Sustainable development is promoted as a means to address climate change impacts
and sustainable design is believed to have a strong role in determining the
operational performance of housing. However, in relation to residential housing,
these assertions have been largely untested by academic research and occupant
impacts are not often considered alongside design influences. Consequentially, the
present study aimed to investigate whether sustainably designed housing actually
has less impact on the environment and the extent to which occupant attitudes play a
role in any reduction, for technical and non-technical factors.
The study was able to compare 75 houses drawn from a conventional
housing estate and a sustainability-focused residential community. The latter
community imposed strict environmental building codes. The conventional housing
community, which was designed using contemporary methods, did not preference or
require the application of sustainable design principles and was used as the “control
group”. The houses within the second estate (the “study group”) employed a high
level of sustainable design principles, including solar energy, intentional building
orientation, natural ventilation, no air conditioning, recycled materials, reduced indoor environment toxicity and solar passive design.
Utility consumption data and surveys were used to gather the data in early
2011. The “study group” houses were found to use 75 per cent less net energy
(5.7kWh per day) compared with the “control group” of conventional homes.
Interestingly, the water consumption for both types of housing was found to be very
similar, although the study group had implemented its own internal rainwater
capture and recycling system, which uses no water from the central town water
It was hypothesised that among the variables studied, multiple regression
analysis showed that the number of occupants and then a house’s sustainable design,
influenced energy consumption the most, suggesting that sustainable design of a
house is a key factor in reducing household utility use. In contrast, environmental
attitudes and the size of the house, explained less than one per cent of the variance in
energy use, further highlighting the value of sustainable design attributes in terms of
operational energy reduction. The results also suggested that the sustainable design
of a house is twice as likely to reduce its energy consumption compared with the
influence of pro-environmental attitudes.
The survey results revealed that higher levels of attitudes favourable to
environmental conservation correlated with lower energy use, but attitudes were not
found to offer any statistically significant independent prediction of energy use when
analysed with other predictor variables present. Similarly, the results were not able
to demonstrate that environment-based attitudes and behaviours contributed
significantly to lower energy use, when other demographic housing design factors
had already been taken into account.
In conclusion, the study suggests that stronger prioritisation of the
sustainable design attributes in housing will significantly reduce anthropogenic
environmental impact. Similarly, it appears possible to undertake such actions
without impacting occupant well-being.