As Queenslanders try to recover from severe storms and floods, they are now enduring a scorching New Year’s weekend with the weather bureau forecasting heatwave conditions. There are concerns that the electricity grid will face increased demand as families rely on air-conditioning to cool their homes.
Architects, urban planners and home energy assessors from across Queensland have the following comments on housing energy efficiency standards and how Queenslanders can adapt their homes to deal with extreme heat, and lower their energy bills at the same time.
DESIGN, ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN PLANNING
Paul Worroll – Managing Director Red Dog Architects
Location – Brisbane
Paul is the founder and Managing Director of Red Dog Architects and his current projects range from private residential to multi-residential, educational facilities, retail developments and commercial projects. Paul has been recognised for his contributions to the Australian Institute of Architects and the architectural profession by recently being elevated to a Life Fellow of the Institute.
"Sustainability and resilient design should be an inherent part of the design process for a Queensland house. We need to consider the impact we are having on this planet and how we cope with changing climatic conditions and the impact of natural disasters. It is not possible to create a design that can cope with every unpredictable event, however with good design, we can help to make sure our cities, buildings and communities are able to cope with disruption and bounce back afterwards. For example, the frequency of floods is increasing and heatwaves are becoming more prolonged and intense, so we need to adapt our designs, materials and construction to minimise the damage caused by floods and reduce the effects of extreme heat, making houses more energy efficient is part of this adaptive process"
Dr Rosemary Kennedy – Director of the Subtropical Cities Consultancy
Location – Brisbane
Rosemary is an advocate for well-designed climatically-responsible cities for a liveable and just future, collaborating with planning, architecture and urban development organisations, and local government, to complement their climate-responsive approaches to city design and architecture. She also performs independent design reviews of large-scale development projects.
“Many existing and new houses are overblown in scale, yet fail to provide quality dwellings that don’t cost the earth to keep cool or warm. The mass housing industry’s reluctance to adopt basic energy efficient construction practices will ensure that people will have no choice but to live in substandard energy-dependent houses for the next 40 years, or attempt to update and adapt them at even greater expense down the track.
“Many residents default to the air-conditioner by necessity rather than choice, simply because a failure of design or workmanship makes it unavoidable. But what if power is too expensive, or unavailable because of a blackout, or if we’d simply prefer to take advantage of beautiful weather, and our home is not designed for it?
“It is imperative that both passive climate control and energy efficiency are designed into new buildings and retrofits. Theoretically a 9 Star house would require no energy for thermal comfort. Currently a very low percentage of Australian dwellings even achieve the current bare minimum of 6 Stars, and affordable accessible dwellings are simply unavailable.”
Dr Gill Armstrong – Senior Project Manager, Climateworks Centre
Location – Melbourne
Leading researcher on decarbonising Australia’s buildings sector, including residential and non-residential buildings, and both new and existing builds. She has more than a decade of experience as a registered architect and chartered architectural technologist, specialising in adaptive reuse of residential and healthcare buildings. She is also co-editor and contributor to the research publication, ‘Resilient Building Retrofits’ (2022).
"There are several ways for households to improve comfort, tackle bills and reduce emissions. What is important for households to remember, is it's the house itself that protects you during extremes from the outside. The way your home is built and the materials used are just as important for better performance as the efficiency of the installed appliances and having rooftop solar.
"Our research shows that for typical Queensland homes – such as heritage Queenslanders or typical timber or metal-framed homes – households could save around $2600 per year if they insulate ceilings, walls and floors; ensure they have well-fitted windows and draught-proofing; switch from gas to efficient electric appliances; and install rooftop solar.”
Luke Reade – President of Energetic Communities Association (also a renter living with a disability)
Location – Brisbane
Luke is an experienced climate scientist and energy policy advisor and educator, working mostly in the vulnerable household and community sector. He says,
"Renters often live in the poorest quality homes, with many low-income households being renters. Renters have minimal agency to make their homes more efficient, comfortable and resilient …landlords don't have any incentive to undertake energy efficiency upgrades, and often don't allow even basic upgrades when asked, even when of no cost to themselves.
"Heatwaves are a big killer – this will only get worse in Queensland as existing poor quality homes become less resilient to expectations with the increase in extreme heat days.
“It is only through regulation that renters will get a fair deal. Queensland really needs to catch up to other states and international jurisdictions.”
Audrey - A University of Queensland student, researching community resilience to climate change (also in the private rental market)
Location – Brisbane
“When I last had to look for a new rental, some of the houses were barely safe and outright rip-offs. There was a 3 bedder in toowong that was advertised for $720 a week, and when I inspected the place smelt of mould and the ceilings were falling off, and there was zero consideration of energy efficiency; I later found out that the landlord had bought the house in the 90's for $70,000.
"I have rented in France, US, England & Australia, and I have never felt as exploited and powerless as in Australia, and we are exposed to far worse weather extremes in this country due to climate change. In France for example, rentals that have less than a 3 star energy rating have their rental payment increases frozen until work is done to increase their energy efficiency, we don't have anything close to that in Australia, and almost a third of Australians rent! Unless we have mandated minimum energy efficiency standards for renters, the poor quality existing housing stock will keep being rented at over inflated prices, while we have a housing shortage.”