Not everyone interested in sustainable home design has the opportunity to start from scratch with a blank sheet of paper like we did. I’m sure many people steadily upgrade their existing dwelling as they find ideas, money and time. Energy consumption is often the main focus of improvements. Considering how best to improve a home’s efficiency raises two big questions. What energy reduction ideas will work in this house? Which idea is the best one to start with? Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a home rating method that helped answer these questions?
VRES is a new home rating method.
Victorian residents might find the Victorian Residential Efficiency Scorecard (VRES) useful for ideas on how to reduce energy bills.
The Scorecard is a home rating program similar to the Energy Rating Labels for electrical appliances. A star number from 1 to 10 indicates the relative cost of energy used in the house. Note the audit focuses on fixed appliances such as heaters and air conditioners but ignores removable appliances like fridges and washing machines. The higher the number of stars, the less energy used in a house.
How is a home rating audit conducted?
The process begins with booking the services of an accredited assessor. Several not-for-profit organisations have assessors who tested the process during 2017. Anyone desperate to get started should contact the ATA for suggestions on where to look for an assessor. In April, the Victorian government officially launches the program and will release contact details for VRES assessors.
Assessors charge a fee for visiting the site to complete the home rating process. They inspect the building shell and look at details such as windows and insulation as well as measuring room dimensions. The assessor also collects information about fixed appliances (eg air conditioners and lighting).
All the information goes straight into a webtool. The webtool digests the information and runs a comparison with a best-in-class benchmark. Then the program spits out a star rating certificate, along with an indication of where all that energy is going. At this point, it might be a case of good news and bad news. The bad news could be a star rating closer to 1 than 10. However, the good news is the VRES certificate highlights opportunities for improvement. Likely costs for any improvements aren’t calculated but the report indicates the potential for reducing energy costs.
There is also a section on how well the house performs in hot weather. Obviously, with our summers getting drier and hotter, energy for cooling could increase. VRES generates suggestions for how to make the home comfortable during those times in a more efficient manner.
Experience with an actual audit.
ATA Renew Issue 142 contains an informative article summarising an ATA staffer’s experience with a VRES home rating.
The conclusion was the VRES was a step in the right direction for improving the efficiency of Victorian homes.
With the inbuilt restriction to fixed appliances, the star rating system is open to interpretation. Heating is a good example of a grey area. A home that uses portable bar heaters during winter may score better than one that uses a fixed heater. Why? It’s because the program doesn’t take the bar heater energy consumption into account. Perhaps non-fixed appliances will be included in a future webtool upgrade.
The program developers stress that the VRES stars shouldn’t be confused with the NatHERS star rating. NatHERS uses design information for a new house to predict the energy required to keep the occupants comfortable. The higher the NatHERS star rating, the less energy required for heating and cooling. VRES stars predict the energy cost of an existing home under average conditions. The higher the VRES star rating, the lower the cost for running the appliances in the house.
Despite some misgivings about the VRES stars, the major benefit from the home rating audit was discussing the results with the assessor. The list of suggested renovations or appliance replacements was a highlight.
Benefit of home rating results for homeowners.
Based on the ATA article, a VRES audit could be valuable for homeowners interested in becoming more sustainable by reducing their energy consumption.
Rather than focusing on the VRES stars rating, the real prize is the list of site-specific recommendations for improvements. Acting on the suggestions should reduce energy consumption (and the energy bill).
If you find the VRES program just whets your whistle for sustainability improvements, then you should consider using a program like the Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard (BESS). This program covers more than a home’s energy consumption. Checklists in BESS show how well the home compares to best practice in energy and six other categories including water, wastes and transport. Usually the program ensures sustainability is included in the design stage of new homes. Putting an existing home through the program would show possible improvements across the board.
Benefit of results for savvy home sellers.
Are you selling a home that has a range of energy efficiency features but the Real Estate agent doesn’t really understand their importance? Perhaps you’ve completed a few upgrades and renovations that make the home quite efficient.
In this case, you might encourage buyer interest by using the VRES star rating to support a claim of low energy costs. Just a thought.
Another way to promote the home’s sustainability features is with a Liveability Real Estate review by a qualified Real Estate agent.
What’s the future for VRES?
This program appears to be a step along the road to mandatory reporting of a home’s efficiency.
Apparently, all Australian States and Territories agreed to set up a reporting process way back in 2009. So far, only the ACT has delivered on that promise. Any home for sale in the ACT comes with an energy efficiency rating for buyers to review.
C’mon the rest of Australia! Let’s catch up with the ACT. Putting an efficiency rating on homes must help with promoting more sustainable house designs across our continent.