18 December 2013 – NSW’s Building and Sustainability Index for new residential building is currently being reviewed, with a view to increasing targets for energy and water efficiency and thermal comfort.

The proposed targets, , expected to yield significant economic benefits, and supporting documents are now out for public comment until 31 January 2014.

BASIX certificates have been required for all developments since 2004, and while Building Code of Australia standards, technology and construction techniques have all advanced since then the BASIX targets have not.

In 2009 the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommended to the NSW government that this discrepancy be addressed, and in 2011 a five-year Outcomes Review and Post-Implementation Cost-Benefit Analysis showed that reviewing the targets would be beneficial.

The core proposal is an upward revision of the energy and water targets of around 10 per cent, depending on region.

The proposal also includes caps on heating and cooling, and changes to the zone boundaries, with the requirements for postcode zones altered to more closely reflect what is achievable and appropriate in specific regions and climates.

BASIX ratings are based on benchmarks of average per-person water and energy consumption and greenhouse gas creation, so a BASIX 40 means a development has achieved a 40 per cent saving against the benchmark.

A range of measures can be implemented to achieve the new BASIX targets, such as installing bigger rain tanks, combining ceiling fans for summer cooling with a three-star gas heater for winter warmth, or installing insulation.

Changes can make money for the economy

A cost-benefit analysis by Allen Consulting Group in 2013 for the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure found that the proposed changes would incur a “negative cost”, with benefits from reduced energy and water costs exceeding outlays required for compliance.

Its numbers also showed a net benefit to the NSW economy of $1.64 for every $1 spent, generated through flow-on effects such as growth in sustainable technology and design enterprises, and increased household disposable income from reduced utility bills.

The State Government  promises to support industry in complying with any revision of BASIX with measures to include information sessions, support to develop training, “how to” information sheets and extended help desk hours.

To participate in the on-line survey go here.  To make a formal submission go here.

5 replies on “Getting the BASIX right in NSW will bring economic rewards”

  1. I certainly agree one of the key strengths of the BASIX scheme is that it is part of the development approval process, rather than just a demonstration of minimum compliance, as is often the case with the NCC/NATHERS approach. Generally speaking, I think the building & construction industry needs to stop thinking of sustainability as an optional extra or a regulatory hurdle – it should be as fundamental as ensuring a building is structurally sound and watertight!

    For the thermal comfort component of the BASIX assessment, NSW assessors I’ve spoken to feel that the three assessment options are not comparable – I’d really appreciate some insight as to whether this claim can be substantiated or quantified. Is this something the Target Review is attempting to address?

    Also, it is my understanding that specifying individual maximum heating and cooling loads was one reason why the BASIX scheme wasn’t adopted in WA – at the time when the decision was made, a total heating and cooling load was preferred, to give more design flexibility. Your thoughts?

  2. Obviously I agree the benchmark needs raising, long overdue as Chris says (noting that the BASIX team did the bulk of this work behind-the-scenes two years ago?).

    Its usefulness as an educative/engagement tool in helping punters get a firm grip on the nuts and bolts of a sustainable building is also under utilised.

    The NatHERS protocol and laggardness in adopting new materials (phase change materials being a case in point) is hurting progress, but that is not BASIX’ fault – we all need to keep the pressure on the Feds there. Good luck with that then.

    But Scott is spot on re compliance – it’s a dog’s breakfast out there with non-compliance happening on (sticking my neck out here) 90% of jobs. Not just BASIX items, and many may be ‘minor’ but few buildings I see have all the checks done. And some have none. This is where a huge effort is needed by all state Govts, especially NSW if it’s serious about improving standards.

  3. Upward revision of BASIX benchmarks is indeed well overdue. As Willow points out, technologies and practices for meeting targets have developed significantly since BASIX was first introduced – driven largely by BASIX and the less effective BCA/NCC provisions.

    I agree with David that BASIX remains a world best practice regulatory tool and very much disagree with Scott’s criticism that it can be used by ‘anyone’ to perform a rating. Indeed, this is one of BASIX’s greatest strengths. BASIX guides and informs any applicant during the most important decision making stage of any project (achieving sustainability regulatory compliance) by introducing them to new technologies and practices. This makes BASIX one of the most effective industry/community engagement processes available.

    It’s meaningful metrics, flexible performance based compliance paths and capacity to rate both minimum compliance and better/best practice (thereby encouraging market differentiation on the basis of sustainable performance) make it the standout tool to take us to the next level of sustainable housing regulation nationally.

    BASIX encourages both best practice innovation and, the transfer of those innovations to more risk averse, cost constrained industry sectors by:
    * introducing/explaining alternatives through help and other links,
    * allowing applicants to gauge the effectiveness of various combinations of technologies and practices with a single click,
    * these options can then be costed on the basis of measured performance before final selection
    * allowing informed choice of the most commercially viable compliance options for each project at panning stage.

    Win, win, win. Compare that to a bunch of black box stars based on MJ/sq.m in BCA/NCC system. Typically, a NatHERS rating is sought when design and documentation are complete – limiting the range of solutions able to be offered by skilled HERS assessors and keeping both practitioner and consumer ill-informed. Our House Energy Rating software programs are world best practice design tools that remain entirely under-utilised. I attribute this to the ineffective and counter productive NatHERS regulatory framework through which they are delivered. Loose, loose, loose. (apologies – I’ve been watching too much cricket)

    Admittedly adequate compliance certification remains a weakness in some regions but this applies equally to BASIX and BCA/NCC..

    BASIX’s potential to form the basis of a fresh approach to regulating sustainable performance in housing nationally remains untapped and this is a significant loss. My PhD research during the development of BASIX led me to conclude that this failure can be largely attributed to a lack of industry engagement (verging on a silo approach) during its development and roll-out. Industry peak bodies (especially ABSA, HIA, MBA, BDA and AIA) were largely excluded from the process. This provided fertile ground for the skeptics who ultimately lobbied other state governments to reject the NSW offer to adopt BASIX nationally.

    What a great loss. Let’s hope that a great lesson has been learnt and, that a process of full community/industry engagement will see a refined, updated version of BASIX adopted nationally to replace the flawed BCA/NCC system.

  4. The fundamental postives of BASIX remain strong:
    – Genuinely meaningful benchmarking (more informative and transparent than simplistic star-ratings for residential dwellings)
    – Web-delivered – for almost a decade – how long will it take for a national scheme to be delivered on line with accessible on-line reporting of monitoring projects and outcomes too
    – Flexible compliance pathways and acts as a stimulus to new technologies if they can genuinely prove their water or energy saving capacity.
    No surprises that I support the BASIX policy and on-line delivery mechanism as I was part of the team that built it, but I have yet to see national or other jurisdictions match this standard.

  5. A more important issue is that in most circumstances BASIX allows anyone to perform an assessment. An Accreditation Assessor in Building Thermal Performance is only required on multi-unit dwellings and more complicated houses. Therefore most houses in NSW are being designed and built without expertise in the areas of orientation, shading, glazing, insulation and materials.
    Also there are not enough checks being performed at Construction Certificate and before construction begins. Often the items specified in BASIX at DA stage are not implemented and are getting missed along the way. This ultimately results in poorer performing housing in general.

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