Building Products News Magazine has announced that Dr Peter Osman from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be the guest speaker for its seventh annual BPN Sustainability Awards.

A research scientist for the CSIRO, Dr Osman has worked for 36 years as an engineer in the medical aerospace and building project industries.

With the 2013 BPN Sustainability Awards only a week away, we asked Dr Osman to tell us about himself, the biggest mistake people make when dealing with energy efficient buildings, and where he sees the Australian architecture and design landscape in ten years.

Tell us about yourself, including your background and role at the CSIRO.
I’m a research scientist working with the Energy Technology division of CSIRO. I’m not an architect but work very closely with Michael Ambrose who is, so the comments that follow are from the both of us!

I’m driven by the importance of minimising energy footprints based on:

  • the need to start developing energy alternatives for the benefit of our children and grandchildren for the time when fossil resources become uneconomic
  • to help reduce the impact of energy consumption on climate change – again for our children and for those countries like Australia that are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change.
How did you become interested in energy conservation?
I became interested while setting up projects for developing countries in CSIRO’s International group. I realised then the limits to availability of fossil fuel as countries around the world come out of poverty. On the one hand, the ability of countries to attain an equitable level of prosperity is probably the only way in which the world’s population growth will be stabilised; on the other hand, this growth will need to be fuelled by alternative energy as well as efficient and conservative use of energy resources.

What are the biggest mistakes or assumptions that many people make when talking about building energy efficient projects?

Not thinking about the houses and building developments in a holistic way that combines equipment and building structures into a system for providing a comfortable environment at minimum energy and building cost. This is particularly true of cooling systems, building orientation and multiple storey houses. A good design for the site should have minimal cost impact.

Has the CSIRO been working on any research in the field of energy efficient buildings recently?
We have recently assessed the thermal efficiency of 400 detached houses across three states. In particular, we analysed their house's thermal efficiency, looked at their energy consumption, internal and external temperatures, household demographics and behaviour, heating and cooling appliances etc. The study was based on CSIRO’s AccuRate, which is the bench mark thermal modelling program for NatHERS.

What is the most basic thing (in terms of sustainability) all architects or builders should consider when starting a new project?

Holistic thinking. For example:

  • Consideration of controlled shade and controlled ventilation to take advantage of opportunities for cooling
  • Effective insulation and sealing to conserve both cooling and heating energy
  • Installation of external wall insulation is only practical and cost effective when the building is first being constructed – that’s when it should be done.  
  • Ensuring as far as possible an appropriate design for the site.  For instance, getting the orientation right, if possible, will make everything else so much easier to achieve and produce a much more comfortable house.
You recently authored the CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook – what is it about?

It’s a book for households that try to show how to minimise both energy use and carbon footprint. It’s full of tips – one of my favourites is the use of bathroom radiant heaters in colder climates to save energy!

Another is the importance of education in the safe and effective use of hot water booster switches for houses where gas is not available. For architects I’d say the case is for innovative ways to apply remote controlled ventilation and external shade for windows.

What are some sustainable building products or initiatives you believe should be adopted throughout Australia's built landscape?

  • Better building sealing combined with carefully controlled opportunities for ventilation that work to support rather than fight air-conditioning.
  • Better use of solar hot water booster controllers
  • External wall insulation in houses in cool or temperate climates
  • Low power or solar powered remote controlled external window shades
  • Increased use of LED lighting
Where do you see Australian architecture and design in ten years, with regards to sustainability?

Getting better and more informed on sustainable building design every year – in some areas the progress has been remarkable. I think we will also have a much more holistic approach that looks at all aspects of energy efficiency and takes them into account. This will include heating/cooling systems, hot water systems, solar PV, building sealing and even providing real time feedback to occupants to allow them to undertake behaviour change and improve the operation of their home.

The 2013 BPN Sustainability Awards will be held on 21 November 2013, at Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf, Sydney. To purchase tickets to the dinner, please click HERE.

For the full list of finalists, please visit, or click HERE.

The Awards are proudly sponsored by Nepean Group, CSR Ceilector, Hyne Timber, Vinyl Council of Australia, Knauf Plasterboard, Caroma, Stormtech and Bluescope.