New eco-home research makes a financial statement.
LAST year, the Cape Paterson Ecovillage broke new ground when its high eco-standards were written into the local planning scheme.
The development will border on the existing town of Cape Paterson, on the Bass Coast, about two hours south-east of Melbourne. Each of the 220 new houses must be oriented for passive solar gain and have a minimum energy rating of 7.5 stars, as well as efficient appliances, at least 2.5 kilowatts of solar energy and 10,000 litres in rainwater tanks.
Now, the project’s developers have released research showing that all these features will save homeowners money over the long term.
“When we started, we wanted to pull together all the proven sustainable housing solutions in one place, and to attempt to deliver a carbon neutral project,” says the ecovillage’s director, Brendan Condon.
That was eight years ago, and back then, he thought they’d need to offer incentives to help buyers pay the extra upfront costs. But because of the steep rise in utility bills in recent years, and the price hikes still to come, it’s no longer necessary.
“We’ve hit a clear tipping point now where the uptake of these sustainability features makes absolute economic sense,” Mr Condon says.
He says that if homeowners re-invest savings into their repayments, they could cut years from their mortgages. And once an electric vehicle (powered by extra solar panels) is in the driveway, “the economic benefits expand rapidly”.
“If we hit high predicted energy and water cost futures, you could pay your mortgage off between seven and eight years early. The benefits accrue to about $300,000 over a 25-year mortgage.”
Independently reviewed research, funded by Sustainability Victoria, compared a Cape Paterson home against three benchmarks – an existing 4-star dwelling, and both a larger and smaller new 6-star home. Consumption was assumed to remain constant in each house, no matter the price rises.
The report’s author, consultant Anthony Szatow, says that in all the scenarios modelled, the greener homes came out in front. “Solar power, efficient appliances and water tanks all return in excess of 10 per cent, after tax. Most sustainability features provide very attractive return on investment, purely on a financial basis,” he says.
“And that financial proposition is just going to get better and better as the cost of centralised energy and water goes up.”
With the strict guidelines for the Cape Paterson homes in mind, Mr Szatow says householders should shop around for plans. “Experienced, skilled designers and architects should be able to get a new home to a 7.5-star rating with very little premium,” he says.
He adds that another financial benefit will come at the point of sale. “It’s early days in the market for sustainable homes, but the indication so far is that homes with the highest star ratings and solar power do have a resale premium.”
For Mr Condon, it’s not enough that the ecovillage has gone green alone. He wants the mainstream building market to change its ways too.
“Rising energy, fuel and water costs are going to become intractable problems for our community,” he says.
“You have a choice now to build conventionally and lock in rising costs, or build sustainably and protect your wallet and the environment – and to do it in a comfortable house.”