One of Australia’s first specialist passive house consultancies Grün Consulting is looking to hire a building sustainability professional with a background in building physics, after Clare Parry formerly with Umow Lai, established the company in February this year.
Ms Parry said business has boomed, with 10 projects currently on the books, including Melbourne University’s Wade Institute for Entrepreneurship building, the redevelopment of University College student accommodation, the expansion of the heritage Hopetoun Tea Rooms in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade and number of private homes.
Ms Parry said the majority of the projects, including the two at Melbourne University aim to achieve Passivhaus certification.
The Passivhaus approach focuses on paring back materials and ensuring a high performing thermal envelope including elements such as insulation, building sealing and effective orientation. It also prioritises simplicity in building systems and technology and a high quality indoor environment through ventilation.
“With the colleges, it’s about paring back the design, making it fresh, clean, light and bright. The building will have simple ventilation systems that work for uninformed users,” Ms Parry said.
“Users can have a huge impact on how a building performs.”
She said Passivhaus, an an “as-built” guarantee of building performance, was one of the key motivators for projects to engage with the standard.
“There is more of a focus on indoor environmental quality and outcomes,” she said.
“There is also a demand for efficiency.”
She said it was also about “paring back the kinds of technological fixes that are being thrown at a poorly designed building.”
One of the outcomes of applying the simplified design principles was large commercial buildings like Wade Institute could utilise domestic-scale energy-efficient split system airconditioners, something she says would “never have even been on the table” otherwise.
The thermal performance of the buildings, and the use of heat recovery ventilation systems, along with more passive measures such as fans and design for cross-ventilation also minimised mechanical cooling or heating required.
As prices shifted downwards for some of the key materials and building technologies, the standard was becoming more achievable at less of a premium, she said.
The market in general, however, had not developed a wide understanding of the value of the standard, except for the private residential sector.
“It has taken off in houses – it particularly appeals to owner-occupiers – as they can see the sense in spending more in terms of their capital investment.”
Many Passivhaus projects naturally moved towards Net Zero Energy, Carbon Neutral and even Plusenergiehaus [Net Positive Energy buildings], Ms Parry said.
Ratings categories reflected this – Classic, Plus and Premium.
“We need to focus on the outcomes and many more people are realising this. The demand is being reflected in things like mandatory disclosure for commercial and residential buildings, as well as tools such as Green Star Performance.
“The mindset is shifting from cost to value, and we’re not just chasing something that meets code, people want something that meets their expectations. We are undergoing an overhaul to our approach to good and sustainable building practices. We also need to look past a small premium in capital cost; this will disappear over time.”
Ms Parry said that recent studies including a South Australian state government inquiry into building energy in late 2014 have highlighted the poor performance of Australian buildings. The SA inquiry found many projects were not even meeting basic building code requirements.
“Even with regulation, things aren’t improving much. There is a recent dip in performance with our buildings, there are studies showing that century-old homes are actually more efficient than many new buildings, providing greater occupant comfort.
The regulatory intent has been lost, it’s time for clients to realise that the real incentive is getting what you pay for. There is also the end of the market who have been seeking, for some time, a way to ensure that this happens.”