Northern Australia

About this guide

This guide is to help you maintain a comfortable home year-round across the 3 northern Australian climate zones. It contains energy-saving ideas you can adapt to your individual needs and housing situation, while also reducing your energy bills.

Around 40% of energy in the average Australian home is used for cooling and/or heating, depending on your climate zone. Learning to design and manage your home efficiently can make a big difference.

Our practical, simple-to-follow actions are based on expert advice from people who understand living in
the tropics and hot arid areas.

  • Design and manage your home more efficiently to take advantage of your local climate.
  • Make no-cost or low-cost improvements whether you’re a home owner or renting.
  • Create a more energy-efficient home that is cheaper to run, by considering some longer term investments.

Northern Australia covers around 40% of the country’s landmass and includes a range of communities, languages, dwellings and climate zones. While the recommendations in this guide will be relevant to many households, they are not tailored to remote and Indigenous housing. However, they could be adapted by individuals and organisations supporting such communities.

This guide includes sections targeting each climate zone.

  • Find your climate zone and check the key design features you need to understand.
  • Read the information for all zones with essential resources about extreme weather and how to get the most out of your air conditioner.
  • Read the tips for your climate zone.

Know your zone: design for your climate

This section sets out the climate characteristics in northern Australia as well as the house design features that respond best to the region’s conditions. It also shows how to take advantage of breezes to cool your home, and links to resources and information to ensure you’re prepared for extreme weather events.

There are three climate zones in northern Australia:

Zone 1: Tropical

Zone 2: Sub-tropical

Zone 3: Hot arid

Zone 1: Tropical

Very hot, humid wet season (November to April) with high rainfall, followed by a dry season (May to October) with warm, dry sunny days and cooler nights.

From Exmouth in Western Australia, across to midway between Townsville and Mackay in Queensland, and the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Top tips for tropical design

  • Look for design solutions that maximise shading, such as wide eaves and window awnings and verandahs.
  • Create covered outdoor living areas for additional shade to the home.
  • Shade the entire building in the wet season (the region’s warmer months).
  • Create ventilation through the use of large window openings and louvres, and through the roof space with eave and roof vents.
  • Use light colours for roofs and exterior building materials to reflect the heat.
  • Choose lightweight building materials to avoid heat storage, with controlled use of mass materials such as concrete slabs or brick walls for air conditioned areas.
  • Consider elevated design for underfloor air flow and passive cooling.

Zone 2: Sub-tropical

Hot humid summers with mild winters; cooling breezes.

Top tips for sub-tropical design

  • Look for adjustable shading and ventilation to promote more comfortable indoor temperatures. Select solutions that block the sun in summer but allow it to enter in winter where needed.
  • Choose narrower floor plans, with ventilation and window systems that can be operated to capture breezes.
  • Consider lighter colours for roofs and external walls to reflect heat.
  • Include insulation in the roof space and ventilate the roof space through eave and ceiling vents, taking care to manage for condensation.
  • Include a well-positioned and shaded outdoor living area.

Zone 3: Hot arid

Very hot, dry summers and warm winter days with cold nights. Low rainfall and dry winds all year round.

Northern central Australia from Carnarvon in Western Australia, encompassing Newman, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Longreach and Charleville as well as the Queensland hinterland west of the Great Dividing Range.

Top tips for hot arid design

  • Look for appropriate use of thermal mass for building construction: brick walls and concrete slabs are two good options.
  • Select a light-coloured roof to reflect heat.
  • Choose appropriate shading and landscaping to block summer sun from the home and allow winter sun in; this is how you’ll maximise your comfort levels.
  • Evaporative cooling can be an effective way to manage indoor comfort levels.

Top design tips for all zones

Orientation

The first thing to consider when designing any home is its orientation. Ideally, the house will be positioned to take into consideration the sun’s path throughout the year and to capture prevailing breezes and keep out hot winds. Living areas and bedrooms should be located away from the hot western afternoon sun; a garage or bathroom is more suitable for this side of the house.

Breezes

If you live near the coast, breezes generally come from the ocean. This means that on the east coast of Australia, cool breezes generally travel north-easterly to south-easterly whereas on the west coast, they’re commonly south-westerly. The predominant cooling breezes in the Top End come from the north-west in the wet season and the south-east in the dry season.

Breeze direction can vary within a few hundred metres due to landforms, vegetation or buildings. Talk to your neighbours or spend time on your house site in hotter seasons to establish the direction of your most reliable cooling breezes. The Bureau of Meteorology also has records of wind data for major locations.

Inland, capturing breezes can be more of a challenge. But while many inland areas often receive no regular breezes, cool air currents can form as night air flows down slopes and valleys (just as water would). In flat inland regions, currents created by the temperature differences between day and night can also provide useful cooling.

