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Zero emissons house ‘not good enough’

6 July 2010 7 Comments
By Caroline Ball

CSIRO's AusZEH house

CSIRO's AusZEH house. Image: © Courtesy of CSIRO

Australia’s first zero emissions house designed for sale on the mass market has been available for months now, but one housing specialist claims the design is not good enough.

The Australian Zero Emissions House Project (AusZEH) house was designed and built in Victoria by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) working with industry partners, and launched in late April.

Despite environmentally responsible building practices and the incorporation of innovative technology, critics have accused the CSIRO of ‘greenwashing’ their latest project.

Sydney-based sustainable housing specialist, Michael Mobbs, said that despite a huge change in the public’s attitude towards sustainable housing over the past 20 years, there’s very little change in what’s being built.

Mobbs is well known both for his sustainable house in Chippendale, and for for transforming the neighbourhood by planting vegetables, herbs and fruit trees along its streets. Mobbs consults with private and public sector developers on sustainable projects and is currently working on water concept planning and sustainable system design for the widely lauded ecovillage, The Chimneys on the NSW mid-north coast.

“Food, travel and waste are the biggest sources of climate pollution in households. If the house has no productive food capacity on its land, it’s futile,” he said.

CSIRO research scientist Michael Ambrose says he is satisfied with the newly constructed demonstration house, but admits that it does have an environmental impact.

“In strict terms, a sustainable house is something that is difficult, if not impossible to achieve, as it will always consume resources that it cannot replace. Overall, the house has a much smaller environmental impact on the earth when compared to homes of equal size and location.”

Whilst a vegetable garden was originally going to be included in the AusZEH design, Ambrose says that garden’s upkeep would be unmanageable during its display period, with no one residing in the house until September.

“It may be something we would do once tenants have moved in. The garden space is not huge, but there is enough room for some small beds and a few fruit trees,” says Ambrose.

“From a science research point of view, what has been most rewarding is seeing the results of our modelling and simulation work transformed into actual physical building that we can use to demonstrate the feasibility of zero emission homes for the mass market,” Ambrose says.

The four-bedroom demonstration house built 30km north west of Melbourne combines energy efficient design, on-site solar electricity, an advanced grey-water system and new energy management technology. The 42.2 tonnes of ‘embodied’ carbon emissions created from manufacturing the house have been ‘offset’ through the purchase of climatefriendly.com credits that support sustainable energy projects.

PHOTO GALLERY – Click to enlarge
[miniflickr photoset_id="72157624279494045" ]

The six-kilowatt solar panels installed on the roof generate enough electricity to power the house, so CSIRO claims that its net carbon emissions are zero. Central to the house’s carbon neutrality is its advanced Home Energy Management System (HEMS), developed by La Trobe University. The touch screen system tracks the household’s total energy and water consumption and allows individual appliances to be monitored and isolated.

Ambrose says that HEMS is a new innovation. “Combining both the monitoring and the management functions in the energy system is unique. Most of the other monitoring systems measure only the total energy consumption of the house and do not breakdown by appliance,” he says.

The HEMS, which has the capacity to integrate an electric vehicle charger, can also be accessed remotely via Internet and mobile phone. The collated results from the HEMS will form the basis of reports and papers that will be publicly available, though the raw data will not be made available to the public.

“The system can also be used to develop third party applications, and upgraded later as other technology comes on stream,” says La Trobe’s chief researcher for the project, Aniruddha Desai.

The AusZEH is available for purchase as part of Henley’s Kube for $290,000, which is well below the median house price of $455,000 for the area according to propertydata.com.au.

However, Mobbs says that he would not necessarily encourage people to buy it.

“Grow food, live near where [you] work, then if the house is near that – sure, buy it. But the big wins are in growing and buying local food and soil.”

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  • Andrew

    I’ve been out to the house and I think Henley is doing a poor job of selling it (it should be sold as a drive away package). The food miles thing mentioned is getting a bit tired as we all know this accounts for only 20% of the energy used to transport food with the rest being through manufacturing and fertiliser production. The fact is that Australia’s population is growing and we need new houses (we won’t all fit into the inner city where only 20% of people live and work). We should look to developments such as Armstrong Creek which looks at the issues of new suburbs holistically but can also incorporate some of the ZEH house principles http://www.resourcesmart.vic.gov.au/for_businesses_4550.html The government’s recent change to decentralisation of government services is probably the smartest thing they have done for a while. Put the jobs where the people are (i.e. not in the inner city) to take the strain of the necessity for some people to drive in to the already overcrowded under resourced inner city simply to sit at a desk like they could anywhere.

  • Andrew

    I’ve been out to the house and I think Henley is doing a poor job of selling it (it should be sold as a drive away package). The food miles thing mentioned is getting a bit tired as we all know this accounts for only 20% of the energy used to transport food with the rest being through manufacturing and fertiliser production. The fact is that Australia’s population is growing and we need new houses (we won’t all fit into the inner city where only 20% of people live and work). We should look to developments such as Armstrong Creek which looks at the issues of new suburbs holistically but can also incorporate some of the ZEH house principles http://www.resourcesmart.vic.gov.au/for_businesses_4550.html The government’s recent change to decentralisation of government services is probably the smartest thing they have done for a while. Put the jobs where the people are (i.e. not in the inner city) to take the strain of the necessity for some people to drive in to the already overcrowded under resourced inner city simply to sit at a desk like they could anywhere.

  • Lawrence Weisdorn

    This house is a far cry better than the conventional house down the road even without the garden. This is a huge step in the right direction and should be praised for its accomplishments.

  • Lawrence Weisdorn

    This house is a far cry better than the conventional house down the road even without the garden. This is a huge step in the right direction and should be praised for its accomplishments.

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    Mobbs consults with private and public sector developers on sustainable projects and is currently working on water concept planning and sustainable system design for the widely lauded ecovillage!

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