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Australian_Government_Home_Insulation_Program

THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT’S HOME INSULATION SAFETY PROGRAM – An insight into the auditing process

This article gives a brief insight into the Energy Efficient Homes Program, focussing on the Home Insulation Program. This article will give a background into the program, and also give a step by step guide as to how the non-foil insulation inspection process. The inspection process is documented by the author, who was involved in over 700 inspections Australia wide.

Background

In 2008, Australia as a nation was facing the severe impacts of the looming global financial crisis. The government reported that there was a 7.5% drop in the GDP, and the outlook for 2009 was just as bleak (1). In February of 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, along with his incumbent Labor Party, announced a policy which was named the ‘Energy Efficient Homes Package’ (EEHP)(2). This policy was intended to address two issues – firstly encouraging home owners to make their homes more energy efficient, and secondly to help stimulate the economy and employment due to the impending global financial crisis. The Energy Efficient Homes Package was divided into three main sections, which were as follows (2):

Home owner Insulation Program (HIP) The Home owner Insulation Program provided incentives for owner-occupiers to install insulation in their homes.

Low Emissions Assistance Plan for Renters (LEAPR) This plan set out to help reduce emissions and power costs for residents of homes that were renting.

Solar Hot Water Rebate Program (SHWRP) This program was intended to provide incentives and subsidies for home owners to install solar hot water systems in their homes.

Delivery

In the first phase of the HIP, which ran from the 3rd of February 2009 to the 30th of June, 2009, the government gave rebates to homeowners for ceiling insulation up to the amount of $1600 for owner occupied homes and $1000 for homes in the LEAPR scheme. Phase 2, which started on the 1st of July 2009 and was intended to run for two and half years, changed the way in which the payments would be administered. The payments of $1600 would now be credited straight to the company which performed the installation. This amendment caused a spike in the amount of new companies who were willing to partake in the government program. The government also required installation companies to do the following (2):

  • Register their company on the Installer Registry
  • Installers would need to meet minimum competency requirements
  • Keep all relevant records
  • Ensure the insulation installed was of the correct R-value
  • Ensure all workers and businesses were insured correctly

During Phase 2, the Australian Government started to come under extreme pressure due to serious safety concerns, which included the death of several workers due to electrocution and heat stroke. There were also several house fires which were attributed to faulty insulation installations. The Australian Government prematurely stopped the program on the 19th of February 2010 and ordered that 50,000 homes which were installed with foil insulation and 150,000 homes which were installed with non-foil insulation, which was to be called the Home Insulation Safety Program (HISP)(3). Homes which had foil insulation would be inspected by accredited electricians, and homes with non-foil insulation would be inspected by contractors or employees who had significant experience in a range of building and construction disciplines. The Australian Government hired the auditing company Price Waterhouse Coopers to oversee the auditing/inspection process. After a tender process, Price Waterhouse Coopers selected UGL services, who are a project management company (3).

The project management company then found suitable sub-contractors in all areas of Australia and the auditing/inspection phase was ready to be implemented. All auditors were given the relevant training and briefed on the requirements. Inspections would be carried out in teams of 2, with one person being appointed the supervisor. The teams were supplied with a PDA which contained a program which would give them a step-by-step guide as to how the inspection would be carried out and sections for photos and comments(3).

Auditing/Inspection Process (source: Author)

There was an allocation of 2 hours for each inspection, but this was flexible due to the perceived inconsistency of each individual job. These times were allocated as 8am, 10am, 1 pm, 3pm and 5pm. The job location and name of client would be loaded onto the respective PDA’s the day before the booked date. As aforementioned, the jobs for the next day would be loaded onto the PDA along with a contact name and phone number. The two inspectors would then proceed to the first job.

Step 1 : Upon arrival, the inspectors will press ‘play’ on the PDA for the job in question. The first photograph (among many) is taken. This photograph is of the letterbox and the front of the house. This provides proof that the inspectors actually turned up at the correct address.

Step 2 : The inspectors will knock on the front door of the house in question. Both inspectors will have their name badges visible and be in correct uniform.

Step 3 : Once the homeowner/tenant answers the door, one of the inspectors will state their names and briefly explain the purpose of their visit along with how they will go about doing the inspection.

Step 4 : The two inspectors will then return to their vehicle to collect the relevant tools, ladders and paperwork which will be required. They will also complete a detailed Job Safety Analysis, in which they break down the inspection process step by step. This will include identifying hazards and then controlling them to the lowest reasonable level.