These are often brief and occur late at night or early morning. This cold air mass can be trapped and stored in your home’s building material, such as concrete and bricks, for the following morning

To become aware of local climate variations and take advantage of cool breezes, air currents and thermal currents you need to step outside regularly—or invest in a temperature gauge or home weather station.
This is particularly helpful in conditions where you might fail to notice changes in outside conditions, such as when the air conditioner has been running for long periods.

Fans

Create air movement and relief from the heat by installing ceiling fans in bedrooms and living areas. They’re cheap to run at only around two cents per hour. You’ll get the best results if your ceiling fans are located directly over beds and seating areas.

Extreme weather

Northern Australia experiences a range of extreme weather conditions from heatwaves to fire, flood, drought, cyclones and storm surges. With a changing climate, extreme events may become more frequent and severe. It’s vital for all households to:

  • have a plan in place to help you respond and stay safe during extreme weather events
  • maintain your home to ensure it is structurally sound and manage for potential hazards
  • know what design features are important when buying, renting, building and renovating.

As a first step you should familiarise yourself with local extreme weather planning and preparation advice from your local council and state or territory government. You should also sign up to get local weather warnings and emergency alerts. The Resources section at the end of this guide will help with this.

Top tips for running your air conditioner

To stay cool for less, begin by taking advantage of the climate-friendly features that your home can provide.

Before putting on the air conditioner, follow the climate-specific tips in this guide, including seeking out shady, elevated verandahs and outdoor living areas, and making effective use of adjustable vents, louvres and blinds to manage comfort levels.

When it gets too hot and you need to turn on air conditioning, follow our tips below to get the most out of your cooling system and minimise your ongoing energy costs.

Fans

Fans are a great first choice for cooling as they can improve comfort levels so you feel about 3°C cooler. They’re also much cheaper to run than air conditioners. As fans cool the person (not the room) by creating air flow, arrange seating and other furniture to take advantage of their effect. Pedestal fans are useful in spaces where ceiling fans don’t reach.

Running your fan at the same time as your air conditioner may increase its effectiveness by boosting the circulation of chilled air in the room. Running the air conditioner at a higher setting for less time will save you energy.

Don’t run your air conditioner too cold

Each degree of extra cooling increases energy consumption by 5 to 10%. To save money, operate the air conditioner at a higher temperature setting, between 25 to 27°C, and use a timer to avoid running it when you don’t need it.

Weather monitors

Check outside conditions (you can use a temperature gauge or weather station with an indoor display or alert system) to help decide when to switch off and open up windows, doors and louvres as temperatures cool. The next morning, don’t forget to maintain the cool by closing up again, before the outdoor temperatures heats up. 

Beat the heat

When high temperatures are forecast you can stop your home heating up by turning on your air conditioner before it gets really hot—the system won’t have to work as hard when the outside air temperature is cooler. You can then maintain these cooler indoor temperatures more efficiently by using a timer and combining the air conditioner’s operation with a fan.

Close the doors

When using your air conditioner, close all doors and windows and shut off doors to adjoining rooms that are not being used. When deciding where to install your air conditioner, choose an easily sealable room that has been insulated. Not only will that help you feel its impact sooner, but you won’t be paying unnecessarily high energy costs by trying to cool your entire home and having the chilled air leak out vents, windows and doors.

Keep it clean

Cleaning your air conditioner filters with a brush, hose or vacuum every two weeks during use, as well as cleaning and dusting fans, will help these appliances operate more effectively. Don’t forget about maintaining and servicing your system as outlined in the manufacturer’s instructions. Regular cleaning of fly screens on windows and doors can allow more breezes into your home.

Manage for mould

Before opening up your house after using an air conditioner, allow the inside temperature to rise to the same temperature as outside to avoid condensation forming leading to problems with mould. See our mould tips under ‘Tropical’.

Power off

Appliances use standby power and create heat even when not in use. This includes lights, ovens, dishwashers, computers and entertainment equipment. To reduce the temperature and your energy bills, turn off lights when you leave rooms, cook outside where possible and run dishwashers and washing machines overnight or set a timer to run them in the early morning. By turning off appliances at the wall you can reduce your electricity use by up to 10%.

Go with the stars

When it’s time to purchase or replace your air conditioner, look for the most energy-efficient system you can afford. Systems are rated from 0 to 10 stars—the more stars, the better.

Cool the room, not the entire home

Non-ducted split systems are the most efficient air conditioning option. These avoid the energy loss that comes from pumping air through the ducts, as well as the wasted energy used to cool your whole house, rather than just the rooms you’re using. 

