Saving water means saving money in Victoria

According to the new report, The Economics of Water Saving in Victoria, rising water prices mean it makes financial sense for households and businesses to save water.

The report, funded by the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre, studied the economic effects of installing high-efficiency shower heads, toilets, dishwashers and washing machines, as well as rainwater tanks, greywater systems and water recirculators.

Damien Moyse, the ATA’s policy manager, said water prices had risen considerably in Victoria in recent years and were likely to continue going up.

“As the price of mains water rises, there is a greater financial incentive for people to switch to water saving,” Mr Moyse said.

Among the findings, the report says:

  • The most efficient showerheads (with a flow of 5 litres a minute) are economically the best choice for consumers.
  • Rainwater tanks up to 5000 litres in capacity can save people considerable amounts of money.
  • A family washing clothes 4-10 times a week will benefit from a higher efficiency washing mashine that saves water and energy.
  • A simple toilet water saver device, which flushes for only as long as the button is held down and can be installed by renters, will pay for itself in a few months.

“People aren’t used to thinking about water-saving technology helping them financially as they do energy-saving technology,” Mr Moyse said. “The results from this study are compelling.”

“This report gives people in all suburbs and regions across Victoria an idea of how much they are likely to save when adopting particular water-saving technology.”

The Alternative Technology Association (ATA) is a not-for-profit organisation that advocates and educates for sustainable living.

To read the report, click here.

In search of good wood: building with sustainably sourced timber

It goes without saying that when choosing a building material, it’s vital to consider the social and ecological impacts of its production. Timber is no exception.

Just what sustainably sourced timber is remains a topic of debate – practically, scientifically, ethically and politically. Yet there are timbers and timber products available that are from well-managed forests where the impacts of commercial growing and harvesting are minimised and their management verified.

There are many benefits to using timber as a building material; it captures and stores carbon without the embodied energy of other materials. It’s lovely to look at and can add warmth and texture to a building, room or piece of furniture. It is a naturally insulating material, offering strength and flexibility (depending on the species) and it is fairly easily recycled. A well-managed forest can also provide habitat for animals and livelihoods for local communities.

Still, logging in Australia and overseas has had significant adverse impacts on people and the environment.

The impacts of logging on our climate, biodiversity, soil erosion and water quality are well documented. Deforestation of Asia’s tropical rainforests represents around 15–18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global, regional and local changes in climate.

The biggest contribution to habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity in forests occurs when vegetation is removed, sediment is washed into waterways and roads are built. Other factors like pesticides and changed fire regimes also affect local biodiversity. These changes can disrupt the lives of flora, fauna and people who depend on the forests for survival.

Start with recycled timber
The sustainable design guide Your Home suggests sourcing building materials that have a net contribution to biodiversity. It recommends using recycled materials that can be recycled themselves at the end of their life.

Recycled timber is a good first port of call in your search for sustainable timber. However, sourcing the appropriate and right amount can be more difficult than opting for new wood.

Certified timber and timber products
Timber certification allows consumers to pay for timber that has been grown and harvested under a set of environmental and social principles. For such schemes to work, certifying bodies need to maintain their credibility through consistent, quality auditing and appropriate awarding of certification. They also need to develop consumer trust, a task that has proved challenging in the commercial landscape of forest management.
Forest and timber certification schemes, such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification label, are the easiest way to purchase timber products that have a better chance of being sustainably and ethically grown and harvested.

FSC certification is considered by many observers and guides, including Greenpeace’s Good Wood Guide, to be the most robust forest certification scheme. FSC sets out detailed requirements for chain of custody certified timber from the felling of a tree to the end product, whatever it might be. The scheme is based on 10 principles, including upholding Indigenous peoples’ rights; upholding community relations and workers’ rights; enhancing benefits from the forest; maintaining or restoring ecosystems; ensuring management plans, monitoring and assessments are undertaken; ensuring the maintenance of high-conservation value forests; and, managing plantations.
FSC-certified timber and timber products are becoming more common and more readily available in Australia. However, an Australian forestry operation was not certified by the scheme until 2004 and the country’s certified forests represent less than two per cent of FSC’s global certified forest area. Australian-grown FSC-certified hardwoods can be more difficult to find, but these products are available.

