Online scheme to rate homes' energy efficiency

KIRAN CHUG
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2010

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Calls for mandatory energy and performance ratings for New Zealand homes are growing after the launch of the second voluntary scheme in three years.

Yesterday, Building and Housing Minister Maurice Williamson launched the Homestar rating scheme, which will enable people to rate house performance on a 10-star scale.

It follows a similar voluntary scheme developed by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and launched in 2007, attracting about 1000 people to have their homes assessed.

The new rating scheme was welcomed as a good step yesterday, but criticised for falling short of a compulsory system.

Australia is moving towards compulsory ratings, with the ACT and Queensland states both having variations of mandatory schemes.

Similarly, European Union regulations will by 2012 require homeowners to have an energy assessment carried out before selling their homes.

Sustainability Trust acting chief executive Phil Squire said New Zealand needed a mandatory system as well. Regulation would be the "game changer" needed for people to improve the energy efficiency of their own homes, and rental properties.

"We're in a culture where we're nickel-and-dimeing about spending on some things, like an extra $50 on a flat-screen TV, but not on the house."

People were currently reluctant to invest in energy improvements and Homestar's success would depend on whether or not people acted on its ratings. "The key thing will be application, and what people do with that information."

Business Council for Sustainable Development chief executive Peter Neilson said Homestar was developed, largely by the building industry, after the organisation's 2008 report on how to improve homes. It found a million of the country's 1.6m homes were inadequately insulated, 45 per cent were mouldy, and 26 per cent could be making their occupants ill.

Poorly performing homes were imposing major costs on New Zealanders, and Mr Neilson hoped using Homestar would become the norm for landlords, sellers and tenants.

However, it was still a voluntary system developed by the industry after the Government declined to make home performance rating mandatory following the 2008 report.

"Obviously the Government could give this a major boost if it required the Homestar rating on its substantial rental stock as each home is upgraded and newly let."

The chief executive of the Green Building Council, which helped develop Homestar, said a voluntary scheme was the right one for now.

Alex Cutler said that, even though Australia had compulsory home energy rating schemes, it was "too early for that" in New Zealand.

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"We're really proud of this as a first step."

Though people could complete a free online rating assessment within about 15 or 20 minutes, paying for a certified assessment through Homestar would cost about $450, Ms Cutler said.

Mr Williamson said Homestar would help buyers identify better-performing houses, and encourage people to make improvements that would have health and energy efficiency benefits.

"This Government has never been into forcing consumers to a particular solution."

However, Green Party housing spokesman Gareth Hughes said the risk with a voluntary scheme was that there would be little uptake by landlords and home energy ratings needed to be compulsory.

Homes can be rated online for energy efficiency, health and comfort, water use and waste at homestar.org.nz

- The Dominion Post

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