The rise of sustainable building in Australia

Sustainability image

 

As the building industry in Australia becomes increasingly focused on sustainability, it’s important to look at the subject holistically rather than just focusing on recycling or the use of sustainable materials. One of the areas that is neglected in many discussions is insulating our housing.

The way we insulate and cool our dwellings needs a serious rethink. Rates of air-conditioning ownership in Australia has doubled since the late 1990s.[1] Nearly one half of households in Australia use reverse cycle air-conditioning as their main system of cooling. In 13 per cent of households the main system of cooling is evaporative coolers, and in 10 per cent of households it’s refrigerated air conditioning which cools only. [2]

Sudden peaks in air-conditioning use also create the risk of overloading electricity grids and prompting blackouts, so it’s important to think about how you can stay cool without power.

 

Rethinking how we insulate, heat and cool our dwellings

Nearly 70 per cent of Australian households have some form of insulation in their homes[3]. While 14 per cent of households have no insulation, 18 per cent of households did not even know whether they had insulation or not.

In Queensland, approximately one in five households does not have insulation. But it’s not about insulation on its own. We need to rethink how we build our houses and look to other successful sustainability schemes around the world like Europe’s Passive House.

While it’s a relatively new idea here, Passive House has been growing in popularity in Europe for a couple of decades. Originating in Germany in 1992, where it is known as ‘Passivhaus’, it has proved to be a very useful means of getting buildings of all types (not just residential) to provide high quality, low energy indoor environments.

 

What is Passive House certification?

Energy efficiency lies at the heart of the Passive House concept. Certified Passive House (often known by its abbreviation – CPH) is a voluntary standard for constructing buildings that deliver a healthy indoor environment that is comfortable in temperature and humidity while consuming very little energy.

Just as a vacuum flask keeps drinks at the desired temperature, the well-insulated envelope of a Passive House keeps indoor areas at a pleasant temperature. Passive Houses are characterised by consistent temperatures on all interior surfaces and constant indoor climates without temperature swings or draughts – during cold winter months, as well as hot summer periods. A Passive House building’s superior ventilation system ensures ample fresh air at room temperature and makes for high indoor air quality.

The ventilation system provides high-quality indoor air while automatically extracting moisture and thereby clearly improving comfort. The result is a building with no draughts, no cold corners, and a constant supply of fresh air. Fine filters keep dust, pollen, and other particulate materials out, an invaluable advantage for people who suffer from asthma or allergies.

 

The key is eliminating thermal bridges

One of the key principles of Passive House is eliminating thermal bridges, which are the points at which conventional houses lose energy. Through a combination of hyper-effective insulation, smart design, an air-tight membrane, and a high-tech ventilation system, Passive House designs promise energy savings of up to 90 per cent.

Thousands of Passive Houses have been certified internationally, but there are less than 20 in Australia, mostly in and around Melbourne. Currently, in Brisbane, the largest house of its type ever built in Australia with Passive House certification is under construction. This luxury home is expected to sell for north of $3 million.

Achieving airtightness is currently the biggest practical challenge for Passive House buildings in Australia and New Zealand. Our building codes do not currently have any enforceable requirements, and our industry is broadly ill-equipped to deliver airtight buildings.

 

What role can polystyrene play?

Polystyrene helps to achieve the highest results in insulating homes and can also deliver 6-star performance at a significantly lower cost than other building products. One of the most cost-effective ways to achieve optimum insulation in walls, roof and floor slabs, polystyrene acts by minimising thermal bridges between rooms and the exterior.

Central to a home’s insulation performance is its airtight envelope, achieved through attention to insulation and membrane detail in the slab, timber framing, roof and, most importantly, all the junction points.

 

Your polystyrene insulation experts

Foamex has been supplying polystyrene solutions to the Australian market for more than 35 years and have worked with builders, engineers, architects, designers, and specifiers to serve their insulation needs. We can supply your required expanded polystyrene products – cut to the specific dimensions you need – for your next building project. Contact your local Foamex sales office today to discuss your insulation requirements and how we can support you.

 

[1] https://www.bluenrg.com.au/energy-insights/air-conditioning-16-amazing-facts

[2] https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4602.0.55.001

[3] https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4602.0.55.001

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