construction worker

There’s little hope residential minimum energy standards can be increased in the National Construction Code update set for 2019, according to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

This means the next chance to increase Australia’s already comparatively low standards will be 2022 at the earliest, an outcome sure to disappoint many working in building sustainability.

Energy minimum standards have not been increased for commercial or residential buildings since 2010, and the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) only has plans to increase stringency in commercial buildings in 2019 (the extent to which has not been decided).

ASBEC has been working with ClimateWorks on a Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory project, which will provide an industry-led evidence base to adopt long-term energy stringency targets, as well as a significant increase in energy performance standards for commercial buildings in 2019.

The last time we wrote about the project, there was some hope amongst the green building industry that governments could be swayed to put residential efficiency improvements on the cards for 2019 too.

While our source at the time said there was until May 2018 to convince COAG to put resi back on the table, ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou said the council had come to the conclusion that there was little chance of it happening, and were now currently “focused on meaningful improvements” in the commercial sector.

“The time for embedding [energy stringency improvements] into the ABCB’s work plan has passed in regards to residential,” she told The Fifth Estate.

Toumbourou said while it would be great to be able to raise standards as soon as possible, it was crucial to do it in a meaningful and sustainable way. At the moment, the support to do that is not there.

ABCB general manager Neil Savery told The Fifth Estate there were a number of reasons why residential standards weren’t set to be increased in 2019.

First, there hasn’t been the business case conducted for improvements to residential, as has been done for the commercial sector by pitt&sherry.

He said the federal Department of the Environment and Energy was currently engaged in this work.

Second, there was a larger issue of widespread non-compliance and non-conformance, as we’ve written about extensively.

Savery said building ministers had agreed there was little point of increasing minimum standards if current standards weren’t even being met.

“In our view you get a similar benefit in getting everyone to [a] six star [standard].”

He said there was important work being undertaken to deal with the issue of non-compliance with energy performance standards in the industry.

“When you change cultural practices, then you’re going to get compliance there.”

Once compliance issues were sorted then there could be confidence that increases to minimum standards would be broadly met, he said.

The third element was an issue with condensation, particularly in colder climates, that could be a side-effect of increased energy performance standards.

“Those are the main things in not proceeding with a stringency increase.”

ClimateWorks implementation manager Eli Court, who is working on the Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory project, said while a business case for residential has not been completed, there would be many in the industry that say there is enough prima facie evidence to suggest that going to seven or even eight star NatHERS is already cost-effective and achievable.

He said there were also “numerous developments demonstrating cost-effectiveness”.

And it seems many state governments agree, with South Australia, the ACT and Victoria all looking at increasing their residential standards in the face of ABCB inaction.

Court is not sold on the non-compliance argument either.

“My view would be that non-compliance and under-compliance is not a reason not to look at appropriate stringency increases,” he told The Fifth Estate.

However, he did note that concerns about climate zones and condensation did need to be addressed.

End of the glass box? ASBEC and ClimateWorks project could spur significant change

It’s not all bad news, though.

Toumbourou said there could be “significant” stringency increases to commercial buildings in the 2019 NCC, and in the future “meaningful and ambitious reductions over the long term” for both commercial and resi.

This is partly why the focus is now going to the commercial sector, with the ASBEC and ClimateWorks project looking to provide industry-led evidence demonstrating feasibility and cost-effectiveness to ensure a big increase in standards, which could lead to the end of “glass box” commercial building designs, according to Court.

The project will then be working on an industry-led evidence base to support the adoption of long-term targets and forward trajectories to be included for resi and commercial from 2022.

Court said an issues paper to be released in July would look at what other jurisdictions around the world were doing, and go out for consultation to land on an appropriate target for Australia.

He pointed to an EU directive that meant buildings in Europe had to be “nearly zero energy” by the end of 2020, while leading US states were looking at a 2025-2030 timeframe.

“Nearly zero energy in 2025-2030 could make sense for Australia.”

Court said there was a “strong and broad” amount of support for the work in industry, even from many of the sectors that have traditionally been opposed to increased standards.