Step 5 : The inspectors will get permission from the homeowner/tenant to proceed with the inspection, and also notify them that they will need to switch off the power at the mains. After receiving permission, the homeowner/tenant will then sign the relevant section on the PDA stating that permission is given. If the homeowner/tenant does not give permission, the relevant box is checked on the PDA and the inspectors will write the relevant information in the comments section.

Step 6 : The two inspectors will find the mains power box. There will need to be two photos taken in this section. Firstly the mains power on, and then after the mains power is turned off. If the house is fitted with photovoltaic energy, the inspection cannot proceed and will need to be completed by an accredited electrician.

Step 7 : Both inspectors will need to take their equipment and tools inside. These tools include items such as knives for cutting insulation, lights and headlamps. Both inspectors will now need to wear paper overalls, P3 dust masks, gloves and correct footwear (rubber soled shoes).

Step 8 : The inspectors will determine how many down lights, ceiling fans, bathroom heater combos and chimneys are located in the dwelling, and make a note of the numbers. All these fittings have the potential to cause heat or entanglement of the insulation which may result in a fire. If the insulation that is fitted in the ceiling is either normal batts or earth wool, there needs to be a 300mm clearance around any of these fittings. This is achieved by cutting the insulation with a knife in order to reach these parameters. If the insulation is cellulose, the inspectors need to install a fire resistant barrier around the fittings which to have a 300mm clearance and a minimum height of 300mm also. Any electrical cables or wires which are found to be positioned underneath the insulation need to be placed on top where possible.

Step 9 : The inspectors will now need to locate the entrance to the ceiling. The entrance needs to be big enough to allow them to enter safely. Once the entrance is located, the cover is moved and the ladder positioned. The first inspector will move to the top of the ladder and take a photo of the ceiling space, whilst identifying the type of insulation in order to take the correct equipment into the ceiling space.

Step 10 : The inspectors now enter the ceiling space. Care is taken in order to minimise the risk of any damage by walking on the trusses. The inspectors will systematically find all the fittings and then proceed to rectify them where required. Before and after photos will be taken in order to prove that the fittings now have the correct clearances. The two inspectors will ensure that they maintain contact in the ceiling space in order to remain informed about the other inspector’s wellbeing.

Step 11 : The two inspectors will ensure that they have made all the insulation safe, and agree that all the fitting which were identified earlier have been rectified if required. They will now exit the ceiling space and replace the cover of the entrance.

Step 12 : The inspectors will now notify the homeowner/tenant that they have completed their inspection. They will explain what rectifications, if any, were made and show photos if requested. The mains power will be switched back on, with the obligatory before and after photos.

Step 13 : The inspector who is the supervisor will now fill out the certificates which are given to the homeowner/tenant. This certificate will specify whether the insulation is now deemed safe, along with any rectification work that was performed. Both inspectors and the homeowner/tenant will sign the certificate, along with the relevant section in the PDA.

Step 14 : The inspectors will now the leave the premises. After all tools and equipment have been put away they will check that all areas of the PDA have been filled and signed, and that all photos are clear. Any relevant comments will be entered into the comments section, and then the job will be sent to UGL services. This will conclude the inspection and the next job will appear on the screen.

Results of the audit/inspection process

On the 20th of April, 2010, the Federal Government announced that the HISP scheme had achieved its goals and that it would no longer continue. The finishing date was set as the 30th of June, 2010. The figures were as follows (3):

  • Number of homes with non-foil insulation installed during the HIP: 1,119,808 Number of inspections: 200,914
  • Number of home with foil insulation fitted during the HIP:58,281 Number of inspections: 50,767

UGL Services provided PWC with all the data which was gathered during the HISP program, and this data was collated in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The CSIRO determined that there were 224 fires reported due to the installation of insulation, and of the 224 only 34 cases reported structural damage. It was determined that the installation of foil or non-foil insulation did not provide a higher risk of house fires and that the numbers that were determined were negligible, as insulation could not be determined as being the factor which caused these fires (3). In 2013 the Australian Federal Government conducted a senate inquiry into the program, and the results of the inquiry are still pending.

References

1. International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook (WEO) Crisis and Recovery Canberra, Australia, April 2009. Available http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/01/ Accessed 29th January, 2014.

2. The Auditor General of Australia, Home Insulation Audit Report. Canberra, Australia. 2011. Pp 19-39. Available: < http://www.anao.gov.au/~/media/Uploads/Documents/2010%2011_audit_report_no_12.pdf> Accessed 30th January, 2014.

3. Australian Government, Department of Industry, Home Insulation Safety Program. Canberra, Australia. Available: http://ee.ret.gov.au/energy-efficiency/homes/home-insulation Accessed 29th January, 2014.

Australia | Energy


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