Mainstreaming low carbon retrofits in social housing

Targeted review of evidence of direct and co-benefits of energy efficiency upgrades in low income dwellings in Australia
14 May 2018

The current CRC Low Carbon Living Research Project (RP3044) has the aim to encourage mainstream uptake of low carbon retrofits in social housing. The social housing sector, including public, community and Aboriginal housing, own or manage a significant proportion of residential property in Australia; the management is relatively centralised as compared with owner-occupiers and is governed by design and performance standards. The sector therefore presents an opportunity for a large scale, aggregated approach which could result in low carbon retrofits being applied to an extensive portfolio of residential building stock.
Low income occupants, and social housing tenants in particular, are highly vulnerable to energy price rises and extreme weather conditions, and face specific barriers to accessing energy efficient dwellings and improvements. Further, low income occupants often use little energy and rely on compensatory measures to cope with energy bills, such as minimising the use of heating and cooling. This means that traditional benefit-cost assessments, considering the benefit of utility bill reduction only, are often unfavourable for low income dwellings. However, low income tenants are also the most likely to receive non-energy benefits, or co-benefits, from energy efficiency upgrades.
The current targeted review found there is some evidence that low income tenants in social housing in Australia may realise health benefits as a result of energy efficiency interventions, and there is some evidence from international studies that the financial benefits may be substantial. The strongest evidence relates to benefits from increasing winter warmth above identified risk threshold temperatures; there is also evidence of benefits from reducing internal temperatures during summer heat events and reducing the occurrence of mould in homes. However, the link between health outcomes and energy efficiency interventions is exceedingly complex, and there are numerous confounding factors affecting any study in this space. Therefore, the understanding of the exact causal pathways linking energy efficiency interventions and health outcomes, and the relative importance of those pathways, is still limited. Further, there is currently insufficient evidence to make an estimate of the actual financial impact from co-benefits resulting from a specific energy efficiency intervention or package of interventions. There is a need for high quality, randomised controlled trials of interventions in multiple climate zones, such as the recently commenced Victorian Healthy Homes Program. 

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