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

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