Has zero carbon housing arrived?
The dilemma has existed for years: people in general are concerned about the environmental state of the Earth and the slow depletion of our natural resources, and are willing – even eager – to do what they can to mitigate their own impact. If everyone ‘did what they could,’ after all, the collective impact would be incredible. The dilemma comes when you push people beyond their comfort zones and ask them to change their lifestyle in ways both drastic and uncommon – it’s one thing, after all, to make some simple adjustments like adding a standby power switch (for instance an EcoSwitch) to your appliances, quite another to suggest they come off the power grid and go 100% solar. Few people want to be a pioneer. The goal, therefore, is to create a new, ready-made lifestyle for people that requires little or no effort on their part. One of the more popular strategies along these lines has been the Eco Village.
The Ultimate Power Saving Device: Your House
Eco Villages aren’t new to Australia, of course; the concept has been tried many times, usually with somewhat disappointing results. Many previous attempts have failed to combine true energy efficiency (often having porous building envelopes or poorly-placed thermal mass, or appliance and other infrastructure packages that eschewed energy efficient appliances in favour of more ‘wow factor’) or have failed to create a comfortable and attractive living environment. The dilemma raises its head again: No one wants to live in a shabby or uncomfortable home, no matter how environmentally-friendly it is.
The people behind the new Cape Paterson Ecovillage in Victoria, believe they have tackled these problems and created not just the first truly Zero Carbon housing development, but a place that people will want to live, with affordable homes, beautiful design, and a charming lifestyle that just happens to be zero-carbon and the greenest way to live that modern science can offer.
Based on the information released about the development, things looks incredible: Each home is designed for ideal northern sun exposure for the solar power, and the internal systems of each home are designed to be entirely electric. For the time being the load is split between the solar panels and a green-certified outside grid, with the expectation that eventually the electricity will be supplied entirely by solar panels. Every aspect of the homes has been carefully planned and designed to contribute towards a zero-carbon lifestyle. The buildings have been assigned impressive ratings by an inspection team composed of Tony Isaacs (FirstRate software) and Wayne Floyd (former chair of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors board), and ten of the houses in the development were awarded 7.5 stars – with no concessions. That is an amazing rating for a new home. Even more impressive is that these homes are not inordinately expensive, meaning these could be a simple, no-stress way for people to launch themselves into a zero-carbon lifestyle that will be incredibly beneficial to the world.
However, the data released by the product doesn’t offer any information about the carbon-cost of the materials and construction used in the development. These costs can be quite high, especially when the fabrication of specialised materials is taken into account. Without knowing what the Carbon Debt of these homes is, calculating when they truly become ‘carbon neutral’ is impossible. What is also impossible is that they begin their existence as a new home in a carbon neutral state – there must be some Carbon Debt owing to their construction that will take some time to ‘pay off.’ Without this information, judging the true ‘zero carbon’ status of the homes is simply impossible.
That being said, these homes still represent the right direction and the right decisions. Building new homes to have the capability of being Zero Carbon is the right first step; making these homes attractive, comfortable, and affordable to a wide section of the public is the right (and necessary) second step. It’s exciting to see more of these sorts of developments go up. We certainly don’t want to discourage such endeavours – but the more information freely offered, the more people can make informed, environmentally-conscious decisions.