20 February 2012 –Favourites: This joint paper was presented to the Solar 2011 conference in December 2011 on the experience of building Landcom’s eco-living range of display homes at The Ponds in north-west Sydney.

The project home building industry suffers from an in-built conservatism in how it displays and sells project homes.  This conservatism generally discourages sustainability innovation.

Landcom, the NSW Government’s property developer, devised a project which seeks to mainstream the concept of sustainability in the project home building industry.

After a competitive tendering process, Landcom selected Clarendon Homes to work as its partner in designing and delivering three sustainable homes in a purpose-build display village at The Ponds, in north western Sydney.

The three homes which comprise the ecoliving display village showcase different aspects of sustainability, with progressively better sustainability performance for each home.

The Benchmark Home shows how a little extra attention to building siting, design and fitout can substantially improve sustainability performance.

The Greencycle Home features recycleable and low embodied energy building materials, while the Net Zero Emissions Home sets out to be self sufficient in its water and energy needs.

All of the homes are designed to comply with Landcom’s universal housing principles and to reduce asthma triggers.  The Net Zero Emissions Home is also compliant with the Australian Standard for adaptable housing.

See related articles

The homes are complemented by an integrated landscaping strategy and self-guided sustainability tour.  By embarking on this project with Clarendon Homes, Landcom was hoping to deliver a project which resulted in better designed homes, educated the building industry on sustainable design and construction and informed consumers about sustainability in their home –  leading to a greater uptake of sustainability options by the industry.

Stephen Driscoll

While it is too early to declare the project a success, Clarendon Homes has taken the knowledge gained from the project and applied it across their business, offering sustainability upgrades on their most popular homes.  This might be the first signs of the market transformation Landcom was hoping for when devising this project.

Introduction
Project home builders are a major contributor to the mainstream of housing in Australia. Display homes are the principle marketing medium for project builders as they allow people to touch, feel and experience the design, its construction, materials and finishes. Consumers invariably buy the home designs, facades and features that have been displayed in these display homes.

When left to operate without intervention, the housing industry prefers to continue with well known housing designs and formulas because these are less risky.

However, this approach to housing delivery entrenches existing practices, encourages conservatism and discourages innovation. Conventional display home villages reinforce this conservative approach.  The displayed homes are “safe” in their design and are geared to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Consumers wanting to explore new options in sustainable living are poorly served by this model. There is evidence that the majority of the community strongly supports energy efficiency (Auspoll, June 2001).

However, sustainable project homes are largely inaccessible to the mass market, ultimately meaning that a consumer’s desire to build a sustainable home often invokes the need for bespoke designs delivered at significant marginal cost.  This does not encourage replication of sustainable design and construction principles across the project home building industry.

There have been a few attempts in the project home industry, particularly in the recent times, in building sustainable display homes well beyond current compliance levels.

These include the 9 star Harmony 9 by Mirvac Homes in Melbourne (Mirvac, 2011), the 8 star Zero Emissions Home by Henley Homes in Melbourne (CSIRO, 2008), the 8 star Jade 808 by Jade Projects/Think Brick in Perth the 9 star Jade 909 by Right Homes/Jade Projects in Perth (Jade Projects, 2011), the 6 star Aquarius by Cosmopolitan Homes in Sydney (Cosmopolitan, 2011) and the 7 stars Future Range of homes by Burbank Homes (Burbank, 2011). Harmony 9 and the Zero Emissions Home are prototype demonstration projects and not for sale to the public.

In summary, however, it can be said that sustainable project homes are still not in the domain of most project builders, particularly large volume builders, and thus are still largely inaccessible to the mass market.

Dr Shaila Divakaria

Aim of the ecoliving display village project
Landcom was concerned that inherent conservatism in the project home building industry, in addition to poorly informed consumers, was preventing the industry innovating at a time when leadership on sustainable living was needed.

Landcom determined that the only way to rectify this problem was to work with a large project home builder to design and build a display village with a number of homes which showcased sustainable design, construction and living options in order to ensure that sustainable initiatives are buildable and repeatable in the project home market.  After a competitive process, Clarendon Homes was selected to be Landcom’s partner.