Choose for your climate

Select cooling-only units for tropical climates and reverse-cycle air conditioners for hot arid where both heating and cooling functions are needed. For hot arid climates you may consider alternative technologies such as evaporative cooling.

Size is important

Ensure you select the correct-sized system for your needs, taking into account your local climate conditions, house and room design and lifestyle. It pays to get a professional to assist you, as an incorrectly sized unit will be very inefficient and cost more to run.

Look for inverter technology

Inverter technology enables an air conditioner’s compressor to operate at variable speeds, depending on the output required. It’s now available with the majority of brands and models of reverse-cycle air conditioners, and can potentially reduce running costs, particularly over longer operating periods. Inverter air conditioners generally have faster heat-up times and maintain more comfortable internal temperatures.

Choose an efficient fan

Fans are cheaper to run than air conditioners, and you can make them even more so by choosing an energy-efficient model (note: fans don’t have star ratings). Power consumption rates of different units vary widely (from 50 to 100W). Those with a lower wattage save energy over time.

The amount of airflow is also important. An efficient fan producing 140 cubic metres of airflow a minute typically has a power of 75W. Regular cleaning will help a fan to operate at its best.

Go solar PV

While installation of a solar PV system requires a considerable upfront investment, it can provide significant ongoing savings on your energy bills, allowing your air conditioner to be powered by renewable energy.

Tropical and sub-tropical living

Tropics

Staying comfortable in the tropics while reducing energy use doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money.

Our tips focus on the climate-friendly features already in your home before resorting to the air conditioner and ensuring it won’t need to work as hard once it’s in use.

With good design and careful management of your home, you can stay comfortable while saving on your energy bills

Sub-tropics

Living in the sub-tropics is similar to the tropical zone; however, the mild winters mean some heating may be required. Whether you’re in Mackay or Coffs Harbour, consider how you manage your home for comfort and energy efficiency. Follow the suggestions for tropical living, noting the sub-tropical tips as you go.

Simple things you can do now

Catch the breeze

Locate the breeze path around your home and open windows, shutters and doors and situate seating areas to take advantage of this at different times of the day and year.

If your home design allows cross ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the room so the breeze can pass through. This only works when outside air is cooler than inside. When it’s hot and still, close doors, windows and curtains to keep the heat out.

Take advantage of high windows and vents. As hot air rises it draws in cool night air—or cooler daytime air from shaded areas of the building—enhancing the effect of cooling breezes or helping to cool the home when there are no breezes about.

By paying attention to changing indoor and outdoor temperatures you can maximise natural cooling provided by shade and breezes.

Cleaning your fly screens will help the flow of cool air, and can be done with the help of a brush or hose.
By circulating air through your home you can also help combat the build-up of mould.

Fans

Place furniture to take advantage of their effect and set up pedestal fans where ceiling fans don’t reach.

If you have high ceilings, consider lowering fans on droppers to avoid pushing any warm air near the ceiling down into the room.

You can also use fans to increase the effectiveness of your air conditioner—running the two simultaneously allows you to operate the air conditioner more efficiently by running it at a higher temperature setting for a shorter time.

Shop around for the most effective and energy-efficient fans—noise levels and performance vary.

Sub-tropical tip: If heating, switch your fan to reverse rotation to better distribute warm air through the room.

Get in the zone

The bigger the space you need to cool, the greater the energy use and the higher your energy bill. If you need to turn on the air conditioner, close doors to surrounding rooms and only cool the room you’re using.

Set your thermostat from 25 to 27°C and consider running ceiling fans as well. Some air conditioners have a dehumidifying function. This will use less energy while still delivering a comfortable indoor environment in humid climates, especially if it’s used in conjunction with a fan.

Low-temperature lifestyle

Plan activities and physical pursuits around cooler times of the day. Try rising early to walk the dog or do a spot of gardening, and seeking out a shady spot to enjoy a break.

If you live in an urban area, plan trips to the supermarket or air conditioned spaces to escape hotter parts of the day.

In the evenings, head onto the verandah or into the garden and cook the evening meal outdoors.

Night purging

Open up your home in the evenings to allow cooler air from outside to push out warm air that’s built-up during the day. This is a beneficial way to cool off if overnight temperatures fall below your inside temperature.

Many homes in tropical northern Australia feature sleep-outs on the verandah to take advantage of the cool night air and the radiant cooling effect from clear night skies. Whatever your solution, make sure you keep an eye on morning temperatures and close up the house again before the day heats up.

Sub-tropical tip: Ventilation in the roof space lets hot air escape and be replaced by cooler air. This helps stop heat transferring through the ceiling to the rooms below and is particularly important in uninsulated homes.

Solar clothes dryer

Drying clothes outdoors, or in front of a fan during the wet season, will reduce your energy bill as well as avoid the build-up of moisture in the home that can lead to mould.

