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Victorian houses need better energy standards, and a scorecard might help

Victoria could be one step closer to mandatory residential energy efficiency ratings, after extremely poor results were returned from a trial of a Residential Efficiency Scorecard designed for Victorian homes.

The scorecard, to be launched into the market later this year, found that of 45 houses assessed during a three-month trial, average energy efficiency rating was three NatHERS stars out of a possible 10.

Results showed 85 per cent of homes were uncomfortable in hot weather, and 55 per cent could be improved by installing external blinds and sealing cracks and gaps.

The assessments showed that for most homes – 78 per cent – the largest energy cost was for heating, followed by hot water, which was the biggest cost for 22 per cent of households.

A report on the trial said that 65 per cent of homes could save money on power bills by improving the efficiency of heating and sealing up gaps.

It said that many of these upgrades were covered by the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target scheme, which allowed householders to buy them at a discounted price.

The new cloud-based scorecard would allow information on fixed features of a house to be entered to generate an overall star rating and certificate. Items assessed will include heaters, airconditioners, hot water systems, wall and floor materials, insulation, windows and solar power systems.

The certificate will break down how much energy is being used on heating, cooling, lighting, hot water, pools and spas, plus what proportion of energy is renewable if solar panels have been installed.

It includes a hot weather efficiency score that rates whether the home will stay comfortable during hot weather, and provides specific advice for the householder on how they could change their home to make it more energy efficient to help save on energy bills.

It needs to be mandatory

Consultant Bruce Easton of EcoVantage said that the tool was a step along the way to mandatory disclosure, but without mandatory disclosure it “won’t do anything” in terms of major changes in the residential sector.

He said there are also options for the tool to be used in a way that verifies the results of a NatHERS assessment.

Nick Roberts, campaigns director for Environment Victoria, which is part of the stakeholder discussions on the scorecard, said that though the moves were a “step in the right direction” the scorecard was still a voluntary rating system at this stage.

He said a new star system the government is developing in conjunction with the scorecard was welcomed, as it will increase the scale to 10 stars.

“They are raising the bar,” he said.

He said that for the new scorecard to work and improve overall performance of Victorian houses, it needed to be applied across all levels of the property market, including rental properties.

As a voluntary rating it was most likely to only be used by people buying or selling property who have energy efficiency high on their personal agenda.

“A thing like this doesn’t develop [traction] unless a market mechanism backs it up,” Mr Roberts said. “For this to be effective [in saving energy], it needs to be mandatory.”

In the UK residential ratings have resulted in properties with good ratings commanding higher prices, he said.

The rental market in Victoria, he said, had no incentive for landlords to get properties rated, and no incentive for tenants.Nor is there an incentive for either party to undertake upgrade activities.

EV and other members of the One Million Homes Alliance, have been advocating for mandatory residential energy ratings, and were involved in the stakeholder discussions during the tool’s development.

Mr Roberts said the pilot’s findings show how poorly designed Victorian homes were  in terms of coping with the climate as it is currently, never mind under the projected temperature increase scenarios.

“By any standard, Victoria’s houses in terms of energy efficiency and thermal performance are not suited to the extremes we get.”

He said that research showed poor performance in winter was a major public health issue. The Lancet has reported research showing more people die from cold-related illnesses in Australia’s south eastern states than in certain countries in Northern Europe where build standards are higher.

It would also be useful to know, he said, how many of the houses had been assessed as five star or six star by First Rate or other construction-stage tools, but found to be under-performing once occupied.

Mr Roberts said many of the issues around energy use and thermal performance across Victoria’s housing stock could be fixed “relatively easily” by increasing building standards for new dwellings and the government undertaking a wide ranging retrofit program, particularly assisting low income households.

He said this would have multiple benefits, including improving public health, reducing energy use, improving comfort levels and also creating jobs for people delivering retrofit activities.

Taking homes rating at two or three stars to five star, he said, would be a start.

Comments

3 Responses to “Victorian houses need better energy standards, and a scorecard might help”

  • Ash Mogensen says:

    A look at the Northern Hemisphere will show that the best ratings system for a building is to perform a verification test of the completed enclosure; an airtightness test.

    Electricians perform a resistance test of their install work.

    Plumbers conduct a pressure test of pipes.

    But we don’t test the building in Australia as a matter of course.

    At present we have design specs for materials etc, number of stars etc but there is no objective measurement of the building performance.

    Having an airtight building gives you control over the air losses of your building and you save money by reducing your costs to heat or cool your building.

    * Your existing heating system can more quickly and easily get to the required temperature, or your next heater may not need to be as big.
    * It’s great for the environment as losing less of your conditioned air means that you use less energy, which saves you money and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    * Occupant comfort level can improve significantly as there are; less draughts, more even temperatures, and less external noise in the building. (ie. reduced ‘uncontrolled’ air, heat or coolness, and sound either entering or leaving).
    * You are then in a better position to control how much air comes into, or leaves your building – by opening or shutting windows, doors, vents, exhaust fans, etc. as, when, and how much you want to.

  • We seem to be jumbling up 3 different issues:
    1. The energy efficiency of new build homes.
    2. Upgrading thermal performance of existing homes.
    3. Government involvement.

    1. New Homes – This is really very simple. Inspection regime for compliance with the energy rating certificate (has the insulation been fitted and has it been fitted correctly, have the window and door frames been sealed to the framing etc.) AND most importantly at least some passive solar features (we need a little of #3 for this to happen).

    2. Existing Homes – Yes, we already know that Victorian homes are not very good. A tool such as the Residential Efficiency Scorecard can be useful provided that actual conditions are inspected rather than guessed at. Guessing insulation levels will result in misleading results. Most existing homes can be made 6 stars or more with proper materials and effort. And what a great thing to do.

    3. Government Involvement – History shows us how well this goes. Cast your mind back a little to the Greenloans and Ceiling Insulation disasters. Mega-rorted! And a little more recently under the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target scheme we had the chimney balloon debacle. How much did we as a community pay for sealing up not one single chimney? And currently we are paying to install highly ventilated LED lamps to replace halogen lamps. Reduced lighting energy, increased heating energy. Nett effect – who knows?

    Please, the very last thing we need is to pay for yet another publicly funded retrofit scheme. Much better for government to govern by setting policy. If that is to have an Efficiency Scorecard to sell your home then so be it. Then it’s up to the vendor and the market to decide what to do about it.

  • Ian Cleland says:

    The smart builders will use it to leverage their market position to build more home.

    The question I ask, is the brickveneer and tile home the best system for homes of the future? Europe and the US has been on the path of prefabricated systems since the 90’s with a strong take up in Europe

    The take up of prefabricated systems is low in Australia. Builders do not want to change (why change it works and we have been doing it for the last 50 years) and there ability to build for a cost of $1000 to $1500 per m2 for project homes is stopping that change to different systems.

    Making future home air tight and thermally comfortable is still seen by many as a cost too far or they do not even understand or consider it.

    Then there are all the existing homes which is the greater portion of homes. They need to be retrofitted and that is where the real problem is and where our focus should be if we are to increase overall energy efficiency of homes

    On a recent project the costs of adding insulation, air tightness and solar hot water was 3.5% of total cost of renovation. This admittedly was in Sydney where current prices are totally ridiculous. Profits at up to 50% plus on some trades. Like $12,500 to place 5m3 reinforced concrete must be using gold plated reinforcement.

    Then finally, we need to create well-designed, energy efficient and affordable homes.

    Now just imagine being able to achieve all this? How many power stations won’t have to be built? And that is another issue.

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