According to Alistair Coulstock, who recently joined Action Sustainability as a director, there are a number of reasons for the high level of non-compliance in residential development, particularly in regards to issues that have an impact on comfort and wellbeing, such as thermal performance, air infiltration rates and energy efficiency.
Partly they are supply-chain driven, partly design and partly a lack of accountability through the construction process.
Coulstock says there are currently no reliable methods to test or verify air change rates or whether insulation was installed correctly. This is only recently starting to be addressed in other sectors as well.
There are also weaknesses in the systems in place in terms of building codes and standards that allow thermal bridging to take place for a variety of construction details.
For instance, many residential constructions allow a space around the house between the wall and roof where there is no insulation, creating a weak spot for thermal efficiency.
Aluminium-framed windows with no thermal break are another obvious weak spot that regulations permit.
Coulstock says consumers need education.
His company is currently working with Australian Living on ways to tackle non-compliance in the sector.
“People see a comfortable home as one that has airconditioning and can retain temperatures,” he says.
A high quality, comfortable home, however, is designed and constructed so that it rarely needs mechanical heating or cooling.
His aim is to see mechanisms put in place that would make standard infrared testing to demonstrate whether insulation has been properly installed, and blower door testing to check air infiltration rates.
A process for rolling this out needs to be developed, and consumer education also needs to be part of that, Coulstock says.
Tackling this nationally is important because the energy performance of homes feeds into the nation’s COP21 commitment to tackle climate change.
“We are looking to take the industry on a journey, and to collaborate to achieve higher quality homes,” he says.
“This is important because if it’s not you or I buying these homes, sometime in the future it will be our friends or relatives, and they will be paying unnecessarily high energy costs for the life of the building.”
According to founding director of the Action Sustainability Mark Lyster, work is underway with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia on a procurement module for its rating tool.
The company aspires to take on projects that can change the landscape, he says.
“There are easier ways to make money, but we have a strong purpose to effect corporate change.”
The residential sector is “the laggard” in all the construction sectors. By contrast, commercial property and retail, which are owner-operator led, have had a vested interest in changing their practices.
Lyster says 80 per cent of a typical build cost is in the supply chain. It is therefore important to get the right policies and procedures in place, and make sure that people understand what a supply chain can do in terms of environmental and social sustainability impacts.
The Modern Slavery Act in the UK, for example, is something the big consulting firms in Australia and the multinational contractors all need to be aware of, he says.
Because anyone with a UK presence is caught up in its implications and there are some “waves spreading through”.
Coulstock says procurement also needs to be looked at during a building’s operational phase.
A company might, for example, move into a 6 Star Green Star building, but the cleaners of that building might not even be being paid the minimum wage.