At last, after 12 long years we could finally see some improvement in the energy efficiency requirements for housing. Thanks to state and territory energy ministers and, hopefully, the building ministers meeting on Friday in Hobart.
The federal government is still fighting the notion that climate change calls for urgent action. This is despite floods in Townsville, fires in Tasmania, drought devastating our food bowls and big swathes of Australia suffering through the hottest two months on record (December and January), threatening health and lives.
The appalling quality of much of our residential building stock exposes people everywhere to huge energy bills, and serious health and safety impacts as they battle climate extremes.
Yet the intransigence of toxic politics in Canberra and fierce determination by the lobby groups for small and volume builders to resist change means energy stringency requirements in the National Construction Code for housing has not changed since 2010.
Previously, upgrades were every year.
But on Tuesday state and territory energy ministers ignored the quagmire and agreed to set their buildings on track for net zero energy. They agreed to a Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings. On Friday the building ministers will hammer out the details of how this will look through upgrades to the NCC.
We will finally see an upgrade to the energy stringency in NCC 2022 with further increases in 2025 for both residential and commercial buildings.
The end goal is net zero energy by 2050.
A Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings is a big win for the coalition of built environment advocates who’ve been working ridiculously hard to steer a more sustainable path for this industry. Groups such as the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, ClimateWorks and Renew (formerly the Alternative Technology Association) in particular.
ASBEC and ClimateWorks Australia said on Tuesday that the trajectory proposes a pathway towards “zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings”, increases to the energy efficiency provisions in the National Construction Code and further consideration of options for existing buildings.
ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou said more energy efficient homes and commercial buildings can deliver more resilience to extreme weather, better comfort and reduce stress on the electricity grid, providing an imperative to act now on improving the energy performance of our building stock.
“Almost all buildings built today will still be operating in 2050, at a time when Australia will need to be at or near net zero emissions,” Ms Toumbourou said.
The “trajectory” aligns closely with ASBEC and ClimateWorks’s recent report Built to Perform – An industry led pathway to a zero carbon ready building code.
Chair of ASBEC’s Building Code Task Group and President of the Energy Efficiency Council, Professor Tony Arnel said a COAG commitment would provide certainty for the construction industry.
“If developers and manufacturers know how the code requirements will evolve over the next 15 years, this will provide the regulatory certainty industry needs to plan and invest in new technologies, delivering higher building energy performance at lower cost,” he said.
GBCA head of public affairs & membership Jonathan Cartledge said the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings outlined a staged approach to strengthening the carbon and energy efficiency requirements of the NCC, and calls for “substantial” updates to energy efficiency provisions in the NCC in 2022 and 2025 before increasingly stringent requirements every three years to keep pace with better technology and changing energy prices.
“We call on Building Ministers to support the delivery of this trajectory through a commitment to the regulatory measures necessary to provide certainty for the construction industry while lowering emissions, saving money, and delivering healthier, more comfortable buildings for all of us,” Mr Cartledge said.
Academics call for building measures with impact
Meanwhile, a group of academics from the University of South Australia has pointed out how dangerous and costly extreme weather can be for people living in poor quality homes.
UniSA Professor of environmental mathematics John Boland said “our increasing reliance on airconditioning is causing untold damage to the environment, emitting greenhouse gases and warming the globe even more.
“What’s needed are brand new building codes which make things like wall insulation, double glazing and restrictions on window placement mandatory for all new homes.
“Simply complying with a 6-star rating (the current requirement) is useless because not only is that energy rating rarely checked; it does not consider climate change.
“Moreover, since the star rating is done on total energy use over the year, a design can be highly rated based on its energy use in winter. The house can still cause a lot of heat stress in summer.
“We need to get away from this idea that everything is voluntary in relation to building codes. Alternative energy sources like solar are great, but nothing beats a good design.”
And it doesn’t have to cost a lot, contrary to popular belief.
“Getting the aspect and materials right should be the first priorities. Simple things like ensuring houses have less than a quarter of their windows on the west-facing side; installing wall as well as roof insulation; and double or even triple glazing windows should be considered. The energy savings will more than offset any upfront costs,” he said.