Episode 16: How can the building industry make the move to 7-stars

Erika Bartak is an ESD consultant and sustainable housing researcher with a background in architecture and a passion for designing and promoting better housing. She is particularly interested in narrowing the gap between discourse and practice in sustainable housing. This has provided motivation for her doctoral thesis investigating energy efficiency culture, and practice within the Australian volume home building sector. We caught up with Erica to chat about how we can support the industry in building 7-star homes. And she provided some valuable insight into what she believes the changes to the NCC will involve in terms of home design for different housing types across Victoria. We also had an opportunity to discuss the requirements around ensuring new builds are actually being constructed to this new standard

Episode Transcript


2302 Erika Bartak Audio

Wed, Jul 05, 2023 3:58PM • 52:54


homes, building, star, builders, work, energy efficiency, bit, rating, verification, hard, design, renovations, happening, housing, energy, good, house, talking, projects, spoke


Anthony, Erika Bartak, Evangelia


Evangelia  00:00

Hello, and welcome to the outlier Podcast, the podcast for everyone who is interested in building better homes. My name is of Anglia and I’m hosting this podcast with Anthony, founder of outlier who is passionate about creating beautiful and high performing homes. Together, we sit down once a month to chat with industry experts to help educate Australians about the potential of creating healthy, comfortable and energy efficient homes. We hope you’ll join us on this journey. Erica Bartek is an ESD consultant and sustainable housing researcher with a background in architecture and a passion for designing and promoting better housing. She is particularly interested in narrowing the gap between discourse and practice in sustainable housing. This has provided motivation for her doctoral thesis investigating energy efficiency culture, and practice within the Australian volume home building sector. We caught up with Erica to chat about how we can support the industry in building 7 star homes. And she provided some valuable insight into what she believes the changes to the NCC will involve in terms of home design for different housing types across Victoria. We also had an opportunity to discuss the requirements around ensuring new builds are actually being constructed to this new standard. Hello, Erica. Hi. So can you start off by telling our listeners who you are and a little bit about what you do?


Erika Bartak  01:22

Yeah, thanks for having me. I probably wear too many hats. But my main ones are, um, I’ve been an ESD consultant for quite a long time. I studied architecture originally. But I’ve pretty much went into consulting. Since I graduated, I realized the other day, I’ve been doing house energy ratings for about 20 years. So nearly fell over when I figured that out. But yeah, my focus has probably been on residential work in consulting, a lot of house energy ratings for private clients, but also for some government projects and academic studies and things like that as well. And then you’re veering more into academia now. So doing some sustainable housing research. I’m trying to finish my PhD, hopefully later this year, looking at volume built housing and energy efficiency and how that sort of fits into their into their business model. Yeah, and I’ve hung around uni a little bit, done a bit of teaching and basically just a nerd about any sustainable housing related. Anyway, I can come at it. So that’s the short version. Okay.


Evangelia  02:28

So in terms of the NCC, there’s been some recent changes, some recent major changes from moving from six star to seven star. Can you tell us a little bit about what you think this means for design in general. And for different styles of housing, like the detached house and versus the sort of inner city, sort of tighter sites with more constraints?


Erika Bartak  02:54

Yeah, for sure. I mean, you guys probably are feeling the same with seven saris massive, it’s been a long time coming. So it’s probably a little bit slow, but also feels a little bit fast right now, just in terms of all the changes that are coming in, and how rapidly industry is going to have to have to adjust. I think it’s going to be a really big emphasis on design and orientation. I think that’s going to finally come back to the four I think although, you know, experts have been saying that’s the sort of important first step for a long time. From five to six days industry kind of managed to get, you know, get there just by speaking up their buildings a bit going to waffle slabs, things like that, maybe a few little tweaks or design, but I think from six to seven is going to be really bring back the design emphasis and orientation is going to be huge. Which means I think it’s going to be really different for different types of houses. So in some of the work that I’ve done, we did a little bit of analysis for government looking at six to seven star and beyond for different housing classes. So class one versus class two apartments. And obviously that makes sense, apartments can probably do it unless you’ve got a terrible, ya know, fully glazed southwest apartment or something, it’s not that hard for them to perform higher because they’re well protected by their neighboring dwellings and things. Class One is there’s a bit of a mixed bag there as well in terms of, I know some of your other guests like talking about things like the cape and some of those greater states. You know, if you’ve got good orientation, you’ve got big blocks, you can get really good passive solar design. It shouldn’t be that hard to get to seven but I think there’s going to be a lot of different housing examples with that sort of textbook, classic passive design doesn’t doesn’t necessarily work so well. If you’ve got really overshadowed blocks or lots of poor orientation or some of the new estates with a lots of little and the setbacks are small and you’ve got big neighbors around you. I think some of those homes might have a real real challenge with some of that. So yeah, it’s gonna be interesting to see how it plays out for those different different housing types and types. Yeah,


Anthony  04:54

oh, god. Yeah. Like it’s talking with, like a particular representative of a boy even building company, they were sort of like to the point where like, we just know that certain designs that we have now just won’t work on that site with that orientation. And it’s not something that we can offer to potential customers. So yeah, that’s, that’s pretty big that and props to them as well, that they’re already doing this research. And they’re having these assessments already done on all of their designs, they’re well ahead of what’s about to come. So that I guess that shocks are going to occur, hopefully, and yeah, have to carry on in any unnecessary cost to consumers as well reduce that. I personally think there’s going to be no matter what we do that initially, there’s going to be that cost incurred. But you know, hopefully, we’ll see that stabilized systems become more abundant, and we see manufacturing increase with certain products and those sorts of things. Yeah. You talked about your research. I was wondering if I could ask you more about that. So what are you doing what your thesis for your PhD is entitled?


