What is orientation?

Orientation is how a building is positioned in relation to the sun’s paths in different seasons, as well as to prevailing wind patterns. In a passive design, it is also about how living and sleeping areas are designed and positioned, either to take advantage of the sun and wind, or be protected from their effects.

Why is good orientation important?

Principles of good orientation

To achieve good orientation, the most important factors to consider are:

  • the climate of your region
  • true north and sun angles for your site or building
  • optimum building design for your climate zone
  • the effects of climate change.

Ideally, you should choose a site or home with good orientation for the climate in your region, and build or renovate to maximise the site’s potential for passive heating and passive cooling.

Your climate

Your climate will dictate your heating and cooling needs, and thus the best orientation for your home. Some climates need mainly passive heating, some need passive cooling, and most need a combination of both. Bear in mind that the climate is warming, and hotter summers with more extreme heat waves will become the norm during your home’s lifetime.

In Australia, the main solar access comes from the sun’s path in the north. When people talk about orientation, they generally mean how your house – and especially living spaces – are orientated with regard to true or ‘solar’ north.

All references to north in Your Home are to solar north, not magnetic north.

True or solar north is not the same as magnetic north. Solar north can be significantly different from magnetic north, depending on where you live.

To determine the appropriate orientation for your home, you will need to establish true or solar north for your location.

You will also need to determine the sun angle in different seasons for your region, because the position of the sun varies across regions. Knowing the angle of the sun at different times of the day and different seasons will allow you to design window and shading elements to best capture or block solar access, depending on your needs.

Orientation for your climate

North-facing walls and windows receive more solar radiation in winter than in summer because the sun is lower in the sky. East- and west-facing walls and windows receive more sun in summer in the early morning and late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.

Your building design and how you treat north-facing walls will determine how much solar access your home receives.

Key points

  • Orientation is the position of your home in relation to the path of the sun and the prevailing wind in your region.
  • Because the path of the sun in Australia is to the north, orientation is usually about whether the living areas of your home face north. This is because north-facing rooms receive sun for the longest period of the day in winter and are easily shaded by the eaves of the roof in summer.
  • Warm humid climates (coastal locations above the Tropic of Capricorn) are the exception, where orientation is about access to cooling breezes and shade.
  • Good orientation can significantly improve your comfort and reduce your heating and cooling needs. The best orientation for your home is the one that suits your climate zone.
  • Identify your climate zone to see whether you need to focus on orientating your home for passive heating, passive cooling, or both.
  • You can also do more detailed research on your region and site to find out about local weather patterns and prevailing breezes.
  • Orientation for passive heating aims to maximise northern exposure of walls and windows, while reducing east and west exposure to avoid overheating in summer.
  • Orientation for passive cooling aims to eliminate solar access with appropriate shading (especially to the east and west), and maximise access to cooling breezes.
  • Orientation for warming in winter and cooling in summer aims to maximise northern exposure of walls and windows, but block solar access with appropriate eaves and other shading in summer.
  • Good orientation can be achieved on almost any block, even small blocks, with careful design.
  • Good orientation is best achieved when you are buying or building a home, but some improvements can be made through renovation.