CSR House

Following the report into Australia’s building energy performance woes last week, building products supplier CSR got in contact to share some thoughts on consumer sentiment around energy efficiency.

One of the key statements made by industry stakeholders was that consumers just aren’t interested in energy performance.

But according to exit surveys conducted by Lonergan Research for CSR at a range of display homes, consumers not only care about energy efficiency, it is at the top of “comfort” features consumers are willing to pay for, followed by more natural light, improved acoustics and better indoor environment quality.

All surveyed, in fact, said they were willing to pay more for energy efficiency, according to CSR project manager – innovation Scott Clarkson.

Comfort, not sustainability

Much like LJ Hooker has done with its Liveability program, CSR is careful to refer to sustainability in a less-loaded way, however – comfort.

The anecdotal evidence is, Clarkson says, if you package up energy efficiency and sustainability in a different way – around general comfort – more people are willing to listen.

Call it a symptom of an unfortunate political landscape, where buying into sustainability is seen as aligning yourself with the Greens, Clarkson says.

But the focus on comfort also comes from learnings out of CSR House, a project where CSR created an attractive 8-star NatHERS house for as little as possible, a facility that is used for ongoing research.

When completed, the house had a “feel” to it that CSR wanted to document and then be able to deliver in conjunction with builders and consumers – less drafts, better acoustic performance, increased air quality and lower operating costs. Basically, a more comfortable house.

The sales roadblock

So if consumers actually do want energy efficiency, why isn’t message getting through? Clarkson says in the display home context one of the potential roadblocks is the sales agent.

“A lot of the salespeople don’t know enough [about energy efficiency],” Clarkson tells The Fifth Estate.

And when they don’t know a lot about a product, they end up actively discouraging it.

These staff are usually on low base rates, and driven by commission, and a conversation about something not well understood is seen as an obstacle to closing a sale. According to Clarkson, this happens over a range of discussions too, not just with energy efficiency.

Working with consumers and builders

Clarkson says consumers don’t necessarily know the right questions to ask of builders or salespeople regarding efficiency upgrades, nor the typical costs involved, and can be quickly discouraged by sometimes erroneous information.

To help push increased energy performance in homes, CSR is in the early stages of a new service called Comfort Tune, where for a fee CSR works with consumers and builders to analyse the builder’s plans and recommend low-cost enhancements to insulation, glazing and ventilation that will push the home above BCA minimums, with detailed information on savings and comfort increases provided.

“The program aims to generate some consumer awareness and demand plus we provide full support and training to the builder to ensure they can deliver what’s been promised to the consumer,” Clarkson says.

Immigrants think Aussie homes are subpar

Another survey conducted by CSR has found that North American, European and Canadian immigrants have a dismal view of Australian building performance.

Surveying the sentiments of 120 Americans and Europeans living in Australia, the company found 75 per cent thought Australian homes were colder in winter, 70 per cent thought overseas homes were better in terms of acoustics, air flow and temperature, and 74 per cent thought Australian homes were less well-insulated.

The only point where Australian homes excelled was on aesthetics.

“Our research suggests while Australian homes are hitting the mark when it comes to visual design, homes in North America and Europe are better performing in elements of comfort and energy efficiency,” CSR building scientist Jesse Clarke said.

“The results raise concerns over a general lack of understanding of building performance issues in Australia, and how they can be resolved. In fact, three quarters of the expats we surveyed indicated their Australian-born friends did not have a good understanding of building performance issues.”

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  1. I recently went to some display centres in the fringes of Melbourne’s urban sprawl with a friend looking to build. My friend had no particular design or developer in mind but all of the questions she was asking the sales reps were related to the energy efficiency of the homes and the allowance of other features to be built as part of the contract such as solar panels, rooftop gardens, underground water tanks, lighting, double glazing and insulation. Of the 12 different companies we visited only 2 agents could answer her questions with any sense of authority and understanding. The others all said they didn’t know or they could find out and get back to her. The other thing that just left us shaking our heads in disbelief was the huge sizes of each room and the fact that there were a minimum of 3 TVs in each house. Are they building for an obese nation? My friend has decided to contract her own designer and builder who specialise in energy efficient designs.

  2. I live in Newington and not one real estate agent told me about any of the sustainable features of this house, in what was built as Sydney first green village. Either they don’t understand it or they think consumers won’t get it. Liveability is a pioneering attempt by L G Hooker and hope this becomes the norm. We need mandatory residential ratings.

  3. The best envelope for any building is INSULATED CONCRETE FORM . The science behind ICF is you lock up your thermal mass between 2 panels of EPS & it keeps the thermal mass at a constant temp which keeps in side at a constant temp . The most effective way of controlling the temp in a building is to use an ICF floor system like ESKYDECK & heat or cool the floor with pipes & water .

  4. As a European Immigrant I can only agree to what your study found in regard to badly insulated Australian homes. Moving here in 1990 we started a company making European style double and triple glazed windows with a U-value from 0.8 and air infiltration from 0.03 (that’s against drafts and noise). How can we work with you in your new service called Comfort Tune?

  5. Paul,
    The house in the image is the CSR House research centre in Western Sydney.
    The house has a composite facade, meaning we used numerous materials, including PGH Bricks, Hebel and Cemintel cladding (all CSR products). We have a high level of internal thermal mass, insulation and performance glazing, ALL of which work together for efficient operation.
    CSR house is an 8 Star rated house and uses very little energy in operation, due to daylight penetration, improved air tightness and a very efficient fitout. This all results in an incredible level of general comfort, including great noise control and controllable ventilation.
    We conducted a full cradle to grave LCA on the house and compared it against an equivalent 6 Star rated house. The operational improvements compared to the benchmark demonstrated a 37% reduction in the environmental impact over a life cycle of 50 years, if increased to 70 years the benefit increases to 41%.
    The embodied impact of all external wall cladding accounts for approximately 2.5% of the total LCA impact, with operational energy accounting for over 70% in the 6 Star house.
    While bricks may be more energy intensive than lightweight cladding, the material LCAs need to be reviewed side by side and frankly there’s not much difference. Plus when viewed in context of the whole building over the whole of its life, the focus needs to be on operational performance first as there are huge gains on offer.
    CSR House Project Manager

  6. I see a lot of high embodied carbon masonry wasted on todays new house façade features where it would be better used as internal thermal mass in houses which are often deficient in this – for example – if the one pictured in this article is brick veneer – which is more than likely, then it’s a travesty that the bricks used unnecessarily on balcony balustrades and green painted portico were not instead employed in interior living area walls were they could stabilise temperatures an reduce peak energy demand.