Erika Bartak  05:55

Oh, gosh, I’m not sure if I can spell out the title. It’s using a theory called energy cultures. But basically, it’s looking at volume homebuilders, looking at energy efficiency, in an Australian context, but not so much about the performance of the homes and the numbers and things more about how do they incorporate it into their business model and their thinking? So how do they understand energy efficiency? How do they communicate it to each other or to their customers? How do they end up implementing that into their their projects, so I guess, really trying to the motivation for the research was, I’d spent a lot of time I guess, in energy rating land, looking at sort of nice little architectural homes and renovations and things, but realizing that this stuff is just happening in the rest of the rest of the suburbs, and the rest of the outside of my little bubble. So wanting to understand that a bit better. And there’s a lot of research about, I guess, from the government, and like policy and regulations and what the what the settings should be, and there’s a lot of stuff about consumers and trying to educate them. But there seem to be a bit of a hole in terms of, you know, just talking to the builders more about it. And how, yeah, how I’m gonna be honest here and say, I probably came from, you know, training in architecture and sustainability and being a bit of, you know, surrounded by boffins, and being a little bit of a snob about sort of mass housing, and thinking that it was just all about the money, and they didn’t maybe care that much. But when you dig into it, you realize they, they care about it more than you would think. And it’s just a really complicated network that they’re trying to try to work in. And yeah, seven stars gonna be seven stars gonna be be big, and some of them were pretty, you know, keen, but scared. Yeah,


Anthony  07:40

yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s been the same feedback that I’ve received. And the same experiences I’ve had, like I was, I was surprised once I sort of got to know people that work in those larger volume building companies, and just understanding what they do care. There are there are certain individuals who are like some of the most passionate about Passivhaus, for example, working in these companies, and they do care and they want to see things improve. And, you know, I don’t think that people realize just how far advanced they are towards trying to make improvements behind the scenes, but they’re, they’re limited by these thin profit margins, and what can be expended to try and achieve those outcomes. Yeah,


Erika Bartak  08:19

that’s yeah, so it was some really interesting. I mean, I’ve been saying to people, even if my thesis is not amazing, I’m a lot smarter now about, like, that part of the industry and how that kind of section of the housing market works. Yeah, they did. They, you know, I only spoke to a small sample of people can’t represent the whole the whole industry and not trying to let the dodgy ones off the hook, but they they they cared about and they had tried much more than I had expected them to. And I’ve really sort of got a bit more insight into, I think, from an academic, sort of boffin perspective, there’s a lot of conversation around, you know, regulation is the minimum, people should want to go beyond that we naturally just think we should be doing better.


Evangelia  09:05

What’s up often a puffin,


Erika Bartak  09:06

like a scientific nerdy kind of expert kind of person. Yeah. That’s Australian, like colloquial kind of thing to say.


Evangelia  09:15

And carry on the policymakers and


Erika Bartak  09:17

right, the academic nerds, or whatever. Okay. I don’t know where that word comes from. But yeah, there’s there can be you can be a bit like think blind to the way other people understand certain things. So the regulation conversations we had were really interesting, like, Yeah, I think there’s a lot of looking down at that industry in terms of that they mostly just meet minimum regulation, and you have to pay extra if you got to change anything and go beyond that. But they really aren’t like they are a compliance model. And they actually take that bit really seriously most of them. They also see, you know, other parts of the construction code we don’t talk about, you should absolutely necessarily go above and beyond the minimums. It’s kind of like that’s an acceptable safe Standard of construction. And a lot of them had that view about energy efficiency, too. They’re like, Well, it’s been going up and up over time, and government sets the regulations and the minimum, that should be a good standard, we build to that standard, we can’t just go extra for everybody, because it’ll make them too expensive. So, you know, I have a lot more empathy for that, that position now than I used to,


Anthony  10:20

that just messes with the business model so much to when you’re looking on that volume, you know, operation, I personally think it’s actually the construction side, like the actual as built verification side of this, that’s the real problem. You know, it’s not uncommon for most builders use contractors of some description in a build. And that’s where those quality assurances can sometimes be a bit low. Yeah, so having that ability to like check that what is being built in the home is in accordance with the energy rating, where I think it’s lacking.


Erika Bartak  10:53

So that’s yeah, that’s a really good point. And that came up a lot in terms of our conversations, another big topic was around skills and education and whether they’d been served well enough by being trained well enough to be able to meet these standards in future. And also just the Yeah, the huge network that they rely on, like all the trades, all the subbies all the external consultants and suppliers, sometimes they were getting, you know, they’re trying hard to research something, but they’re getting mixed messages about what the right thing is to whatever it is solar, or insulation or something. There, they were pretty the people I spoke to, were pretty alert to their the limitations of their knowledge, and they were a bit fearful about how that would play out if these expectations came, you know, when I keep in mind when I spoke to most of them, it was pre COVID. That’s how slow some of this stuff has been. Yeah, you know, it was 2019 for most of the interviews and NCC 2022 was like in consultation and sort of vaguely, you know, around and they were wondering what was going to happen now we know more? Definitely what’s going to happen. But yeah, they were they were pretty alert to the fact that they, it doesn’t matter whether they just completely believed it wanted to do it. They they rely on a lot of other people to help that happen. And then they’ve got you know, they’re in a role of sort of educating the consumers at the same time, but they feel like they’re not the expert. So that can be a bit of a challenge.


Anthony  12:12

Is it do you think like, the biggest factor for them is that that, like, they’re not sure about these cost implications? Because at the end of the day, like for them to be a sustainable business they get they need to make a profit to survive, and we’re seeing this. Oh, so much. So at the moment, like it, there’s there’s the media’s reporting builders go into liquidation weekly, daily. We’ve had some Metricon, being like, by far the biggest Malian builder in this country by probably more than double, you know, at risk as well. Yeah. What would your thoughts be around say, like, what the potential cost implications are going to be for them? Or for in general, with the new NCC?


