A new report claims that Australia's building industry suffers from endemic shortcomings when it comes to energy performance, resulting in widespread failure to meet prevailing efficiency criteria.

A government-commissioned report has issued a scathing assessment of energy performance throughout Australia’s building industry.

The National Energy Efficiency Building Project examined entrenched problems and industry-wide compliance issues in relation to the National Construction Code’s energy performance demands.

The review by pitt&sherry and Swinburne University of Technology engaged over 1000 stakeholders throughout the country  in order to assess the energy efficiency of Australia’s built environments, reaching the conclusion that there exist “a very large number of concerns” in relation to the satisfaction of existing energy benchmarks.

Participants in the study claim that the Australian building industry suffers from a “culture of sign-offs” throughout the entire length of the supply chain, leading to endemic non-compliance with energy performance criteria.

According to the review the end result is a “pervasive culture of mediocre energy performance across the Australian building industry.”

“These concerns appear systemic in nature, in that they cover all aspects of the building supply chain and regulatory process and all building types,” said the review.”Further, there was a remarkable degree of consistency in the views expressed and issues raised in all states and territories, despite widely varying building markets and conditions.”

Problems are particularly acute in the residential sector, where properties frequently fall short of six-star NatHERS energy efficiency requirements.

Lower and mid-tier buildings in the commercial sector also suffer from a widespread failure to satisfy minimum requirements for energy performance.

According to the review the industry’s negligent attitude towards energy performance is the result of the general perception that the market is largely indifferent to the issue, and instead more preoccupied with the superficial appearance and resale value of properties.

“The risks of corner-cutting are likely being raised by a widespread view…that house buyers are largely uninterested in energy efficiency outcomes,” said the review. “Many industry professionals noted that this routinely translates into energy efficient designs or inclusions being ‘traded away’ during the design process, or not being specified in the first place.”

Interviewees reported that substitution of low efficiency products or systems is a frequent problem – in particular high-efficiency glazing.

The industry is also of the general opinion that neglecting energy efficiency requirements is a low risk business that can be pursued with near “impunity,” as consumers are uneducated about such issues and the likelihood of regulatory enforcement is low.

On the other side of the enforcement equation, the review found that state government regulators confirmed the perceptions of members of industry, complaining of insufficient funding to properly undertake key duties such as audits, and low concern for energy efficiency or environmental issues within the market.

“The review team formed the view that regulator, industry, consumer and government views appear to be reinforcing each other and contributing to an overall culture of low energy performance,” said the review.

Other problems highlighted by the review include a focus on “as designed” instead of “as built performance,” causing regulators to give more attention to the documentation behind buildings than to the actual structures themselves;  as well as lack of effective verification for the energy efficiency of building products, a shortcoming highlighted by the long-standing existence of criteria for white goods.