Testing zero-energy homes

June 20, 2017

How do carbon-neutral homes stack up when it comes to liveability and consumer demand?

Featured image credit: D-Max Photography

The CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) has announced $500,000 in funding for a new national zero-energy homes project. The project will research consumer attitudes and aim to influence the building industry to construct new dwellings to zero-energy standards.

At present the energy efficiency of a home is measured according to the Nationwide House Energy Rating System (NatHERS). This star rating system measures the energy required to heat and cool a home, with new buildings being required to meet a minimum six-star rating.

Zero-energy homes, on the other hand, are homes that are carbon neutral across the year – they produce as much (or more) energy than they consume. All aspects of energy consumption are accounted for – not just heating and cooling, but also lighting, appliances and so on.

Project lead Dr Josh Byrne, senior research fellow with Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute, believes that the current six-star requirement is merely “eliminating worst practice”. He has built two 10-star rated homes as part of his project, Josh’s House, which was part of the CRCLCL’s Living Labs project near Fremantle in Western Australia. Now he’s keen to bring zero-energy homes into the mainstream.

“It’s not just about bunging on more solar panels to offset the power usage, it’s about how the houses can be designed to perform better thermally,” Byrne says. “We know that simple things like orientation, cross-ventilation, and building air tightness can all dramatically reduce the build performance.”

The project team will be working with developers and builders from three different climate areas – WA, the ACT and Queensland – to design and build zero-energy display homes and present them alongside conventional homes to gauge the response from consumers. Instead of focusing on the sustainability benefits, they want to see how the public thinks zero-energy homes stack up on liveability. “We’re really interested in seeing how people respond to the look, feel and comfort of the zero-energy homes,” Byrne says.

The researchers will then present this data to the regulatory bodies, in the hope that an evidence-based approach will help shift the common perceptions that sustainable building practices are too costly and that there is no market demand for these homes.

With 100,000 new homes being built in Australia each year, moving to zero-energy homes would reduce carbon emissions by 700,000 tonnes. California has committed to achieving this by 2020, and members of the European Union are doing the same. Byrne thinks it’s more than possible here. “I would like to see us setting a realistic goal of achieving that within 10 years,” he says.

Find out more at LOWCARBONLIVINGCRC.COM.AU

Read more CRC discovery in KnowHow 2017

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