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Chris Byrne

Water use systems aside --and its amazing they are allowed to use gray water to water the lawn while diverting rain water to flush the toilets, which neither my Australian nor Californian community would allow!-- Australian building codes w/r/t insulation, windowing, and air tightness for new construction are no where near as stringent is those in, say, California. Its really impressive that these owners exceeded Australia's "six star" requirement by 33%, particularly since there is no government incentive to go the extra star or three, and builders in Australia seem to actively resist implementing mechanisms to enhance energy efficiency.

I'd like to know more about the building materials they used that require no special planning, permitting or construction, like the phase change drywall (plasterboard).

We used windows with thermal breaks in their aluminium frames in our Australian retirement home, but we were unable to convince the builder to upgrade the insulation to what would be standard in California --an opportunity for efficiency now forever lost.

   
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dreamdoctor

There was a need to convince the builder to do what you wanted? Bring in some one else. My projects do not have a second conductor. The contractor's role in the project is as the orchestra, playing what the architect/designer specifies. My architect friend in Chile says they can't get people top insulate the exterior of the projects with rigid insulation; they want to spend the money on goodies and frosting. The roles of the project should be clearly defined to have all this settled before the project starts.

The standards are a minimum, a place to start. We get incentive from the power companies to upgrade.

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Chris Byrne

As is often the case in Australia, the builder was putting together for us a proprietary model to their pre-designed plans. Because an energy audit of the plans met the 6-star requirement (particularly after we sprang for the window upgrade), they didn't see any need to do anything more. Everything we wanted extra had to be researched by us, specified, and then paid for in its entirety, and they were simply unwilling to do anything that required them to change their standard method of construction or work with some material that was 'new' to them.

And, mind you, this is a company that trumpets their 'green' ethic.

So they were willing to let us upgrade to a higher density rockwool/fiberglass wall insulation, since it went into the same size wall cavity as the plans called for --but they didn't do it as standard, since it wasn't necessary to meet the engineering standard used as the building code. They were unwilling to use a heavier timber in the ceiling joists or fur out the walls to get to the next step up in R-value. They were unwilling to even consider using a gel foam insulation lined plasterboard in the ceilings. The gel, which would have increased insulation value of the ceiling by 25%, would have made the plasterboard thicker, but almost no heavier.

And honestly, their construction practice turned out to be so poor that its probably a good thing we didn't dig in and insist. For example, we pulled out a box cabinet installed against an exterior wall and found no insulation at all behind it --I guess they figured we were never going to look? Ditto when we removed a bit of window casing --no insulation behind the casings around the frame of the window. In a long great room line with windows on the north and east, that's effectively at least an 18 sq ft un-insulated hole.

And, since Australia allows licensed builders to sign off on their own inspections, getting any of this resolved involves: hiring a licensed private inspector and if they are willing to say 'this isn't what is specified in your contract' or 'this doesn't meet Australian Standards', then you get to pay to have the work done, and go to mediation to recoup the expense. And the mediators naturally want to promote compromise, so almost never to you recoup all the expense unless their is an actual safety hazard.

Australia now builds the biggest middle-class homes in the world and unless they address these issues by building code or government mandate, adoption of truly modest and well-understood energy-saving technologies is going to be slooooow. Every time Houzz features an Australian property with a rammed earth wall or polished concrete slab floors, I wish they'd also ask how much insulation they put in the ceiling.......

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