Designing an outdoor patio area for all year use means finding a balance so you can make the most of the summer warmth, but still feel comfortable once winter sets in. An eco-friendly approach to the design of your outdoor living space will take advantage of the climate your home is built in to maintain a comfortable temperature without the extra cost of artificial heating or cooling.

Here are some tips for designing the perfect eco-friendly outdoor living area at home:

Tip 1: Build for your climate zone

By calculating sun angles for your location and thinking about climate and house orientation, you can use shading to maximise thermal comfort. Good passive design ensures that a home’s occupants remain thermally comfortable, without the need for constant heating or cooling.



To calculate sun angles, you must first work out what climate zone your home sits in. Australia is home to six main climate zones, each of which has its own climatic characteristics that determine the most appropriate design objectives and design responses. The idea is to build and renovate to boost a site’s potential for passive heating and passive cooling, adjusting the focus where necessary so that it can meet your needs as the homeowner.

Tip 2: Consider which way your patio faces

North orientation is generally considered good for climates requiring winter heating, because the position of the sun in the sky allows you to easily shade northern facades in summer, while allowing in the sun during winter. Openings that are north facing (or south facing if you are located above the Tropic of Capricorn) are more likely to receive a higher sun angle than east or west openings. Therefore, they only need narrow shading devices.

A good way to help choose your orientation is to compare your summer and winter energy bills. You can also consult an architect or designer, ask your local energy authority, or refer to local meteorological records.

We recommend that you consider temperature and humidity ranges, direction of breezes and hot winds, extreme seasonal characteristics, and the possible impact of surrounding buildings. And as an additional resource, it is possible to calculate the midsummer and midwinter sun angles at noon by using the following formulas:

Midwinter sun angle at noon = 90 – (L*+23.5)

Midsummer sun angle at noon = 90 – (L*-23.5)

Equinox sun angle at noon = 90 – L*

*L is the latitude of your home

Remember, the world’s climate is warming and hotter summers are ahead, so this should ideally be where your focus is.

Tip 3: Insulate

Insulating the roof of a covered patio is not something that many people consider necessary, but you would be surprised at the amount of difference insulation can make to the radiant heat temperatures of an area. This is particularly true when you add in the high temperatures in Australia, and the lack of ozone layer to provide a measure of protection.

Insulating your patio covering will allow you to enjoy the cool side breezes more. And, if in winter you decide to use drop-down ‘Bistro’ PVC blinds to make your patio even more of an outdoor room, the insulation will help prevent the cold from turning the area into an ice box.

Tip 4: Add shading

Shade pergolas can provide the convenience of an outdoor area designed for living, as well as much needed shade for your walls and windows. In the right location and with the right shade angles, a pergola can dramatically reduce the running costs associated with heating and cooling your home by wrapping around a home’s “hot spots”, or allowing natural light in.

The expanded space created by a patio can be used for a number of purposes, be it a casual place to sit and have a cuppa, an elegant entertaining space, an indoor walkway, a great outdoor kitchen or simply an ornamental roof over your patio area. They add visual charm and bring as much natural light into your home as you choose. By creating a space that is well loved, the time you spend outdoors also saves you money on lighting and cooling within the home.

Tip 5: Choose green building materials

Most patios have floor bases made from concrete, cement or asphalt, materials that hinder stormwater-runoff absorption. Yet there are some ‘green’ alternatives that allow water to percolate through to the ground underneath. This prevents erosion, filters out pollutants, and improves the health of your soil and vegetation.

While asking for holes in your paving may not seem logical, using pervious surfaces is the smart and environmentally friendly way to create a patio. Permeable aggregate concretes are available, as well as open concrete grids that are not only strong enough to handle lots of foot traffic, but offer excellent drainage and erosion protection.

For the structural framing of your patio, including roofing and supports, the best option is aluminium. Considered one of the most environmentally friendly metals on the planet, aluminium is also rust and pest resistant. It’s a strong and durable material that will last a lot longer without maintenance than something like timber.

Tip 6: Include a louvred roof

An opening roof with louvres is the perfect choice for those who want flexibility to provide shade or sun on demand, and are weather resistant to prevent water from seeping through on days when it’ raining. They improve ventilation and make it easier to control the climate in both your patio and the internal living space your patio backs off. As such, you rely less on artificial heating and cooling, and instead let nature do all the work.

Tip 7: Install effective water drainage

It is usually recommended to include guttering and a drainage system in the design of your outdoor area. A drainage system that collects the rain runoff from the roof of your covered patio can be used to feed your lawn and landscaping, saving you money on your water bill and preventing water wastage. It should be noted that in some circumstances such as bushfire zones, a guttering will not be permitted.

Tip 8: Go with energy-efficient lighting

Energy saving light bulb varieties or solar powered fixtures can provide plenty of light without driving your energy bill up. LED lights run cooler and give off a brighter glow of light, and are ideal for patios and landscaping.

Motion detectors are also a good idea and prevent lights from being left on all night. Motion detectors enable your lighting to come on only when a person, animal or other motion is sensed, and can also make great home security devices.

It all starts with the design when you’re building or upgrading an outdoor area, especially if you want to make a more sustainable approach. What’s more, the tips on passive design we’ve suggested should also have a flow on effect to the room your patio area is built off. By making the most of nature, you can relax in comfort with warmth and coolness that won’t affect your energy bill.



About the Author

Greg Jacobs is the founder of local Sydney business Pergola Land, which designs and builds pergolas and patios. He is a former Apprentice of the Year.

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