The Unintended Consequence of Building Sustainably in Australia
What makes a sustainable house? One might suggest it should be energy-efficient, resilient to climate change and still comfortable. Indeed in Australia, we see aspects of these three priorities being exercised: energy-efficiency standards being introduced into residential requirements of the National Construction Code in 2003, bushfire requirements expressed as a national standard in 2009, and the constant demand for more efficient and round-the-clock climate control. All these actions relate to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Climate Action. One might assume that these trends mark progress for both the environment and the home owners. However there is a dark side to the story, because in the very effort of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (also one of the functional objective of the national construction code), the construction industry has inadvertently implemented practices that have led to entrapment of moisture in buildings, thus compromising their habitability. Using data from Tasmania, this chapter shows how common mistakes in building science, design and construction have led to a widespread increase of condensation in buildings located in cool climates. Condensation has further led to other problems with mould and health (SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being), making new code-compliant houses potentially uninhabitable after experiencing their first winter. These challenges need to be in the wider discussion of architecture, construction, indoor microbiology and public health when sustainable housing standards are being promoted.
KeywordsEnergy-efficiency Australia Building code Bushfire Legislation Mould
Acknowledgements of Funding Source and Student Contribution
The case studies House-MW2 and House-BN were undertaken as funded research by the Building Standards and Occupational Licensing, Tasmanian Government under project RT106855, “Investigation of Destructive Condensation in Australian Cool temperate Buildings”. Access to the condensation survey results was possible though the Australian Building Codes Board under a research consultancy RT108992, “Scoping study of condensation in residential buildings”. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Dr. Stephen Tristram, Senior Lecturer in Medical Microbiology from the School of Health Sciences, University of Tasmania (UTAS) for identifying the moulds in the collected samples. Dr. Des FitzGerald and Dr. Bennet McComish, both from the School of Maths & Physics, UTAS, have assisted greatly in the statistical analysis of the ABCB Survey data.
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