The Elephant in the Room Property Podcast | Australian real estate
The Elephant In The Room Property Podcast with Veronica Morgan & Chris Bates

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Episode 70 | Sustainable housing, urban development & climate change issues needing action | Sara Wilkinson, UTS

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Why retrofitting & sustainable housing will benefit us all!

Australia's first female Professor of Property, Sara Wilkinson, UTS explains sustainability, urban development and the importance of using resources that are local, renewable & energy efficient.  Plus we cover:

  • Overcoming the idea families need to live on ¼ acre block

  • Retrofitting existing properties to make them energy efficient

  • How under occupied properties could solve our affordable housing crisis.

  • How green roofs can protect your property from solar degradation

  • The benefit of aerofarms with 24hr sunshine

  • Why we have aprox 11 years to take sufficient action to stop irreversible climate change.

  • The urban heat island, city centres are often 5° hotter & ideas to cool them down

  • Why the government is urging construction to house us all.

This is an informative episode for anyone who cares about our planet’s future!

Guest Website & Relevant Links:

UTS - Sara Wilkinson

Architecture & Design - Sustainability Projects

City of Sydney - Green Business & Buildings

Podcast Links:

Ep 1 - Simon Russell, Behavioural Finance Aust

Ep 62 - Cecille Weldon, Liveability

Ep 66 - Michele Adair, Housing Trust

Work with Veronica? info@gooddeeds.com.au

Work with Chris? hello@wealthful.com.au 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Veronica Morgan: You're listening to the Elephant In The Room Property podcast where the big things that never get talked about, actually get talked about. I'm Veronica Morgan, real estate agent, buyer's agent and co-host of Foxtel’s location, Australia.

Chris Bates: And I'm Chris Bates, financial planner, mortgage broker and wealth coach.

Veronica Morgan: Together we're going to uncover who's really making the decisions when you buy a property.

Chris Bates: In this episode we're going to talk about something a little bit different and this is sustainability and property. Our guest is a professor in property and what we really talked about is the future of housing and some amazing technologies that will come out in the future that would change the way that we build buildings. Really when you think about it, we've got potentially 10 million residential properties in Australia and while we can start thinking about what's the future technologies of future buildings, the real opportunity is retrofitting and changing what our current buildings are doing. This is a conversation and where we actually start talking about some groundbreaking technologies that we didn't even know about that are going to come out, but also just in the simple things that we can do right now to make your homes not only more comfortable but more environmentally sustainable.

Sara Wilkinson: It is interesting. I mean when again, looking at this building technology and when I was looking it I also found that you can use algae to bio or mediate gray water. Potentially you can have the panels on the outside of the building. You got great big tank underneath the building. In terms of energy and water, you might not be totally off grid, but you're less reliant on the grid.

Chris Bates: Please stick around for this week's Elephant Ride boot camp and we have a cracking dumbo of the week, coming up.  

Before we get started, everything we talk about on this podcast is generally nature and should never be considered to be personal financial advice. If you're looking to get advice, please seek the help of a licensed financial advisor or buyer's agent. They will tailor and document their advice to your personal circumstances. Now let's get cracking.

Veronica Morgan: As our population grows, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and as our governments both state and federal seek to encourage large scale residential construction in order to house us all, our building form is going to change whether we like it or not. Now the challenge with some individuals will be overcoming the idea that we need a backyard in order to raise a family. For established communities, it will be how to accommodate more people without feeling overcrowded and losing the essence of their locale. Urban planners are working on new precincts and there'll be hopefully considering how exactly we'll be living in the future as well as how do we integrate these new suburbs into the rest of the city.

But all of us need to be concerned about the environmental impact of these developments, not just in the construction phase, but throughout the life of each building, which leads to another issue. Are these buildings ultimately disposable? Is there any thought given to whether these buildings will be surviving for the next 100, 200 or even 300 years? And these are big issues indeed. And who better to discuss them with us than Australia's first female professor of property, Sara Wilkinson from the University of Technology, Sydney. Sara has over 34 years of professional experience in both the UK and Australia, having originally started her career as a chartered building surveyor and she's worked on public and private sector projects across various scales, including commercial, residential and adaptive re-use projects, converted warehouses, for example. Now Sara's academic career started in 1991 and she has developed courses and led subject groups in building surveying and building technology property and real estate and property development.

Her own research has her working at the intersections of sustainability, urban development and transformation and there's three main areas of focus are building adaptation, sustainability and resilience and green rooves. This is going to be a very interesting chat. We're very excited about where it may lead. Thank you for joining us, Sara.

Sara Wilkinson: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Chris Bates: How are you Sara? I think Veronica and I spoke about lots of time about the building quality that's been built and whether it is actually sustainable then what we actually going to do with all these poorly built buildings. We haven't actually done an episode on sustainability and the future of kind of housing. How did you kind of get into sustainable in the first place? Was it kind of, you were always moving in that path or was it a big moment and you thought, "I really care about this?"

Sara Wilkinson: Well, I know exactly when it was. It was 30, nearly 31 years ago now. I was pregnant with my first son. I got stuck in a roof space in North Wales and I come back to work the next day and told them that I couldn't get down through the access hatch.

Veronica Morgan: How did you get stuck in a roof?

Sara Wilkinson: It was a hot July day. I'd done everything I needed to do in the property and the only thing I needed to check was whether they'd sorted out the dry rot in the roof space and went up into the roof space and the heat up there, I expanded. When I went to get down, I didn't fit through the access ...

Veronica Morgan: Oh wow!

Sara Wilkinson: ... hatch. Yeah, it was a bit of a-

Veronica Morgan: A physical realization, wow.

