Design principles

What are the key principles informing Design For Place?

Design For Place is informed by important design principles, helping you to take advantage of passive design for a more energy-efficient and comfortable home.

Each of the universal principles aims to increase usability and livability for a range of people and circumstances. They influence the layout of the floor plans, the treatment of the elevations and cross-sections and the specifications of materials and construction type.


A close up of thenorthern view with people playing in front of the windows

Design For Place offers you a practical demonstration of how the principles can be used during the design process. You are encouraged to become familiar with each principle before embarking on designing a home so you can choose the right option for your needs.

The key principles that most influenced the Design For Place designs are summarised here. You can find a host of good-practice design principles elsewhere on Your Home, around the web and by talking to your architect, designer or draftsperson.

Think local—adjust designs to suit your needs

Design For Place is a resource for you to get ideas and understand the principles of sustainable design. The plans provide free public access to architect-designed, 7 star Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) house designs. In using these designs, you will need to learn about and comply with local council and building regulations and requirements. As with all good design, the drawings will need to be redrafted to incorporate the climate and construction details that apply to your location, as well as the needs of your specific household and lifestyle. There are a range of case studies and examples to add to your understanding of local design.

Face north—use appropriate orientation

In Australia, living areas should generally face north so that sunlight can come into the house during the day. This is essential in cold climates and it is a key way to reduce energy used for heating in winter. Allowing the sun to enter the house through glazed windows and doors heats the interior of the building during the day which reduces the need for mechanical heating during the colder hours overnight. The use of internal thermal mass to help store the heat generated during the day is a great way to further reduce mechanical heating needs. The exact orientation recommended for different climate zones is outlined under Star ratings and variations.

Know where you live—respond to climate

Where you live will have a major impact on how your house should be designed. Buildings will have different design requirements depending on their location across Australia. For example, design principles for a house in Canberra (cold climate) will differ to those needed for a house in Darwin (tropical climate). Ensuring that designs pay attention to the relevant design principles for the climate zone is important for avoiding issues such as inappropriate heat loss or heat gain, insufficient cross-ventilation, or too much stored heat. Appropriate specifications for your climate zone are detailed under Star ratings and variations with case studies and further background in Design for climate.

Let the light in—provide appropriate levels of natural light

When a house has its living spaces facing north, windows and doors can let in appropriate levels of natural light. Effective ‘daylighting’ can reduce or even eliminate the need for electric lights during daylight hours. Careful placement and sizing of windows, the use of skylights and light tubes, as well as light-coloured interior surfaces can maximize benefits, while avoiding additional loads on heating and cooling. It is good practice to have the majority of glazing facing north, with smaller amounts facing east and west because they receive the strongest sun and are the most difficult to shade. For tropical climates, southerly windows can allow light but not heat into your house.

Put on layers—provide appropriate levels of insulation

Building insulation stops the unwanted transfer of hot or cold air from inside to outside and vice versa. In winter, it ensures that heat from mechanical heating or the sun is kept inside the house, and in summer it prevents the cooling effect from air conditioning or thermal mass inside the house from escaping. Insulation is generally placed in ceiling spaces, under roofs, in walls, under suspended floors and sometimes underneath and around concrete slabs. Insulation is important in all climate zones, but is particularly relevant in colder climates where insufficient insulation allows heat to filter out through ceilings, roofs, walls and floors.

Pull the shades down—provide appropriate levels of external sun-shading

Windows and doors should be shaded from the summer sun by eaves, pergolas, sun-hoods or external blinds. Effective shading can block up to 90% of the heat from direct sunlight, reducing heat from north-facing glazing in summer. Shading devices may be fixed or operable and should be correctly placed and sized to respond to the sun’s height at different times of the year. As a basic rule, north-facing eaves should be narrow enough to allow the low-angle winter sun to enter the house, but wide enough to block the high-angle summer sun. The type and size of these devices will vary depending on your climate zone, location and budget.

Get some fresh air—provide appropriate levels of natural ventilation

Allowing ventilation through a house is important in all climate zones. Design should maximise benefits from cooling breezes in summertime, particularly in warmer climates. Cool evening breezes can flush out the warm air that has accumulated in the building during the hot daytime hours. For natural cross-ventilation to occur, it is best to have openable windows on opposite sides of a room to allow breezes to pass through. High openable windows can also be useful to allow hot air to be flushed out at night while doors underneath are locked. Good ventilation is also important for healthy indoor air quality. In colder climates where the building is sealed up with the heating on for long periods during winter, selecting and positioning windows so the building can be ‘flushed out’ when weather conditions allow and breezes are at a comfortable temperature is important.

Make yourself comfortable—provide livable and functional rooms

It is important to keep in mind the people who will live in the house you design. A livable and well-planned house will be able to respond to the changing needs of your household without expensive alterations. Living areas should be large enough to give a sense of space and to allow for flexibility in furniture arrangement so you can live the way you want. This includes excellent access to natural light and to outdoor living spaces when desired. A single space should be adaptable enough to serve different needs over time, such as a home office, bedroom, or teenage retreat. The Design For Place designs provide these qualities while still being energy efficient.


The plans may need modifications to comply with local government requirements. They represent one option for achieving a 7 star NatHERS rating and other designs or materials may give similar or better performance.

More detail is available on the Disclaimer page.

The Design For Place house plans and content are only available on this website and are not featured in the Your Home book.