Flaws with Australian Energy-efficient Building Standards 2

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Sunday, February 1st, 2015
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The report has outlined a disturbing number of serious concerns about attitudes and compliance with Australia’s National Construction Code in relation to the energy efficiency requirements for new buildings and renovations in Australia.

The report has outlined a disturbing number of serious concerns about attitudes and compliance with Australia’s National Construction Code in relation to the energy efficiency requirements for new buildings and renovations in Australia.

The report is a joint project by pitt&sherry, an Australian national infrastructure consultancy, and the Swinburne University of Technology.

The report outlines the findings from a national review of issues relating to energy efficiency in Australian buildings and, according to the report’s introduction, ‘reflects longstanding concerns that compliance with the National Construction Code may be poor.’

The review engaged with more than 1000 individuals, professions, companies, industry groups, regulators and policy makers across Australia, including building designers and architects, and considered all building types and the specific circumstances of all states and territories.

According to the Executive Summary of the report: ‘Many stakeholders believe that Code compliance is poor and, further, that Australia’s building energy performance falls a long way short of best practice.’

‘.. 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.

‘During the review, virtually all stakeholders consulted confirmed this view, but it was beyond our terms of reference to quantify the extent of compliance or non- compliance,’ said the report’s authors.

The report found that market forces, poorly defined policies, a lack of knowledge management frameworks in the building industry and poor regulatory enforcement were not encouraging good energy performance – and in many cases acted to effectively undermine compliance with the Code.

‘The net result is a pervasive culture of mediocre energy performance across the Australian building industry,’ stated the report, although it did point out some exceptions to this, mainly at the premium end of the building market.

‘The outcome for building owners and occupants in Australia is likely to be higher energy use, higher emissions and higher overall costs,’ said the report authors – a consequence in stark contrast to the stated intentions of the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, and one that would appear almost bizarre in the face of rising temperatures and projected increases in power bills in the future.

‘Designers were well represented in the consultation processes for the review, and generally expressed high levels of knowledge about and support for energy efficiency,’ the report said.

However ‘Many professionals reported that consumers’ interests are overwhelmingly focused on achieving a certain “look”, along with considerations of resale value, but interpret affordability or value for money in terms of “getting the biggest/best house for my budget”, and not in terms of the lifecycle costs of house ownership.’

Even potentially zero cost or cost-saving design solutions were often rejected, claimed the report.

‘Those purchasing new homes or buildings are made aware of the building’s (claimed) energy performance rating, as this is a required step in the building design and construction process.

‘However, it was reported by energy assessors that consumers widely treat this requirement as a compliance and cost burden, rather than an opportunity to minimise the lifetime running costs of the building.’

In addition to the lack of public interest in energy efficiency, the poor enforcement of regulations was also a major contributing factor to the low levels of genuine energy efficiency, according to the report.

‘.. designers were often critical of the attitudes encountered in the supply chain,’ explained the report authors.

‘They noted in particular the frequency with which builders, and/or their clients, remove energy efficiency features or designs either before or after certification of designs.’

The report stated that: ‘A key view expressed to the review team is that the industry perceives little risk that cutting corners on energy performance will be discovered or, if it is, that there will be any serious consequences.’

The report also found that in some cases, designers, consumers and builders are working together to actively undermine compliance with the Code, pointing to corruption and collusion.

It found that designs may include ‘.. features [that] may be necessary to enable the design (not the building) to achieve the mandatory performance standard (e.g, 6 stars), but may be prepared with the tacit understanding that either the client, or the builder, or both by agreement, will actually substitute more conventional and lower performance solutions, leaving the building “as built” below the expected performance benchmark, and potentially by a large margin.’

You can download the full report here, which the South Australian government disclaimer says does ‘not necessarily reflect the views of the South Australian or other Governments.’

And in the meantime, a survey by Australian building product manufacturer CSR of 120 Americans and Europeans now living in Australia, says that over 70 per cent of the recent immigrants reported finding that Australian homes had markedly poorer energy efficiency than the homes they had lived in overseas.

Seventy-five per cent thought Australian homes were colder in winter, 70 per cent thought overseas homes were better in acoustics, airflow and temperature, and 74 per cent thought that Australian homes were less well insulated.

The only area where Australian homes beat their overseas counterparts was in aesthetics.

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  1. Mike Kenna

    Having worked in the commerical property sector for 30 years I have no doubt that the issuing of energy star ratings is corrupt.
    Tenants are so influenced by the building's star ratings when deciding on which buildings they lease that the building owners & managing agents will commit data forgery to obtain the figures they require to improve the sites NABERS ratings.
    These days it's happening in alot of industies such as the Car Industry where VW are prepared to do "anything" to get the results they want, stuff the enviroment. Think about it ! ……….we're talking about the local Real Estate industry………… say no more.

  2. mark whitby

    Good article,

    There is also a lot of non-compliance with these (you say inadequate) rating reports that may be of interest.

    How the building performs and the excessive need for air conditioning are often related to poor insulation installations, particularly for single storey concrete slab houses and part-two storey houses.

    Firstly, the lack of closing off the gaps around the perimeter of the second storey floor where it is exposed to roof space air is often so poorly done, that hot roof space air is free to circulate over the unprotected lower storey ceilings reducing the performance to a pittance for all rooms under the second storey, and therefore nothing like the ratings report.

    Secondly, and particularly for single storey concrete slab houses, where all of the pipes must be laid through the roof space, and the truss bottom chords are stiffened by battens every 4 metres or so longitudinally: ceiling space insulation batts are draped over these obstacles instead of over them, so permitting the hot air to enter the gaps formed. Add to this the gaps at sides of batts alongside unusually spaced trusses and we also have a vast reduction in the rating… again in addition to what you are saying is due to the ratings reports.