Other certifications
There are a range of other certifying bodies worldwide. The PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) is a large global forest certification umbrella organisation. The PEFC has a set of sustainability benchmarks that are used to endorse national forest certification schemes, such as the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS). The PEFC’s forest management principles are generally considered to be less prescriptive and stringent than the FSC’s requirements. In Australia, the AFS does not have the support of environmental NGOs such as Friends of the Earth.

Around the world there are many accredited certifying bodies, each vying for market share and each with their own standards and indicators measuring and monitoring ‘sustainable’ forest management. These range from industry-developed/backed certification schemes, such as PEFC, to those developed by (or with significant input from) environmental NGOs, such as FSC.

Keeping certification on track
Given this complex forest management environment in which it can be difficult to compare schemes and discern the details of their certification, research and environmental NGOs play an important role in ensuring sustainable forestry meets consumer expectations about ‘good’ wood.

A 2013 paper reviewing current knowledge about the impacts of forest certification by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) argues that there needs to be more critical evaluation of the impacts of forest certification.1 As each forest is managed within a complex array of ecological, socioeconomic and political parameters, it points out that it is difficult to compare forests and to assess how certification has changed their management over time. Evaluation is therefore important to ensure consumers get the social and environmental sustainability they expect of an eco label and pay for.

Environmental NGOs also play a key role in setting benchmarks for good forestry practice and as watchdogs ensuring that different certifying schemes’ maintain their standards. A quick web search will reveal that many environment groups monitor AFS and FSC logging operations around Australia and throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Greenpeace Australia campaigner Reece Turner says FSC certification is the most superior standard recognised by environmental and other civil society organisations around the world. Keeping FSC’s validity on track is important to the organisation and in recent years, the NGO and another organisation, FSC-Watch, have raised questions about the strength of the scheme’s definitions, principles and practices. “We have seen, not a relaxation of the standards so much, but we’ve certainly seen a failure at times to enforce standards and ensure that proper auditing occurs,” explains Turner. “Sometimes [FSC] really leads to fantastic outcomes for people and the environment and sometimes, unfortunately, it is not living up to expectations.” [Ed note: Visit Greenpeace International’s website to read case studies highlighting best practice forest management and exposing more controversial operations].

Where to source good wood
In this complex environment, how can you make better choices? Use recycled timbers first and foremost.If you’re using new wood, try to stick to FSC-certified where possible. Despite some controversial examples, Greenpeace and other environmental groups and observers largely agree that FSC is the most robust and reliable certification scheme – provided FSC-certified forests are continually evaluated and monitored to ensure FSC’s principles are being put into practice.

In line with this, when you choose wood products try to do some additional research. Speak to your architect or designer, research the timbers specified by your builder and try to speak directly with timber suppliers and building product producers to assess the environmental impacts of their practice. If you can, visit the forests the timber is coming from to see first-hand the impacts of forest harvesting

If you’re buying or using timber in a home renovation or new build project (even recycled), then you need to be savvy about your sources and your suppliers’ sources to ensure you make an informed choice about which timber products you use


What’s your favourite suburban element?

We asked you what your favourite suburban element was to win a copy of Stuart Harrison’s New Suburban: Remaking the family home in Australia and New Zealand and we received a host of wonderful replies. Thanks to all the talented Sanctuary readers who wrote in – you made our day.

Here are some of the replies we received:

We live in a little Sunshine Coast hinterland town called Maleny, it truly has an identifiable sense of community. There is always something happening, music, art, land and wildlife care, cultural and  indigenous events etc. You can drop into town any time and find someone interesting and fun to share the experience with. We feel that our cohousing goals will fit into this community feeling through layout, building design and governance. – Ridley 

My favourite suburban element is the architecture made with adobe, a typical system to build in Costa Rica.– Erick

Trees are an essential element that make our suburbs pleasurable and interactive places. – Sue

My favourite suburban element is nostalgic. The verandah can offer so many opportunities – in solitude or with family and friends – with refreshments of course! A shady escape from summer sun and heat, to enjoy a balmy summer evening, or soak up the winter sun.– Karen 

Our favourite suburban element is the backyard orchard – great for eating (or, in our case, sharing with the birds and local wildlife), but also great for climbing, cubbie houses and shade! – Karin

My favourite suburban element is a nostalgic one from my childhood growing up in a small town in country Victoria in the 1960s. In town there were a number of cast iron letter boxes, one of which was on the street corner just near where I lived.

