Seven-star energy ratings for new homes

New code to make houses greener

Garden design guru Jamie Durie has joined forces with Victorian builder Chatham Homes to champion greener building

From October 2023, new residential builds must meet a 7-star energy efficiency rating - as opposed to the current minimum of 5.5 - which could mean adding solar panels to roofs, increasing insulation or converting gas hot water systems to a heat pump system.

The minimum 7-star energy rating requirement for newly built homes are part of the agreed changes to the National Construction Code that experts say will cut home energy bills.

While the 7-star standard focuses on the building shell, a separate change will also recognise the inclusion of energy-efficient appliances.

There is no checklist of features to create a seven-star home and the requirements can vary based on whether it is in a cool climate, and needs heating, or a hot climate, and needs cooling.

Instead, a new home's design is run through computer software that assigns it a rating from 0, a tent, to 10, a home so comfortable in all seasons that the occupants might not need to use heating or cooling. A 7-star home needs about 25 to 30% less energy consumption for heating and cooling than a 6-star home.

The new code was expected to reduce emissions by 1.64 million tonnes and would assist in Australia reaching its goal of net zero by 2050.

Under the changes, new homes would also need to be built to a "silver standard" of accessibility. This means, in addition to at least one step-free entry into the home, increasing the width of internal walkways to fit a wheelchair or walking frame, and a toilet on the entry level.

Master Builders Queensland CEO Paul Bidwell has been critical of the time frame. He believes it would place additional strain on an industry already struggling with a 30% increase in supply costs, and a pipeline of work beginning to slow. He said:

It's breathtakingly stressful. [Builders] are going to have to change the way they do their business.
October 2023 is not that far away and right now they're dealing with all sorts of other pressures. They just don't need that now.

The Property Council of Australia welcomed the decision to lift the energy efficiency standards, saying the changes to the construction code represented the first significant adjustment in a decade. Council chief executive Ken Morrison said:

It is great, that after years of work and advocacy on this matter, ministers have made the commitment to improve the efficiency of all new homes built in Australia.
Lifting the energy rating from 6 to 7 stars has the potential to slash the average household energy bill by up to $576 a year, so for homeowners and renters alike, a 7- star home means big savings, as well as higher levels of comfort.

Sustainable building expert Dr Trivess Moore, of RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), said the case for energy-efficient homes had existed for years but the property industry was reluctant to change.

The fact that standards haven't changed since 2012 is pretty poor, when you consider there are other jurisdictions around the world that require new houses to be net-zero. You don't even need to reinvent the wheel - we know what to be doing; it's just people have been choosing not to, and consumers don't understand.

Dr Moore said there would be a brief adjustment period for the construction industry - which could involve higher costs, additional training and education - but developers would adjust.

We have the skills and knowledge, the technology, design and materials, and examples of doing this at a much higher standard. The argument put forward by those in the industry, who don't want to see change, is consumers will choose a more efficient, effective, sustainable house if they value it. The problem is sustainable housing [can be] quite complex in terms of how to deliver it ... It's not as simple as solar panels.

Chatham Homes

Award-winning landscape designer and environmental advocate, Jamie Durie has been announced as Chatham Homes brand ambassador in a partnership focused on encouraging more sustainable, healthy and climate resilient homes.

Chatham Homes managing director Bradley Hall said Mr Durie's passion for sustainable design and living made him the perfect partner for Chatham.

Jamie Durie is an Australian design icon with more than 24 years of experience crafting spaces that not only improve the lives of those who live in them, but also the environment. This is also what drives Chatham Homes.

Mr Durie has more than 40 international design awards to his name and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2013 in recognition of his commitment to and work in the environmental sector spanning 29 years. He said:

I was hugging trees long before climate change and sustainability were on the global radar. And I know there's never been a more important time to address a more sustainable way to live and build our homes.

The horticulturalist and author of 12 best-selling design books said he was thrilled to partner with his first home builder, and one that was creating healthier, more energy and cost-efficient homes at prices Australian families could afford.

The team at Chatham is doing an incredible job using the latest environmental technology and best quality practices to not only tread more lightly on the environment but to demystify the art of green building.
Together, we will challenge the industry and raise awareness for sustainable practices in home building for consumers. It's our shared goal that more Australian builders follow these green initiatives to build a better future for Australia.

Mr Hall said encouraging the home construction industry to do better to confront the challenges of living in a changing climate was also high on the partnership agenda. He hoped the partnership with Mr Durie would also raise awareness about the potential harms that existed within many homes.

Many people are unaware just how harmful issues like poor indoor air quality, the use of gas appliances and the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paints, conventional flooring, carpets and cabinetry can be.

He said most new homes were not being built for maximum resilience against the impacts of climate change, with just 1.5% of new builds achieving a 7.5+ star energy efficiency rating under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS).

Chatham Homes' Blackwood display home at Ballarat's Lucas estate has an 8.2 star energy rating, while its Arlington display home in the Attwell estate at Deanside, in Melbourne's west, has a 7.2 star rating.

  • Sources: AAP Australian National News Wire, ABC North QLD, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald
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