Climate change, the topic ever present in our daily feeds be they social media or news channels is rapidly influencing how industries are structured, how they operate and makes us all rethink the way we do everything. The building industry or built environment has not been unblemished by the effects of climate change and the need of a shift in the industry’s overall mindset.

Its contribution to about half of the world’s air pollution through energy servicing fossil fuels and the significant carbon dioxide emissions due to space heating has prompted numerous calls for change in the industry. The most prominent being the Kyoto protocol which represents an overhaul in the approach of “polluting” industries through the promotion of more renewable energies and a more effective implementation of the harnessed energy.

Therefore, what method can possibly be used to achieve the Kyoto effects in the construction industry, be it residential or commercial?  The answer lies in the title of this article. The passive house concept has stepped up to the plate by providing a holistic approach, combining several energy-saving solutions into a consistent framework. The strength of a passive house lies in the building envelope which has been reimagined to substantially simplify the heating system and noticeably reduce energy consumption.

As this concept has been around since the 1990s and only increased in popularity, it is clear that passive housing is not going anywhere. However, where will it go from here? This is what the present article will try to answer with a particular focus on what will influence its growth in the Australian market. Key areas such as investments in new real estate sectors, partnerships between governing bodies, shifts in construction methods, and changes in the regulatory framework will all be looked into.

Regulations and Their Influence Over the Future of Passive Commercial or Residential Developments

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One way the regulatory framework can be used to encourage the development of passive housing is through the use of concessions that local authorities are willing to make in order to persuade developers to go down the way of energy efficiency and sustainability. A prime example of employing such tactics is the city of Brisbane and its ‘Buildings that Breathe’ initiative.

The implementation of this framework comes with local authorities actively looking to partner with the industry and make the necessary statutory amendments to city planning in order to promote climate-responsive design in the development assessment process. Such amendments can include certain concessions on height or the formation of a senior assessment team intent on delivering guaranteed assessment timeframes.

Positive signs of this incentive scheme are already pouring in. Two exciting new developments are proposed to feature in the Brisbane skyline. One is the 46-storey BVN designed tower set next to the state heritage listed synagogue and Aria Property Groups’ ‘urban forest’ apartment building on the Brisbane River. ‘Urban forest’ is the right comparison for the building as it is expected to be covered with approximately 20,000 plants and 1,000 trees. One can see how a similar government incentive would be a big leap in propagating Passive House in the Australian market.

There are signs regulatory changes are afoot in New South Wales (NSW) as well. On 27 November 2020, the Australian Passive House Association announced that the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX), one of Australia’s most consolidated planning measures in terms of sustainability, will now recognise the Passive House Standard. This is to be used  as a gateway to meeting the thermal comfort requirements of the NSW State Environmental Planning Policy.

This shift in recognition will ultimately encourage consumers to entertain the idea of passive housing as there will be no extra cost imposition on them by having to use multiple software packages during the modelling stage of construction.

New Real Estate Sectors Up for Passive Housing Investments

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As we have seen in the previous section, the involvement of local authorities and governing bodies can lead to some radical shifts in the promotion of passive housing. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the announcement of a partnership between the Green Building Council of Australia, the Passive House Institute and the Australian Passive House Association can have a ripple effect throughout the commercial buildings market.

Their initiative is twofold. The Passive House Standard is worked on in terms of being introduced into the Green Star rating tools and a series of site tours and workshops mainly focused on professional development will be co-hosted by all three governing bodies.

As the focus of the industry is to reach zero carbon emissions in the near future, passive housing is being looked at as a pivotal factor in the success of this endeavor. Working in its favor is also the fact that building a passive house can deliver the comforts and efficiency we are all used to, without skyrocketing costs.

When you consider that the Green Star ratings are now applied to passive housing developments, there is no wonder that there’s been renewed interest from the commercial buildings market. One example is the Brisbane tower mentioned earlier in the article whereby the developers’ target is to achieve a six Green Star rating.

Shifts in Construction Methods Going Forward

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In the 1920s the Australian housing market was heavily influenced by two main schools of design: Californian style bungalows and the European art deco movement. This was in part due to the post-war indulgence in luxury and exuberance. Nowadays though, we can’t just look at our homes as places to cater solely to our needs. We need to take into account the environment in which they are built, their long-term sustainability, and most importantly, energy efficiency.

Throughout the 2020s, energy and water efficiency will be at the forefront of discussion in the industry. Building regulations will continue to push even harder on the green building agenda. With research showing that 40% of heat escapes through windows, we can safely estimate that advances in glazing technologies will come at the speed of light all the while ensuring that we rely less and less on artificial climate controls.

With some of the toughest water restrictions coming in at the back end of 2019, the importance of housing and commercial developments being water wise is essential if a sustainable future is to be achieved. The implementation of taps or shower heads that reduce water consumption will become commonplace as well as the reliance on ratings such as the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme.

Is the Future of Passive Housing in Australia Looking Bright?

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With everything that has been mentioned so far in our discussion of passive housing in Australia and what to expect, one can safely assume that the future of this industry is crystal clear. It can only develop in leaps and bounds.

The backbone of the Passive House Standard is building science. It was one of the most rigorous building standards and indeed requires design validation rather than mere guesswork. 

Herein lays the importance of a strong training base for passive housing designers and tradespeople. The importance of the right expertise at the right place cannot be overstated. Luckily, Smart Plus Academy is here to help by providing certified training courses in the way of passive housing.