These boxes had some interesting design elements, such as the crown pinnacle and the human fist incorporated into the handle on the locked door, as well as other decoration around it’s cylindrical body ( belying the term ‘box’). They were a very tactile, very solid construction and at around 6ft. were tempting to climb and sit on top straddling the crown. It was no chore when asked to post a letter.

Sadly the one near home was replaced in the late 60s, early 70s by a modern, streamlined design crafted out of sheet metal with a pipe base. Not nearly as interesting.

As with many other changes in the last 20-odd years these ‘new’ boxes have also been removed but never replaced. I think that the loss of this infrastructure has diminished the suburban environment. – Drew

I like the old-style long driveway to one side of the house that stretches half the block to the garage. Perfect space as a kid to play with the basketball or ride a bike.– Chris

Favourite suburban element: mine is that little step outside the back door. It’s a little oasis for any member of the family either to be alone or to sit and watch the family buzzing around you. It’s where you go to think, or cry or marvel at the night sky – or just take time out with the dog (who just sits with you without asking any questions). – Troy 

My favourite suburban element is a community garden. Not only do they provide the seeds of resilience when hit by tougher times, they help weave the social fabric of the local people, transforming it from just a “suburb” into a true community.– Sami

My favourite suburban element is probably the social elements, sharing food/BBQs, kids playing together in the street/front yard, so architecturally I guess that having a front yard space that invites your neighbours openly to play/chat would be my favourite element…opposed to walls and fences locking you away from the world. – Tim

Image: Nick Carson at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Higher star energy ratings save energy, greenhouse emissions and money

The report, The Evaluation of the 5-Star Energy Efficiency Standard for Residential Buildings, details the results of a study undertaken by CSIRO to evaluate the effectiveness of 5 Star standards for houses.

The study, which sought to find the costs and benefits of placing the 5 Star energy rating standard in the Building Code of Australia in 2006, found that the higher standard significantly reduced the energy needed to keep houses warm in winter.

In higher-rated houses average winter energy use compared to lower-rated houses was 50 per cent less in Melbourne, 19 per cent less in Adelaide and negligible in Brisbane. These houses were also on average 1 degree warmer than lower-rated houses with energy ratings of less than 5.

The report also found that it is cheaper to build a 5 Star or higher-rated house than a lower-rated house. The average savings for the elements of a building related to achieving the higher star rating were $7,500 in Brisbane, $5,500 in Adelaide and $5,000 in Melbourne. This result was mainly due to increases in insulation and a more rectangular floor plan.

Overall greenhouse gas emissions for higher rated houses in all cities were found to be 7% less over the year. This is despite greater summer cooling energy use in these houses in Melbourne and Brisbane and increased greenhouse gas emissions in all higher-rated houses during this season. The report indicates that the increased greenhouse gas emissions during this time could be because the residents of these houses tend to have children and greater daytime occupancy than the lower-rated houses. CSIRO concluded that more research is needed to better understand this result.

CSIRO surveyed 414 volunteer households of different star ratings in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. The research compared inside and outside temperatures, analysed energy bills and measured the energy used by heating and cooling appliances.

House star energy ratings are a measure of the thermal performance of a home as it is designed. A 10 Star home should need no heating or cooling. Across Australia, new houses have to be built to a minimum of 6 Stars, except in the Northern Territory where the minimum is 5 Stars.

You can download and read the report here >

Image: The Green Swing, WA, © Sebastian Mrugalski


Focus on Green Sheep Collective

As well as speaking to local sustainable architects and designers, people attending the event have the chance to get free advice during speed dates with experts in areas like sustainable gardens, solar PV and hot water, green roofs and energy efficient products.

Speed Date a Sustainability Expert Melbourne is being held in partnership with Positive Charge and the City of Melbourne and is part of the Sustainable Living Festival 2014.

