In the midst of more record-breaking heatwaves, Australians have stopped asking for energy efficient homes and started demanding. The call from consumers and community groups to improve the energy efficiency and comfort of our homes is growing louder and more insistent by the day, writes Suzanne Toumbourou executive director of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC).
Fortunately, the Australian building industry stands ready to deliver improved energy performance standards in new homes and renovations. But to do so, they need action from our governments.
It’s easy to see why those who speak up for groups as disparate as homebuyers and Australia’s poorest people, from Choice to Anglicare, are so keen to see greater energy efficiency in our residential buildings.
Part of it is money. Energy efficient homes mean lower energy bills. Built to Perform, a report produced by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) in partnership with ClimateWorks Australia, found that improvements in energy efficiency standards could reduce energy costs by up to $1,300 per household each year. Most of us can happily find a use for an extra $1,300 but the money not spent on bills means the most to the poorest, who can spend it on improving other aspects of their lives, from food to social inclusion.
But energy efficient homes save more than just money. There’s also a health dividend to be gained. A study in medical journal The Lancet found that more than 6 percent of annual deaths in Australia are due to cold caused by inadequately heated homes. A further 1 percent are related to heat.
That figure is set to grow as climate changes causes temperatures to rise and extremes to be occur more often. Energy efficient homes will allow us to stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter, increasing the safety of our homes – and ourselves.
Improved standards across all buildings will also ease the strain on our electricity grid. This crucial infrastructure is currently ageing and in need of large investment, the cost of which is passed on to consumers. If we can reduce those times when everyone turns on aircon at the same moment by building our homes to perform better in temperature extremes, this reduces the need to spend money to ease the strain on the grid – and ensuring lower energy prices for all.
Emissions are another big saving. If we can reduce the estimated 78 million tonnes of emissions from housing between now and 2050, we will reduce the overall risk of climate related problems for everyone, in Australia and around the world.
The recommendations in Built to Perform include creating user friendly tools to understand energy performance, better training of building practitioners, a regulator with real power to enforce the rules, and by 2022 ensure 7 Star NatHERS for new residential buildings and exploration of a shift to renewable sources of energy.
The Australian building sector is already poised to deliver more energy efficient homes. The technology, from cutting edge insulation to solar power generating rooftop tiles, is with us already. In 2018, over 20 percent of new houses and almost 45 percent of apartments across Australia were already being designed to 6.5 NatHERS Stars or more. All the industry needs now is the certainty provided by new rules, with a clear pathway to greater energy efficiency over time.
Fortunately for us, there’s a ready-made tool that governments can use to increase comfort and energy efficiency of our homes. The National Construction Code governs minimum performance standards of new builds and renovations, so adjusting the energy performance standards in the code would improve all new builds and substantial renovations.
Social housing also provides an opportunity to increase energy efficiency where it counts most. People who live in social housing have fewer options than others to influence the comfort of their homes than other Australians, so social housing providers can ensure design does this for them.
Dedicated funding to help social housing achieve maximum energy efficiency would be extra helpful.