A greener home? There’s an app for that

Being a committed environmentalist does not automatically mean a smaller household footprint. But renovating could help.

The homes of committed environmentalists have a similar carbon footprint to other Australians, Swinburne researchers have found. Scientists argue that more needs to be done to make environmental improvements the status quo in Australian homes.

Solar panels by Elliott Brown
Cropped photo by Elliott Brown

After surveying 1,250 households, Professor Peter Newton from Swinburne Centre for Urban Transitions was surprised to find that people professing to have strong environmental concerns used almost the same amount of resources as people with little interest in environmental issues.

“People might say they have pro-environmental attitudes but when you look at consumption of electricity, gas and water; travel; housing space; and appliances, we found there was no difference between committed greens and environmental skeptics,” said Professor Newton.

Since behavioural change is not guaranteed to reduce carbon consumption, Professor Kath Hulse, Director of the Centre for Urban Transitions, has investigated the benefits of communicating energy efficiency strategies to home renovators.

While building regulations mandate energy efficiency in new homes, houses built before 2004 are poor performers. Renovations present a prime opportunity to improve the energy rating of existing homes, but it is often not a high priority for homeowners, said Professor Hulse.

She found that renovators are primarily interested in comfort and livability but also have an eye to future resale. “Energy efficiency is not top of their list. People are conscious of budget, but they also want comfort. It’s a funny mix of financial and emotional factors,” she said.

Professor Hulse’s research found that communication about how to make homes more energy efficient could be made more pertinent to homeowners.

“The issue is people are spending money on a renovation and want to see where the money goes, but some things, like insulation, you can’t see. It’s not glamorous,” she said.

Professor Hulse and her team discovered renovators gather their information via digital media and so are developing a ‘renovator accelerator’: an advice website that will be made into an app for mobile phones.

“People spend a lot of time researching at the early stage of the project, so this is the ideal time to help people incorporate energy efficiency into their project,” said Professor Hulse. “Our prototype treats energy efficiency as mainstream — not special, not different, and not more costly,” she said.

The website will even tell you how much your home value is likely to increase after implementing energy efficient initiatives. It is expected the prototype will be completed this year. This research is part of the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living’s work on engaging communities in improving energy efficiency.

Published in Swinburne Research Impact, March 2018, Nature Custom Publishing.

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