Erika Bartak  12:50

Yeah, I mean, it comes back to a bunch of things we sort of already mentioned in terms of, I think a lot of them are going through their designs now and trialing them on other orientations and understanding what will and won’t work in certain circumstances and how to, you know, maybe retiring some of them or saying they’re orientation specific or something, it’s sort of easy to say, it’s more cost effective to sort of make those changes in the design phase. But there’s a bit involved in that for them when they’ve got, you know, if you’re a bespoke builder or designer, and you’re just doing that on one project at a time, maybe that’s quite easy. But if you’ve got this huge catalog of homes, and you’ve got to figure that out, I guess there’s cost implications for design too. But definitely, if they can get design and orientation working better, there should be less imposition for just up specking everything, but there’s going to be some homes where that’s hard. Another example of cost that I had, and it kind of speaks to, I guess that bigger network that they sit in is things like subdivision and installation of services, and driveways and all that stuff that’s happened before maybe their clients by the block. Even if the builder knows, and the client knows what they’re looking for, and trying to get the design in the right orientation, some of them have been stung with costs for you know, the driveways in the wrong place, and the garage is on the wrong side. And if they want to flip the house, they’re up for, you know, 1000s of dollars to move the service connections and Mouza driveway in some, you know, in some of the some markets that knocks people out from doing. So, really, there’s a lot of, I guess, unforeseen costs as well. I’m not trying to say seven stories only expensive. I don’t think it should be but I think there’s a lot of potential implications for you know, what might happen? Certain lots of certain projects.


Anthony  14:31

Were there any discussions during that interview process for yourself? If your research were there, I guess it was a repeat theme. Like were there things that they were expressing that were just very consistent, and maybe what they were cost wise or just in general?


Erika Bartak  14:46

Yeah, I mean, a lot of the messages were around things like minimum compliance came up a lot. Just I think I had a different attitude to it. And I realized along the way, that’s really how they approach it. They’re like where minimum compliance with optional Students, we can’t impose that on everybody, because we need to make these homes as widely appealing and affordable as we can. So they were trying to have packages and upgrades and things that they could offer to people, if they’re interested, had a really good, you know, some great quotes that I can hopefully put in the thesis eventually, but great conversations with especially some of the upfront sales staff, because they’re like, we’re the ones interacting with the customers, like we’ve been told by head office, we’re doing this whatever, zero net carbon home or something like that, but we’ve got to deal with like the day to day people. And she, one of them was, was really clear about you know, she personally, she was interested in it, she believed in it, but she’s like, I’m not pushing it on people. If they’re not coming and asking and aren’t that interested, I’m not gonna put them up for sale. She was like, I’m there to sell homes, not energy. And it’s like this. Fair enough is like, that is not your primary job. Your job is you guys are in housing development. You sell houses.


Anthony  15:55

Yeah, I will make an assumption. Probably commissioned based roles as well. So sensitive to make sense.


Erika Bartak  16:01

Yeah. And I could tell that if customers come in and they’re keen, then they’ve got something to offer them and talk to them about but they weren’t if someone was glazing over, they weren’t going to start talking about draught seals and Oh, yeah. Yes, yeah. It got described as unsexy by a few people. You know, they’re in the business of selling stone benchtops. And all this really visible, shiny, fancy stuff. And energy efficiency is a bit of a weird fit in that in that scene, you know, oh, yeah, it’s not on the block. The normal Grand Designs, it’s, it’s not very easy to feel like, yeah, you know, or show, it’s more like, you’ve got to believe there’s insulation in the walls. And that’s doing a good job and a lot of connection to solar, because they could see solar. And that was like a tangible thing. You know, people could speak about it and see it on their house and know that it was doing something good. But


Anthony  16:53

and that is exactly where a lot of the discussions around energy efficiency went to with some of the home builders we were talking about, is Is it visible? Can we showcase it? They were talking about like, as opposed to say, having nice a window for high performance windows or something like that. We’re having like a visible ground source, heat pump. And I’m like, wow, yeah, totally my opinion not required in our climate here with the ground temperatures when you could be putting it towards your glazing. But anyway, pinion said. And like, Yeah, I suppose the other thing that I’ll maybe I’ll just like circle back on there, while it comes to mind is I touched on the idea of verification during construction, because, again, it’s something I believe in, but is there anything further into discussions that you’ve had with some of the builders where like, what they’re going to do to ensure that maybe this is going to be done in accordance during with the rating during construction?


Erika Bartak  17:43

Yeah, I think when I was speaking to them, it wasn’t clear what would happen in sort of Construction Code. But the skew of my recruitment was that quite a few of them that I spoke to had had some exposure to a prior project, or were currently involved in sustainability Victoria’s pilot program. So some of them had exposure to some of that as built verification approaches in that. And yeah, so they really, they really, the ones that had had had had exposure to it really understood that.


Anthony  18:16

Yeah, so I don’t know like, what are their methods of being able to provide the checks and balances that are going to be required to implement this during a build for as a volume builder? Are they saying at office level, let’s call it like call level? Like, yes, we believe in this, we want to do better. But boots on the ground, same thing is going to keep happening. And that if we were to actually check that, like where that home’s energy rating ends up after the completion of construction, it’s still not even going to be new seven star?


Erika Bartak  18:43

Yeah, I think, look, their their reliance on trades and Sundays was mixed. So you know, some of them, they will like, their job, we show them what to do. We tell them how to do it, we pay them. So they’ll do it. And some of them were like, it’s an uphill battle, every time you try and get them to do something different. It’s like, you know, really hard work. And that was a few years ago, I feel like a lot has changed in the industry. Since I did most of those interviews, you know, everything has become more. You know, you’ll notice stuff pop up in the mainstream media and NCC is coming online. And, you know, Green Building Councils tool has come out like there’s a bit more conversation that’s happening now around it. So it’d be interesting to actually go back in and ask them what they what they think now, but I think back then we didn’t cover it a lot like, yeah, unless they’ve had some exposure to some kind of training or education around as built verification for for a pilot program or something like that. Yeah, we didn’t get into the depths of it. Yeah.


