Building energy-efficient homes in the tropics requires urban planning and suitable design, experts say

As heatwave conditions persist, technology improves and buildings become outdated, an energy consultant says sometimes it is cheaper to demolish an inefficient home and start again.

In the Northern Territory, buildings became stronger, lower, heavier and less tropical after Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin in 1974.

It has not been a popular move among some residents, who watch the march of cookie-cutter suburbs and long for the days of elevated tropical homes on big, breezy blocks.

Architect Jenny Culgan laments a trend of “windowless eskys on top of each other and blockwork re-radiating heat back at you all night”.

“The thermal mass of houses is what kills people. You have to have an air conditioner running because your house heats up all day and takes forever to cool down,” she said.

“Tropical, lightweight housing — where it’s 32 degrees outside, it’s 31 degrees inside, and then vice versa at night — is ideal. So you cool faster.”

a skyline on a sunny day with lots of homes with solar panels

Many Darwin suburbs are not designed with tropical architecture in mind.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

Housing built for conditions

An example of lightweight housing is an insulated stud frame, plasterboard inside, and protected outside with corrugated iron or similar.


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