NCC working group members include:

  • Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association
  • Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating
  • Australian Passive House Association
  • Building Products Innovation Council
  • Chartered Institute of Building
  • CRC for Low Carbon Living
  • Department of the Environment and Energy
  • Energy Efficiency Council
  • Facility Management Association of Australia
  • Green Building Council of Australia
  • Insulation Australasia
  • Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand
  • NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
  • Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV)
  • Property Council of Australia
  • QLD Department of Housing and Public Works
  • SA Department of State Development
  • Standards Australia
  • University of Melbourne
  • Vinyl Council of Australia

Toumbourou said the CRC for Low Carbon Living helped hugely on the technical component of the work.

Court said “implementation and complementary measures” would also be looked at, such as training and education, having good tie in with rating tools and systems, good compliance pathways and good enforcement.

The cost of inaction

Another area that could be looked at is the cost of inaction. As buildings are long-term assets, Australia could be locking itself into a high-emissions built environment, which means we may need to implement higher cost emissions reduction projects elsewhere to meet our international obligations.

With buildings accounting for more than 50 per cent of the electricity draw on the grid, there’s also additional cost of network infrastructure to deal with this, not to mention peak demand. Add factors like health effects and climate resilience and the need to act becomes even clearer.

An issues paper will be put out on 11 July 2017, with an interim report set for November 2017, and a final report in March 2018.

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  1. Well said Graeme Doreian.

    The imbalance of participants on Standards Committees is truly appalling.
    On the Insulation committee, possibly the worst offender is the utter silence and inaction of the Consumers Federation. When questions about what constitutes the appropriate insulation for differing climates are put to the representative, the answer is obfuscation and avoidance.

    I’ll make this really simple.

    The building energy efficiency regulations since 2000 have deliberately ignored crucial basic thermal scientific principles. Here is the list:

    1. Law of Diminishing Returns – how much insulation has an impact.

    2. Law of Fluid Dynamics – a mammoth subject that has been absolutely ignored.

    Example 1: downlights on winter are a thermal hazard and need enclosures, and the insulation installation standard wilfully ignores commentary on this.
    Example 2: Floors in winter lose heat in an entirely different way than do ceilings.

    3. The Overall Principle – overinsulating in parts of houses to compensate for uninsulated areas is false. The ABCB used to have a trade-off ceiling table, where more downlights were matched with higher insulation R-values. A total fraud.

    4. High temperature radiation effects.

    No one in the entire NCC or Standards will facilitate an open forum discussion on this topic. Pitt & Sherry NEEBP 2014 report revealed the shock when Townsville specifiers called for reflective insulations in ceilings, and no bulk insulation whatsover. NCC reaction – zero. Look on the NCC participants, and you see the answer. Consumer response: zero. The actual word is cowardice.

    There are three insulation standards under review trying to meet a 2018 deadline for the 2019 NCC. They should be paused until there is a transparent adoption of all known scientific in-situ factors. Not closed shop internal Working Groups.

  2. The condensation argument is dangerous.

    There is a report doing the email rounds (but available online!) by Mark Dewsbury called Scoping Study of Condensation in Residential Buildings.

    It highlights the current condensation issues being caused by current standards (i.e. it’s already a problem) and provides a pathway to rectifying the shortcomings in the Building Code over the next 3 versions.

    Healthy, safe and efficient buildings should be the goal.

  3. It has been stated “building energy efficiency is the world’s first fuel”.

    We have an energy generation crisis on how to provide electricity, and a global warming problem. For decades CSIRO has spent tens of millions of dollars on propping up their Chenath computer modelling program that forms today the basis of AccuRate used to rate houses at the time of a building approval.

    Human behaviour changes over the life of the building, which no computer program can account for.

    The un-validated government computer program, with no real house controlled data from a climate simulator, industry won’t support, because the truth of “fit for purpose” for the correct insulations for the various climates.

    Would you send your little daughter outside on a hot day dressed in a thick woollen overcoat?

    One notices that Standards Australia and big industry sits on the NCC working group, yet Standards Australia, who formulate standards via imbalanced standards committees, which are “strangled” by big industry, as revealed in the 2006 Productivity Commission Report, is of concern.

    Therefore, basically what hope has the public got in getting rules and regulations that are independently formulated for insulation that is “fit for purpose” to reduce energy usage and save them energy costs?