If you need to use a clothes dryer, spin dry on maximum speed first to reduce drying time and clean the lint filter after each load. Running the dryer on medium heat takes longer than when on high, but will use less energy and can be less damaging to your clothes.

When buying a new dryer, look for the most efficient model you can afford and take running costs into account. Heat pump condenser dryers are generally more energy efficient than standard condensing dryers, and may be cost-effective if used regularly. Condenser dryers work by removing moisture from the air before releasing it, reducing condensation.

Quick, cost-effective changes for tropical climates

Monitor the weather

To help read your local weather more accurately, you may wish to consider investing in a home weather station with an indoor display or alert system.

These range from inexpensive temperature gauges to digital technology that can measure solar radiation, expected rainfall, wind speed and direction, humidity and more.

By providing you with a convenient read-out from inside the home, they can help you to respond to outside conditions and manage your home more efficiently; for example, by allowing you to operate blinds and awnings effectively and capture passing breezes as they occur.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting

While they might cost more upfront to buy, LED lighting is much more efficient than other forms of lighting and will save you money on your bill over the long term.

A good quality LED bulb consumes 80% less energy than a halogen light and lasts 5 to 10 times longer. They will also reduce the amount of heat in your home, particularly if you’re replacing halogen downlights which run hotter than other lighting technologies. It takes up to 6 downlights to light the same area as one pendant light—so switching to LED bulbs and pendant lighting can have a real impact.

As downlights require a minimum clearance around ceiling insulation they can reduce the effectiveness of insulation. This is another reason pendant, ceiling-mounted or track lighting is a better option. Ask a lighting specialist to provide approved covers with your LED downlights to reduce the impact on the insulation. Sealed downlights are another option.

See our energy-efficient lighting tips and links to the Light Bulb Buyers Guide, Light Bulb Saver app and video.

Cool pool technology

Pool pumps can account for around 18% of your household electricity use. By making smart purchasing decisions and using your pump efficiently you can reduce your running costs. Select a minimum 5 star energy-efficient pool pump at the smallest pump size for your pool—variable speed pumps often have higher efficiency.

As pool pump labelling is currently voluntary some pumps won’t have a star rating. To get an idea of the true costs of your pump, get your retailer to do a cost comparison between the running costs of an energy-efficient versus a less efficient pump over 3 to 5 years.

Once it’s installed, use a timer to manage run-time and keep the skimmer basket and pool filter clean to reduce the load on your pump.

Installing and using a well-fitted pool cover significantly reduces evaporation, pump running times, water bills, and the need for chemicals and cleaning.

Plant shade trees and vines

Shading is vital in hot conditions to reduce the heat entering your home from walls and windows. Tree shade on the eastern and western sides of a single-storey, older-style 3 star energy-rated home, has been shown to bring energy savings of up to 50%.

Shading is particularly important if your home is made of heavier construction such as concrete or bricks which take longer to cool down. Generally, overhead shading is required to block the higher angle sun in summer for north and south facing openings. Adjustable shading from pergolas combats low-angle morning and afternoon sun for east and west orientation of your home. If you intend to install a solar PV system or solar hot water at a future date you’ll need to plan trees to give the sun access to the appropriate area of your roof.

When planting out pergolas, use evergreens to filter unwanted sun. Use drought-tolerant ground-cover plants rather than paving to help keep the ground and surrounding surface temperature lower in summer. 

If renting, you may be able to get permission or assistance from your landlord for plantings as it will improve the liveability of the home—our online Renter’s guide has some ideas. Fruit trees such as mango may take longer to grow than other varieties, but have the added benefit of providing lots of shade.

Sub-tropical tip: Make sure plantings allow sun access to the north so it can warm your home in the cooler months. Floors made of heavier construction will store heat during the day and release it at night to warm your home.

Longer-term investments

Go solar PV

With new developments in home battery storage, solar energy is becoming even more attractive for Australian households. Our online guide to installing solar power has more information.

To assess the benefits, get an estimate of how much electricity you use each year and the power you can generate in your particular location. Approach an accredited installer to ask about the right size system.

You may be eligible for financial assistance towards the cost of installing a solar PV system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). See our rebates page and contact energy retailers to find out about feed-in tariffs.

Switch to an energy-efficient hot water system

Hot water can account for 25% of your energy use. If replacing your hot water system, research the right type and size of product for your needs. Choose the most suitable energy-efficient model you can afford to save on energy bills and avoid paying for capacity you don’t need. See our rebates page for available assistance.

For tropical climates, heat pump and solar hot water are recommended technologies and you may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

Ensure you understand the information on safety and maintenance for your new system. This is particularly important for storage hot water system that you’re switching back on after a period of non-use.

