Rethinking energy consumption through home retrofits
Figtree retirement village resident Roslyn Fairley is a self-described energy ambassador.
Her home at Warrigal Figtree is one of 185 that have had key technologies installed as part of the Energy+Illawarra research project to help older Australians improve energy efficiency without compromising their comfort and wellbeing.
Since the addition of a solar hot water system, Ms Fairley has found herself having conversations with her neighbours about energy use.
“Electricity is the biggest bill I pay and I thought that having a hot water solar system would be useful,” she said.
“But energy efficiency is also a community issue and we can all contribute with the way we live. When people walk past and ask about the solar hot water system it’s an opportunity to share knowledge.”
The retrofits to the 185 homes followed formative research conducted by Macquarie University and UOW’s Centre for Health Initiatives, as part of a social marketing behaviour change program that developed insights and understanding about how and why low-income older people in the Illawarra use energy in the home.
UOW’s Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) added to these insights by observing people’s energy use practices in their everyday lives.
This involved going into people’s homes and talking about, videoing, and mapping how they use energy.
Electrician Shauna Mulligan installs a power monitor that shows the home's occupant how much energy is being used.
UOW’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), with the help of local consultants and contractors, followed the formative research with energy-use audits that included a detailed analysis of the way people use energy.
To capture the vast array of data that characterises the materials in a house and how the house is used, the team built an audit tool that allowed the information to be entered in a laptop or tablet.
An occupant diary helped gather information about the daily schedules of the activities that could affect energy consumption and comfort levels, such as opening windows, use of lighting, cooking, and appliances.
SBRC Director Professor Paul Cooper said this information helped determine which energy efficient improvements, from a short-list of 18 possible options, were most appropriate to the building and how it’s used.
“In comparison with other parts of the world, the composition of existing Australian residential buildings varies greatly as a result of many specific characteristics related to local construction practices, building codes and availability of materials,” he said.
“The results of the audits clearly illustrated that no single retrofit was suitable for application across all homes.”
Retrofits have included installation of items such as solar hot water systems, door seals, ceiling fans and in-home displays that show real-time energy use.
“Energy efficiency involves both technology solutions and behaviour change,” Professor Cooper said.
“A key long-term outcome for the project is to fill the gap in relevant and accessible information about the costs and benefits of upgrades to the home, which is one of the main barriers to energy efficiency for low-income households.”
The Energy+Illawarra project is based on research insights developed with members of the community through surveys of close to 1000 low-income residents aged 60 and over in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven regions of New South Wales to find out their knowledge, attitudes and practices toward energy efficient living.
Associate Professor Ross Gordon, Energy+Illawarra social marketing project lead, said a deeper understanding of everyday practices of energy use was developed from the formative research.
“These important research insights informed the implementation of the Energy+Illawarra intervention, from the design and delivery of the social marketing behaviour change program, to the strategy and roll out of the program of energy efficiency installations in people’s homes.
Regional Development Australia Illawarra (RDAI) was awarded a $2.3 million grant from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; and consortium member organisations have so far contributed in excess of a million dollars of cash and in-kind support to the Energy+Illawarra project.
The consortium involves a range of organisations including the University of Wollongong and Macquarie University, the Illawarra Forum, the WEA Illawarra, Warrigal, Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI), IRT Group, and Southern Councils Group.
For more information on the Energy+Illawarra program and to learn about how you can be energy efficient in your home visit energyplusillawarra.com.au.