Is development the solution to sustainability?
Passive House (or Passivhaus) building standard is showing customers and developers what's possible when it comes to sustainable building design and the journey towards net zero.
Over the coming decades, Australia’s population is set to swell. By 2050, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tips the latest count of around of 26 million will increase to somewhere between 34m- 41m people. By the same date, Australia has enshrined in law a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
On one hand, millions of extra people are going to need somewhere to live — and millions of new homes are going to need to be constructed to house them. On the other, the country needs to find ways to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint and embrace a more sustainable way of living.
So, how are we going to get there?
Interest in more sustainable housing is exploding. Photo: Five Farms Sales & Display Centre
For the average Australian home buyer, sustainable features are no longer considered to be bonus extras — they’re now very much integral components of a desirable home.
In PropTrack’s new Energy Efficient Housing Report, the majority of respondents (56%) listed energy-efficient home features as extremely important — an increase of 17% year-on-year.
“We know the consumers’ mindset is shifting,” Eleanor Creagh, senior economist at realestate.com.au, explains. “We know that potentially as our population matures, that shift and the popularity of eco-friendly features is only going to grow.”
While environmental concerns are front of mind for consumers, so too are economic ones. The rising costs of living — particularly around fuel and electricity prices — led to a 39% increase in survey respondents saying “reducing the likelihood of bill shock” was a major factor in their interest in energy efficiency.
Solar power is the most popular feature among survey respondents, followed by efficient lighting, insulation and air flow.
However, when it comes to actual search terms on realestate.com.au, solar power is the standout leader, with more than 90% of searches for energy efficiency related terms.
Since 2013, new homes must meet a minimum Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) rating of 6 stars. But the demand for sustainable housing is driving new and exciting efforts from home developers, who are pushing the boundaries of green building solutions.
Learning and experimenting
The goal to go green has seen developers reimagine what sustainable home designs look like, explains Clare Parry, sustainability director at Development Victoria. The goal is to make architectural and technological innovations that can be integrated across the next generation of housing.
“The great thing about the movement of sustainability or the evolution in the last 10 years is that we've gone to the areas of innovation and realizing opportunity,” Parry says.
“Developers have the ability to test, change, to prototype innovation and to really influence the delivery at scale.”
Forward-thinking developers aren’t just looking at the basics such as energy, heating and cooling, but the holistic composition of factors that make a home sustainable. These factors could be location, materials and use of smart technology to monitor energy use in real time.
Frasers Property Australia has been testing and learning what features make the most sustainable housing product through its Passive House project at Life, Point Cook.
In a first for a major Australian developer, the project officially achieved Passive House Plus certification — one of the world’s most progressive sustainable building benchmarks.
The Passive House sustainable building standard originated in Germany and is already well-established in Europe. However, the Passive House at Life marks the first time a major Australian developer has achieved certification.
Passive House at Life, Point Cook project looks at how a net zero home design could be brought to the masses.
The Passive House is built with a net-zero focus, aiming to generate at least as much power — and potentially more — from rooftop solar panels as is required to run the home. The design emphasises energy efficient features such as window glazing, insulation and airtight seals to help better regulate the internal temperature of the home, reducing heating and cooling costs.
The Passive House project at Life, Point Cook has measured the new design side-by-side with its regular product offer to not only gather data on the costs and power required to run the home, but also metrics related to the health and wellbeing of residents.
Parry says the project will create fascinating insights into how home builders can achieve net-zero housing which will be able to be implemented in future developments.
“The Frasers Property Passive House project was the first effort to test the Passive House product in the volume market,” she says. “We know how far we have to go, but I think we are starting to establish how we're going to get there.”
Sustainable design for everyone
The goal isn’t just to advocate for the benefits of sustainable home designs for the average buyer, but also to help take the broader industry on the sustainability journey so that best practices spread, explains Kate Nason, Sustainability Advisor at Frasers Property Australia.
Industry tours of the Passive House project have been hosted to share the knowledge that they have gained with industry peers.
“Essentially, we're all trying to achieve the same thing,” Nason explains. “The upscaling part is challenging, but if you don't have the industry on board, you won't be able to upscale.”
Burwood Brickworks Shopping Centre in Victoria was the first retail centre in the world to receive the Living Building Challenge’s Petal Certification.
Recently, Frasers Property Australia completed construction of the world’s most sustainable shopping centre at Burwood Brickworks in Melbourne.
The process included a detailed analysis of each of the 1400 building products used in the construction, looking at factors such as the place of origin, materials involved in its manufacturing, carbon embodied, waste impact, the ethical responsibly of its sourcing and its impact on internal air quality.
Named The Greensheet, it was released for fellow industry and everyday Aussies alike to use — for free.
Nason says different parts of the housing industry have been pursuing different ideas and solutions, which are all starting to converge in a bigger, positive movement.
Homes are built to last for many years, potentially home to generation after generation of occupants. Every small piece of energy that can be saved now will add up to a big impact over time. But the most exciting thing is the best is yet to come.
“I think we'll see, in the next five to 10 years, big changes in this space,” Nason says. “Development is probably the platform for the solutions for sustainability.”