Australian homes are poised to become more sustainable, thanks to the Green Building Council of Australia’s draft Green Star for Homes standard.

Australia’s largest volume builder Metricon is committed to a demo project, as well as a new product line which corresponds with the Green Star standard for healthful, resilient, net zero homes.

The GBCA head of market transformation Jorge Chapa said that his council is psyched regarding the standard (presently being drafted and due to be submitted for public consultation in July/August) and states that it has received a positive response from stakeholders. He states that it’s been drawing international heed.

Particularly popular is the Green Star stamp-of-approval, by way of a standard as opposed to a rating tool with multiple stars.

Chapa states that this system, which plainly confirms that a home is healthy, resilient to climate change and net zero, helps to clarify matters for the industry and consumers.

Fresh research has revealed how perplexing standing sustainability benchmarking systems are. A paper released by University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland researchers uncovered systemic mishandling of rating tools, especially the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NaTHERS).

Homes are ranked from 10 on energy efficiency, with six stars the regulatory minimum required of the majority of new Australian residences. This may seem clear cut, but things get confusing when one considers the multitude of other rating tools for building energy that rate buildings on a scale of six.

In addition, most assume that rating schemes are based on a scale of five, like the hotel rating system.

This has produced what many regard as an unintended misuse of energy rating systems by volume builders in their marketing materials, with most labelling their products unofficially sometimes, suggesting that 6-star NaTHERS is promoting optimum energy performance as opposed to the legal minimum.

UniMelb PhD candidate Erika Bartak, who co-wrote the new research with UniMelb property lecturer Georgia Warren-Myers and QUT legal lecturer Lucy Cradduck, states that the established set up for home energy ratings is a perplexing one.

She states that not even those highly knowledgeable industry insiders may know that six stars NaTHERS is the minimum standard. Many that she has spoken to believe that the standing rule is a stringent one, considering that the minimum has shot up from 3 to 6 stars.

GBCA’s Jorge Chapa agrees that bewilderment regarding rating schemes in the housing market is easy to comprehend, providing that the minimum NaTHERS standard has raised from 3 stars to 6. That’s why his organisation has elected to adopt a standard as opposed to a rating tool.

Metricon design director Adrian Popple, who is guiding the Green Star for Homes pilot program for his firm, favours the concept of a simplified standard that indicates to customers whether a house is sustainable, healthful and resilient—one not overly scientific or complex in nature.

Researchers from UniMelb and QUT advised that both NatHERS and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission examine the issue of misused energy performance labels.

The NatHERS administrator, a division of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, has indicated that it is taking action on this misuse.

The task of resolving these issues falls to the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

This common responsibility is owed to the manner in which compliance with the National Construction Code (which acknowledges NatHERS-accredited software as one of four methods for compliance with the technical specifications for energy efficiency) is the duty of every state and territory.

Elevating consumer awareness shares the agenda for NatHERS by way of programs such as Your Home, as it is requiring the employment of specific and verifiable ratings by companies. Yet the majority of the legislative powers needed to remedy deceptive advertising are mandated through Australian Consumer Law.

Researchers indicate that other ways of marketing sustainability and energy efficiency are problematic as well. The majority of volume builders promote the high energy performance of a home as merely a supplement to a more glamorous home feature, like a fancy home cinema.

Chapa says that perfecting the Green Star for Homes standard will be critical to its lasting prosperity.

The GBCA is advancing with a program of early access pilot projects intended to test the new standard. Metricon, Chatham Homes, Delos, Development Victoria, HEZ Development, Ingenia Communities, New South Homes, Rawson Homes and Stockland are designated program participants.

Taking into account the results of this program, the voluntary standard will be refined and verified for the purposes of real-world applications.

While Chapa concedes that the standard is an advanced and initially costly one, the standard has been cultivated with an eye to how volume builders do their jobs.

The option of building Green Star verified homes as per a formula will be there, Chapa said, but the standard will offer the flexibility for a Passive House Certified house to meet net zero and health criteria, although their resiliency must be proven.

While volume house builders are essential, the support of banks, insurance companies and customers is also crucial.

Chapa states that the means of communicating and conveying the standard was valuable, with differing parts of the plan appealing to differing stakeholders.

Insurance companies value resilience, banks value energy efficiency, and citizens value health and wellbeing.

Metricon’s Adrian Popple asserts that the marketing of sustainability must emphasise the relatable concepts of healthfulness and resiliency to attract buyers in the volume home market, along with climate change and sustainability—hot button issues in the wake of the bushfires and COVID-19.

He notes his firm’s offered “sustainability pack”, featuring solar, energy efficient appliances and traction.

Packages range in price from $1500 to $30,000. Yet with more volume builders jumping into the sustainability game, adapting Green Star for Homes in the process, the cost is bound to go down.

The company is collaborating with Sustainability Victoria on the state government’s Zero Net Carbon Homes pilot program to cultivate and market carbon-neutral residences in Victoria.

Chapa feels that builders yearn to produce more sustainable homes, and not just as an act of conscience.

The major companies have come to the realisation that the market demands sustainability, via a national plan cemented by energy ministers in February 2019, that establishes a trajectory in the direction of zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings.

And due to the bushfire issue, the finance and insurance sectors are promoting more resilient residences protected from future effects of climate change.

The Green Star standard will highlight new homes in its initial phase, but the tool eventually be applied to existing homes as well.

Chapa says that while most emissions in the residential realm arise from standing homes, a voluntary standard is limited to transform that which already exists.

In regards to new builds, the organisation is specifying several thousand builders but for existing residences, the participation of millions of people is needed. Chapa states that government regulation, like mandatory disclosing of energy ratings, is a solid first step in this direction.