What Does ‘Sustainable Housing’ Really Mean?

25th March 2015

Suzanne Toumbourou, Executive Officer of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, writes in Sourceable (24/3/15):

"Many in the building industry believe sustainability is crucial. Homebuyers and investors agree. But what does ‘sustainability’ actually mean, and how do we measure it? Unfortunately, right now there’s no consistent, Australia-wide method of specifying exactly what sustainability means in practice and how it can be measured.

"We do know that sustainable housing is hugely important in terms of opportunities to save water, waste and energy. For example, ASBEC’s Second Plank Update report found that the building sector contributed over 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with residential buildings responsible for 13 per cent. It’s clear that addressing energy efficiency in our residential sector offers huge opportunities to reduce Australia’s overall emissions.

"When it comes to implementing and measuring sustainability, however, the building industry faces regulatory confusion. The National Energy Efficiency Buildings report, released in late 2014, consulted stakeholders and policymakers from across Australia’s building industry about their experience with sustainability. The report found some very positive trends in energy efficiency in Australia’s building industry. High star rating and zero net energy homes were becoming more available and more affordable. Take-up of rooftop solar installations was increasing among homeowners. Trainees and apprentices were showing more knowledge and interest in sustainable technologies.

"Overall, however, the report found that Australia is falling well short of its sustainability potential. Stakeholders were concerned that compliance with the National Construction Code’s energy performance requirements is generally poor, and that the energy performance of our homes is a long way from best practice. Homeowners and occupiers therefore face higher energy use, emissions and overall costs than they need to, with these costs effectively locked in for the life of the building."

Read the full article at: https://sourceable.net/what-does-sustainable-housing-really-mean/# 

Whilst national standards are a starting point there is a real danger of heading to the lowest common denominator - with average outcomes. Frankly any improvement to the current housing stock would be a good move. Innovative ideas need to be encouraged.

Our goal, at Going Solar, is to try to maximise the amount of sustainability through a portfolio of around 130 concepts. Not all will be suitable for every building - but the more that can be implemented the better.

The basic problem is a lack of knowledge amongst the professions and within the wider community even though many of the sustainability concepts are very simple: like facing buildings in the right direction or maximising the amount of thermal mass, insulation, ventilation and natural lighting.

It’s the rare person that develops a really sustainable house however those who do should not only have lower running costs but also a healthier, more comfortable environment.

Another problem occurs with developers. Firstly they and their architects rarely seem to understand the basic sustainability principles but the real problem is that they develop houses and apartments for sale or lease and they see no advantage in implementing measures to reduce the running costs or improve the comfort levels. Meantime much of the buying public is not savvy enough to appreciate the real advantages of sustainable buildings.

With new developments some Victorian councils required the preparation of a Sustainability Management Plan. This was basically an agreement between all parties (developers, architects, builders, property managers and Council) that listed all of the sustainability measures and to make sure they stayed in place during the construction and operation phases. The process of developing Sustainability Management Plan also helped educate the various parties and explained the rationale for the measures.

Sadly where state and federal governments and local councils don’t show leadership, the building industry tends to look for the easiest path and remove where they can the energy efficiency, energy harvesting and water harvesting measures.


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