Shots fired at woeful 6 star minimum standards ahead of COAG Energy Council meeting
Households could save as much as $900 a year if the energy efficiency requirements of the National Construction Code are improved. Photo by Hamish Weir on Unsplash

Pressure is mounting to increase “out of date” six star minimum energy efficiency standards for new homes ahead of the COAG Energy Council meeting next Wednesday.

The Energy Efficiency Council, Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), Renew, CHOICE, and National Shelter are among more than 50 community, environment, industry and local government groups that have signed a joint statement asking energy ministers to commit to higher energy performance standards for all Australian homes.

According to Renew chief executive officer Donna Luckman, a lot has changed since the six star minimum standard was introduced in 2010, including the urgency to address climate change.

“Australia’s six star standard for new homes is out of date and hasn’t kept up with rising energy prices and new technology,” she said.

“As a result, new home buyers are missing out on simple energy-saving improvements that would save them hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills.”

Households could save as much as $900 a year if the energy efficiency requirements of the National Construction Code are improved, according to a recent study by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and Climateworks Australia.

The same study estimates that actions to reduce emissions from the building sector could deliver 28 per cent of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target.

“Lifting the baseline across the whole industry will make efficient homes the ‘new normal’, ensuring all consumers – not just the most informed – can enjoy the benefits of healthier, more comfortable homes with lower energy bills and a smaller environmental footprint,” Ms Luckman said.

Property Council’s policy manager Frankie Muskovic said the updates would stabilise the investment environment.

“We back the call for a trajectory towards zero-energy and carbon-ready homes that provides policy certainty for industry and underpins a least-cost pathway to a zero-carbon built environment,” she said.

“Once higher standards become the new industry norm, the purchasing power of volume builders and the spread of new skills and innovation across the industry will combine to bring additional costs down.”

Energy usage budget and rental minimum standards requested

The joint statement is targeting an improvement in standards for both existing and new homes, including fixed appliances. It recognises that the current review of the National Construction Code – to be implemented in 2022 – is an opportunity to set higher standards for new homes.  

An energy use budget, incentives for landlords

As well as supporting the improvement in minimum performance standards for new residential buildings and major upgrades to a seven star NatHERS equivalent by 2022, the coalition is requesting an “energy usage budget” in the National Construction Code. It would be reviewed and updated every three years.

The group also wants to see the energy efficiency of rentals improved, including minimum performance standards and potentially even incentives to landlords to upgrade rental properties.

They also want mandatory disclosure of energy performance for all buildings when they are sold and leased, and programs to improve the energy efficiency of all social housing, including community housing.

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  1. These comments from Dr Tim Law below, are worth reading.
    Summary: The building energy efficiency regulations are a train wreck waiting to happen. Everyone concerned must also read Submission No. 125 “Tenants Victoria”, which sums the shambles of the NCC – no exaggeration.

    From the federal Parliamentary Committee Bioxtoxin Inquiry (Oct 2018), see LINK here:

    Go to Submission 75 – Dr Tim Lawson

    Concluding thoughts

    Condensation is a complex and systemic process in buildings, and poses serious health repercussions. Many of the complexities cannot be understood by a single discipline — we need a multidisciplinary approach. Condensation and subsequent mould growth appears to be a longstanding problem with indications that it might have been recently exacerbated in Australia by increased air tightness and thermal differentials that resulted from the construction industry’s response to increased energy-efficiency and bushfire legislature, and also increased market-driven demands for thermal comfort. The competitive building industry has led to inadequate consideration of vapour management at the design stage and improper installation during construction. Although there is acknowledgement of the condensation problem, there is widespread reluctance by any party from the construction or healthcare sectors to take a decisive and categorical position. US photographer, Thilde Jensen, travelled across her country to document people who had extreme chemical and electrical sensitivities. Her photobook, aptly named The Canaries (Jensen, 2013), documents the stories of people who have had to make extreme adaptations to continue living in their houses, or have had to live in car, caravan or tents away from civilisation. Most people with CIRS also manifest a measure of either, or both, sensitivities. Her work is a visual insight into a world we do not often encounter, of what a CIRS patient has to similarly endure with when buildings fail them. The following figures 34–36 illustrate her work.

