Australia should implement a consistent framework with regard to ratings tools for the sustainability of housing, a key industry leader says.

Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) president professor Ken Maher says that with housing accounting for around 13 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of the residential sector in terms of not only improving the cost and quality of living but also meeting Australia’s overall targets with regard to greenhouse gas emission reductions could not be understated.

But he said a plethora of ratings and measurement tools resulted in confusion amongst consumers, and that the nation lacked a coherent framework for sustainability in the design and construction of new dwellings.

“The industry is clear,” Maher said. “We need governments to work with us to implement a nationally harmonised sustainability ratings framework for houses.”

The call comes amid ongoing criticism of Australia’s performance in terms of the delivery of outcomes with regard to the environmental aspects of new construction – particularly in the residential sector.

A report by building surveying outfit Pitt & Sherry and Swinburne University of Technology last January talked of a ‘widespread culture of sign-offs’ and a ‘pervasive culture of mediocre performance’ having led to endemic non-conformance with energy performance criteria.

In a discussion paper accompanying Maher’s call, ASBEC said Australia’s current framework with regard to delivering sustainable outcomes in residential building suffered from a number of shortcomings.

With regard to the National House Energy Rating Scheme, there was a lack of consistency across NatHERS assessors along with conflicts of interest surrounding an incentive for energy raters to provide results which the builder wants as opposed to necessarily representing the best interests of consumers.

There were also issues regarding a lack of consumer understanding of the tool along with the fact that the tool essentially deals with the thermal performance of the building shell but does not incorporate other sustainability elements.

Finally, while each of the different rating tools had their strengths, the plethora of initiatives and tools available added confusion to the market, ASBEC says.

Maher says a harmonised framework was needed, specifying minimum performance standards in new buildings, benchmarks for market comparison of best practice sustainability performance and communication messages explaining the value of sustainability features to renovators and homebuyers.

He says now is the time to build upon recent momentum with regard to improving the built environment.

“We know the Turnbull government is committed to improving Australia’s built environment,” Maher said. “The very welcome creation of Australia’s first federal ministry for Cities and the Built Environment showed that.

“Now it’s time to act on the building industry’s recommendations and deliver the right tools for measuring housing sustainability.”

  • Like many countries Australia had to be seen to be doing something about its climate change commitments while of course avoiding upsetting the well entrenched building industry and its practices, amongst all the other stakeholders who are not to be disturbed. Therefore NatHERS and its babies and the extremely narrow intent of perceived lower carbon output. Perceived reductions, as the whole thing is a myth as not even the carbon reduction can be proven to exist.
    Human health should be the starting point and the end game in assessing building performance, and only when this is acceptable should the broader environmental impact be considered with energy being only one of the criterion.
    Unhealthy buildings, homes especially, that are in daily use actually energy hungry are not sustainable and will eventually cost the country dearly.

  • From my experience, one of the confusing aspects are large corporations marketing there new improved products at ever increasing rates, to gain market advantage. Which is fine, but, what happens to the superseded product I just used. I understand to move forward, we need change but really! I would like to see more stability in product adoption.

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