If your house is sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, then you’re not alone…poor building standards mean many Australians are paying through the nose to heat and cool their homes. But there is a radical solution that could cut bills by up to 90 per cent.

This video expires on 20 December 2020 at 8:15pm, for a transcript see below


JASON OM, REPORTER: Another blazing summer and Caroline Habgood and Jonas Osterlund are struggling to keep their house cool in Melbourne’s inner west.

JONAS OSTERLUND: It’s an Edwardian-era house so it’s over 100 years old.

CAROLINE HABGOOD: No insulation whatsoever.

JASON OM: In the winter it’s worse.

JONAS OSTERLUND: It’s the fact that it’s drafty. That’s the problem. You’re heating it up but the heat just goes straight out.

It doesn’t really matter what you do. It is still cold.

JASON OM: And that’s led to power bills of about $400 a month.

CAROLINE HABGOOD: Knowing the energy bills are high is quite stressful because we’re actually trying to not run heating as much as we would like to even and then we’re still finding it spiralling.

So it’s been a terrible feeling of bill shock each time. So it certainly spurred us on to do something about it.

JONAS OSTERLUND: It’s an incredible motivator.

JASON OM: They are among a movement of Australians switching to a more energy efficient way of life.

This house in Sydney, built by Katherine Wilson and Matthew Kosnik, is no ordinary home.

It’s called a passive house where energy efficiency is taken to extremes.

KATHERINE WILSON: We’re both a bit of a tree-hugger and so wanted to do it sustainably-minded and those kinds of things.

JASON OM: Katherine and Matthew wanted to cut their energy bill and reduce their impact on the environment, so they tore down their old house and built a new one with lots of insulation and triple-glazed windows.

KATHERINE WILSON: A passive house fundamentally is a house that has negligible costs for heating and cooling and the way you achieve that is by insulting it well.

JASON OM: Energy efficient passive house design comes from Europe, where the first passive house was built in Germany in 1990.

What makes a passive house different to a normal house is that the room temperature remains stable despite the outside weather.

You can really tell the difference on a hot day like today. Stepping inside you can see that the temperature has dropped dramatically to the low 20s and that’s without air-conditioning.

While there are no official figures to compare the energy costs of a passive house to an average home, owners say they’ve seen a big drop.

The average Australian power bill is between $1100 and $1900 a year. Some passive house owners say they’re now paying $400 a year.

In Melbourne’s south-east, Clare Parry and Daniel Easson have embarked on their own passive house experiment, retrofitting their home built in the early 1900s.

CLARE PARRY: For our retrofit project we took a fairly old, cold, inefficient house and we chopped off the bits that were the worst.

The worst problems in our old house was that it was cold.

Our son was getting sick every year. We did not enjoy living there at all.

Coming home to this space is pretty amazing. You walk in and you immediately feel cocooned. It’s a cosy space, it’s a warm space.

We have saved about 80 per cent energy which before was about $150 a month and now we’re down around $20 to $30 a month.

JASON OM: In Sydney, architect Oliver Steele has built Australia’s first passive house apartment block of 11 serviced units.

OLIVER STEELE, ARCHITECT: Australia currently and in the past has built essentially paper bags for living in. We build terribly.

The essence of a passive house is that it’s a naturally lit, super insulted, perfectly sealed, essentially an esky for living in.

JASON OM: Under the National Construction Code, new homes are required to meet minimum energy efficiency standards.

Although each state measures energy efficiency differently, CSIRO data shows New South Wales is falling short.

CAROLINE HABGOOD: The energy rating system in Australia I would say probably needs to be overhauled.

Our house we can understand why it is leaky and why we have high energy bills but there are new builds happening that are in the same boat, where they’re not built efficiently and that’s quite disturbing.

OLIVER STEELE: I think the Australian industry has a long way to go before passive house becomes the norm but hopefully projects like this one and the houses that are getting some attention will encourage people to start demanding this from the industry.

JASON OM: While the up-front cost of building a passive house is up to 20 per cent more than a conventional house, for those choosing to save energy over the long term, it works.

CAROLINE HABGOOD: We’re hoping to achieve from this renovation towards zero dollar energy bills. That is the goal.

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