Solutions > Low Carbon Australia > Buildings

This page includes discussion of:

  • Articles on energy efficient buildings: They are now affordable and easy to organise
  • Ditching gas and our “gas mentality”
  • The “Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan” for retrofitting Australia’s buildings: A wealth of practical information for anyone involved with building.

 Articles on energy efficient buildings

Energy efficient housing is now affordable and easy to organise.

An off-the-shelf, affordable, energy-efficient house

A large scale house builder in Melbourne, Henley,  can build you a  stock-standard, volume-built, 9-star energy efficient, 220 square meter house for about $ 245,000.  These houses are so efficient that they only need one small heater.  It’s a heater that uses less than half the annual electricity of a fridge and can be bought cheaply for about $500.  These houses are so efficient that, with a small battery system (now available from companies like ZEN Home Energy Systems), they would not need to be connected to the electricity grid even in a cloudy Melbourne winter. The proud owner of such a house is located right within Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s own federal division of Flinders, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

(Efficient Off-Grid Solar Home Built:  Matthew Wright: Zero Emissions Australia: Oct 2013)   (Broken Link 2018)

Zero Energy House for minimal extra cost

Josh Byrne has built himself a zero energy house that is also water efficient for minimal extra cost.  He discusses his house in Perth and other zero energy houses in other Australian cities.

ABC Science Show 28/2/2015: Transcript

A switch from gas central-heating to electric air-conditioning

“I’ve been assisting friends and family to disconnect the gas supply for several years now … but even I was surprised by what I discovered in helping my parents replace their gas central heater with the most energy efficient reverse-cycle air conditioner on the Australian market: Daikin’s Ururu Sarara. The sad news for the energy utilities is that my parents will not only [eliminate] their gas bill … but, in addition, their power bill will probably go down.  It was quite astounding and reflects the fact that split-system reverse-cycle air conditioner energy efficiency has improved considerably over the last few years …while gas central heating is incredibly inefficient.”
(Matthew Wright, 16 Dec 2104))

Electric “Induction cookers”

Buying a new stove top cooker?  Many people like gas stove-tops as you have instant control of the heat.  Electric powered “induction cookers” now have advantages over gas:

  • Instant control of heat, just like with gas
  • Electricity will increasingly come from renewables, so over time an induction cooker will not contribute to climate change, unlike a gas burner
  • Very gentle heating is possible, no need for slow heating mats
  • Almost all of the electrical energy heats the pot and the ingredients
  • Cooler kitchens as very little energy is wasted heating the kitchen
  • Safety: The stove top stays cool
  • Reduced health and fire risks compared to gas
  • A flat cooking surface, more usable when you are not cooking


  • Must cook with flat bottomed pots of a magnetic material: stainless steel or cast iron
  • Cannot use a traditional wok
  • Electricity supply failures
  • For pots smaller than about 5 inches wide you need an accessory to stop the safety auto-detect feature cutting off power.
  • The cooking surface can be scratched

Ditching Gas and Our “Gas Mentality”

Many Australians have used cheap gas for a long time, and have come to the conclusion that gas is cheap and good, a “gas mentality”:
* Individuals are still buying gas heaters.
* Governments are still expanding gas infrastructure and so subsidising the use of gas.  For example, the Victorian Government “Energy for the Regions Program”  is spending $100 million to supply reticulated natural gas to communities over regional and rural Victoria”
(Energy for the Regions Program, Regional Development,  Victorian Government: Nov 2014)

The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan challenges this gas mentality.  It recommends eliminating gas.  There are 4 factors behind this:

  • Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change, so installing fossil fuel equipment is short-term investment
  • Australia’s coal fired generators will be replaced by renewables
  • You can replace gas with electricity, retaining functionality and saving on energy bills
  • “Australians pay close to the highest electricity prices in the world, and we’re about to start paying some of the world’s highest gas prices, too. That’s because we’re about to start exporting gas for the first time from the east coast, and there’s no limit to the amount of gas that can be sent overseas. … Household users of gas might have noticed their gas bills rising over the last few years. Household bills have risen around 50 per cent, largely due to the almost $7 billion gas networks have spent on the pipelines that bring gas to our homes”
    (Coal seam gas exports drive up gas bills: Back Ground Briefing: ABC Radio National, 3 Aug 2014) 

Cartoon-gas-bill-cold-shower-golding(Cartoon: Matt Golding: Cooking without Gas as Costs Bite: The Age: 29 Nov 2014)

Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan

Retrofit for Efficient, Self-Powering Buildings
The Zero Carbon Australia: Buildings Plan (August 2013)

“Wow! What a wealth of practical information.  This publication is so much more than a plan to revolutionise Australia’s building stock: it should be compulsory reading for anyone who aspires to design, construct or operate buildings in Australia [builders,  renovators, developers, electricians, plumbers and more]”
(Craig Roussac, CEO Buildings Alive, Buildings Plan)

“This should be mandatory reading in all architecture, planning and engineering schools”
(Dr Janis Birkeland Professor of Sustainable Design, University of Auckland, Buildings Plan)

Zero Carbon Australia: Buildings Plan
You can download the entire 220 page plan.

