Why isn’t Housing Innovative in Australia?

Other industries such as medical science, education and technology are forging ahead with progressive measures. However, housing lags behind citing extra costs, consumers aren’t demanding it and generally taking the very cautious approach.

We are seeing considerable inertia in the take-up to sustainable initiatives in housing.
I believe most people today in some way or another recognise the need to be a little sustainable conscious.  And they believe that companies should be embracing more a sustainable policy to the business practices.

Why is it so hard to build green?

Personally I don’t like to use the term “green building” as the term appears to be kicked around too much and brings to mind different connotations to people. But it is about building an energy efficient house.  Why wouldn’t we jump at that if it paid dividends in lower power bills?

Why wouldn’t that be part of our purchasing decision?

Better technology makes innovations like solar panels cheaper.  Electric heat pump heating and cooling systems and hot water systems are pretty mainstream and very cost effective.

Something so simple in the orientation of your home can create pay back not just in power bills.  Take away the less obvious benefits of a lower power bill, hello it is a more comfortable house to live all year round. When I am judging for the HIA Greensmart Awards, I have owners bragging about the bi monthly power bills between $10 and $40.

Rainwater collection feeds the toilets and washing machines irrigates the garden. Now that is not too hard, is it?

There the little things that can make a difference. What about looking at the bigger picture? Do we need to build double brick just because that is the accepted business model for companies?

Outdated practice.jpg  We are seeing, ever so slowly, the big established builders introducing timber framed homes. Innovative polystyrene cladding is changing the way we construct.

Some simple concepts like the selection of materials which have a recycled content component.  For example, Gyprock has released a plasterboard with high recycled content,
( EC08) but of course it is slighter more expensive. If this was the norm for Builders to specifiy, demand would bring the price down.

It seems counterintuitive that building is not recognising the strong business case of an energy efficient house and taking steps to being environmental responsible to choice of materials.  innovative-cladding-2


Demystifying what is an energy efficient house.

I find there is much confusion to the term 6 star energy efficient standard.  We have in place a requirement by the Building Code of Australia (BCA), which sets out the minimum standards for sustainability.

It works like this on a scale 1 to 10, current minimum requirement is 6.  Roughly equates to the amount of heating and cooling one will need to make the home comfortably for living.  The higher the star the less you need to rely on energy to provide the internal comfort to your home.  So when you look at it, 6 is not that great!   Just over the halfway mark i.e. just over the pass park.

Podium finish

There is no text book per se.  Honestly, there is no straightforward one-size fits all approach to design. An energy efficient house is underpinned by energy efficient features such as site orientation consideration, appropriate selection of windows and shading, right choice of insulation and correct balance of thermal mass together with   extensive use of natural ventilation.

Design-wise the focus will be about the sun and garden, resulting in  a distinctive design that visually connects indoor and outdoor living, utilising passive thermal design principles which will cleverly respond to the northern winter sun and addresses the harsh summer glare and heat.

Two good examples principles of sustainable house

Two cost effective design principles

It is really important to seek professional advice as it seriously does impact on your heating and cooling bills and the value of your investment.

A sustainable home is principally driven by design but it is also about finding ways which industry can collaborate to minimise waste and bring cost effective solutions to availability of alternative building materials.

People say to me green products are too expensive; and they’re too expensive because they aren’t being specified.  Builders can play a major part to break this stalemate.

There are some very cost effective ways to make your house more energy efficient which I will discuss in further articles. Let’s not mince words but right now we are seeing poor performing homes  being built in West Australia; ones that don’t win any medals.

A follow on to Insulation

I had a few comments that Blow In Insulation was not covered, and the pros and cons  were evident when I was  involved with a building inspection yesterday with Rod Harris from the  Building Industry Advisory Services.

There are some advantages of utilising Blow In Insulation (Cellulose is recycled paper with Borax and Boraxic acid added to it for fire and insect protection) with difficult to get to roof spaces, however, if not properly installed i.e, inconsistent coverage, it just does not perform. A 5% gap in insulation can equate to a 50% loss of efficiency.

Sub standard installation

Sub standard installation

A requirement of R4 insulation means 150 mm thickness which covers the joists and there- in provides a problem for any trades coming in after. Batts are easier to lift or shift if new wiring is needed. Most tradespeople will prefer batts if they are working in the roof space.  What we generally see is that owners organise the installation of downlights after handover to save costs.  LED downlights must be installed correctly with shrouds to avoid hotspots and what is going to happen now is that the insulation will be moved around changing the coverage.

As the picture reveals, these owners have poor performing insulation  which is not helping those power bills.  A wasted investment!


How to beat the winter chill!

That’s the city of Perth peaking through the fog this morning.


We have had a cold winter here and everyone is complaining and say it is the coldest winter they can recall.  Brr…!  this morning with the foggy conditions. So while I was out walking on the Darling Escarpment watching the city slowly reveal itself  I thought about something I  feel quite  strongly about. And that is the value of insulation to a home. A sure way for a cosy home in winter and the best fix to reduce heating costs is investing in the installation of insulation.

Properly insulating a home can use about 40 per cent less energy than poor or none at all.  It will pay for itself in five to six years.  The type of insulation used to maximise energy efficiency will be dependent on the design of the house, how it is constructed and where you live.

Just some technical bits

To compare products, you need to know their R values, the measure of resistance to heat flow. The greater the R value, the higher the level of insulation.

Here’s a quick overview of what is available on the market

  • Shiny foils. Reflective insulation consists of layers of foil with air sandwiched in between.  Principally acts as the first line of defence in the roof. Makes sense as it is the hottest part of the house, reducing radiant heat up to 95%.
  • Cavity Wall Insulation. Principally most of the homes in Perth are constructed with double brick walls and Bradford have come up with a specifically designed pliable composite barrier membrane as a cost effective solution.

Bradford EzyCAV™ Cavity Wall Blanket  Check out their site.

  • Batts and blankets are widely available, made of everything from fibreglass or rockwool (volcanic rock melted and spun into fine fibres) to polystyrene boards and loose-fill insulation made from wool or nylon fibres or from cellulose (pulverised waste paper).
  • Bulk insulation works by trapping still air in layers or cells and air is a pretty good insulator. Tontine produces a very environmentally friendly no chemical or toxins which gets a good tick for a healthy house. http://www.tontineinsulation.com.au

How much is enough?

Generally the more R value for a given thickness the more expensive the product.  You do need to factor in that loose fill settles over time reducing the R value.

The extra cost is small in the grand scheme of your build, but a wise investment considering energy prices will continue to rise well above inflation for the foreseeable future.

It’s always wise to have insulation installed professionally to ensure safe installation around electric/hot features and is imperative to eliminate gaps in its coverage, making it worth your investment.

And if you need further advice please contact me Sallyanne Bond www.sabbuildingsolutions.com.au  or  0418857708