More Information

Dr Robert Crawford,
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.
T: +613 8344 8745
M: 0422 428 969 E: rhcr@unimelb.edu.au

Laura Soderlind
Media Unit
T: +613 8344 4123 E: lsod@unimelb.edu.au

Houses on Melbourne’s suburban fringe are responsible for drastically higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to higher density housing or apartments in the inner city according to a new University of Melbourne study.

The study, ‘Impact of past and future residential housing development patterns on energy demand and related emissions’ found that the size, style and location of a house are the three main factors that determine energy efficiency, with location and size weighing most heavily on residential emissions.

Author, Dr Robert Crawford, from the University’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning said that state planners need to look at better integration with public transport to help offset rising energy demand rather than focus on higher star ratings for houses. 

Dr Crawford said that an almost three fold growth in suburban house sizes, greater reliance on private transport and a rise in the demand for consumer goods, has eaten up many of the benefits of building energy efficient homes. “Population increase and Australians’ desire to continue to enjoy low-density housing have driven rapid urban expansion.  A familiar sight in Sydney and Melbourne, in particular, are new estates located far out from the urban centres.”

“The most dominant characteristic of the new houses in these estates is their size. The average house size has risen dramatically over the last 50 years and now new residences are well over 200 square meters, more than double the average in the 1950s.”

“Despite the push for new homes to be more energy efficient, the embodied energy involved in creating the house – the energy needed to manufacture the building materials and appliances within the house, including transportation and assembly – is far greater than ever before.”

“While we’ve certainly been able to cut down our household energy consumption from a heating and cooling standpoint, we are also using increasingly more energy to power things like TVs and other appliances.” 

“The outward growth of Melbourne has meant that many people are now forced to travel significant distances to their workplace.  Melbourne’s suburban frontier in the 1950s was six kilometers from the CBD. New houses are now being built 36 kilometers from the CBD and public transport infrastructure cannot keep up.” According to 2008 figures, 91 percent of commuters travel by car, with only 9 percent using public transport. 

Dr Crawford emphasized the need for people to change habits and start taking public transport to work. “The expectations that people have grown up with, having a large suburban house and driving to work, are become environmentally unfeasible.” 

”As Melbourne attempts to deal with its population increase, it is important that high density housing and apartment living be considered a central part of the solution, particularly if we want to make real gains in overall residential energy efficiency.”