Summary of the Building Plan

Commercial and residential buildings are responsible for 23% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.  And it is cheap to cut these emissions, e.g. changing to LED lighting.

The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan considers Australia’s climate zones and building types in a comprehensive nation-wide plan to:

  • Retrofit Australian buildings
  • Eliminate gas use in Australian buildings
  • Reduce energy used in residential and non-residential buildings  by about half
  • Generate more electricity in Australia’s buildings than they use, and so eliminate carbon emissions from Australian buildings
  • Reduce power bills: Australian households currently spend about $15 billion every year on electricity and gas bills.  For some these bills would be eliminated, for many they would be significantly reduced.
  • Increase comfort at home
  • Increase productivity at work
  • Increase health
  • Create jobs, knowledge and expertise in industries of the future
  • Decrease fossil fuel use
  • Decrease greenhouse gas emissions

Heat Pumps

Electric heat pumps are part of common household equipment.  Heat pumps are used in:

  • Fridges: these heat pumps move heat from inside the fridge to your kitchen.
  • Reverse cycle air-conditioners: these heat pumps: (1) cool by moving heat from inside your home to outside, and (2) heat, when the cycle is reversed, by moving heat from outside your home to the inside.

You can also use heat pumps to get your hot water.  You run the heat pump during the day, powering the heat pump with electricity from photovoltaic solar panels.  After installing the panels and heat pump, you heat your water for free, generating no emissions.  Too easy.  These heat pumps move heat from the air outside your house into your hot water tank.  They have:

  • Refrigerant.  The heat pump contains a refrigerant, a liquid that boils at a low temperature like minus 26 C.  Actually, carbon dioxide is a suitable refrigerant as it is a weaker greenhouse gas than many other refrigerants.  Using such a refrigerant limits the damage from a refrigerant escape.
  • An Evaporator:  Even on cold days, the air outside your house can heat the refrigerant to above a low boiling point like minus 26 C, so some of the refrigerant evaporates producing a gas.
  • A Compressor:  This gas is removed from the evaporator and compressed.  As the pressure builds, the gas gets hotter, just as your bicycle pump gets hot as you pump up your tyres.  The gas is heated to 95 C.
  • A Condenser:  The hot, pressurised gas passes its heat to where you want it, to the water in your hot water tank.  In doing this, the gas cools and condenses into a moderate temperature liquid.
  • An Expansion Valve:  The cooled gas moves from the high pressure condenser, through an expansion valve,  returning to the where it started, in the low pressure evaporator,  and the cycle repeats.

A good diagram here

Efficiency measures in the Building Plan include:
  • Stove top cooking with electric induction:  It performs just like a gas-cook top and uses half the energy
  • Full insulation
  • Full draft proofing
  • Efficient window glazing
  • Increasing summer shade
  • Cool roof paint
  • Ceiling fans
  • Heating and cooling of homes with electric, reverse cycle, split system heat pumps: To heat, these systems extract heat from the air, are 5 times more efficient than gas and cost half as much to run. (p 3, 85)
  • Hot water from electric heat pumps: Use 80% less energy than standard gas and electric hot water systems
  • Lighting using LEDs: Save 80% compared to  halogen downlights
  • Increasing requirements for energy efficient appliances
  • Install an in-dome display linked to your smart meter
  • Use more efficient electrical appliances (fridges etc)
  • Roof top soalr panels

Zero Carbon Australia: Buildings Plan: August 2013

What you can do in your house:
“Beyond Zero Emissions” video (24 minutes)

Discussion of the report

“The plan is ambitious, but the barriers to achieving it aren’t technological: we have everything we need to make it happen.  There are financial barriers for individual households and businesses. To achieve the plan, households particularly will need incentives or ways to offset initial costs against future savings. For example, interest-free loans could be given to carry out the work, or retrofits could form part of a household energy agreement with their retailer.”


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