Creating a national zero carbon housing standard could add billions to the economy while also improving occupant health and comfort, new CRC for Low Carbon Living research has revealed.
The research, which used data from the South Australian Government’s Lochiel Park housing estate, a “near zero carbon” precinct development by Renewal SA with over 100 homes, found that the benefits of adopting a zero carbon standard for South Australia were “overwhelmingly positive”.
For the state government there would be benefits of $1.31 billion over 10 years and a $2.42 economic return for every dollar spent, the researchers said.
Benefits expected included improved energy efficiency, energy network infrastructure savings, improved human health and wellbeing, carbon emission reductions, and benefits from increased social capital.
A zero carbon housing standard would be good news to those looking to build a house too. The research found that owner-occupiers would benefit by close to $25,000 if they built a house in the first year of any policy change, a figure the researchers said was a conservative estimate. Houses built in subsequent years, as technologies and learnings improved, would see greater savings.
“As the housing industry adopts new technologies and practices, increases low carbon building system production volumes, improves industrial processes, and develops skills and knowledge across the various building industry professions, the cost of creating low carbon homes reduces and net benefits to the householder investor improve,” a research report said.
Benefits to home owners included lower energy bills, increased levels of thermal comfort, improved health and wellbeing, intrinsic values associated with taking climate change action and benefits from increased social capital.
“These results could be applicable nationally and show that it is time for building standards to be raised from the current six star minimum rating to one that would achieve a much deeper cut in residential carbon emissions,” lead researcher Dr Stephen Barry from the University of South Australia said.
“Australia has taken significant steps to embrace sustainable low carbon building since the first building energy standard was set in 2003 at four stars and progressed to six stars in 2010. Our research confirms zero carbon housing is both achievable and financially rewarding for householders and the wider community.”
CRCLCL project leader Dr Kathryn Davidson said the results shone a bright light on the potential for zero carbon housing in Australia
“Our study shows Australia is well on its way to making zero carbon housing a reality for the near future,” she said. “We are now expanding our research to different types of housing precincts and looking at how people consume energy differently, to address more important questions that will impact our zero carbon future within the built environment.”
Benefits abound, but resistance still strong
While the study shows benefits accrue to both the government and householders, Australia has a history of housing lobbies like the Master Builders Association and Housing Industry Association fighting increases to building standards, usually under the guise of changes leading to increased construction costs, which they say could lead to higher house prices in an already unaffordable market.
These arguments routinely fail to take into account the significant reduction in running costs for owners and the potential for “positive energy bills”, among other benefits.
Adding to this, predictions of large increases in the cost of construction through improved standards have failed to play out.
UK moving in the opposite direction
The news of the benefits of zero carbon housing comes as the UK goes back another step with last week’s announcement of cessation of the Zero Carbon Hub, a public–private body set up to help transition all new homes to zero carbon, a 2016 goal that was controversially dropped by the government last year.
- See our story UK government scraps its zero carbon homes policy
Without government support behind the zero carbon goal, industry funding was withdrawn and the hub shut down.
“Zero Carbon Hub has been remarkably successful in bringing together a wide spectrum of stakeholders with an interest in the world-leading zero carbon target across public, private and third sectors,” its chair Paul King said.
“It has been a model of collaboration between industry and government, helping translate policy aspiration into reality. I would like to thank the many individuals and organisations who have supported us on this remarkable journey and their commitment to improving the quality of new homes.”
The UK Green Building Council said it was sad to see the hub’s closure but wasn’t a shock given the direction of government policy.
“We will continue to work with the industry to realise their investment in zero carbon innovation, and help ensure that the houses being built now are fit for the future,” UKGBC policy director Richard Twinn said. “But continuing to deliver better quality homes is far easier when there is long-term certainty and sensible regulation from government.”
Let’s hope Australia goes down the right path.