    I trust we all can empathise with the loss. In the iconic 1997 Australian movie The Castle the protagonist says, “It’s not a house, it’s a home. A man’s home is his castle… You can’t just walk in and steal our homes.” There is due indignation when one is robbed of his own home. Water damage threatens to do exactly that. The irony with condensation is that this was far more infrequent before energy efficiency standards pushed for higher thermal performance. The insertion of sustainability considerations into the mission of the ABCB now appears to challenge the prior objectives for safety, health and amenity. In extreme cases, these new houses can become uninhabitable within their first winter. When one in three Australian houses can trigger one in four people to have a chronic inflammatory response, we need to rethink if we had been too preoccupied with one sustainable development goal and completely forgotten that the house is our home, our castle. It is ultimately supposed to be a place to feel safe and healthy. As I started out saying, this is a major and challenging issue of our time. I have applied a measure of personal exertion in this submission in the hope it will be receive by you with reciprocating interest, as you read and be roused. I have tried my utmost to stay within the terms of reference without glossing over the modulations of water damaged buildings on biotoxin illness and the much bigger picture. I wish you the best in your inquiry, and would be happy to be contacted if necessary.

    Tim Law, PhD Architectural Scientist ARCHSCIENCES

    Recommendation 2
    The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the states and territories to conduct further research into, and develop standards and/or accreditation requirements for the mould testing and remediation industries, which should include consideration of: the most effective methods of testing and remediation of buildings affected by mould and/or moisture; appropriate accreditation requirements for professionals working in these fields; and options for greater regulatory oversight of these industries.

    Recommendation 4
    The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with states and territories to conduct further research into the adequacy of current building codes and standards related to the prevention and remediation of dampness and mould in buildings.

  2. Energy efficiency and sustainability are well on their way to becoming bollocks terms that result in checklist fatigue – the sole reason for this is the performance gap, due to lack of both proper design and subsequent enforcement.
    If I meet someone who knows what a thermal bridge is, what benefits there are to well-sealed buildings or the proper way to design for climate-appropriate vapour transfer then I hold them tight and never let go 🙂
    And fingers crossed the next code revision gets the combustibility requirements right!
    The building is a system, and the code is not set up to recognise that currently. Section J, Part F4 and all the fire reqs must talk to each other and remove conflict.

  3. Consultants have engaged in “a race to the bottom” in low fees. The outcomes is rushed, poor design and little on-site follow up. This is followed by below-par installation and non-compliance. Real-world testing of building envelope sealing might be cause for the construction industry to actually build it correctly.
    Existing highly inefficient res dwellings basically need cladding-off full retrofits to get anywhere near efficient; Australia needs to manage that as well if we are going to really make an impact against Climate Change risk.

  4. Enforcement is critical at this point, because the current system is being systemically rorted by trades / builder substitution, developers and dare I say it, even self-described design ‘professionals’.

    I have worked at several design firms where principals had their head in the sand on climate change, insisting that spending on better buildings was a waste of project budget, and even making a concerted effort to exploit every loophole and avoid compliance with energy rating minimums.

    This all to save clients a few dollars short-term, ignoring the lifetime running costs, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, livability, and longer-term sale-ability of cheaply-built McMansions.

    Increasing minimum standards seems unlikely to mean much without tighter controls / enforcement.

    Another important apsect that needs review is NCC/rating software support for alternative systems such as PassivHaus (VOC-free/airtight building envelope).

  5. I agree Clare. Enforcement of NCC compliance worked well with energy upgrades and flammable material – not – so let’s not rely on always upping a regulatory requirement when the complex interaction between energy efficiency, Fire protection, condensation/mould/health issues and bushfire protection is hardly being documented let alone understood or complied with by designer and builder alike.
    Add affordability and a recognition the NCC has always sought to provide minimum health/safety/egress standards so as not make housing too onerous for an industry that is struggling to keep up nor too costly for buyers to purchase.

    In terms of rental accommodation I too would like to see better performing buildings, but they also need to be maintained to continue to operate at optimal levels. (8 star home may require a level of maintenance the landlord is unwilling to fund). I don’t hear anyone asking for the maintenance provisions of the NCC to be returned.

  6. Clare is right on the money. Much of the work that we do in our sustainability consultancy goes down the drain due to no one checking to ensure that ESD commitments are followed through on. If it isn’t enforced it doesn’t get done!

  7. The biggest hole in our system is enforcement. It’s all well and good to increase the star rating – and we should – but if builders can get away with substitution or omission of products then what is the point in the paperwork?!