Anthony  19:43

I mean, further to that. Did they did any of them have any comment around like what they think is happening during construction, whether they are meeting the requirements of a net has assessment? I think


Erika Bartak  19:54

some of them thought and I would say this is probably some of the more cluey ones had been trying to put Wash in that direction for a while, felt like it wasn’t, their attitude was it wasn’t that hard. And some of it like, you know, some of the training from the expert as Bill verification guys was going a little bit too far they were like, we can get 90% there with some really simple easy instructions and not have to worry about the tiny little crevices in the insulation and the bits you can’t reach and things like that. So yeah, I think there was a bit of a question around, some of them seeing it as just, you know, if you have pride in your work, and you just follow good quality construction, you can get pretty pretty well there for like, good, you know, I don’t know, air tightness. And at that stage, we weren’t talking about testing air tightness as much. But um, yeah, and I think some of them were just like, well, you know, bit more resistant, not resistant to change, but just like, oh, it’s gonna be hard to get everybody to do something different.


Anthony  20:50

I think I do want to share also that there are so many different types of operations and models here, were kind of under our discussion is pretty high level, and we’re blanketing it all under the one banner, it there are certain companies who are privately held and not franchised, who are doing huge amounts of it. But there are also different models, there it is independently independently franchise under one banner. And that means that, you know, that particular franchisee may have their own contractors, and then that’s different to the franchisee over here, who is, you know, got their own set of contractors like this one over here could be doing amazing work, because they’ve got a great group of contractors and trades under their belt and this one over here struggling because they haven’t. And you’re getting two different outputs and two different opinions. So I mean, yeah, I just wanted to throw that disclaimer out there as well. caveat that so that, yeah, it’s sometimes really challenging to get accuracy to what we say.


Erika Bartak  21:45

Yeah, and look, that was a definitely a story that sort of came across, like, obviously, I can’t name names and giveaway who I spoke to. But some of the bigger firms were aware of the limitations of that this just the sheer scale of their operations, posed, that there might be some really interested individuals or pushing certain programs or, or house projects, but that can kind of get lost in the bigger. There was, you know, the term big ship got dropped a few times, like, you know, it’s really hard thing to turn around. And it’s like, that’s true. When you’ve got like huge departments and huge teams and hundreds of display homes and hundreds of 1000s of staff, it’s like, that’s a hard thing to sort of get everyone on board, whereas some of the smaller Yeah, like it was a franchise example and a smaller local builder. And they could really do some things with their teams, because everyone was kind of on board together. And they were learning together. And it felt quite different to what probably some of the huge, big multi state 1000s of staff organizations can can reasonably do.


Evangelia  22:48

And Erica, just to be clear, your research took place in Victoria. So it’s Victoria specific.


Erika Bartak  22:54

Yeah. So yes, it was sort of a Victorian base. But a lot of those organizations, by default operate outside of Victoria. So it was it’s trying to look at volume building in Australia. But yes, it definitely had a Victoria centric kind of focus so that I could get access to interviewing people. And I’m having practice here. It’s like, I know the regs and stuff for the state a bit better. So we will often talking in that context. Yeah, yeah.


Anthony  23:18

Makes sense. We’ve spoken a lot about I guess, just building a general like new builds, but I think we’ve touched on renovations. Is there anything that we should be aware of like in your research to do with renovations and alterations?


Erika Bartak  23:30

Yeah, I I’m not so much in the thesis research, but definitely income from you know, Energy Rating land and consulting work. That’s something that I’m I think a lot of people are going to be really keen to see what how all the different jurisdictions apply the new construction code to renovations. That obviously happens like state by state, but it’s been, you know, working with clients who do little inner city renovations or infill projects, or something. That’s a really different set of circumstances to having a nice new suburban block with good passive design opportunity. There’s a little house that I’ve used a few times at conferences just to sort of float my boat on this on this topic of just the challenges that some projects will face. Especially, you know, small little inner city projects where they’ve got, they’re sort of contorted to deal with overshadowing and overlooking and they might be attached to their neighbors on the side, in this example, you know, the street front faces north, if they were really limited in what they could do, and they would, you know, it was all well built. It was, you know, great double glazing, good insulation and everything. They introduced a little courtyard to try and bring some northern light into the living spaces. But from an energy rating perspective, you know, that’s less efficient than a box. So we had some real debates on that project about how to you know, buy ramp up the energy rating, but actually achieve all the other things that you want on a really tight site like that like a bit of more windows, more views, more daylight, more sunlight. But the energy rating sort of things, you’ve just got lots of extra wall and window, and you get a little bit penalized for that. So I can just Yeah, I’m just curious to see how it will play out in terms of how well the regulations or the I guess the discretion within that for for renovation projects will accommodate the constraints around the site and not just say, Well, you’ve you haven’t done great passive design. It’s like, what what can you do in some of those instances?


Anthony  25:34

All right, so there’s Yeah, there will be more discretion from the surveyor on this site, I imagined the building Reg 233. So we’re going to be applicable. Moving forward, and NCC 2022, which, for those getting everyone


Erika Bartak  25:47

out on building X.


Anthony  25:51

It allows the building surveyor to have partial or full discretion on how much of the energy efficiency standards can be incorporated into renovations and alterations. And it’s usually based on 25% for floor area, and for partial and 50% for volume. And that’s why they went from area to volume and assessment. But anyway, which is like from floor to underside of like rubber sheet or something.


Erika Bartak  26:14

And they’re all different measurements for different parts of the assessment. So yeah.


