Designing for Sustainable Living - Principles of Design

Principles of Design

Sustainable Housing Design Principles

Sustainable housing is designing and building homes that are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. A sustainable house is designed with people in mind; it is safe, secure and universally designed, which means it is easily adaptable to suit a diverse range of needs, and provides comfort for people with varying abilities and at different stages of their lives.

A sustainable house is efficient in its use of water and energy resources and waste minimisation. It is also cost-efficient over time, comfortable, cheap to maintain and complements our unique environment.

Sustainable housing provides 'triple bottom line' outcomes – social, environmental and economic – for the life of the house. These outcomes address the changing requirements of Queenslanders, and help people design and build homes that are cost-efficient, climate-responsive and readily adaptable to meet the occupants’ changing needs.

This graphic represents the triple bottom line philosophy of sustainable housing design, the overriding principle that Smart Housing promotes. Triple bottom line sustainability gives equal importance to social, environmental and economic issues.

A Smart House is more sustainable over the long term because it is comfortable, flexible, safe and secure (social sustainability), waste and resource efficient (environmental sustainability) and cost-efficient over time (economic sustainability).

Triple bottom line sustainability is the Queensland State Government’s stance on sustainable housing and is represented and identifiable by the above graphic.


Triple bottom line sustainability

Social sustainability

Social sustainability refers to the way the design of the house impacts on people’s lives. While ‘designing for people’ is a core component of every designer’s brief, it is also important that designers consider the clients’ future needs throughout the different stages of their lives as well as the temporary needs clients may face due to illness or injury.

A sustainable house is one that should be around for a long time, so it makes sense to consider future use at the design stage. Realistically, someone other than the original client may one day occupy the house. A ‘universally designed’ home is safe, easily adaptable to suit a diverse range of needs and comfortable for people with varying abilities and at different stages of their lives.

Advice from agencies such as Queensland Health, the Department of Communities, the Department of Emergency Services and the Queensland Police Service suggests that more can be done at the design stage of a home to improve accessibility, design flexibility, safety and, in particular, child safety and security around the home.

A socially-sustainable house will contribute to safe and more satisfying communities that reinforce social networks, discourage neighbourhood crime and allow people of every age and ability to participate in their community throughout their life. And, an aesthetically pleasing and stimulating built environment will strengthen the sense of wellbeing of residents and people in the community.

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Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability has probably become the most understood and accepted element of sustainability in recent years. Environmental sustainability within residential dwellings relates to resource efficiency in terms of water and energy use and waste minimisation.

Resource efficiency in housing is concerned with:

It also relates to the efficient energy consumption of lights and appliances, including hot water systems, room heaters and air conditioners. Resource efficiency equates to lifestyle benefits for residents in terms of improved thermal comfort (social sustainability) and reduced running costs (economic sustainability).

Designers’ local knowledge is a valuable asset when working with the community to find appropriate housing design responses to regional issues of land use, climatic conditions, biodiversity, water catchments, suburban sprawl and growth.

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Economic sustainability

An economically sustainable house is cost-efficient over the lifespan of the house. It balances up-front and construction costs against ongoing running costs, living costs, long-term maintenance costs, and the likely costs of future modifications, to provide a clearer picture of affordability.

Economic sustainability considers cost savings at the community level. Safe and secure housing will save on the cost of policing, potential litigation expenses, insurance premiums, treatment of injuries and the associated losses of income and productivity.

Housing that better meets the diverse future needs of the community is likely to have broad market appeal, continue to increase in demand and attract higher resale value.

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For more information on sustainable housing principles and how they are being applied, visit the Smart Housing website:


For an example of how to apply sustainable housing principles using the Research House Decision Making Process visit:


For a rich collection of useful links on sustainable housing principles and practice visit:

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