July 14, 2010 – Landcom hopes to inspire builders to be more adventurous about building sustainable houses in it latest development project – three sustainable display homes to be built in northwest Sydney. At the same time the project will use the latest information about lifecycle assessment in Australian building materials and products to foster innovation in materials manufacture.

The three “eco-living” display homes, to be built by building company Clarendon Homes at The Ponds development in Newbury, will highlight different themes including current best practice (house one), recycled products (house two) and independent energy, water and waste (house three).

Steve Driscoll, Landcom’s Director, Sustainability and Policy, told The Fifth Estate this week that the project is an exciting one for Landcom as it will allow the government developer to provide leadership in the building sector.

“It’s hard for us to be a market leader in construction because we don’t build. But by working with a builder we can be a market leader in this project. And the reason we’ve chosen a contract builder is because that’s how most new homes are built – we want to build the types of houses that are in demand but do them differently.

“There is not much point doing bespoke buildings because it would have limited impact. They needed to be houses that would cost $600 to $800 a square metre rather than $2000 so that the ideas will be picked up by the broader building industry,” Driscoll says.

Whole of life impact of building materials and products, or lifecycle assessment, will also be applied to the houses to determine carbon footprints. This will be done using the data currently being collected by the Australian Life Cycle Inventory Database Initiative (see our story on this).

While Landcom’s Precinx tool already uses lifecycle assessment data, it is based on European building materials.

“We will be replacing the European data for Precinx with data specifically for Australia and we will also be applying this information to these three building projects. It is exactly what the government wants to be doing – providing leadership in this area,” says Driscoll.

Landcom is currently working with Edge Environment, the firm that is developing the Australian life cycle inventory database, to work out the best way to apply the data to the project.

The first home in the project will be the “benchmark” home and will be large – 240 sq m, two-storey with spacious garage. When questioned over the logic of continuing to build large homes, particularly as an example of energy efficiency or sustainability, Steve Driscoll insists consumers must be brought on the sustainable journey with the housing type they are demanding.

“That’s where the market is [large homes] – for those of us who think about sustainability it seems wasteful but we are a minority. If the market’s appetite is for 240 sq m we have to work with that. We’re saying to people if you must have a big house you can do it better.”

Landcom aims for a 60 per cent reduction in energy use and 70 per cent reduction for water use compared to the BASIX benchmark.

The second home will be a medium sized house that will focus on recycled materials, either building materials with high recycled content or end of life recyclability.

Building materials will be assessed by allocating eco points for a range of different environmental impacts through the entire lifecycle of the product

The third home will be quite small and will aim to go off the energy grid and be leading edge in terms of water use and waste management.

According to Landcom, the display homes will demonstrate innovative design, materials and products that will help reduce the environmental impact of a project home while integrating best practice principles.

A key aspect of the project is to encourage innovation in the manufacturing and supply industries. In addition to the display homes, Landcom is seeking registrations of interest from manufacturers and distributors of innovative building products interested in showcasing their details on its www.ecolivingdisplayhomes.com.au website.

The aim of the website is to become an online resource for the construction industry and homeowners looking to build sustainable homes.

Landcom and Clarendon Homes will review and select products from the website to be used in the construction and fit-out of the three display homes.

When complete, the website will comprise a database of innovative building products, information about the designs on display in homes, general advice about sustainable products in the home and the construction process underpinning the three sustainable houses.

Tom Davies, director of Edge Environment, told The Fifth Estate that the Landcom project was the first housing development to put the Australian life cycle assessment data into practice.

“Landcom has a very interesting role in demonstrating the practical implementation of lifecycle assessment and activating the building industry to contribute to the whole of life footprint,” says Davies.

In addition to a star rating for operational use, the houses will be rated in terms of ecopoints, which will measure their embodied energy or whole of life impact. To do this the project will use information collected by the Australian Life Cycle Inventory Database Initiative to develop a benchmark Eco-point for the houses. This will then be used to both help create the houses and to measure their impact.

“The first house will be a best practice Clarendon Homes house and it will get an ecopoint rating by looking at the sort of materials used. The second house will be designed using recycled materials and we can then look at this design, together with the materials and products to be used, and work out the impact. It can then be improved to come up with the optimal whole of life design,” says Davies.

The third house will be very interesting because it will put the spotlight on whole of life impact versus operational impact, says Davies.

“This third house will take the optimal house and then add on features such as photovoltaic panels, solar hot water, rainwater tanks and maybe grey water. We will then assess how much this impacts on the whole of life rating. Some features such as photovoltaics may have high embodied energy but then they are also likely to have a positive effect on the operational impact.

“It is taking the whole debate to a new level. When people talk about carbon zero or carbon negative housing it is important to know if there are any other impacts that should be considered. Landcom can provide a measuring stick in this project to help answer some of these questions.”

Chief Executive Officer of Clarendon Residential Homes, Maurice Felizzi, said the Eco-Village project should be completed within 12 months with construction of the first house to start in the next couple of months.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au