Residential energy efficiency - A remedy for extremes

Heat wave in the house thermometer shows in summer.

In recent months much of Australia has experienced record high temperatures with associated power supply issues.

Given the extreme conditions, it’s not surprising that some attention has been given to the standard of our built environment.

The ability of our homes to provide comfortable living conditions, without necessarily relying on air-conditioning, has been a particular point of concern. Should Australian’s have to swelter each summer when there are extreme temperatures and insufficient power available to cool our homes?

New residential provisions for 2022

The ABCB is investigating these issues as part of its ongoing work on residential energy efficiency. This resulted in changes for NCC 2019 that will help alleviate heat and cold stress. However, state and territory Building Ministers have since requested that more significant changes be investigated for NCC 2022.

In July 2019, Ministers agreed that the ABCB should enhance, or strengthen, the residential energy efficiency provisions in the NCC. This work is to be informed by the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council’s Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings (the Trajectory), which proposes ongoing changes to the energy efficiency provisions in the NCC.

The Trajectory notes that energy efficiency can improve Australia’s energy productivity and help achieve our greenhouse gas emissions target. However, in the context of the recent extreme conditions, it is important to note that the Trajectory also recognises the benefits of improved occupant comfort, reduced energy wastage and improved resilience to extreme weather.

What are the new provisions likely to cover?

If agreed, the provisions will include new quantified Performance Requirements and a number of prescriptive and performance-based compliance pathways for practitioners to choose from. Importantly, for the first time the new provisions are intended to apply on a ‘whole-of-home’ basis. This will allow some trading between the efficiency of the different elements of the home. The feasibility of requiring the regulated equipment of the home (i.e. space conditioning, heated water, lighting and pool pumps) to achieve net zero energy use over the course of a year will also be investigated. This would likely require new homes to have some on-site renewables installed, such as rooftop solar.

Work to date

The ABCB released a scoping study in August 2019 seeking public comment on the proposed scope and approach to its NCC 2022 work on energy efficiency. An outcomes report has since been developed, which is available to download from the Resource Library with related documents.

What’s next?

The next phase of this work involves the technical development of draft provisions. This is a relatively intense process involving research and energy modelling, in consultation with the ABCB’s national technical committees. The draft provisions will then be released for public consultation in early 2021, together with a preliminary economic analysis of the estimated costs and benefits. This will provide opportunity for all interested stakeholders, including industry associations and individual practitioners, to fully review the draft provisions and provide comment directly to the ABCB.

The ABCB will review all comments received and consider further changes before finalising the provisions and the economic analysis. Based on these documents, in late 2021, the ABCB Board will determine whether the new residential energy efficiency provisions will be adopted in NCC 2022, including any possible transitional arrangements.

When will the changes come into effect?

All approved changes for NCC 2022 will be published in early 2022. This will provide time for practitioners to become familiar with the provisions before they come into effect on 1 May 2022 or as part of any transitional period.

Further information

Further details about the NCC 2022 residential energy efficiency project, including its scope and development process are available for download.

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