Anthony  26:19

And then yeah, if it’s a 50% volume or more that of the alteration renovation works, and you’re looking at a full description power of the surveyor now I’m pretty sure the first line item though, is cost. How is this going to work? Are they is this is this what we’re discussing? The I suppose I’m asking you for clarity, I suppose what yeah, what that looks like. Yeah, I


Erika Bartak  26:40

mean, it’s cost. And I mean, even the discretion element is, is interesting, because that’s another group that I have real empathy for, I think there’s a mixed bag of confidence and knowledge about energy efficiency compared to everything else that was in the Construction Code prior. It’s like, you know, they do checks on structure and balustrades and stare heights and things. And that’s different from Mike coming in and checking all the bits and pieces of an energy rating. So even that is interesting, just how confident they feel in something that doesn’t immediately tick the box. I think, you know, some people have better relationships with surveyors who understand some of that in more detail. But yeah, I don’t know how it’s gonna play out. And I, there’s pros and cons to the way Victoria, I mean, I’m speaking as a Victorian practitioner, there’s pros and cons to the way we’ve been doing it so far with that the practice note and the two different ratings and a formula and things like that. I think there’s limits to that, too, though, like that that house example,


Anthony  27:34

I was asked to go back and explain the two different Oh, yes,


Erika Bartak  27:37

yes. So typical way of demonstrating compliance for a major renovation project would be to do an energy rating of the original house as it stands before it gets any work done. And then a rating of the proposed whole design. So whatever that renovation or extension or changes might be. And it gets plugged into a formula that basically gives you at the moment a fraction of six stars that the House has to achieve, depending on how much is new, how much is existing and staying untouched. So it’s trying to say, some bits, you’re not you’re not working on, they can’t be brought up to a high standard, because you’re not doing work on that part, that the original house might be, you know, one or two stars or something. So it gives you a bit of room to move in terms of six stars, the new standard, and the new works should be six star, but some of the old house will be less than that. So the overall, finished design can be somewhere in between. But there’s limits to that too. In terms of those site constraints we were talking before. It looks at it looks at volume and extent of of new versus existing. But it doesn’t know that you’ve got a heritage house with a veranda that can’t change or two storey neighbors to north that you can’t design around, it kind of still doesn’t accommodate some of those issues that I think development exists in existing areas, faces. So you know, it was it was a sort of good, I think good first attempt, it’s probably not their first attempt, but it was a good idea. But I think there’s still not. And so that that whole idea of discretion with the surveyors is that’s challenging if you come to them and you say this is the normal method for compliance. We don’t comply but here’s all these reasons. It goes into that expert judgment territory and kind of just trust me and I, you know, that’s open to exploitation but also sometimes difficult to negotiate even on good valid grounds just because it’s not clearly spelled out for someone to tick the box the same way that a new house meeting six or seven star star would


Anthony  29:41

so had any thoughts towards where you do think this will end up?


Erika Bartak  29:46

I don’t know. I mean, I’m, I’m so keen to I don’t want to I don’t want to preempt it. I don’t know. I’m curious to see whether they do a new version of that formula or a new version of that practice note that just accommodates, goes up to seven instead of six. I don’t If that’s what’s going to be required, or whether it’s a bit more of a Yeah, I don’t know. I’m really curious. I think Victoria is sort of doing work on it now to work out. I mean, that’s a pretty short timeframe we’re talking about, oh, it comes into play in October. Obviously, the states have discretion to say, well, we don’t require that for renovations until a certain stage. But yeah, I think it’s going to be a short time period between finding out what’s required and then having to meet it pretty soon afterwards. So I was gonna


Anthony  30:29

say, like, a matter of


Erika Bartak  30:30

months, and we’ll know. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it’s been, like, just from my limited little body of experience with clients, I would say, I’m lucky in that most of my clients and their architects or designers really care about it, and some of them still have trouble. So it’s not like they, they aren’t trying hard enough, or they’re just dismissing my advice. Those little tight intercity blocks are really hard. And I think, either if it’s a new build, that we’re actually going in between existing dwellings, or it’s in the renovation category, those projects are going to face similar challenges in terms of just they can’t do classic passive solar, they’ve got, you know,


Anthony  31:08

tightness is really going to come into with that in mind, you know, I’m seeing some pretty significant results using, like, given us non regulatory mode. So I’m sure there’s a lot of Sumption is built into the back end of the Chanath engine algorithms. But yeah, we’ve seen anything from point six to 1.2. Yeah, wow. Tightness factors, which, yeah, significant.


Erika Bartak  31:31

Yeah. And I think, you know, I’m jumping around questions now. But if I go back to my, my wishes on the building code, I don’t know if this is the code thing. But I, the other thing I wish is that somewhere, we would stop talking about energy per square meter, and just literally talk about energy of the dwelling. And that gets into like, slightly controversial territory, about how sighs and things but a lot of those little inner city projects are not that huge. You can have a seven star house that’s 500 square meters in the outer suburbs, if you want and this little tiny house, that’s, you know, 100 square meters, jammed in between its neighbors in in the inner city. He’s having a hard time getting the energy rating, but it’s less materials, less overall energy for heating, cooling, lighting, everything else. So


Evangelia  32:17

so many other positive things.


Erika Bartak  32:18

That’s a, you know, we’re a bit scared to talk about how science in this country. No one wants to tell anyone, like they don’t deserve that be cast. But um, yeah, I think it’s a real, I think it’s a real if we care about overall emissions and overall impact of energy efficiency, then we’ve got to eventually talk about it.


Anthony  32:38

Well, it’s going to be a very big topic very soon. Light wholetime assessment. Optional, as of May, mandatory as of October. Yeah, for those who aren’t aware of it already, you soon will be and it’s yeah, it’s amazing. I think it’s I personally think it’s a real, it’s gonna be such a valuable design tool early on in the group. So that’s something I’ll always share as well, like I can see consultants, designers, builders, all working together, way earlier in the in the process than have ever before. Otherwise, yeah, that that typical checkbox compliance assessment for an NG rating or thermal assessment. I think those days of damage, especially in our climate zones, anyway,


Erika Bartak  33:20

yeah. And I think that’s, you know, cross your fingers. Like, that’s, maybe that’s the advantage of having 10 plus years to like, get to this point. It’s like, you guys have had this experience with energy readings. You know, it’s better if you do it at the start. So let’s like, keep doing it at this time. Talk about it early with your whole team and figure it out.