The water needs to be heated to above 60°C for at least 35 minutes before use, killing any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat above 60°C.

Insulate your ceiling and roof

Insulation helps to keep the sun’s heat out of your home during extreme temperatures, saving on your energy bills.

Insulation can be sensibly and safely added to many existing homes. To take advantage of the improved comfort levels and energy savings that result from its installation, research the correct type and level of insulation for your home and climate or talk to a building professional.

For air conditioned homes, the use of bulk and reflective insulation in the ceiling and roof is recommended. In the ceiling select R3.5 or higher bulk insulation. Consider the use of multiple layers of reflective foil to create a one-way heat valve effect. For walls, use of bulk and/or reflective insulation is recommended.

Under a sheet metal or tiled roof, a reflective insulation system should be used. A tiled roof should have sarking—a double-sided reflective-foil product under the tiles as well as ceiling insulation. Including a foil-blanket system under sheet metal roofing will quieten the sound of heavy rainfall. Ventilate roof spaces well with fans or whirlybirds and design for condensation removal.

Verandah roofs should be insulated with reflective-foil insulation to reduce radiant heat gain, as this impacts on your indoor temperature as well as making outdoor seating areas uncomfortable. Consider installing energy-efficient ceiling fans. Condensation needs to be considered in all roof and wall systems. Seek expert advice when designing and installing your reflective insulation system.

Sub-tropical tip: Roof insulation will also help to keep warmth inside your home during the cooler months. Using bulk insulation in external walls is also beneficial.

Light-coloured roofs

Your first line of defence in cooling your home is to stop it from absorbing and storing the sun’s heat. Light-coloured roofs can reflect up to 70% of summer heat gain helping to reduce the temperature of internal rooms and improve your comfort levels.

The easiest time to install light-coloured roofing is when you’re building. However, if you need to replace your roof, steel roofing solutions with new reflective paint technology are a highly effective. Research to find an option that suits your budget.

You may also consider installing a fly roof. A fly roof shades your entire home, protecting it from radiant heat while allowing cooling breezes to flow underneath.

Sub-tropical tip: A white roof or shading will affect your home’s indoor temperatures during the cooler months. Allowing solar access to north-facing living areas and sealing gaps and draughts will help you retain warmth when you need it. Protect from direct sunlight with adjustable shading to avoid heat gain in the hotter weather.

Improve your windows

The most significant difference in the design of tropical homes is in the size and orientation of windows or openable panels and doors. If renovating, improving windows to increase air flow can make a real difference to comfort, reducing up to 90% of heat gain.

Windows with maximum opening areas such as louvres or sliding windows can be tightly sealed when closed. Check the seals on existing windows and improve them if necessary. Avoid fixed glass panels.

A small number of windows on every side of your home will encourage air movement but not access by the sun. Larger windows or openings should be located on the downwind side of the house and smaller openings on the breeze side. All openings should be well-shaded.

Check with an energy rater or window specialist whether toned or low e-glass could improve your comfort levels. Consider tinting windows that are exposed to the sun. The choice of windows is a big decision that can have a significant impact on energy use. Your choice will depend on the existing house design so research to find the best window solution. 

Mould

Mould is a fungal growth that can occur in your home in areas that are damp, dark and poorly ventilated. It grows on a variety of surfaces, including timber and fabrics, wet areas, bathrooms, and kitchens. Rough, porous surfaces are often worst affected.

Apart from the damage to your home and furnishings, mould can have an unpleasant odour and cause irritation and sneezing as well as more serious health risks. To prevent mould, you should aim to control the build-up of moisture and warmth as much as possible.

Reducing mould

Keeping your home properly ventilated and letting the sunshine in are common ways of managing mould.

In addition to moisture and lack of air circulation, mould needs surface dust or dirt. Dust, clean and dry surfaces regularly, including walls, window glass and frames, to stop growth of mould spores, particularly in the wet season.

During high humidity, keep air circulating with a fan or air conditioner. Look for models with a dehumidifying feature.

Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to avoid build-up of moisture. Where possible, ensure stoves, washing machines and dishwashers are fitted with an exhaust system.

If you’re renting and have ongoing problems with mould, consider buying a portable dehumidifier. Run it overnight to reduce energy demand during peak times and to take advantage of any available
off-peak electricity tariffs.

Pay attention to dampness on walls, timber, carpet, furniture and fabrics and dry out or clean regularly to avoid mould accumulating.

Install dryers in the carport or verandah where possible. Ensure the dryer protected from the weather. Dryers installed inside should be vented to the outside where practical.

Condenser dryers that extract the vapour from the air are a better choice for reducing condensation.

Keep bathroom doors closed when showering and run the fan before, during and after your shower to avoid a build-up of steam.

