in Greener Homes on 20 November 2011
The eco-standard of houses will be made public at sale or lease
IF you buy a car, you can easily find out its fuel efficiency. But what about a house? The ongoing costs and eco-impacts of existing buildings vary widely, but it’s hard for would-be buyers or renters to know what we’re in for.
In early 2009, state and federal governments agreed that a dwelling’s energy, greenhouse and water performance should be publicised at the point of sale and lease. Since then, however, not much has happened.
The policy is known as “residential building mandatory disclosure”. The name may be uninspiring, but if the reform is handled well, it could prompt a big change in household energy and water consumption.
While the details haven’t been set, the approach will be broader than the current star ratings. As well as the building fabric, it is likely to cover heating, cooling and hot water systems, together with lighting, clothes drying, rainwater tanks and water fittings, and a list of recommended upgrades.
Tim Adams, president of the Building Designers Association Victoria, says the scheme shouldn’t be compared to fuel efficiency in cars; rather, he likens it to a roadworthy certificate.
“We have consumer protection measures in place for all sorts of products. Mandatory disclosure should be seen as a kind of roadworthy check – and in this case we’re talking about protecting investments of several hundred thousand dollars,” he says.
“Unfortunately, we have a large quantity of building stock that was built before any energy efficiency provisions began. This is a way of informing us what the costs will be in our next house.”
Mr Adams argues that it will help people better judge the worth of the homes they’re inspecting.
“We’ve been lazy due to the cheapness of coal-fired electricity and natural gas,” he says. “In the future, when energy isn’t as abundant or cheap, we’ll need to be increasingly aware of these issues so we can value houses properly before we buy or rent.”
So how will it work?
In July, the federal government released a regulatory impact statement and sought feedback on different designs for the scheme. It detailed six proposals, ranging from a comprehensive, independent assessment, to an optional, self-assessed checklist.
The scheme’s success will depend on the quality of information required. The more rigorous options would be the most useful for buyers, but cost more upfront.
Some environment groups have criticised the report’s modelling, arguing it failed to factor in the health benefits of higher standards, or the avoided expense of new electricity infrastructure.
In its submission, the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors proposed a hybrid option, in which householders could choose among three tiers. Only people who opt for the most comprehensive version would be eligible to receive the highest rating.
Mr Adams’ association, which also accredits sustainability assessors, supports a system of compulsory self-assessment, at a minimum. The weaker proposals, such as an optional tick list, would be a waste of time. “The information needs to be consistent and people should be obliged to provide it,” he says.
“It’s in nobody’s interests to end up with the status quo. We need to do something about climate change and energy efficiency, so we need to start making some progress.”
Once the various governments agree on the scheme’s design, it will be up to the states and territories to enact the rules.