Anthony  33:37

Absolutely. And I mean, another caveat is yes, this is all very climate dependent, sir.


Erika Bartak  33:45

Sure. And we’re very Victorian experience from our from our background, but yeah, I’m


Anthony  33:51

very guilty of that. Apparently, we’re the only state when asked what your phone number is, we won’t actually give our state code Oh. Ask anyone any state residents and they’ll be like I am oh seven bla bla bla bla bla, but a Victoria will be like num 541372 or anything, because we’re the center of the universe.


Evangelia  34:11

Oh, oh.


Anthony  34:15

River North Queensland.


Evangelia  34:18

Yes, no, not the center of the universe. No,


Anthony  34:23

I I’m going to just sort of jumping on this one but I’m it’s caught my interest. What was this? What was it about this particular topic that made you pursue this, as you know, for your research?


Erika Bartak  34:37

My PhD was a bit of an accident. Not to say that I didn’t love research and wasn’t interested in the topic, but um, I’d kind of gone back to school, after sort of doing working for a long time and was doing a bit more broader sustainability stuff. And, yeah, it was partly from practice, just having, you know, feeling like one little house at a time and one lovely little architectural project at a time and Not to rubbish those because they are excellent. And when clients want to put money into good homes like that’s, that’s fabulous. But I there was actually a version of my, my PhD advertised at the uni. And I just thought our volume building like that’s, that’s what everyone else is doing like I don’t, I feel like that’s the majority and I work in this little tiny bubble. It was angled slightly differently to the to where I ended up taking it, it was a bit more about marketing and things and I was a bit more interested to step back and actually talk to the builders more about just how they understood the whole the whole thing rather than rather than just how are they marketing that to consumers? I felt like that was a bit too far down the down the track. So yeah, but just because it’s, you know, you, you get on a main road out of Melbourne or Yes, wherever. And that is what you see. And I used to kind of, I don’t know, wince a little bit, which sounds rude, but I was like, Oh God, those houses, but it’s like, why do people build them? And why? Yeah, how do we do some energy efficiency better in that space. So that’s


Anthony  36:03

got right in there and found out like, you just didn’t sort of just make assumptions or you know, cast this person, you’re just like, I’m gonna go talk and


Erika Bartak  36:11

yeah, research this. And it’s been hard. Like I had someone at uni really early on. When I was really motivated to like change all these things. She’s like, you have to put the activist aside. It’s like, a PhD is a very academic exercise, which might sound obvious, but it’s like, it’s really trying to understand the problem from a theoretical perspective, not theory, but just, you know, you’re trying to understand and identify the problems, you’re not actually about to go out and change all the problems. So, yeah, it’s kind of getting used to the fact that it’s just important to open it up for other people and show them a bit more and then maybe something will happen after after that. Definitely. I’m sure that myself and you, Joe. Don’t Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s been really fascinating. And yeah, I’ve just I feel a lot wiser about that subject matter, even even if it’s hard to write the thesis.


Anthony  37:03

No, no, like, Well, Tom, yeah, I’m doing I’m doing amazing. Like, I’m certain that there’ll be some very interested parties. After you’ve completion, you’ll get submissions.


Erika Bartak  37:12

And look at me. I mean, you know, I’ve been joking with with colleagues at uni. It’s like, I could write myself a postdoc or another PhD or something. It’s like, I’d love to go back now and talk to them all, again, given what’s happened in the last few years. Because it has been such, you know, not not just COVID and all those massive disruptions, but I can see sees real I could add to that for your Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, the thesis just has to be finished. But um, yeah, yeah, I think definitely. I mean, that’s what research likes to do, you know, yes. Leave some pointers at the infrared the next thing you can do. But yeah, I think it’d be really fascinating and that a lot of stuff has happened. You know, there’s been more government. I mean, there’s always been a lot of government engagement behind the scenes. But some pilot programs were running at the same time. Now, there’s the seven STAR homes kind of support program going on. GreenStar homes came out pretty much because they, you know, they finally started focusing on single residential, most of their other tools have been set up for commercial buildings and multi res towers and things like that. And so yeah, they have a whole tool set up now that is really targeting, it’s quite explicit that it’s targeting volume builders, rather than just one off houses. It’d be fascinating to see where that all goes, and what the builders think now that some of that stuff is rolled out.


Anthony  38:31

I think we might actually get some contact details or just put some links in the show notes as well, for the green smart for those out there. Because certainly will be plenty of listeners who may be building or looking to build with sort of larger companies, companies who could benefit from that. So yeah, absolutely.


Erika Bartak  38:46

It’s I mean, it’s been, you know, it’s been exciting to see stuff happening, even if I feel now a bit behind China, trying to write to finish the thing while this stuff is changing. But um, yeah, it’s good to see industry moving.