Consider installing insulation in walls to reduce condensation and mould build-up, and improve your home’s energy efficiency.

When painting, prepare and clean surfaces carefully to eliminate any existing mould. Select gloss or semi-gloss paints, as these repel mould more effectively than matt finishes. Mould-killing additives can be put into paints, grout and timber stains—or select a primer or paints that have these already included.

To get rid of existing mould, a solution of 80% vinegar and 20% water on a microfibre cloth is the best solution. Thoroughly rinse the cloth at regular intervals to avoid spreading mould. Note that while bleach can help reduce the appearance of mould, it’s ineffective at killing the spores.

Managing mould with your air conditioner

Operating an air conditioner in a sealed room dries the air, which can be effective in managing mould. When the inside temperature is lower than outside, switching off the air conditioner and opening windows lets humid air inside which may cause condensation to form. Keep the room closed until the inside temperature rises to the same as outside before opening it up to access breezes.

Condensation in apartments caused by differences between outdoor and indoor temperatures due to the operation of air conditioning can be a problem. For example, where a neighbour sets their air conditioner to a lower temperature overnight, cooling the slab floor or ceiling.

If the air temperature is warmer inside your home this can cause condensation to form on the tiles, ceiling or metal studs in a plaster wall. You may need to speak to others in your building on how to best manage the situation.

Hot arid living

Staying comfortable in your home while reducing energy use doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money. Whether you’re in Tennant Creek, Carnarvon or Longreach, there are things you can do for free that will reduce your bill while still keeping you and your home cool in summer and warm on winter nights.

Our tips focus on taking advantage of the climate-friendly features already in your home before resorting to the air conditioner. The actions you need to take in the hot arid zone change with the seasons.

Simple things you can do now in hot arid climates

Capture cooler air or breezes

Opening windows and vents on opposite sides of the room provides cross-ventilation and helps to manage extremely hot summer temperatures by drawing cooler air through the building.

Breezes tend to occur in the late afternoon or early evening so it’s a good idea to open the house up when you come home. You could spend some time in shaded garden areas as the house cools.

Close everything up again in the morning before the outside temperature rises. Close doors and windows to exclude warmer winds from entering your home when these occur.

Cleaning your fly-screens will help to promote the passage of cool air. This can be done with a brush or hose. The design of your windows can help catch and deflect breezes from different angles and casement windows are particularly effective for this.

Night purging

In summer, expel hot air from rooms at night by opening windows and vents to draw in the cooler night air to help cool the thermal mass and keep temperatures comfortable.

A house with high ceilings and vents will create convective air movement by giving hot air a place to go during the day and helping draw in cooler air at night.

Night purging cools the thermal mass of a building and works well in hot arid climates where homes are usually designed with areas of exposed internal brick, tile or concrete and temperature changes between day and night are significant.

Fans

Fans are very efficient and are cheap to run (about two cents per hour). They can improve comfort levels so that you feel about 3°C cooler.

Fans cool by moving air across the skin so they need to be close to you. Arrange furniture to take advantage of their effect and set up pedestal fans where ceiling fans don’t reach.

If you have high ceilings, consider lowering fans on droppers to avoid pushing any warm air near the ceiling down into the room. You can also use fans to increase the effectiveness of your air conditioner. Running the two together allows you to operate the air conditioner more efficiently by running it at a higher temperature setting for a shorter time.

Shop around for the most effective and energy-efficient fans. Noise levels and performance vary.

Wind breaks and water features

Take advantage of walls, temporary screens and landscaping that creates wind barriers to block hot and dry winds. Deep, covered verandahs and balconies provide shade, cool incoming air and offer outside living areas to escape to for the cooler parts of the day.

Create your own evaporative cooling by planting vegetation in the path of summer winds. Trees used in combination with water features such as ponds or pools can help cool and humidify the air before it enters your home.

If you have an existing wind break or water feature, take advantage of the increased opportunities to cool down by opening up and capturing air movement or breezes.

Shading and window coverings

Unprotected windows can be the biggest source of heat entering your home at up to 90%. Keeping the sun out will greatly reduce your need for mechanical cooling. Make use of adjustable shading such as awnings and blinds.

Blinds and curtains can be an effective solution and are a good way to deal with problems around existing windows. Heavier fabrics and multiple layers of fabric give the best thermal protection.

When installing blinds, look for an insulating fabric and ensure they’re well-fitted to restrict air movement around the window to prevent heat loss or gain. For an energy-efficient option, honeycomb or cellular blinds are an excellent choice as they trap air within cells and act like a double-glazed window.

You’ll achieve even better results by blocking heat from passing through the glass. It’s recommended to shade all external doors and windows if your home doesn’t require winter heating. In regions where heating is needed, use passive solar shading to the north to allow winter sun in.