As Sanctuary’s publisher, the ATA, gears up for the event, we caught up with one of the sustainable architects coming along, Shae Parker McCashen the director of the Green Sheep Collective.

How and when was Green Sheep Collective started?

Shae – I had worked as a freelancer since I was at university, and had my own projects running alongside my full-time work for employers. I wanted to be able to approach architecture and sustainability in a way that included strong teamwork with all of the players involved (the project collective), and with a stronger focus on people – including being able to bring good design to smaller projects or people who might not otherwise be able to employ an architect. In 2011 I decided I would like to develop the business full time.

Are there some basic design principles that you apply to your houses to achieve sustainability goals or is it the kind of thing that might change from homeowner to homeowner?

Shae – Certainly our designs will respond to a specific brief from the client, and this can bring unique, exciting elements to the design and the approach to sustainability. However, in common with all of our designs is the application of passive solar design principles and site-specific design. This should always include an excellent quality of light, cross ventilation and a strong connection with the outdoors.

Further, we find that creating homes and spaces that have a high level of flexibility to them can greatly enhance the inherent sustainability of each home, ensuring the home can accommodate changing lifestyles and the family make-up of the home over time so people can live in the spaces over the years, without the need to move homes or renovate just because a teenager moves out, a mother needs care for a short time, or another child comes along.

Have there been any favourite projects along the way – what were they and why?

Shae – My favourite projects tend to be those where the clients are really engaged in and excited by the design process, and where we collaborate with the builder from early on in the design process. These aspects tend to push the design to a higher level, and allow an efficient, fun and smooth design and construction process.

A couple of specific favourites would include:

– ‘Smart Home’, since it really packs so much functionality and design into a small space.

– ‘Northcote Solar Home’, because the clients have been so excited by the design and we worked with the builder, Elyte Focus, from early on. There is a great trust between all parties, and good teamwork towards a common goal.

Sustainable Terrace Image: Emma Cross

Green Sheep Collective

Ecoliv home in Federation square will house The New Joneses

Within its well-insulated walls Sunrise presenter Edwina Bartholomew will live throughout the festival in a public sustainability education project called The New Joneses.

The New Joneses aims to education people about energy efficiency, the secondhand economy and reducing food waste.

The prefabricated 8 Star house was designed by Ecoliv under passive solar design principles. It has north-facing windows, window eaves, double glazing, insulation and good cross ventilation.

The house also has solar hot water, a 1.72kW solar system, rainwater tanks, LED downlights, electricity use metering, a greywater recycling system, ceiling fans and low VOC painted walls.

Alongside the house, there will be chickens, a garden and an electric car for the occupant’s food and transport.

You can go down to Federation Square to take a look at the house or watch Sunrise to see how The New Joneses are getting on in their new pad.

Image: Ecoliv Buildings

The New Joneses


Green experts on keeping your home cool and comfortable

These are some of the questions likely to be asked at Speed Date a Sustainability Expert in Melbourne on February 22.

Leading green home designers, architects and sustainability experts will provide free advice to the public during 13-minute “dates”.

The event is held by the not-for-profit Alternative Technology Association (ATA) in partnership with the City of Melbourne and Positive Charge.

Speed Date a Sustainability Expert will include experts on:

  • Passive solar design
  • Energy efficiency
  • Solar power
  • Windows and glazing
  • Green roofs, walls and facades
  • Sustainable gardens
  • Rainwater saving and greywater

According to Emilio Fuscaldo of the award-winning Nest Architects, one of the attending experts, there are many ways to make a home cooler in summer without using a lot of energy:

“Insulation is really important,” Emilio says. “Having good insulation will potentially mean you use less air-conditioning.”

“Then there are things like painting your roof and walls in light colours and shading the roof, walls and windows that are exposed to the sun. Sealing draughts is another crucial consideration.”

Donna Luckman, the ATA’s chief executive, says Speed Date a Sustainability Expert will be an informative and fun experience.

“People can bring sketches, plans or photographs on their tablet, laptop or in hard copy. Registration is essential.”

Speed Date a Sustainability Expert

When: Saturday, February 22, 2pm – 4pm
Where: The Drill Hall, 26 Therry Street, Melbourne
Cost: Free. Booking essential – limited spots available

Image: Nick Stephenson