'Grand Designs' - An Insight Into How The Europeans Build

For anyone with an interest in design and building, Kevin McCloud's latest series of 'Grand Designs' being shown on the ABC at 7:30pm on Sundays provides an insight into the world of better built and high thermal performance housing. 

While more extreme temperatures have driven the refinement of building systems in Europe and the US, the carbon pollution implications of pumping brown-coal based electricity into poorly insulated houses in Victoria has made it an agenda very relevant to Australia.

We have introduced minimum insulation standards and now model the thermal performance of building fabrics (outer shell). We started at 5 Star regulatory minimums, have just gone to 6 Star, and ultimately should be heading for 7.5 Stars minimum for most Australian climate bands (for further information on our current Star Rating system, please see the earlier News article on the topic further down on this page).

Grand Designs gives a wonderful illustration of how the Europeans insulate their buildings and the sort of construction required to create better insulated and sealed buildings. In the projects covered to date, there is yet to be a wall framed with timber less than 150mm wide, mainly because wider walls are required to fit in insulation if you are aiming to effectively insulate to levels above R2-R2.5. You get the distinct feeling that a length of 90 x 45 pine framing would be considered a minor bracing timber rather than suitable for stud walls.

UK demonstration and testing of high performance housing materials and systems. Watford, England photo: Caroline Pidcock

To place how the English are approaching their housing into context, David Cameron's conservative UK Government has legislated that by 2016 all new homes built in the United Kingdom will be zero emission on heating and cooling. The UK Governments' 'Code for Sustainable Homes' legislates binding regulations for energy reduction with staggered targets: 25 percent more efficient by 2010, 44 per cent by 2013, and 100 per cent, or zero emissions by 2016.

Now passed into law, the code sets minimum standards for both energy and water efficiency. In addition, the UK government has agreed that any home achieving Level 6 sustainability rating will be exempt from stamp duty. It has been calculated that by 2050 70% of UK homes will be zero carbon in operation.

Yes, that is 2016 - 5 years away and not a long-term 2050 possible target. And many Australians think the rest of the world is not taking action on climate change?