Pergolas covered with shade cloth or deciduous vines are a cost-effective way of providing seasonal shading and preventing heat gain in summer. They can be used in combination with plantings of deciduous trees.

Growing vines or plants up walls on any side of your house will also provide an insulation effect in summer. If you don’t want to block winter sun, avoid using evergreen vines except on the western side of your house where heat gain is significant. In winter, adjust shading and open up shutters to let the sun heat your home.

Winter warmth

In areas that get cool at night, let the sun to warm your home during the day by opening up curtains and adjustable shading, blinds and awnings. Adjustable shading on the northern side lets in the lower-angle winter sun that can be blocked out in summer.

If you need additional heating, choose the most effective heater for your situation. Reverse-cycle air conditioners provide heating and cooling and have a government-administered energy rating label to help you choose the most efficient model.

Wood fires

Open fireplaces can provide a cosy ambience on occasional winter nights. However, they only provide radiant heat and are an inefficient way to keep warm. Up to 90% of the heat goes up the chimney, drawing in cold air to replace it. Remember to use sustainably sourced timber where possible.

The most effective forms of wood heating are properly installed slow combustion inserts and stoves.

Quick, cost-effective changes for hot arid climates

Mind the gaps

One of the easiest and cheapest ways of increasing the effectiveness of cooling and heating systems is draught-proofing your home.

You can save up to 25% on your energy bill by reducing the amount of cooled or heated air leaking from cracks and gaps around windows and doors.

Gap filler is a simple, cheap way to fill gaps along skirting boards, while draught-stoppers are useful for gaps under doors. You can also buy covers for exhaust fans and evaporative cooling ducts to use during winter. 

A simple way to identify air leaks is to close up your house and hold a lit incense stick around the edges of windows and doors. If the smoke is drawn inwards this indicates an air leak.

Paint your roof white

Lighter colours reflect heat and darker colours absorb it. Adding two coats of white exterior acrylic paint to roofing will reduce heat gain into your home. This simple action improves internal comfort by around 3°C and reduces the need for air conditioning by as much as 20%. White roofs have an impact on energy consumption in winter due to making houses cooler.

If your home is not currently insulated, it’s a good idea to install insulation before painting. Choose a paint product that will help repel dust from accumulating, and ensure you clean your roof regularly. If your roof needs replacing you may wish to consider steel roofing solutions with new reflective paint technology.

Monitor the weather

To help read your local weather more accurately, consider investing in a home weather station with an indoor display or alert system.

These range from inexpensive temperature gauges to digital technology that can measure solar radiation, expected rainfall, wind speed and direction, humidity and more.

By providing you with a convenient read-out from inside the home, they can help you to respond to outside conditions and manage your home more efficiently, for example by allowing you to operate blinds and awnings effectively and capture passing breezes as they occur.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting

While they might cost more upfront to buy, LED lighting is much more efficient than other forms of lighting and will save you money over the long term.

A good quality LED bulb consumes 75% less energy than a halogen light and lasts up to 25 times as long. They will also reduce the amount of heat in your home, particularly if you’re replacing halogen downlights which run hotter than other lighting technologies.

It takes up to 6 downlights to light the same area as one pendant light, so switching to LED bulbs and pendant lighting can have a real impact.

As downlights require a minimum clearance around ceiling insulation they can reduce the effectiveness of insulation. This is another reason why pendant, ceiling-mounted or track lighting is a better option. Ask a lighting specialist to provide approved covers with your LED downlights to reduce the impact on the insulation. Sealed downlights are another option.

Plant shade trees

While they take a number of years to mature, trees are a great low-cost, low-energy solution. Planting the correct mix of trees and shrubs can provide shade, saving you money on your cooling costs, while also improving air quality and biodiversity.

Tree shade on the eastern and western sides of an older style single-storey, 3 star energy-rated home has been shown to provide energy savings of up to 50%.

Shade is particularly important if your home is made of heavier construction that takes longer to cool down. Trees with high branches are useful for shading roofs, while shrubs can help shade windows.

Deciduous plants allow winter sun to enter your home in winter, blocking it during the hot summer months.

Trees can also be used to filter hot summer winds, cooling them before they hit your home. This is especially effective in combination with water features.

Talk to your local nursery about what species do best in your area and where to plant them as part of your garden research.

Longer term investments for hot arid climates

Evaporative cooling

Evaporative coolers are a highly effective alternative in hot, dry climates with low humidity such as Alice Springs. They add moisture to the air, are energy efficient, and cheaper to run than an air conditioner of similar size, using around half the energy. Central systems are more effective than portable units.

