Canberra’s energy inefficient housing

Let me start this by saying that I’m not an expert in environmental matters, but by adding that I am interested in environmental matters. I was an early adopter of LED bulbs back when they cost more than the light fitting you put them into; I set up a couple of compost heaps in our last house and reduced our weekly rubbish collection by a third; and I’m generally happy to invest in something that I think will reap longer term benefits either in efficiency or in reducing my environmental footprint.

So when we arrived in Canberra, I was interested to learn that every property is assessed according to an ‘Energy Efficiency Rating’ or EER. Our year in a rental house – which is freezing in winter, boiling in summer and generates energy bills that would make a sheikh weep – only served to heighten my interest in energy efficiency when hunting for a house to buy.

As I say, I’m not an expert in environmental issues, energy efficiency or alternative energy sources, but what I discovered when looking at the EER programme has left me scratching my head and wondering who on earth it’s useful for.

In the ACT, EERs are scored on a scale of zero to six – zero being the least energy efficient, six being the most. It turns out that our rental house has an EER of two, so there was plenty of scope for improvement, but an improved EER doesn’t necessarily mean a house is any warmer, nor does it mean that it’s necessarily any more energy efficient.

Today, all new houses built in the ACT have to achieve a six-star rating. ‘Brilliant’, you might think. ‘Australia leading the way in energy efficiency housing’, you might conclude, but your optimism would be ill-founded.

Rarely is a new house built with double-glazed windows unless you specify it as an upgrade before building commences. It’s equally rare for new houses to come with a solar power system unless you pay extra for it. And while water efficiency measures do figure, it seems astonishing that it is possible to achieve a maximum energy efficiency score without even double-glazed windows being fitted to your property – when I quizzed the agent selling our new home about this, he simply quipped: “Nah, it doesn’t make much difference anyway.”

He may have been talking about double-glazing, but I’d suggest his comment is more applicable to the EER scheme which is seems is no guarantee of warmth, energy or water efficiency, and is rather just a vague method of comparing energy bills between one property and another.

The shortcomings of the scheme do at least seem to have attracted the attention of some politicians. At the end of last year, ACT Greens representative Shane Rattenbury told Fairfax Media that he thought the scheme “was outdated and wasn’t delivering the outcomes residents expected.” Even so, until it changes, it’s all we have to go on.

We move into our new house in three weeks. The EER of five was a major influencer of our decision to buy it. Although, when we took possession, we noticed that all the bulbs in the house were incandescent rather than LEDs, yet it gained the second highest possible score for ‘energy efficiency’. Nevertheless, we are hoping to be ‘warmer for cheaper’ throughout the approaching Canberra winter.

The EER scheme seems no real guarantee of that however, so we’ll be watching the mercury drop with nervousness, hoping that we weren’t misled by a scheme that seems to have little support but no alternative.

9 thoughts on “Canberra’s energy inefficient housing

  1. Oh dear … sounds better than it is eh? The scheme wasn’t in play when we bought our current house, so I wonder how it would fare.

    Where does you your house face? Do your family areas face north? Do you have a lot of windows on the east and west? For me, north facing, and no major windows on the west in particular are the things I look for.

    Good luck with your bills!

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    • Well the garden and most of the living areas face north, so we are hopeful, but the previous tenant called by a few days ago to see if there was any stray post here and when we asked him about the house he just said: “It’s not the warmest.” We await winter with trepidation now.

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      • Oh yes. She was horrified by the energy bills info leaflet that suggested setting the thermostat at 19-degrees and then adding jumpers.

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      • Oh dear! Though we do set ours a degree or two higher. I guess we Canberrans generally think you should not be getting around in t-shirts in winter (as seems to happen in places like Canada we discovered – SO heated inside, SO freezing outside). I guess you’ll work it out – balance between heating, clothing and bills!

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  2. Totally agree wirh being gobsmacked at how energy INeffecient Canberra houses are. When we built everything was extra – double glazing was incredibly expensive, we upgraded the insulation, changed every window except one, added fly screens so we could have cross ventilation… but it added to the cost dramatically. At least on 23 acres changing the aspect of the house was more a matter of choosing a design that worked for the aspect and we weren’t bound by fitting it to the block! It’s been a sobering learning journey. I’m also mortified at the lack of eaves on houses.

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    • Ooh, I want your house now 🙂 Actually, do you know something else that really caught me off guard — no proper heating in bathrooms or toilets. In our rental house and our now home, we have heat lamps. Heat lamps! I hadn’t seen those in Europe since the early 1970s. And I have a whole different post coming about home appliances — especially the ‘cement mixer’ washing machines that get your clothes wet, cover them in lint, but don’t actually clean them. Heh heh.

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