an effective means of minimising solar gain during the summer months.

Utilise simple shapes, dimensions, and glazing to create a building which is easier to heat and keep warm.


Within the walls

Once heat enters the house, it makes sense to keep it there. Insulation will help slow the loss of heat and maintain comfortable internal temperatures. Insulation should be installed in the ceiling, walls and under floors. Double glazing, insulated frames and well-fitted curtains will further enhance the thermal performance of your building.

Insulation is a necessity for retaining warmth during the colder months.

Insulation is a necessity for retaining warmth in homes during the colder months.


At home

Good design helps reduce energy needs, but choosing the most energy efficient heating system will also help reduce long term running costs. Heat pumps and pellet burners are both energy efficient systems for heating living areas and bedrooms. Other methods of heating such as electricity or gas may also be appropriate depending on your needs.

Insulation and heating systems can always be added or improved at a later date in existing homes, as can added design features.

It may be beneficial to live in a home to gauge energy requirements before choosing a heating system.

Choose a heating system which performs to the needs of your home.


Design and build warm homes. By carefully selecting the location, layout, building materials and heating systems for your home at the design phase, you can safeguard health and comfort inside your home through winter months for generations to come.

Check out the ADM’s case study on Auckland’s Zero Energy House for more sustainable home design inspiration. And when you’re ready to start, have a read through the ADM’s Sustainable Homes Design Guide for additional tips and tricks for developing your dry, warm and healthy home.


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