Evangelia  38:58

Yeah, always positive change, even if it’s gradual, or slow, or whatever it is, yeah. moving in the right direction. So, Erica, in your opinion, how do we support each other? In order for it to be a smooth transition to building more energy efficient homes? It’s


Erika Bartak  39:14

a really good question. I think like, if I was going to apply the lessons I’ve had, from my experience doing research, it’s being a little bit more open minded and a bit more aware of our blind spots. I think what I’ve become acutely aware of is that I was sort of operating in a bit of a bubble and with the boffins and the experts and the you know, if you stay in academia and policy and stuff for too long, you can, I don’t know you will start to share certain opinions about how things should should play out in the real world. And I think it’s nice to actually have seen and spoken to more people on in different parts of the industry. I came up with this. I’m trying to write this in my thesis, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it very well. But I came up with this idea about energy efficiency as a second language or maybe a third language. Whatever, I think you can, you know, once upon a time I tried to learn Spanish Do not ask me to, like speak any sentences or have a conversation, but it’s like, you can’t know what you don’t know if that makes sense. And when you grew up, grew up, you know, go through your education, and you’re spending a lot of time in energy efficiency and your total about it or, you know, spent a lot of time reading academic papers or looking at regulations, you know, it really well. And I think you can forget how well that you know it and that other people don’t. And it’s reasonably well acknowledged that, you know, the average home buying customer might not be that well trained or expert in it. But I think we forget to acknowledge it, a lot of the industry just doesn’t have that background or training either. And that’s not necessarily their fault. Like, I’m a huge fan of, you know, me know, I’ve found your podcast, and I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on, you know, builders declare, and all those things, and they’re amazing for sharing information. I’m quite aware that they’re just this voluntary thing that a group of people are self educating themselves on. I think it would be great if some of that was in more standard, like general education for like building industry professionals. Because I’m not sure how much that it is right now. Yeah, no, yeah. I’m


Anthony  41:18

20 plus years now. But anyway, yeah, I was going through multiple trade education programs, as well as tertiary. I can say for certainly there was nothing of the sort spoken about during that time. And it’s not until you find that, you know, you’ve got a passion for this, that you dive deeper and educate yourself. So for the average layperson, yeah, it’s really true. Like they don’t they just don’t know, you don’t know what you don’t know, I felt those words should be placed on our wall.


Erika Bartak  41:46

Which sounds obvious. But yeah, they kind of meaningful to, you know, yeah.


Anthony  41:51

So and I feel as though it’s not until it’s gone to market that you can provide two products to a consumer and say, This one is more sustainable than this one, but has a slightly higher price point than this one over here, which isn’t sustainable. And you’ll always take that option of the more sustainable one at like a higher price point like that’s, if it’s just put in front of you to decide that’s, you know, if it’s within your affordability range. Yeah,


Erika Bartak  42:15

yeah. No, going back to one of our favorite topics, the whole has built verification, I think that’s a really good example of where it’s important. So it’s really expensive and difficult to do a verification test at the end of construction and find that something is wrong. So you really need the like education and training part and experience and like checks along the way, experience for people to be able to deliver the homes that meet the standards, rather than just, you know, you can’t, it’s different to an energy rating on paper, like it’s not pleasant, but it’s, you can do an energy rating on paper, and you can say your design doesn’t comply. And it might be a bit of cost than going back to the client to change it, but at least it hasn’t been built yet. So if you do as boot verification checks, and it doesn’t work, at the end of the process, that’s a problem you need. You need the skills and training and knowledge and lessons along the way. So you don’t have that happen all the time.


Anthony  43:13

Very challenging for me right now to just like dive right into some of the I was gonna say the word horror story. But some of the SPL verifications that we’ve carried out to realize just how wrong this can go. Basically goes into a bit of a negotiation stance between the homeowner and the builder to find some way to move forward. Yeah, there’s no way you’re about to pour plaster off. There’s no way you’re about to rip those windows out. Yeah. So yeah, it’s, and


Erika Bartak  43:41

I think they’ll let you know, that’s hard. You know, you got to negotiate that with clients. But it’s good when people are prepared to share the lessons and the failings and the, you know, I enjoyed watching some of the things some of the builders declare, and different people in that in that group sort of sharing on Instagram, you know, experiences of just missing the blower door test or finding some leak or, you know, it, I think, means a lot to be able to see those real experiences and not just feel like everyone else is doing it perfectly, and there’s not a way to learn, or get better or make the mistakes along the way. But it’s hard when it’s a real house, you know, you gotta


Anthony  44:20

really and I think we got a fascination for it. I know, I’m guilty of watching, like site inspections.


Evangelia  44:27

Get enough of that.


Anthony  44:29

And seeing like, what is actually happening. Yeah, like, Thank you, everyone for taking cameras with you to building inspections. Yeah, it highlights exactly what can occur there. And, yeah, gosh, I know, I don’t want to keep putting the importance of flagging, like, as Bill verification.


Erika Bartak  44:46

No, but I think it’s it comes up because it is important, and that’s kind of the it feels like industry is moving towards that slowly. You know, some of the voluntary higher standards do that already. But yes, struction codes kind of creeping, creeping towards doing that. And it, it is I think like one of your past guests was saying, like, you know, to get what you pay for, like you should have confidence that you can do the assessment on paper. And that’s lovely. But you actually want to know, we know there’s a bit of a gap. And it depends, but we know there’s a bit of a gap in what gets finally built and whether they actually is the sixth or the seventh star or whatever. Yeah, absolutely.


Anthony  45:21

No, I, I, this is actually a continuation of just a previous recording of a podcast, but it’s like the car analogy of like, you’ve gone abroad, a va car and you get home and realize there’s only a four cylinder engine in it, because that’s exactly what’s happening. You’re like, I want my home to perform like this. And it’s not at all, it’s you know, it’s too late. But yeah, yeah, I’m a little bit scared, too, because I can’t now recall all the conversations that I’ve had and


Erika Bartak  45:50

like, go back to the episode later.


Anthony  45:53

Relation to listening to myself.


Evangelia  45:55

I don’t well. Yeah. So I guess the final question, Erica, we have these if you had one free wish to change anything in the building code, what would that be?


