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How to overcome the green housing information gap

The Lake Weyba Drive House in Noosaville, Queensland, part of Sustainable House Day 2015.
The Lake Weyba Drive House in Noosaville, Queensland, part of Sustainable House Day 2015.

A lack of clear information around which sustainability features are most important and add most value to a property is a major roadblock to the delivery of sustainable housing in Australia, a new research paper has found.

The paper, Enhancing Information about Sustainability Features for Sustainable Housing Delivery, found that the delivery rate of sustainable housing in Australia lagged internationally, with the “large range of environmental, economic and social sustainability options” available to consumers causing confusion and slowing the adoption of sustainable housing practices.

Called out were “real estate agents, valuers, insurance agents and mortgage lenders”, who did not routinely include sustainability perspectives in advice or in decision processes.

“Information distribution in the Australian property market is flawed, resulting in a lack of return-on-investment value of ‘green’ features implemented by some stakeholders,” the paper said.

One of the authors of the papers, PRDnationwide’s national research manager Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo, said inactivity by developers, investors and buyers in the space could be because they did not know where to start, due to limited data and research available.

“The absence of adequate information on sustainable housing features, perceived unaffordability of the instalment process and low awareness of potential benefits contribute to the low demand for low and zero carbon homes in Australia,” Dr Mardiasmo said.

She said for the established housing market, owners were also hesitant to add sustainability features because they were uncertain as to what would add re-sell value.

However, Dr Mardiasmo said there was also growing evidence that sustainability features could positively impact on the sale price of houses.

“This is a hidden economic benefit that not many people know,” Dr Mardiasmo said.

Lack of consistency

In Australia, there were technical, regulatory and market means of addressing the information gap around the benefits of sustainable housing, however “a model for standardising and distributing the required information” did not exist, the paper said.

A technical approach was represented by ISO 21929-1, which defined a framework for the improvement of building sustainability indicators.

The regulatory approach was the National Construction Code, which provided minimum amenity, safety, health and sustainability standards in the design and construction phases of new buildings.

The market approach is provided by the LJ Hooker Liveability program an appraisal checklist (The 17 Things) and a training program for real estate agents.

The paper said that each method of addressing the information gap had different motivations, purpose and scope, which led to different indicators of sustainability. Each method also collected different data. For instance the Liveability market approach was descriptive, and did not collect qualitative or quantitative data.

  • UPDATE: 21 October 2015 – According to Cecille Weldon, chief executive of the Centre of Liveability Real Estate, The 17 Things are benchmarked features created in collaboration with industry partners and are capturing data about additional liveability features for every property appraised. Ms Weldon also said the program was now in transition to be opened to the real estate industry as a whole. An article on this will follow soon.

The Australian NCC tended to be qualitative, with no measures of outcomes; and the ISO standard implied that core indicators were quantitative, qualitative and descriptive.

The paper suggested the current approaches were not well-delivered to enhance sustainable development.

“There is an absence of concrete information, so no one is informing the market,” Dr Mardiasmo said. “Most information sources just provide a checklist as to whether or not a feature is present, but there is no dollar value attached. This is something we are working to rectify.”

Solutions

The paper describes a new QUT research project aimed at collating a shared knowledge resource to help overcome the information barrier.

This would work by managing the flow of information and examining the relative importance and economic value of sustainability features and property characteristics in the Australian housing market, with respect to different stakeholders.

“What we have looked at is the whole house re-sell value, which is a new and different approach that is more holistic,” Dr Mardiasmo said.

The authors of the paper said that by investigating different views shared, simplifying technical property jargon and identifying common information, the fragmentation of current information provision could be reduced, improving collaboration and communication.

It is hoped the research will help reduce the knowledge gap around sustainability features, leading to an increase in the supply and demand of sustainable housing.

Comments

6 Responses to “How to overcome the green housing information gap”

  • Andrew Webb says:

    The house pictured was designed by WD Architects. More here: http://wdarchitects.com.au/noosa1.html

  • tim adams says:

    The information has been available for decades but very few have bothered to read it because our energy prices were too cheap to fully reflect the loss of natural capital.

    Just to point to a handful.

    Solar energy and building, SV Szokolay 1975
    Department of Housing and Construction Building Information Series – Energy Efficient Australian Housing 1985
    Warm House Cool House, Nick Hollo – 1995
    Australian Greenhouse Office Your Home 2001

    The information is all there in easy to digest packages. It just needs the industry to stop saying that it is too hard and get up to speed.

  • Lucy Hall says:

    The online resource http://www.yourhome.gov.au has been designed to help builders and home owners find the right information at the time they need it most.

  • Great article which clearly identifies a number of roadblocks holding back the encouragement of home builder/renovators to increase the energy and water efficiency of the home.

  • Sounds great John! Good luck with your efforts.

  • I couldn’t agree more that home buyer information demonstrating the value of building performance is a critical gap in Australia.

    I work at a small Sydney-based startup that has been working on a solution to this particular problem.

    Essentially the agent or owner performs a rapid walk-through audit of the building performance features using our app on their tablet or mobile device, including drawing the building on a Google map. Their responses are then sent to the cloud where we perform a set of thermal, energy, water, and tariff simulations of the building subject to three scenarios:
    – the existing home configuration including the current building envelope, hvac, fixtures and appliances
    – a ‘typical’ reference version of the building with the same building geometry but with a set of building performance features that is typical of that region
    – an ‘efficient’ reference version of the building with a cost-effective set of improvements installed

    Using this approach we can provide:
    – an occupant-independent estimate of the typical bill costs of the building currently and with performance improvements installed
    – a fair comparison of how well the building performs based on a reference building approach and
    – an individually tailored list of building performance improvements, prioritised by the costs, bill savings and payback period for that unique situation

    This link provides an example of the sort of high level data we could embed in real estate listings http://www.getecologic.com/img/real-estate-widget.jpg
    and this link provides an example of the sort of detailed report data we can offer http://www.getecologic.com/img/PDF-report-example.pdf

    We think new technologies like these could offer dramatically improved information to the buyer at minimal cost to the seller, making voluntary (or even mandatory) building performance disclosure of the kind seen in Europe distinctly possible. It could also strengthen public support for minimum building performance standards by demonstrating the value of building performance to home buyers.

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