Evaporative coolers use between 4 and 25L of water (or more) per hour on hot, dry days. They are therefore not ideal in areas with water restrictions. Look for a system that monitors water hardness and salinity and eliminates water selectively rather than continuously. Check the settings with your provider
when your system is installed.

Evaporative coolers don’t provide a heating function as a standard feature, unlike reverse-cycle air conditioners. They can have gas heaters added to them.

Research to see if an evaporative cooler will provide the right level of comfort for your circumstances. Choose a model with a thermostat, a timer and an inverter-driven fan.

The ability to run some units off a solar PV panel makes them an attractive energy-saving option.

During operation, some windows and doors must be open to allow hot air to escape from the house. To get the best out of your evaporative cooling system carry out regular maintenance to keep the filter clean. Cover the roof unit and close off ducts in winter to reduce heat losses. Consider getting a professional in every few years to de-scale the pads, check the fan pump, tighten fan belts and adjust the bleed rate.

Insulate your ceiling and roof

Insulation can be sensibly and safely added to many existing homes. To take advantage of the improved comfort levels and energy savings, research the correct type and level of insulation for your building and climate.

The use of bulk and reflective insulation in the ceiling and roof is recommended. In the ceiling select R3.5 or higher bulk insulation. For walls, bulk and/or reflective insulation is recommended.

Under a sheet metal or tiled roof, a reflective insulation system should be used.

A tiled roof should have sarking—a double-sided reflective-foil product under the tiles—as well as ceiling insulation.

Including a foil-blanket system under sheet metal roofing can provide an additional benefit of dampening the sound of heavy rain.

Verandah roofs should be fitted with reflective-foil insulation to reduce radiant heat gain, which impacts on your indoor temperature as well as making outdoor seating areas uncomfortable. Consider installing energy-efficient ceiling fans. Condensation needs to be addressed in all roof and wall systems. Seek expert advice when designing and installing your reflective insulation system.

Insulating elevated floors with polystyrene foil-faced rigid board insulation or similar, resists upward heat flow and condensation in summer and colder air flow on winter nights.

Go solar PV

With new developments in home battery storage, solar energy is becoming increasingly attractive to Australian households.

To assess the benefits, get an estimate of how much electricity you use each year and the power you can generate in your particular location. Approach an accredited installer to ask about the right system.

You may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a solar PV system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

Switch to an energy-efficient hot water system

Hot water can account for around 25% of your energy use. If replacing your hot water system, take time to research the right type and size of product for your needs. Choose the most suitable and energy-efficient model you can afford to save on energy bills and avoid paying for capacity you don’t need.

For hot arid climates, heat pump and solar hot water are recommended technologies. You may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the cost of installing a system under the Australian Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

Your installer should recommend the most appropriate system for your climate. For example, a solar hot water system that is able to withstand occasional sub-zero temperatures.

Periods of low temperature (under 5°C) can effect heat pump performance but this is unlikely to be a significant issue in hot arid regions.

Resources and assistance

Cairns style design guide, Cairns Regional Council. Call 1300 69 22 47

This guide describes the tropical style that is the desired design direction for the city of Cairns.

Arid Lands Environment Centre. Call 08 8952 2497

The Arid Lands Environment Centre is a strong and trusted voice for the conservation and responsible
management of the land, water and natural resources of central Australia.

Design for climate Your Home, Australian Government

The 40% of household energy used for heating and cooling to achieve thermal comfort can be
cut to almost zero in new housing through sound climate responsive design.

House designs Your Home, Australian Government

Design For Place offers sustainable, energy-efficient housing designs—free to download.
The architect-designed suite of plans are a significant resource for anyone planning a new home.

Australian Building Codes Board

ABCB has developed a suite of guidance materials to assist with northern Australia climate-responsive designs.

Smart and sustainable homes, Queensland Government

Fosters the development of smart and sustainable homes or Queensland’s climate while also offering financial benefits for the owner or occupier.

Emergency contacts, all states/territories

  • Life-threatening emergencies, including bushfires CALL 000
  • SES help in flood and storm emergencies CALL 13 25 00
  • Australian Government disaster recovery assistance CALL 180 2266

Tropical cyclones

Advice is broadcast by local radio and TV, and available on the phone numbers listed below.

Tsunami

For warning information (all states and territories) call 1300 878 6264.

Northern Territory

Emergency and safety website

Marine and land weather warnings:

for updates, call 1300 659 214

Cyclone information service:

call 1300 659 211

Queensland

Get Ready website

Marine weather warnings:

for updates, call 1300 360 427

Cyclone information service:

call 1300 659 212

Western Australia

Department of Fire and Emergency Services website

Emergency information:

call 13 33 37

Marine weather warnings:

for updates, call 1300 659 223

Cyclone information service:

call 1300 659 210

New South Wales

Emergency website