The Zero Waste Home team.

26 May 2014 — Burbank’s Zero Waste Home in Melton South, Victoria, has demonstrated that with smart design, intelligent management of logistics and ordering, and cooperation from trades and suppliers, it is possible to reduce waste sent to landfill as the result of a domestic build by 99 per cent – without compromising on quality or aesthetics.

The Tierra 2300 home at Lend Lease’s Atherstone Estate has also set a precedent now being applied as a pilot across all Burbank’s northern region residential projects, and will also form the basis of an industry education program.

The initial project was undertaken in conjunction with partners RMIT University and the Housing Industry Association as part of a feasibility study funded through the Victorian Government’s Beyond Waste Fund. The company’s health, safety and environment manager, Frank Perconte, said the company’s goal now was to spread the message and expand the practises.

“Almost every aspect of the company’s business was a part of the [Zero Waste Home] project,” Mr Perconte said. “Now we are connecting with industry. The key is to share what we have learned with the entire domestic housing industry and encourage people to take it on.”

Burbank is working closely with Sustainability Victoria, and is also planning industry presentations in conjunction with HIA Victoria.

Waste the next sustainability frontier

Mr Perconte said Burbank had always focused on sustainability in design to achieve energy-efficient and water-efficient homes. This project allowed the company to explore the next level of sustainability – minimising waste – while also integrating leaner and more cost-effective opportunities in construction methods and materials.

The project team closely analysed what happens on as building site, identifying stages and methodologies in terms of the potential waste minimisation. Mr Perconte said he believes this could be taken a step further, to look at what the construction supply chain does and find opportunities for improved sustainability throughout the entire supply chain.

Some of the specific measures implemented at South Melton include the choice of a metal roof, which was fabricated to specified lengths offsite, so all waste was collected at the fabricator’s workshop in a metal recycling waste stream.

As a fundamental practice, Burbank prefabricate all the walls for their homes offsite and have them trucked to sites, which makes for more efficient materials selection and usage, and reduces onsite waste streams.

“Because it is a bulk recycling process in a factory, it is more efficient and viable,” Mr Perconte said. “The more you can do offsite, the greater the savings on waste.”

Factory-based fabrication is also computer navigated cutting driven, which works from the CAD drawings to ensure highly accurate and resource-efficient components, with pre-cut service penetrations and precise tolerances.

In the early planning stages, the project team considered a range of design and methodology options, including the “meccano style” home. Mr Perconte said Burbank recognised this was not the type of home customers or the industry is ready for.

“To get short to medium term [sustainability] gains, you have got to look at what the market wants. We decided if we want real change and to make an impact within the next 12 months to five years, we should work with the techniques most people are building now [which is brick veneer]. We wanted to keep the project real, and provide information and learning to the industry and community.

“With design, we aim to make it really appealing. There is no trying to reduce the focus on quality [in prioritising sustainability], as ultimately you have to have a product people love and want to own.

“The good thing about the project is it is a home you can walk into and see and feel. [It shows that] from really good choices we make as a consumer, we can have a good impact on the environment.”

Saving money and reducing waste

One of the major cost-savings the project delivered was in terms of the reduced need for site cleans. Instead of up to four site cleans as is standard for a residential build, this site needed only one, at the completion of construction.

The project team brainstormed with the key trades, and specified changes to practise, such as having the carpenters saw cut bricks for half bricks rather than bolster cutting, which often results in broken bricks and contributes to waste.

Orders were kept specifically to the number of items required. Mr Perconte said, generally, brick suppliers would provide extra to compensate for the fact there is usually a quality issue with a proportion of the bricks. By specifying concrete bricks rather than clay, waste was further reduced, as the concrete bricks are coloured all through, instead of just the face, therefore still being usable even with minor chips.

Sand was delivered in bulk bags, and all suppliers and trades were expected to remove and recycle their own packaging waste. The use of the bulk bags proved to be a key practice which has allowed Burbank to expand the pilot.

Mr Perconte explained that on the northern region sites and selected sites in the urban community side of the business, sand would continue to be delivered in bulk bags, which has the benefit of saving space, cutting waste due to contamination and prevents runoff. Once the house slab is completed, the bulk bags will be used for offcuts from the timber framing, and the bags will be collected for recycling by company trucks making sand deliveries to other sites, as will bulk bags used for brick waste.

If a client specifies a tile roof, the tiler will be expected to bring bulk bags for tile waste, and the plumbers will also bring their own bulk bags for recycling of PVC plastic waste, which Mr Perconte said is mostly packaging rather than pipe.

“If the trial really works over the next four to six months, we will extend it through the rest of the business. This [initiative] does need buy-in from the trades, and for the most part the trades have been fairly good about it,” he said.

The market is responding

The market reaction has also been positive. Mr Perconte said visitors to the zero waste house have commented it is hard to see the waste avoidance measures, as it looks like a normal house and is warm and welcoming. The design aspects that minimised materials, such as not installing cornices or bulkheads, are subtle.

The project has also been connecting with local education institutions, with Bacchus Marsh Year 12 environmental studies students doing a tour and case study, and Kanga Batman Institute also undertaking an education tour.

Mr Perconte believes the project makes a definite contribution to how individuals understand their ability to have a positive impact on the environment.

“[It shows] people can make a real difference in sustainability outcomes through the decisions they make,” he said.