Erika Bartak  46:08

I love this question. I have too many answers. I’ll try not to give too many at once. That’s fine. Three is good. Top three. Yeah. I mean, I think well, I don’t know, I haven’t listened to all your podcasts. I don’t know how many of your guests have said this. But I know a few have in terms of as, as we’ll verification. I mean, I actually wish you know, if I could go back in time, and like magic wand it, I wish that for the 10 plus years, we’ve been waiting for the construction code to change. I wish that we’d done training and education on as built verification. In the meantime, before we move to seven, because I am a little bit scared that in certain pockets of the industry, they will just be seven star on paper. Mm. And I yeah, I think that’s a bit of a missed opportunity in terms of we are going there now. But I kind of wish it had happened before. Yeah, before seven star came in, because I think that would have been a great chance to not change the regulations, but train up industry. The other one I have is really, you know, having dealt with energy ratings and star ratings and whatever, for so many years. I would change them, I would maybe get rid of stars, or I would change the scale. I’ve had people in government telling me that the next thing they’re doing, you know, when they brought out scorecard or something like that they were they were gonna stick with stars, because the people understand them. And they don’t understand them. They’re very familiar, but they do not understand them. Yeah, there is 1000 star ratings for different things. I’ve had real estate agents telling me that the house has a six star green star rating, which is not true. I don’t think people necessarily know what what a star rating means. And I that that actually came out in my research to just, you know, five was great. Six is better. Seven is just off the charts, like no one thinks of it as like a minimum worst allowable by law kind of thing. So I wish we could chop the scale in half and make it out of five. You know, because you know, three and a half star house doesn’t sound so amazing. Or what whole of home is doing with the thing out of 100 went to as well. Yeah, out of 100. It’s like put it in a change the thinking around it a little bit. It’s like if you say you’ve got a 70% house or something that feels a bit different. So people will


Evangelia  48:27

say, Well, hang on a minute, why is it only 70? Yeah, yeah, the reaction that you? Yeah, yeah.


Erika Bartak  48:32

And look, there’s a debate around, you know, how valid or meaningful is the 100%? Or the 10 star house? But yeah, I think it would maybe remove some of the confusion around seven, you know, in any other chart, you know, movies or hotels, seven stars off the scale. Awesome. I don’t even know if that exists. So seven Star House sounds incredible to most people. But if you’re, you know what that is? You know that it’s, I mean, I think seven says a great standard. I’m not not trying to bash seven star but if it’s our legal minimum, that’s different to being the best highest performer house you can get. So yeah,


Anthony  49:11

yeah, I can totally understand now what you mean by like cutting that in half, because then it’s kind of correlates with, with everything else that we associate a star rating with, because it kind of gets a bit of a cheat for it now, right. Listen to misinterpreted entirely when you compare it against those things. Yeah, that’s, that’s a great one. Yeah,


Erika Bartak  49:28

honey, you know, the stars are all different. It’s like green star, who’s, you know, six star green star is a world leader or something. And it’s like, that’s not a six star energy rating. It’s like they’re all there. It’s also confusing. I think it’s, it’d be great to go to a different scale or something that just


Anthony  49:42

a good idea of the time kind of approach.


Erika Bartak  49:43

Yeah. Can you understand how they got there? But yeah, yeah, I’d love to change it.


Anthony  49:49

Well, what was the we have a third? I don’t know if I’ve got a third. That’s good. Okay.


Erika Bartak  49:55

Yeah, that’s probably their problem. I’ll probably think of something as soon as I’ve left.


Anthony  49:59

Something One thing that I was going to just like, sort of extend off of your first point. And that was to ask you what software you prefer to use for your matters assessments.


Erika Bartak  50:11

I’ve been a first rate five person for a very long time. I would love to learn here, but my thesis has stopped me from learning any, you know, any professional development in my energy rating? World? So yeah, I’m looking for a you guys are using that, aren’t you? Yes, I am looking forward to, to that now


Anthony  50:29

the early adopter of allowing us to go out of regulatory mode to introduce blower door results. Oh, cool.


Erika Bartak  50:33



Anthony  50:34

I found that fun. Yeah, I felt


Erika Bartak  50:36

a little bit like um, I’ve just got to finish thesis, but there’s always things that I want to do next that I haven’t been able to do yet in terms of the consulting part of my well, so yeah, getting excited about energy writing.


Anthony  50:53

Because it seems to be like that was that is most prominent software used industry? Yeah. And as part of that, have you had an opportunity as yet to review the as built verification checklist that looks like it’s going to come out with the new certification as an optional thing to do? Okay,


Erika Bartak  51:08

I’ve seen it but I have not spent a lot of time with it. No, so yeah, I know that it’s happening. And I’ve some Jeremy Spencer’s, like, postings on on Instagram showing what’s coming up. That’s probably been my best insight into it. I think it’s great that it might be there even just to prompt people. But um,


Anthony  51:23

Jeremy, do you sleep? Yeah. How do you do it? Yeah, well, I just wanna say, Thank you, like, Wow, what a just action packed conversation full of just helpful resourceful information for people out there listening. Thank you, Erica. Slow problem, like different perspective on our overall building industry as opposed to? Yeah, because I’m guilty of that little bubble as well. I think I sometimes have a bit of a feedback loop. So yeah, that’s great. Thank you


Erika Bartak  51:53

for listening to the things falling out of my out of my brain go.


Evangelia  51:57

Very enjoyable. Thank you very much. Thanks, guys.


Erika Bartak  51:59

Thanks for the running a great podcast.


Anthony  52:01

Oh, thank you. Yeah, thank you. Maybe we’ll catch up after thesis has been completed and submitted, and you’ve had an opportunity to dive back into some of these other things that have been great. Come back


Evangelia  52:11

and nerd out more about Yeah. Sounds great. Yeah. Thank you for listening to the outlier podcast. You can find helpful links and contact information regarding this episode in our show notes and on our website, outlier studio.com.au forward slash podcast. If you like our show, please leave a review and make sure you subscribe to never miss a new episode. If you have further questions for us or want to share some additional feedback, please feel free to DM us on Instagram or Facebook. Until next time on the outlier podcast