Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

More new homes spring up every year, and for an ever-growing number of people, these homes are apartments.

Since 2011, the number of units started each year has increased by over 70 per cent, compared to a 25 per cent increase in detached houses over the same period.

Apartment buildings house dozens of people who all turn lights and heating/cooling systems on and off multiple times a day.

Living in a newly built apartment can be a risk, but it can also offer the best of current design practices: Proven quality. And a hugely influential factor on a building’s quality is its energy rating.

The bulk of the energy a building consumes comes from non-renewable sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions. The construction industry contributes a hefty percentage of harmful emissions to the atmosphere every year, so anything that design and construction professionals can do to reduce environmental impact will, little by little, have a positive effect.

Aside from being a government requirement, energy efficiency ratings can put designers’, builders’ and residents’ minds at ease in a world where environmental awareness has never been higher.

The country’s population grows by about 1.5 per cent each year – that’s over 380,000 people. Because human activity is the major cause of global warming, this puts pressure on communities’ and governments’ sustainability goals, making clarity of vision essential.

Population growth entails further development of the built environment to accommodate everybody’s needs, including energy use for heating and cooling. This is also affected by increases in average annual temperatures. Buildings eat up a lot of energy and are typically in use for decades. Countering the potential harm that the construction industry can cause to the earth and its atmosphere is the power of good design to significantly reduce energy consumption.

Apartment buildings must meet certain energy efficiency requirements according to the NCC. These requirements, which have been in force for all building classifications since 2006, relate to a building’s operational energy needs in terms of heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation, hot water and other domestic services.

The NCC requirements’ objective is to maintain good quality of life while reducing energy consumption, which means paying particular attention to design choices and the fabric of the building.

Environmental rating schemes are used to demonstrate how efficiently a building is operating. NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Energy Rating System) and Green Star are the main rating systems for apartment buildings.

Energy use often differs between areas, including different suburbs in the same city. Most apartment dwellers – 85 per cent of them – live in capital city regions, but apartment buildings are no longer reserved for cities’ central business districts.

They often crop up in outer metropolitan areas. They provide an excellent housing solution, but increased density exacerbates the urban heat island effect and this can have very real consequences for energy use.

Metropolitan areas inland of a coastal city’s centre don’t benefit from the relief brought by ocean breezes during the summer months as much as coastal suburbs do. This means that residents may be more reliant on using cooling energy in their homes in order to achieve thermal comfort. A well-designed apartment building with a high energy efficiency rating is essential.

To stipulate these environmental considerations, building practitioners need specifications. As legal documents that function alongside drawings, specifications clearly present important design choices. There is no ambiguity, enabling all parties involved in design and construction to be on the same page. Using specifications prevents miscommunication and reduces costly repairs, which are neither economically nor ecologically sustainable.

The National Building Specification provides clear and concise specifications, and is updated twice a year to ensure currency with changes to the NCC, Australian Standards, legislation and industry practices.

Most factors affecting a house’s energy efficiency rating come from design decisions and performance requirements recorded in the specification. With the National Building Specification, design and construction professionals can make these choices and improve the overall sustainability of the final structure – as well as its quality.

 NATSPEC is a not-for-profit, government and industry-owned organisation. It maintains the National Building Specification for Australia and has been a valued part of the construction industry for 45 years.

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