Three sustainable homes with ambitious and varying levels of sustainability targets were designed for The Ponds in north western Sydney.  The first house is one step above compliance and demonstrates better practice, the second house goes one step higher again and focuses on environmentally friendly materials and finally the third house achieves net zero emissions and a neutral water balance.

All three homes are small, asthma friendly and are built to universal design principles, with the last house also being compliant with the code for adaptable housing (AS 4299). The finished homes will be operated as display homes, allowing the public and the home building industry to walk through the homes and experience them.

Information highlighting the various sustainability features of the homes will help increase consumer awareness, permitting consumers to have a more informed and knowledgeable conversation with builders and suppliers about improving sustainability performance in their own homes (a bottom-up approach).

Clarendon Homes will offer the eco living display homes, and variants of them, as homes in their suite of designs for construction across their business operation (a top-down approach).

The intellectual property jointly developed by Landcom and Clarendon Homes through this project will be made available to the project home building industry with the aim of increasing uptake by the industry of more sustainable building designs and building practices.

Ultimately, the project hopes to mainstream the concept of sustainability resulting in:

  • a better informed building industry,
  • better house designs
  • better informed consumers and
  • greater uptake of sustainable living options by consumers

The following sections of the paper describe the design of the ecoliving display village including the various sustainability features of the three display homes as well as the methods and processes involved in achieving these outcomes.

The paper also reviews and discusses the successes and failures encountered to date, in order to offer suggestions and examples for others wishing to explore similar collaborations aimed at implementing sustainability in mass housing.

Approach
The project objectives and site

Four high quality prime location home sites were set aside by Landcom at The Ponds, in north western Sydney for an ecoliving display village comprising three display homes and a car park. The homes were intended to demonstrate innovative design, materials and products that would reduce the operational and embodied environmental impact of a project home, as well as showcase the best practice approaches to universal and asthma friendly design.

The homes were also intended to shift the focus from quantity of space to quality of space, thus showcasing smaller, smarter and more efficient homes. Landcom intended to maximise exposure of the village to potential purchases as well as the wider community through innovative marketing, communications and education options, including costs and cost savings.

Tender process and conditions
The successful builder, Clarendon Homes, was chosen via a rigorous three stage tendering process. The first stage of the tendering process began with Landcom inviting an expression of interest from builders in NSW to partner with them to build the ecoliving display  village.

Four builders were successful at this stage. These builders were then asked to respond to a request for proposal detailing the project objectives, design brief, and other requirements and conditions. The proposal had to include:

  • House 1 designs, specifications and cost
  • A statement of design intent including specifications for houses 2 and 3 and
  • A delivery and marketing strategies for the whole village.

Two proponents were shortlisted at this stage. They were then required to prepare a presentation on their proposal to Landcom, and Clarendon Homes was ultimately selected as the successful builder partner. The project was designed by Landcom to run in four discrete stages:

  • Pre design phase: Clarendon would submit a completed design and lump sum design and construct price for house 1. At this stage Landcom also invited an expression of interest from suppliers of sustainable materials and products with the aim of short listing these for consideration in houses 2 and  3, in conjunction with Clarendon.
  • Detailed design phase: Any agreed design refinements or amendments would be made to house 1 before construction. Design of houses 2 and  3 needed to involve an architect and also needed to include the consideration of the materials shortlisted in the supplier expression of interest.
  • A construction budget for houses 2 and 3 was established at this stage and Clarendon would receive and agreed management fee for this phase of the project. The copyright of the designs would be with Landcom but licensed to Clarendon during the life of the display village after which it would be jointly held by both parties.
  • Construction phase: Clarendon would act as a building contractor to construct house 1 with Landcom paying progress payments as the land owner. For houses 2 and  3, Clarendon would act in the capacity of a construction manager receiving a construction management fee from Landcom, plus reimbursements for all costs (suppliers, consultants, sub contractors) associated with the construction and delivery of the homes on their lots including the landscaping.
  • Village operation phase: Clarendon would be responsible for managing all the operations of the display homes for the life of the display village (two years) and would also be responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the display village. Clarendon would offer the display homes to consumers to be constructed on their land and may include several of the innovative and sustainable options. A marketing strategy including a communications and education strategy would be agreed upon by Landcom and Clarendon.

