Governments are expected to make key decisions on housing energy performance by the end of 2021 that will determine policy for years to come. Now is the time to strike.
This summer’s heatwaves and bushfires are a reminder of the risks we face as climate change begins to take hold. And they pose an important question that all Australians need to think about – are our homes climate resilient?
The good news is more and more Australians are living in sustainable homes that not only use much less energy and water, but are also comfortable, healthy and affordable to live in.
But many more occupy inefficient homes that are cold and damp in winter, dangerously hot in summer or cost a fortune in bills to keep at a healthy temperature. Energy waste also adds to Australia’s carbon emissions, while climate change impacts such as heatwaves will increasingly expose vulnerable people living in poor quality housing to serious health risks.
Many Australians are held back from taking individual action to improve the performance of their homes because they:
- don’t realise their home could be better
- don’t know where to get reliable advice
- can’t afford the upfront costs
- are reliant on sub-standard industry performance
- face language or cultural barriers
- rent their home.
There has been no substantive increase in the energy performance for new homes since the current 6-Star standard was introduced in 2010, while the majority of existing homes built before 2003 average less than 2-Stars in terms of energy performance.
There are also significant problems with compliance. This means many new houses may not be built to the 6-Star standard.
Building new homes to higher standards is possible and cost-effective now. While a significant minority of leading builders are already delivering homes well above the 6-Star minimum, most new home-buyers continue to miss out.
Only strong policy and government action to address these barriers will ensure the benefits of sustainable homes are shared by everyone.
Raising the energy and water performance of Australian housing will deliver significant benefits to consumers, the wider economy and the environment, including:
- Lower energy bills: The average Australian home now spends in the order of $3000 on their household energy (mostly electricity and/or gas). However, with the right design and technology and minimum performance of 7.5 Stars, this figure can easily be reduced to well below $500 a year
- Improved health and comfort for occupants: More than 3000 Australians are estimated to die as a result of periods of hot and cold weather – almost double the number of Australians that die in road accidents. More people die in Australia due to heatwaves than any other natural disaster, while surprisingly our rate of cold-associated deaths is double that of Sweden. The economic value of health benefits offered by energy efficient housing is estimated at $1432 a year for existing homes
- Lower cost, reliable power supply: Homes that use less energy reduce the need for network investment for peak demand, which results in lower prices for all.
- Job creation and economic stimulus: At least 500,000 Australian workers spend part of their time improving homes’ and businesses’ energy efficiency, including electricians, architects and engineers. The amount of time that they spend on energy efficiency adds up to 59,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. An ambitious strategy to improve the energy efficiency of homes, commercial buildings and industry would create 120,000 FTE job-years of employment.
- Low-cost emissions reductions: Australia is already experiencing the consequences of dangerous climate change. The potential cumulative damages from climate change to Australia at current global emissions patterns have recently been quantified as $584.5 billion in 2030, $762 billion in 2050 and more than $5 trillion by 2100. Improving building efficiency is consistently identified as a least-cost option for reducing emissions across the Australian economy (Kompas, T., Witte, E. and Keegan, M. 2019, Australia’s Clean Energy Future: Costs and Benefits, MSSI Issues Paper 12, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.)
Before mid-2018, there had been limited consumer advocacy for policy change even though it is households who bear the financial and health burden of poor energy and water performance.
As such, in late 2018, Renew formally commenced the Climate Resilient Homes campaign to coordinate and lead a national coalition of 65 consumer and community organisations to advocate for policy change to improve the energy performance of all Australian homes.
The next 12-18 months is a critical opportunity to capitalise on this momentum. Governments are expected to make key decisions by the end of 2021 that will determine housing energy performance policy for years to come.
Raising the minimum standard and improving compliance will make efficient homes the “new normal”, ensuring all consumers – not only the most informed – can enjoy the benefits of healthier, more comfortable homes with lower energy bills.
Damien Moyse is acting chief executive of Renew, a not for profit organisation that promotes sustainable homes and communities.