Monday, 28 May 2007

Duh! Big houses use more energy

 McMANSIONS lit up like Christmas trees are making a farce of the State Government's green building rules, with new houses guzzling more energy and producing more greenhouse pollution than existing homes.
The byline is from The Age, in Melbourne, Victoria, the first state in Australia to originally introduce mandatory energy efficiency measures for dwellings. The rather breathy recent article goes on to quote a ‘leaked’ report to the state government, suggesting that its current rather stringent approval regime is failing.

The report by Dr George Wilkenfeld notes the by now well known embarrassing fact that ‘energy-related emissions of the average new dwelling are nearly 6 per cent higher than average emissions of existing dwellings’. He makes the rather obvious observation that this may have something to do with the other by now well known fact that ‘floor space has grown by 30 per cent in new dwellings’. I am not sure why this would be news to anyone, or why it had to be ‘leaked’.

But to give George credit, he does make a less obvious link to the amount of energy used by the combination of ostentatious size, and even more ostentatious lighting common these days. Perhaps the Federal Minister for the Environment, Malcolm Turnbull, was right after all, when he summarily announced the imminent ban of incandescent and halogen light bulbs in Australia.

So, what are we going to do about it? Well, according to George, we should consider ‘a benchmark that caps maximum emissions per square meter of floor space, as well as placing "some restraint" on house size’. Note the pussyfooting around the obvious.

Dr George Wilkenfeld was involved from the very beginning in the implementation of Australia’s Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme, and perhaps one of the authors of the MegaJoules per square meter measure of efficiency. At the time, it was thought to be a fair approach, that didn’t discourage larger houses for those who needed them. But it hasn’t worked out that way…..everyone wants their joust not just bigger, but humungous. And the worse news is, that big hoses actually get higher energy efficiency ratings more easily because of that misguided idea.

George just can’t bring himself to say that the only meaningful rating is absolute energy use, either for any dwelling, or per likely occupant.

Dr Wilkenfeld does call for a broader benchmark to calculate emissions from other features, including lighting and fixed appliances such as heaters and ovens. That this too should be news to Victorians is all the more curious, because that is actually the basis of BASIX, the broader ranging sustainability rating framework that their sister state New South Wales adopted some years ago. The only problem is, new houses in Sydney are probably even more ostentatiously energy guzzling than south of the border.

See the full article at

Friday, 25 May 2007

Green building in China

Since it was granted the right to host Olympics in 2001 China has been developing green policies. While this was at first largely a response to the fact that the Sydney Olympics had established environmental sustainability as a ‘third tenet’ of the international Olympics movement, the momentum towards more responsible attitudes to the environment has been building recently.

Green building has been given importance in both China’s 11th Five-Year-Plan and its medium and long-term plan for science and technology development. As noted by Austrade, the Australian agency charged with developing exports in goods and services, some outcomes of this elevated emphasis include:

  • The government will invest approximately US$400 billion on energy efficiency projects before 2010.
  • The government has launched an ambitious plan to renovate existing buildings to make them more energy-efficient. Twenty-five per cent of the buildings in medium-sized cities and 10 per cent of those in small cities will be refurbished by 2020.
  • The government has also indicated it will announce tax rebates and other financial incentives for the construction and purchase of energy efficient buildings in the future.
  • There are 11 'Green Cities' and 140 'Green Building' projects under construction. Australian consultants are scrambling to be involved, and their ability to compete with other international consultants is in no small part due to Australia’s relatively long commitment to developing the tools and regulations for energy efficiency and other sustainability measures in buildings.

How ironic therefore to contrast the scope of China’s initiatives, with the miniscule spending by the Australian government on its much trumpeted Solar Cities program (see my last post), and how disturbing that Prime Minister Howard has again suggested that Australians will have to choose at the next elections between more stringent green policies put forward by the opposition parties, and economic viability.

China is more usually seen as the dirty bogey man willing to endure environmental degradation. Given that even the Chinese government has realised that environmental degradation and energy waste are obstacles to China’s economic growth, I can only wonder how long it will take our blinkered government to come to the same conclusion.

Read the Austrade briefing here:

Adaptable reuse in Canberra

A strange way, perhaps to start a blog for a consultant architect in Sydney, Australia . . . publicising the work of another consultant! But it so happens that this little piece of work stands for everything I believe in.

My old friend and sometime collaborator Nino Bellantonio has just become 'almost famous' for a humble alteration and addition that embodies all the best principles of sensible sustainable design. As Nino says in introduction:

Adaptive reuse is the single best way to achieve energy efficiency in building. Too often buildings are demolished senselessly because their potential is unrecognized. Not only is the enormous amount of embodied energy in those buildings destroyed, but a great deal of energy is also expended in the demolition and disposal process. It doesn’t end there of course: energy efficient measures also have to be considered in the refurbishment.

And in this little house, they are. The main point of interest is the way an old house of truly terrible construction (single skin dense concrete) has been transformed by wrapping it economically in multiple skins and spaces.....sort of an adaptation of Japanese traditions. A variety of well placed specialised glazings maximise solar gains and flood ancilliary spaces with welcome light. Small things like a new floor laid over the old improve the general thermal properties of the previously famously hot and cold construction.