The brief

House 1

(named  the

Benchmark Home)

House 2

(named the

Greencycle Home)

House 3

( named  the

Net Zero Emissions Home)

House themeCurrent industry best practiceRecycled and renewable materialsOff the grid services – energy, water and waste
Design IntentExisting builder design modified to meet objectivesHeavily modified existing builder design/new designNew builder compact design (small lot)
The Ponds DCP/guidelinescompliantcompliantCompliant where possible (non compliance needs to be justified)
Target familyIntergenerational/blended family, 2 parents, 2 teenagers & grandparentsTraditional family, 2 parents, 2 kidsEmpty nesters/retirees
NatHERS/ACCURATE6 stars minimum6 stars minimum8 stars minimum
BASIXEnergy 60% minimum

Water 70% minimum

Energy 60% minimum

Water 70% minimum

Energy 100% minimum

Water 100% minimum

Social InitiativesAffordable, Landcom Uinversal Housing guidelines, Asthma friendlyLandcom Uinversal Housing guidelines, Asthma friendlySingle storey, compliance with AS 4299 Class C for adaptable housing, asthma friendly
Architectural StyleRange of styles to meet needs of different market sections
House Size (excluding patios, verandah, alfresco)240m2 total (200m2 living + 40m2 garage)170m2 total (130m2 living + 20m2 garage + 20m2 carport)125m2 total (100m2 living space + 23m2 garage)
Accommodation4 bed, possibly 2 storeys or 2 dwellings in one3 bed + multi/sitting space, single storey2 bedrooms, single storey
Car accommodationDouble garageSingle garage and carportSingle garage + stacked space
Budgeted base price (incl. garage & carport but excl. agreed optional extras)$ 290,000 total

$1200/m2

$ 260,000 total

$ 1500/m2

$ 230,000 tota

$ 1800/m2

Modifications to original objectives
Some of the original objectives were modified along the process to take account of new opportunities. The second home’s theme was changed to environmentally friendly materials to take it beyond simply recycled and renewable products in order to acknowledge and address the diverse impacts of materials.

The second home’s thermal performance target was also raised to 7 stars in order to create progression in levels from the first to the third house. Similarly the third home’s theme was changed to Net Zero energy and water to acknowledge the fact that “off the grid” has marginal relevance in urban areas where centralised grids and a back up supplies are generally assured.

Net zero waste was changed to waste minimisation as early investigation of black water technologies revealed that these systems would not be practical. The BASIX 100 Energy and Water targets were also modified to 100 per cent.

Energy and water sufficiency since early testing on BASIX and discussions with the BASIX team revealed that 100 per cent was not achievable within the framework of the tool. So a separate modelling system was used to achieve these targets (explained below).

Project management
The project began in April 2010 soon after the announcement of the successful builder. The Benchmark Home was completed and opened on 25 June  2011 The Greencycle Home opened in October 2011, and the Net Zero Emissions Home which opened in February 2012.

Landcom and Clarendon appointed dedicated project managers to ensure that the sustainability, cost and time objectives were met. Regular weekly meetings were conducted between Landcom and Clarendon as well as between Clarendon’s various departments.

Design process
An integrated design process (Lohnert et al., 2003) was employed for the project in order to achieve a high performing and cost effective design. A project team involving Landcom, Clarendon (sustainability, estimating, construction and marketing representatives) and external consultants/specialists (brought in at appropriate times) was formed.

In addition Clarendon worked closely with its suppliers and manufacturers to choose the right products and materials. In the pre design stage, a design charette was held for the Greencycle and Net Zero Emissions Homes, chaired by a facilitator in which objectives, schematic design concepts, methods, budgets and construction methods were agreed upon. The project team met from time to time at key points from then on to ensure all various objectives were being met continuously.

Thermal performance evaluation
Currently in Australia second generation software such as BERS Pro, ACCURATE and FirstRate are permitted for thermal modelling for regulatory purposes.

Considering the time constraints, simplicity of project homes and ease of use of the software, BERS Pro Version 4.1 was used as the preferred software to model all the three homes.

