Carbon tax – what it means for property

carbon taxEveryone is jostling for space in the carbon tax debate this week. Cate. Michael. And even Ross Cameron, a former Liberal MP known for campaigning on morals, and then proving, Clinton-style, that he didn’t walk the talk, and losing his Federal seat as a result.

Among those in the ear of the Federal Government is the Housing Industry Association, which has declared its opposition. It argues that a tax on carbon emissions will flow through to adversely affect all building products and all sectors of the construction industry.

"Building product manufacturers and new home buyers across Australia will be the hardest hit by a carbon tax," says HIA’s chief executive, Graham Wolfe.

"There will be an immediate and inevitable flow through of cost increases across the broad range of building materials, products, fixtures and fittings," says Wolfe.

Wolfe says at $20 per tonne, a carbon tax will add an extra $6000 or more to the cost of building an average new residence, placing additional affordability pressure on new housing activity, and adding $43 extra per month to family mortgage repayments.

"That adds a further $12,800 in repayments over a 25-year loan," Wolfe says.

The HIA estimates that constructing the average new home and land package involves the emission of about 240 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

And Wolfe argues that $6000 – or about $12,000 if the price was to be $40 a tonne of carbon – could, for some people, be the straw that breaks the banks’ willingness to lend to someone building a home.

"There are a lot of people who don’t have a house who can’t afford to buy a house who are saving as quickly and mightily as they can but they can’t get across the line because they can’t get the deposit together. I’m not going to dismiss $6000 as being a small amount of money that should not have some consequence on the cost impact of … a new home."

But Wolfe concedes that the amount of carbon emitted during building could well come down – and is already doing so.

"Some of the steel manufacturers and the aluminium manufacturers, the cement manufacturers are already increasing the efficiencies of their production line," he says. "That is happening now, whether or not this makes it happen any faster, in time we might see the result of that. Efficiencies in carbon footprints are being improved all the time in any case."

He also says, should makers of steel, aluminium, cement and other building products be compensated, that could reduce the impact of a carbon tax on people building homes. "If there is a compensation for [manufacturers] … then the cost increases won’t be as significant. So the $6000 might be a little less. "

While the HIA has made up its mind that a carbon tax is a bad idea, pointing out that it could make people look for cheaper non-taxed products from offshore, not everyone in the building industry agrees.

Cameron Rosen, the director of sustainable building consultancy Australian Living, who has recently built four eight-star homes in Sydney’s east, says a carbon tax would not necessarily cost more.

"Sure if you think old school, prices are going to up, but if you think new school, prices should come down," Rosen says. "I think it opens up the doors for innovation to come alive."

Rosen says a carbon tax could push builders to investigate more efficient building systems, that reduce waste, and open up the potential to integrate ideas from the commercial building sector.

On his recent build, Rosen used concrete from Boral that has a high recycled content. Doing so saved 13 tonnes of carbon emissions per home.

Rosen also says if a carbon tax pushes up the energy efficiency of new homes, people could save thousands of dollars on electricity and gas.

"About 38 per cent of our energy consumption goes to heating and cooling. It’s the biggest amount of our energy expenditure and, through good design, you can wipe that 38 per cent out [or get close to it]."

Story by Carolyn Boyd

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