Landcom’s Precinx tool is a winner

In the sustainability revolution, things are getting serious. You can tell by  the  number of  ratings tools that are under way. It’s as if the time for talk and promises and green bling are over and the industry wants “real measures” for “real people”. It sounds like another bit of marketing, we suppose, but let’s not  be cynical.

Ratings tools are being developed for building materials (see our recent article) and neighbourhoods. There’s been a stream of new tools from the Green Building Council of Australia and from  property companies for their own internal use. Now NABERS, whose rating system is approaching the 10-year mark, has announced it will do a through review and revamp of its system (see our story in this issue).

Last week Landcom dazzled Sydney’s development industry when it lifted the bonnet on its new rating tool for neighbourhoods, Precinx.

At a briefing at Parramatta’s Sebel Hotel, Landcom director sustainability Steve Driscoll introduced the tool, and its designer Bruce Taper, of Kinesis, explained the mechanics.

The industry audience, comprising a high-level bunch of the type of people who work the technical numbers behind developments, as well as some who are developing internal tools of their own, were impressed.

It was almost a mobbing for Driscoll: “When can we have it? How much will it cost? Why doesn’t the Government roll it out? After all, the taxpayer has paid for it.”

Nigel Howard of Edge Environment, whose company is developing the life-cycle assessment and rating tool for building materials mentioned above, and who has been involved in some of the most high-level rating tools in Britain and the US, was impressed.

“The key thing I liked about it was the underlying intelligence of the way that it programmed into the precincts the mix of property types likely to arise … and the way it produces results in terms of solid metrics,” Howard said.

“I could see it can be pretty aligned with the tools we’re working on in building design. And I can see that, down the road, there could be a building tool and a precincts’ tool that could be harmonised to produce a whole set of joined-up thinking.”

As Taper unwrapped the algorithms and calculations, the reasons for the enthusiasm became clear.

Taking Landcom’s 800-house Bunya development at Doonside, NSW as a model, Taper showed how the tool could calculate the embodied CO2 of each house and of the total development, as well as other measures such as affordability.

Then, in a few key strokes, the operator varied the size of the houses, the building materials, construction type and energy and water systems,  even the road design. The results were instant, startling and sometimes counterintuitive.

“The first thing you can do about CO2 is reduce the house size,” Taper said. “The other thing you can do is vary the assembly type and the materials that make up the house, or the retail or commercial buildings.”

For example Taper showed that each building was sitting on 31.2 tonnes of embodied CO2.  By reducing the house size and changing the assembly type, the result dropped to 29.6.tonnes. By changing the concrete mix to 22 per cent slag, the result dropped to 26 tonnes.

“The purpose of linking embodied energy into the operations is to work out where do I get the best bang for my bucks,” Taper explained.

In the same way, the operator can vary the input of different water systems to calculate the overall impact. The local water authority could then use that data to work out how it should provision infrastructure and manage demand in future

With energy installations, Taper showed the how individual solar panels compared to a large community solar plant or a gas-fired co-generation plant.

If the co-gen plant is able to supply four times its own power needs, then the greenhouse savings can also be factored into the result, cost included.

Driscoll explained it was important to Landcom that the tool is able to factor in cost, so it could measure the risk to the community of say, gas prices for the co-gen plant going through the roof.

“We have to factor in our social sustainability charter, and the legacy issue of, say, signing up people to a co-gen, which they will own, and then leaving them exposed to the vagaries of the gas market.”

In the same way the tool can calculate what happens to the cost of living for residents if the price of petrol doubled.

Even appliances could be factored into the mix, since Landcom has bulk purchasing power and to prove that off-the-shelf washing machines, for instance, could provide “a free kick for water and greenhouse and it’s cheaper than any other technology”, as Taper put it.

Quite frankly the depth and sophistication of the tool took the board by surprise. It was clear that Precinx had wider application and scope than had been anticipated. The questions now are should the application be extended beyond Landcom? Who could pay for it to be further developed? Already it’s cost several hundred thousand dollars and the estimates to web-enable it are about $750,000. Is there a case for it to be made available to the community at large, since it’s in the public interest?

Driscoll has already shown Precinx to industry groups in Melbourne and ACT  and next will be Queensland. In the main Driscoll says the roadshow is about scoping the potential and meeting the board’s request to come up with a few possible business scenarios.

But the word is that the development industry is about to get a kicker to its decision-making base and therefore an ability to deliver more sustainable housing to the nation.

See the link to a facts sheet at the bottom of the page on this link

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