The project home industry allows the choice of any house on any block. With this fact in mind, the homes (with the exception of the Net Zero Home) were rotated through eight orientations and then mirrored and rotated again in the eight orientations to ensure that the homes would achieve the thermal performance objectives in most  orientations.

The Net Zero Home was modelled only in one orientation (with the PV system facing north) and then similarly for mirror the reversed version. The modelling was carried out by  the Association of Building and Sustainability Assessor’s  accredited assessor and also reviewed again by an ABSA approved assessor.

Assessing Material Impacts
The materials impact assessment was carried out by external consultants only for the Greencycle Home as its theme was material impacts. However, the lessons from that process were used to inform choices for the other two homes.

A semi quantitative method was agreed by the project team as the best method {Figure 1.} (Simpson & Kelly, 2011).

In the first stage, the house was modelled for greenhouse gas emissions associated with major assemblies using Landcom+Kinesis’ PRECINX Embodied Energy Module (which is part of the PRECINX engine). The home with standard Clarendon specifications was used to establish a baseline. This assisted in establishing the share of various building elements towards the total Greenhouse gas impact of the home, which then allowed the largest contributors to be isolated.

From here, alternative materials were suggested to lower the impact of these largest contributors. A qualitative assessment of other impacts was also carried out at this stage.

These major assembly alternatives were then optimised for thermal performance. Specific products and suppliers within these material categories were chosen on the basis of qualitative assessment of environmental impacts.

Most other materials and products used in the home were also considered for impacts and assessed by this qualitative method and wherever practical and cost effective, alternative products were adopted.

In order to assist systematic decision making, a master spreadsheet was prepared of all the elements of the home along with a list of products and suppliers used currently by Clarendon including any eco products they offered.

These were supplemented by Landcom’s EOI suppliers and their products. Other good environmental alternatives identified by project team members and consultants were also included in this database.

The order of priority for decision making was Clarendon suppliers first, Landcom EOI suppliers second, and lastly other suppliers if any. This method resulted in time and cost savings while achieving good environmental outcomes. New products and suppliers then went through Clarendon’s procurement criteria before being accepted and adopted.

Assessing universal housing/adaptable code provisions
All the homes were evaluated for compliance with Landcom’s universal housing guidelines and the Net Zero Emissions Home with AS 4299 code for adaptable housing by access consultants.

Energy & Water Modelling
The Benchmark Home and Greencycle Home were modelled on BASIX by an ABSA accredited assessor and reviewed by an ABSA approved assessor. The Net Zero Emissions Home was modelled using energy and water models prepared by external consultants as the in built limitations of BASIX (in relation to assumptions about energy and water consumption and trade off between different energy sources) restricted its use for achieving net zero emissions and water effectively.

House designs and key features
This section provides only the key features of the homes. Further details can be obtained from the Landcom’s Ecoliving website – www.ecolivingdisplayhomes.com.au)

Benchmark Home (261.7 square metres, 28 squares, for 12.5 X 30m zero lot) :

General: Modest yet efficient and affordable two storey 4 bedroom home that goes one step beyond compliance to demonstrate better practice. The contemporary design features an open plan design, adequate cross flow ventilation and solar access. The home is a “good neighbour” with its upper floor to the front half of the house which allows solar access to its neighbour as well.

  • Zoning door to informal living areas
  • Porch to laundry for sheltered outdoor clothes drying
  • Low-E glazing to ground floor
  • Gas cook top and oven
  • 3 panel solar hot water system
  • Timber/plastic composite decking
  • Finger jointed pine skirtings, architraves, door frames & jambs
  • 5000 litre rainwater tank
  • 3 star low flow showerhead (6 L/min)
  • Low pile nylon carpet
  • Fans

Greencycle Home (187.6m2, 20 squares, for 12.5 X 30m zero lot)

General: Small yet efficient contemporary single storey 3 bedroom home that produces 30 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions from materials than a similar typical project home. All living and sleeping areas are adjacent to private open space and with good solar access.  Moveable screens to  the sitting room increase the flexibility of the living areas.

