More needs to be done during the design and construction stage of a building to ensure thermal efficiency. Image: Canva
  • An RMIT report assessed challenges related to home thermal efficiency
  • Thermal assessors recommended to be brought into the designing process at an earlier stage
  • The majority of Australia's 10 million homes have poor energy and thermal performance

In order to ease the cost of living pressures and reduce energy consumption and emissions, improving the thermal performance in Australian homes is an urgent priority according to an RMIT report.

Lead researcher and Inaugural Director of RMIT’s new Post-Carbon Infrastructure and Built Environment Research Centre Professor Priya Rajagopalan says, “A thermally efficient home is also an energy efficient one given that heating and cooling represents up to 50% of energy used.

“A poorly constructed building shell uses more energy to keep people warm or cool, which leads to an increase in carbon emissions and expensive power bills.”

Moreover, the report lays out several priorities to help Australia reach its goal of net zero by 2050, such as improving how new homes are built and the improvements recommended for existing homes.

The state of existing homes, and construction

The report points out that Australia has 10 million existing homes and most have poor energy and thermal performance.

Rajagopalan says government assistance is urgently needed in designing and rolling out an affordable thermal performance assessment program necessary to start the retrofitting process of existing homes.

“You can buy more energy efficient lights and appliances for your home, but it’s trickier and more expensive to retrofit a home to be more thermally efficient,” she said.

Although the introduction of the new seven star energy efficiency building standards is a step in the right direction of improving new homes, Rajagopalan says more needs to be done during the design and construction stage of building to ensure each home is thermally efficient; specifically, involving thermal assessors early in the design process.

“Designers rely on energy rating tools to help them make sure the designs are thermally efficient and meet minimum standards, but often what is designed in the software doesn’t translate fully to a real setting,” she said.

“Improved training of all trades, highlighting the consequences of poor construction practices, is essential to make sure they are delivering as per specifications.”

Policy updates to help renters

Not only are Australian renters disadvantaged in terms of rental price growth, but also in terms of having little to no control over the thermal and energy efficiency of the property.

“Even with government subsidies for retrofitting rental properties to improve thermal or energy efficiency, these don’t necessarily translate into action by landlords, or deter them from increasing rents after upgrades,” Rajagopalan said.

“Effective policies that improve the thermal performance of over three million rental accommodations across Australia can contribute to easing the deepening housing crisis and help towards improving the quality of life of residents, majority of which are lower income population.”

Recent examples in Australia include basic standards for rental homes in Victoria, and insulation requirements in the Australian Capital Territory.

France also made it illegal to rent the absolute least energy efficient properties in the country and introduced laws preventing landlords from increasing rents on properties with poor energy efficiency ratings.

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