The other day I had an interesting interview with a PhD candidate.
She is looking into building practitioners’ compliance behaviour when it comes to energy efficiency.
I guess everyone who is building trustingly assumes whatever has been designed on paper will be build. Or in other words, that your house will perform according to the energy rating.
All houses have to meet a 6-star energy rating. Which will soon change to 7 stars. Meaning everyone will get a well performing home, right?
But sadly, this is often far from true. So, what is the problem here?
The big elephant in the room is that there are no compliance checks. No one is ultimately responsible for checking the energy efficiency of a project. And wherever the right insulation or windows are installed. Or wherever they are installed correctly. It all depends on how competent and committed to building a high performing house your building team is. This includes your designer or architect also. But it also depends on how much you care.
So, let’s go back to the root of the problem. It’s the knowledge base of some of the trades, builders and building surveyors, when it comes to energy efficiency. Or lack thereof. Whereas in other industrial countries there is a high emphasis on building physics in the entire construction industry. There is a great general knowledge base about what thermal bridges are.
How to get a building air tight. And more importantly. Why?
What can happen to a building if the insulation is not installed properly?
Why do all joints and penetrations need to be sealed?
Not only does this form part of the formal education in the construction industry, but the energy efficiency is also checked post construction. Meaning if someone did forget some insulation here or there. Or if penetrations where not sealed properly, it would show up. And people will get into trouble. They will be liable to rectify the errors. Which can be costly.
In Australia on the other hand, our NCC (National Construction Code) as well as our energy rating system assume competent installation of all elements. E.g. That insulation is installed without gaps. And that it is not compressed, as this would reduce the effectiveness. That windows are properly insulated all around.
For instance, in some climate zones slab edge insulation is mandatory. Yet, some builders don’t know what to do what that. And just omit it on site.
And that is the big problem: no one really checks or cares. At least no official personnel or instance. Of course, there are a few amazing builders and trades people out there. But typically, if things are missed, no one will see it later. No one will notice. And in most cases no one bothers.
While I have huge faith in the industry. I believe that most people are in the construction industry because they want to build great homes. I think it goes largely back to the fact that many don’t understand the importance of energy efficiency. How it all comes together. And what detrimental effect even little gaps in the insulation can have. Not just on the performance, but also on the health of the occupants. Or why it is important to avoid humidity and moisture built up inside your walls.
However, there are usually no repercussions if someone goes short cuts. Or if someone does not do the right thing. There will always be some that will go the easy way, the cheaper and faster way. Even if it means compromising the energy efficiency of the home.
So how can we get the compliance in the industry up?
I think the first step is to vamp up the education in the entire industry. From carpenter to insulation installers and sparkies. And of course, we can’t forget the designers, engineers, or architects either.
We need to have an energy efficiency champion for each project. Someone who is officially responsible for making sure the design intent is carried through. The most logical one would be the building surveyor in my opinion. Would be easier than to create and train a whole new workforce / position. But I don’t know how on board they would be for this…
We need some way of checking the performance post construction. In my opinion a blower door test is a great way to check how air-tight and energy efficient a building really is. But there could be post construction check ins on the actual energy usage of the house.
And I think we need tougher penalties for noncompliance. Making sure that all tradies are aware of the consequences, if they are not building to code, when it comes to energy efficiency.
I am not going to start to talk about minimum compliance and best practice here. I have spoken about this often enough. Even tough the change from 6 to 7 stars is a first step. We can not forget that 6 / 7 stars is still the legal minimum. And far from best practice.
The shocking truth though in Australia is that most built homes will never meet their 6- or 7-star rating in reality. As too many things are often missed or messed up during the construction. And this MUST STOP.
Rom wasn’t built in a day. So, we have to take small but steady steps. And in my opinion at first wee will need to make sure that our homes are at least built to the minimum standard. Once we have achieved that for the masses, we can soldier one.