Low-cost energy updates increase the value of a residence, writes Kath Dolan.
Within 12 months, even landlords with no interest in the environment or building sustainability will have to make serious decisions regarding investment in, and marketing of, their property.
From May, state governments will introduce legislation that requires anyone renting out or selling a house to first obtain an energy efficiency assessment and star rating from an accredited assessor (at a cost of about $200-$300).
These are made available to potential tenants and buyers to provide a snapshot of a building's thermal performance on a scale of zero to 10 stars.
Ultimately, mandatory disclosure will expand to include water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and will apply to all commercial and residential dwellings.
Efficient dwellings achieve comfortable temperatures year-round with little need for artificial heating or cooling.
State governments are yet to unveil details of their mandatory disclosure schemes but if methods used now are a guide, assessors will examine key elements of a building's "envelope" (walls, floors, roof, windows and insulation) along with window design, orientation, air leakage and cross-ventilation.
The more efficient a house, the higher its star rating.
At present, new houses and large renovations must achieve a five-star energy rating (soon to be six) under the Building Code of Australia.
Existing houses generally rate two stars or less. So, the choice facing landlords is whether to live with an assessment on their property as it stands, in the hope ratings have little impact, or to invest in improvements to increase the property's ratings, value and marketability.
Environment Victoria clearly hopes many landlords will opt for the latter and has launched a section of its website to help, outlining options, costs and likely returns on investment.
Domenica Settle, a sustainable-living project officer at Environment Victoria, says that even from a self-interested point of view, greening a rental property can cost landlords very little, while reducing running costs by up to 50 per cent and helping retain good tenants.
"Insulation is a good example," Ms Settle says. "It will lift your rating by one star and doesn't cost much at all."
For about $1500, insulation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 45 per cent and drastically improve livability in summer and winter. "Draught-blocking doors and windows are another no-brainer; it barely costs anything," Ms Settle says.
Landlords reluctant to invest in bigger-ticket items may be surprised by how much tax deductions, discounts and rebates can affect affordability.
"Dual-flush toilets are about half the price at the moment through water retailers," she says.
Cutting taxes along with emissions
For landlords who are doing their sums on the costs of upgrading their property sustainably, Environment Victoria's revamped website includes a full list of potential tax deductions.
These cover a range of items, including repairs, maintenance and servicing (to hot water systems and heaters, for example) as well as depreciation on assets and capital works expenses. That means landlords can claim for:
For more information on tax deductions, visit www.environmentvictoria.org.au/landlords, grab a copy of Environment Victoria's Green Renters' Guide or visit the Australian Tax Office website at www.ato.gov.au.