Green concrete

  • Recycled cardboard and bamboo bench tops in kitchen and bathrooms
  • Timber frames with part Eco bricks and mostly timber cladding
  • 100 per cent recycled concrete slab membrane
  • Timber frames to windows and glazed doors
  • E0 mdf for joinery
  • Bamboo flooring
  • Grid connected 1.5kW PV system
  • Hot water recirculating pump

Net Zero Emissions Home (Single storey, 2B, 162.8m2, 17squares, for 10.8 X 30m zero lot)

General: Very small yet extremely efficient and innovative contemporary single storey 3 bedroom home that showcases excellence in sustainability. This self sufficient home is also an adaptable house with a flexible plan that allows the free flow of space between living areas, outdoor  and garage to create spacious entertaining spaces when needed.

  • Reverse brick veneer walls
  • Double glazed Low E windows and glazed doors
  • Grid connected 4.5 kW PV system
  • 10,000 litre concrete underground rain water tank connected to all hot water and potable water and garden
  • On site grey water recycling system connected to laundry, toilets and garden
  • LED lighting
  • Energy efficient split air conditioners
  • Adaptable kitchen and bathroom
  • On site organic waste recycling linked to productive gardens

Landscaping of the whole village
A key feature of this ecoliving village, distinguishing it from other similar projects around the country, is that it is not a village with three separate houses and a car park but is designed as one integral site, with the houses and landscaping integrating with each other.

The landscaping is as much a learning experience for the customer as the homes. The innovative design of the village includes a display walk taking customers on a journey through the sustainability homes, and a learning trail taking them on a journey through sustainable landscapes.

Training, education and communication
It was one of the author’s observation when visiting some of the sustainable display homes (mentioned in the Introduction) that the sales staff did not appear to be knowledgeable or passionate about the features of the home and directed the author to “see the website” for information.

Qualitative research has also identified that training and knowledge of sales staff is a key barrier impeding progress to sustainable solutions in the residential sector (Divakarla, 2004).

Thus Clarendon’s sales staff was provided extensive sustainability training to make them aware of the sustainability features in each home.  The opening of the Benchmark home provided the opportunity to offer on-site refresher training to reinforce the earlier training.

A site tour has been planned for builders working with Landcom (70 builders) to educate them on the design and construction of the three homes. Council staff is also to be a part of this tour to encourage them to think beyond current regulations which contribute to stifling innovation in the market.

The industry and customers have also been exposed to the ecohomes through wide coverage the initiative has received in the print media.  Particular effort has been made to target papers and magazines read by the general community and potential mainstream project home buyers.

An ecoliving website (www.ecolivingdisplayhomes.com.au), fact sheets and explanatory brochures have been created by Landcom to educate consumers and the building industry about the homes and their benefits.

These have been distributed at the sales centre and are also available on the ecoliving website. There is also extensive and easily understandable signage within the display homes.

Paybacks on various sustainability options are also being prepared in order to communicate to consumers the relative costs and cost savings of the various sustainability features.

Marketing and sales
The Benchmark Home is being marketed with standard Clarendon specifications as well as with the eco package and other traditional upgrade options (facades, plan options, specification options). Clarendon has also released 6 star packages on six of their popular home designs along with the launch of the Benchmark Home,.

Sales staff report that since the opening of the Benchmark home on June 25th 2011, there has been considerable traffic through the display home. There has been genuine buyer interest in the Benchmark home, and considerable interest in the forecast opening of the Greencycle and Net Zero Emissions Homes.

Successes, problems and lessons learnt

Successes

  • Clarendon-Landcom partnership worked better than expected as the interests of both parties, particularly in relation to cost effectiveness and affordability, were aligned.
  • Having a dedicated project manager within Clarendon was essential and assisted greatly in delivery of the project on time and within budget
  • Releasing 6 star packages on its popular designs at the launch of the Benchmark Home was a good strategy by Clarendon which is getting some market traction already

