For builders to play their part in creating a more sustainable property sector, equipping themselves with greater knowledge is only part of the equation, according to Phillip Alviano, the sustainable building advisor for Master Builders Association of Victoria.
Home buyers, valuers and even the banks also need to get with the program, and recognise that energy efficient, thermally comfortable homes are the only property worth investing in.
“Valuers can be a problem because they don’t value the sustainability bits and pieces of the house. They just say, ‘A four bedroom house in this area is worth this,’” Dr Alviano said.
Then, because the valuer can’t put a dollar price on things like better insulation, high performance glazing, thermal mass or passive solar design, when the builder or client goes to the bank, the bank might refuse to loan 80 per cent of the actual cost and only offer 80 per cent of the valuer’s estimate instead, leaving a budget shortfall.
Dr Alviano said this was one of the parts of the larger system holding back sustainability momentum.
The association, however, has in the past come in for criticism for being another reason sustainability in housing has been so slow in coming. It has opposed moves to raise sustainability standards, and joined with other housing lobby groups to ensure the Council of Australian Governments rejected a widely supported move for mandatory disclosure of energy performance in housing.
Dr Alviano said the MBAV is pushing for greener building through training and education for members in an attempt to shift the market from within, giving builders greater knowledge they can also use to inform and educate their clients.
Education and better understanding has the ability to change the game, he said.
Its annual Green Living Conference at the end of this month will feature speakers including Stephen Ingrouille, principal of Going Solar; Clare Parry, director of the Australian Passive House Association; and Isabelle Asfar, co-founder of Möbius Materials Recovery.
Dr Alviano said the conference was a way for builders to update their green skills training.
Putting concepts like Passive House on the agenda was about presenting the industry with “a stretch goal”, he said.
“Some of our members have been asked by clients to build Passive House homes, or have been asked to incorporate some of the Passive House techniques [in a build].”
He said it was about showing builders what’s possible, and also to outline where the industry might be heading in terms of standards and market expectations.
Dr Alviano said some of the elements of Passive House, such as testing for air tightness, were also a way for builders to test the quality of workmanship. It’s a method of ensuring issues such as thermal comfort, indoor air quality and managing condensation risks have been addressed, and it’s also a way of insuring a builder’s reputation.
The MBAV commenced delivering a green building course in 2005, in response to requests from members who had been asked for sustainable homes by clients. Numbers were low at first, but when the drought kicked in, Dr Alviano said it got “really busy” as builders received high numbers of requests to incorporate water-saving initiatives such as rainwater harvesting and reticulation.
Over the past year, he says members are getting more and more queries from clients about energy efficiency too, and how much the home they are planning might cost to run.
In early 2014, the green building curriculum was made a mandatory part of MBAV’s Certificate IV in Building and Construction.
Dr Alviano said there are currently around 300 people a year gaining the qualification, and that to date around 1500 of the organisation’s approximately 5000 residential members have completed some form of MBAV-delivered green building training.
The training covers the “dead set winners”, he said.
These are the “simple things that can make a big difference and don’t necessarily cost more”.
They include insulation, which is “not a hard sell for clients”. The trick is to get it right – not leaving gaps, getting it into corners, and taking the extra 10 minutes to really check the workmanship, Dr Alviano said.
“An extra 10 minutes time is really not adding to your costs,” he said.
The same is true of building sealing, where an extra few minutes ensuring quality workmanship has an exponential impact on the quality and comfort of the resulting home as drafts are reduced.
Good quality double-glazing, thermal breaks in window frames, understanding thermal mass and where to put it, and preventing condensation are also not going to bust the budget.
Design and orientation for passive solar benefits is also cheap and crucial.
“The major emphasis is on getting it right at the beginning,” Dr Alviano said. “The bones of environmental sustainability are having good natural light and warmth in winter.”
“The ideas of passive solar design are not complicated.”
He said an animation the organisation created 18 months ago on passive solar design has had over 40,000 hits on YouTube – proof there’s a desire to know more both on the part of builders and also homebuyers.
“It’s about educating the client base as well, they need to know what to ask for.
“Most of the market [for sustainable building] is driven by the client unless the client gets a designer or builder that will drive them.”
Dr Alviano said if the MBAV can get more trained professionals out there in the market, the chance of a client getting good advice is higher, and then the built environment in turn benefits with more sustainable properties.
There is also a need for marketing collateral, both from real estate agents and that created by builders, to highlight the sustainability credentials such as energy ratings, he said.
“The issue there becomes one of the sales people, they have to know so they can discuss these options and benefits with clients.”
One of the major barriers for smaller builders in terms of developing greater knowledge of more sustainable products and techniques is simply lack of time, he said. The information also needs to come from a trusted source, with peers generally regarded as the most reliable.
Perceptions of risk in terms of new technologies and materials can also hold some back, he said.
“The builder holds the can if it doesn’t work.”
This also applies where non-compliant products result in defects or the need for rework, creating increased waste. In terms of product standards, it’s the suppliers who need to ensure what they are delivering is fit for purpose and meets the required standards.
“It’s in the supplier’s ultimate interests to protect the builders [from non-compliance],” Dr Alviano said.
And on the other end of the equation, buyers also need to be demanding better outcomes.
“There is a need for the industry to focus on quality, and that has to come through clients as well,” Dr Alviano said.