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New homes across Sydney have improved their average energy efficiency by just one star in more than a decade, meaning developers will have to make the same-sized jump within 14 months if they are to comply with new building standards aimed at driving down emissions.
Data shows newly built houses in the Ku-ring-gai and Blacktown council areas increased their average energy efficiency rating by only 0.1 and 0.2 stars respectively when comparing results in 2012 and 2022, while the average new house across Sydney improved by just 0.6 stars in that decade.
That will have to change when new homes and renovations over $50,000 become subject to new national guidelines that were formally adopted by the NSW government on Monday as part of its new sustainable housing state environment planning policy.
New residential builds must meet a seven-star energy efficiency rating from October next year – as opposed to the current minimum of 5.5 – which could mean adding solar panels to household roofs, increasing insulation or converting gas hot water systems to a heat pump system.
The most ground is to be gained in Hunters Hill and Mosman, which had the least energy-efficient ratings for new builds in Sydney this year, at 5.3 stars and 5.4 stars respectively.
The average star rating across the city up to July 2022 was 6.2 stars for new houses and 6.5 for new apartments.
New houses and renovations built in Wollondilly have had the highest energy efficiency standards in Sydney this year with 6.2 stars, followed by Cumberland (6.1).
Penrith, Hawkesbury, Hornsby, Liverpool, Fairfield and Blue Mountains homes all had an average 6-star rating this year.
Apartment buildings have improved more quickly than houses, with an average rise across the city of about 1.2 stars in the 11-year period. The slowest pace of improvement was in the Hills Shire and Strathfield, where average new apartment ratings rose just 0.4 stars.
Fairfield had the best ratings for new units in Sydney in 2022, at an average of 6.9 stars, followed by Parramatta (6.8) and Canada Bay (6.8). The lowest was Sutherland Shire (5.9).
Sustainable building expert Dr Trivess Moore, from RMIT, said the case for more energy-efficient homes had existed for years but the property industry was reluctant to change.
“The fact that standards haven’t changed since 2012 is pretty poor, when you consider there are other jurisdictions around the world that require new houses to be net-zero,” he said. “You don’t even need to reinvent the wheel – we know what to be doing; it’s just people have been choosing not to, and consumers don’t understand.”
Moore said there would be a brief adjustment period for the construction industry – which could involve higher costs, additional training and education – but developers would inevitably adjust.
“We have the skills and knowledge, the technology, design and materials, and examples of doing this at a much higher standard,” he said.
“The argument put forward by those in the industry, who don’t want to see change, is consumers will choose a more efficient, effective, sustainable house if they value it. The problem is sustainable housing [can be] quite complex in terms of how to deliver it … It’s not as simple as solar panels,” Moore said.
“[Building] is all about how many bedrooms, bathrooms, vanities, the prestige of the house. Very rarely do you see the hidden intangibles that create such a difference. I think people struggle with that, although what we’re seeing now because energy prices are rapidly increasing, is that maybe we should do some things.”
The state government’s announcement was welcomed by property groups and developers on Monday, who had been more closely considered in developing the policy after Planning Minister Anthony Roberts ditched a more ambitious design and sustainability framework developed by his predecessor Rob Stokes earlier this year.
During a budget estimates hearing on Monday, Labor MP Rose Jackson asked whether there was any difference between Roberts’ new building controls and the Design and Place SEPP, which was led by Stokes and scrapped in April.
Planning Department deputy secretary Brett Whitworth said the new building controls had “continued the sustainability provisions from the Design and Place SEPP” and would achieve a 7 to 11 per cent reduction in greenhouse has emissions.
Asked why the changes wouldn’t be implemented until next October, Roberts said it was to give the building industry a “lead time”.
The new policy was also criticised as too soft by environmental groups. Nature Conservation Council chief executive Jacqui Mumford said the seven-star standard was a “very welcome improvement” that would reduce home energy bills.
“However, the new planning policy does not address the much bigger problem of older, energy hungry homes,” she said. “The government needs to develop policies to retrofit older homes so everyone in NSW can live in a home that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to keep comfortable.”
Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel said energy-efficient housing was needed, “but the other major challenge is to have an external environment that is not producing killer heat, causing households to use more energy, incur health problems and lack convenient access to services and green spaces”.
“By leaving this to developers, he is condemning millions of residents to a poor and declining urban environment, particularly in western Sydney.”
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