16 May 2012 – UPDATED 19 May 2012 : The Association of Building Sustainability Assessors says the move to more efficient housing has taken another step backwards with the decision by the new conservative Queensland Government to scrap the Home Sustainability Declaration on energy efficiency.

The certificate, though flawed, was another blow for consumer protection,and part of an anti climate change sentiment sweeping governments and consumers, ABSA acting chief executive officer Rodger Hills said.

Bearing much of the brunt was the housing industry, which had been on a path to higher energy ratings, a move that had now been largely derailed.

Minimum standards
Around Australia the minimum compliance was five stars NatHERS energy ratings, but the move to six stars had stalled, Mr Hills said.

NSW and WA were working towards six-star NatHERS mandatory compliance of minimum energy standards, but Queensland and Tasmania had “backed right away from six star. They say they want to do it, but they’ve put it on the back burner.”

Victoria was recently reported to be considering pulling the plug on six stars but had subsequently clarified a goal of six stars would remain.

On a disclosure regime, Mr Hills said the only jurisdiction now left with mandatory disclosure of energy performance for houses was the ACT, where he said each additional NatHERS star had been shown to earn higher average sale prices.( A 2008 study published by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage said that “a detached house sold in 2005 for AUD$365,000 could fetch an additional AUD$8979 with only a 1 star improvement in energy rating.*)

The Council of Australian Governments had initially agreed to mandate energy efficiency disclosure for homes but several states had now placed this on the backburner – rather than risk a backlash by outright rejection of the measure, Mr Hills said.

However, regardless of climate change scepticism, the cost of running a home might better be seen as a consumer protection issue.

“When people are facing the biggest purchase of their lives, their homes, they deserve to know if that home will cost them a fortune to live in it comfortably,” he said.

In Queensland the initial form of the Home Sustainability Declaration had required a qualified assessor but this declaration had scaled back by the former government to little more than a “tick the box” form completed by home owners, and not subject to checks.

“We agree that the declaration was a flawed piece of policy but the intention behind it of protecting consumers from high energy costs and unacceptable water usage was sound,” Mr Hills said.

“Queenslanders need to be assured that their new government is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Mr Hills said.

“Surely it has to be a good thing that people have more information, not less, about the long term energy and water use of their future home – as they do now with everything from washing machines to cars?

“Mandating a professional home energy assessment at the point of sale by a qualified assessor would be a great start.”

He suggested the cost could be deducted from stamp duty as an incentive.

“I would challenge anyone who suggested that it is better for people to be left in the dark on the likely costs they face,” Mr Hills said.

“We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Queensland Government to outline how best this could work,” Mr Hills said.

Mr Hills said the rollback on sustainability was a global issue. “The public has started to move away from sustainability and climate change issues because there have been so many scams and misinformation that people are sick of it.

“They’re confused as to what it is to be sustainable so that rather than saying this is an energy efficiency program we talk about consumer protection and six star rating is a home protection measure.”

Bureaucratic barriers
Mr Hills said hampering the take up of greater energy efficiency in houses was also the structure of federal and state governments with the state governments lacking a champion for sustainability.

“It’s disappointing that bureaucracy and politicians are getting in the way of energy efficiency and information,” Mr Hills said.

A key problem was that at the federal level the department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency handled such programs but at the state level there was no similar department so related issues are handled by the departments of planning which are not really invested in the issue.

“Their interest is in building homes so they see it as an impost and as extra work.”

“And the department of planning is not the one that has to pay the bills for the new power stations because houses are not energy efficient.”

Rating tools
Currently there were three rating tools that were used to create a NatHERS house rating which focuses of thermal comfort of a building: FirstRate5, BERS Pro and Accurate.

Mr Hills said he understood that Victoria’s FirstRate5 sustainability house rating software had not found a buyer after a recent tender process, so it was not  likely to attract further development.

A spokesman for Sustainability Victoria said that “although tenders were received, Sustainability Victoria had decided not to award the tender to any of the applicants.

“This decision was made based on the advice of an evaluation panel drawn from industry and government and reflects Sustainability Victoria’s commitment to ensuring FirstRate is owned and operated to the highest industry standards.

“Sustainability Victoria will continue to support FirstRate5 and to provide technical support as we look at options in consultation with our stakeholders and FR5 users.”

Membership of ABSA was at about 900, down from nearly 8000 when the green home loans were  in operation, but Mr Hills thought numbers would not fall further.

“We won’t necessarily lose more members [with the close of the Queensland program] because Queensland didn’t have mandatory requirements and it still doesn’t.

ABSA assessors still have significant levels of work because assessors were needed to certify the design of about 150,000 houses each year to ensure they comply with the five star standard before they were built.

Mr Hills took over the role of CEO in October following the departure of former CEO Alison Carmichael.

*CORRECTION: This is corrected data. The original incorrect figure published was  $1000 increase in average sale price per additional 1 star rating.