Problems

  • The multidisciplinary nature of the project involving the many consultants and parties, extensive documentation, non standard design/materials/practices, approvals, ancillary work (such as education and communication) increased time pressures for project delivery.
  • The integrated design process, with its cyclical and iterative method, created added layers of complexity that became difficult to integrate into the more linear and standard method of project home processes and delivery
  • Lack of competition of green product suppliers restricted competitive pricing and also left no alternatives as back up which affected supply lead times
  • Multiple objectives (e.g. 6 star, 60 per cent energy, asthma friendly, universal house, materials etc.) on a single house made it difficult to deliver, market and communicate each element effectively to mass market customers who are already overburdened with information. Single minded propositions or purpose for [s1] marketing works best.
  • The desire to offer flexible options/packaging of the homes created disproportionate documentation requirements.  This is often difficult for the customer to comprehend and also increases the chances of incorrect pricing/quoting by the home builder.
  • Sales staff report that customers are frequently asking if the Benchmark home comes with a four bedroom option, and more astute buyers are able to make comparisons on the $/m2 construction price of this home relative to ‘typical’ project homes. This suggests that selling smaller homes will pose a challenge, at least in a few years to come.

Lessons learnt

  • Establishing consistent terminology and common language between all the various parties with varied backgrounds early on would have minimised confusion
  • Mini workshops within Clarendon (estimating, drafting and construction teams) would have assisted in building greater understanding of the project, contributing to greater ownership and efficiency
  • It is necessary to ensure trades/suppliers understand the scope of work so they quote correctly.
  • Extra care needs to be taken to ensure that every change  is documented and communicated to all relevant people along the chain to minimise/avoid the rippling effect of omissions and mistakes
  • Non standard details should be investigated to a level of detail which permits accurate drafting, correct price estimating and correct construction
  • Good/comprehensive design checklists should be developed early in the process to ensure diverse objectives and  requirements are met
  • Contrary to the common belief that design (for passive design) does not cost money, the Benchmark Home (traditional version) is $16,000 dollars more expensive than a similar sized and configured Clarendon design due to a more articulated footprint and form.

Conclusion
Although it is premature at this stage to say whether the project’s aims and objectives have been met, there have been some indications to date that support the contention the project is succeeding and that a degree of market transformation has already begun:

  • Although the eco living display homes are yet to be completed, Clarendon Homes is already applying knowledge gained from this Landcom-sponsored project and has developed sustainability upgrades on six of its most popular conventional display home models demonstrating the ‘ripple effect’ of the project. Feedback from Clarendon sales staff also reveals customer requests for features such as eaves vents, or 7 star packages on other Clarendon designs they have chosen.
  • Fairly good traffic through the Benchmark Home and sales office has been reported, in spite of the current downturn in the housing market, with quite a lot of interest from customers (and general community) in the village and the homes.
  • The project has resulted in greater awareness, exposure and knowledge of sustainable design and construction within Clarendon and with suppliers and tradespeople associated with Clarendon. Most suppliers have actively participated in this project, with some being very proactive.

Positive intervention by Landcom in the project housing industry to initiate such a project, fund the construction of the village, and assist with research, marketing and education has definitely provided the much needed stimulus to enable a large project builder such as Clarendon to undertake this ambitious project.

References

  • Auspoll. (June 2001). Market Research conducted by Auspoll for Clean Energy Council, www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au
  • Burbank. (2011). www.burbank.com.au
  • Cosmopolitan. (2011). www.cosmo.com.au
  • CSIRO. (2008). www.csiro.au/news/ZeroEmissionsHouse.html
  • Divakarla, S. (2004). “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Residential Buildings in Australia; Impact, Opportunities and Barriers Impeding Progress”. Ph.D. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • Jade Projects. (2011). www.jadeprojects.com.au/projects/jade-808
  • Lohnert, G. et al. (2003). “Integrated Design Process: A Guide for Sustainable and Solar Optimised Buildings”. International Energy Agency.
  • Mirvac. (2011).   www.mirvac.com/case-studies
  • Simpson, R. & Kelly, C. (September 2011). “Embodied Energy and Embodied CO2-e Analysis: Greencycle Home House 2”. Simpson+Wilson Architecture+Design, Sydney.

Dr Shaila Divakarla is a design sustainability specialist at Clarendon Homes

Stephen Driscoll is Landcom’s director, sustainability and policy