Industry responds to damning report on Australia’s energy efficiency failure
Cameron Jewell | 22 January 2015
There has been limited industry response to the report blowing open Australia’s culture of poor energy performance across its buildings sector. However, The Fifth Estate has contacted key stakeholders to get their views on how we can move on from a culture of low energy efficiency performance. We’ll update the story as more responses come in.
Building Verification Forum
Rodger Hills, spokesman for the Building Verification Forum and former chief executive of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, said the findings were a “crying shame” that proved consumers weren’t always getting what they paid for.
“Our residential buildings are not performing as predicted and as a result, are not playing their expected role in national carbon reduction and energy efficiency plans,” Mr Hills said.
“The performance gap also hits homeowners in the hip-pocket a second time as utility bills will be higher than expected – meaning high running costs are locked in for the life of the building.
He said because the issues were widespread across different groups a “cultural revolution” was needed.
Mr Hills said an industry led Building Verification Council could integrate disjointed compliance mechanisms into a national system and, rather than increase burdens on builders and homebuyers, could end up increasing housing affordability through streamlining currently ineffective processes.
“With federal and state governments showing at best a wavering commitment, and at worst, open hostility to policies that improve the efficiency, productivity and long-term sustainability of our residential buildings, there has never been a more urgent need for industry to take action through an initiative like the BVC.”
Mr Hills told The Fifth Estate the Building Verification Forum had been in contact with a number of builders about how an inspection program could work and had received positive feedback. For building associations, though, cost is a key issue, but Mr Hills says it’s well worth it.
“It might cost a couple of hundred dollars for someone to get [an inspection] done, but that could save a lot in terms of energy bill reduction.”
He compared it to the cursory pest and building inspections consumers do before purchasing a property.
David Parken, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Architects, said the report was a timely, thorough and useful document.
He told The Fifth Estate the issues were complex and interrelated, and that all key stakeholders, including architects, had a responsibility to do better. A “blame culture”, however, wasn’t going to help anyone.
While the review recorded a belief that consumers did not care about energy efficiency, Mr Parken said this ran contrary to evidence of consumers becoming increasingly engaged with reducing home running costs. For example, there has been a massive boom in rooftop solar, with more than a million households putting solar PV on their roofs.
- See our article One in five Australian homes now using solar
“There’s clearly an appetite,” he said.
Mr Parken did say reports of a lack of interest in energy efficiency were nonetheless “of concern”.
“There is a problem if the community values a granite bench top more than they do reduced energy bills for the next 50 years.”
Housing costs were a huge part of people’s spending, and energy efficiency was a win-win situation for households and the environment, he said.
“Higher quality housing should be a common goal.”
Another problem Mr Parken noted was the regulatory environment for energy efficiency only deals with the building envelope.
The AIA supports a more holistic approach and an increase in standards.
“Things like hot water, heating cooling, lighting, appliances and plug loads – we can deal with that in commercial, so why can’t we deal with them in residential?”
Mr Parken said the AIA supported some form of mandatory inspections, and that a comprehensive consumer awareness campaign would also be necessary.
“There’s a role for all industry associations to raise standard of education and training.”
There needed to be a balance between regulation and voluntary approaches – both sticks and carrots would be necessary.
Noting the hostile political environment, Mr Parken said climate change had become politicised and it was disappointing some governments were out to dismantle anything that could contribute to better environmental outcomes, regardless of economic benefit.
Energy efficient housing, he said, therefore needed to be marketed as about the hip pocket and affordable living.
“Australian consumers are entitled to have world’s best practice happening. We’re a rich country, we have the knowledge there, but it isn’t being applied.
“Am I confident that it’s all going to change? No, I’m not. And that’s why we have to keep working at it.
“There will be groups arguing that everything’s okay and that they are giving the community what they want.”
Master Builders Australia
A spokesman for the MBA indicated to The Fifth Estate that housing affordability needed to be front of mind when dealing with issues around non-compliance. He said the MBA would provide a full statement to The Fifth Estate, though this was not received before deadline.
The Housing Institute of Australia, Property Council of Australia and Australian Institute of Building Surveyors have also been contacted for comment but as yet have not replied.