Chris Bates: I spent one of those one sunny days in North Wales, was it?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, very unusual.The funny thing was I went back to the office in London and no one, none of the surveyors would go out and survey with me at that stage because they thought I would go into labor and I'd give birth sort of 10 minutes later. I kept saying, "I think it takes a bit longer." Anyway, so they said to me, "Okay, well we think you shouldn't go out on site anymore." One of our clients at the time was British Petroleum who just spilled millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in Canada. It was an absolute environmental disaster. They said to us, they said, "Look, can you sort of give us some information and advice about environmental things we can implement in our buildings." Trevor sort of explained it to me, and I said, would you environmental services. I said environmental services. He said, "Yeah, green buildings." I said, "Green buildings? Go, go, go read."  

I went and read about it. I read these books that were published whilst I was at uni and I never heard of it at uni. I thought, "This is just sensible building. This is using resources that are local, that are renewable, that don't cost a lot of energy to manufacture and to transport. Why aren't we doing this?" If you look back at the buildings that have stood the test of time over centuries, they were built using local materials and ...

Chris Bates: Where in the world back say was this like, like late eighties, let's say?

Sara Wilkinson: It is late 80s, yeah.

Chris Bates: Where in the world, because there's always leaders in, where were these books kind of sold? Was it Denmark? Was it like, I mean, these are they type of plays that I've seen at the forefront, were they are at the forefront of buildings back then?

Sara Wilkinson: Well, funnily enough, there's the Center for Alternative Technology, which is actually in North Wales. The centre specializes in environmental building. But very much then it was at a smaller scale. It wasn't these sort of high density, high rise sort of stuff. BRE in Watford, which is the Building Research Establishment, they also got onto it quite early and launched their environmental assessment model in the early nineties, and that was one of the first ones that came out. I then moved into teaching in 1991 and we started an environmental building practice subject. I said to the students at the time, I said, "If you graduate and go out into the workplace and start talking about green buildings, no one will know what you're talking about, but I do think it will catch on because it just makes sense really." Obviously we know more and more about climate change and the impacts that are happening. We have to take action.

Chris Bates: When did you think it actually caught on?

Sara Wilkinson: I think in the mid nineties. It started, more courses started to be offered, it became a part of assessment for professional accreditation. It sort of started to kind of gather momentum there and there's more people sort of came into it and started talking about it. More rating tools were established, they increased standards in building regulations for energy efficiency. I mean, originally the building regulations in the UK, energy efficiency was mandated in the 80s, but that was because of an energy crisis. That was because the price of oil went up and we didn't have a good supply. It was purely economic driver to try and keep the prices down.

Veronica Morgan: Well, it's a little bit like the issue we've got with solar. Is solar power now, isn't it? The energy prices are going up, so we're looking at other sources of energy.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. No, it's interesting that Shell, doing a project at the moment on algae building, which is a renewable and, people are saying that coal, oil and gas where the fossil fuels, they sort of, were the industrial revolution power source. The 21st century is going to be the renewables which is just so lowering the bio fuels. Alberta in Canada, their whole economy has been predicated on oil and gas. They're investing millions of Canadian dollars into bio fuels as they sort of reposition their economy for the 21st century. The algae building is interesting because it's, there's only one building in the world at the moment that uses this technology and they have facade panels and the sun hits the facade panels and you've got algae growing in so a water selection, like ponds everything bubbles coming out. This ...

Chris Bates: And that cools the, ..

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Well what you've basically got, is you've got solar thermal energy in the panels that goes through a heat exchanger in the plant room and you can use that heat to heat up hot water for showering and hydronic heating that's in Germany. Then ...

Veronica Morgan: Water in your pipes and your floors will warm your house?

Sara Wilkinson: They call them radiators, but they're not actually radiators. They sort of-

Chris Bates: They got hot water running through them.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Yes, a lot of Australians and particularly those in Sydney North wouldn't have a clue what that is...

Sara Wilkinson: Exactly but very common in Europe. Then they harvest the biomass, and the biomass gets converted into biofuel and where we've got a bio fuel, you've got an energy source. That's the way that goes so ...

Chris Bates: So it’s using the power of the sun, not just for solar energy to actually, at multiple levels now where yeah, it's kind of who knows what's going to come out in the future, I guess if this is the first one that would have been possible a couple of years ago.

Sara Wilkinson: No, but that's right. I mean we've designed a couple of panels which arrived a couple of weeks ago at UTS. I'm just waiting for the support frames to arrive and then we're going to set them up on the roof of the science building cause we worked with the Deep Green Biotech Hub and we're going to start monitoring sort of the production levels here because we did think that here we have a lot more sun over a lot longer period of the year. Potentially we could generate more energy. These sort of pilot panels are going to sort of test that. That's very different but, I know at the moment, economically it doesn't stack happy. It's too expensive but when I did the feasibility study a couple of years ago, I looked at Solar and in the 1950s, solar energy cost over $2,700 a watt. When I wrote the report in 2016 it was costing a $1.14 a watt. It's probably come down since then.

Veronica Morgan: That was indexed? As in ...

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Yeah. It's sort of ...

Chris Bates: How does that really work? How does that, the cost of that go down. It's when basically mass production is possible?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, economies of scale and also innovation. Basically I know I'm, well I hope I'm building a dinosaur and I'll put it out there and somebody else will go in and say, "Sara, you idiot, you should've done this ..." You'll get innovations in pumping technology, innovations in glazing technology, the seals, some people will say, "Well you've got a cavity in there, 65 mil, you should do 90 mil." Etc. etc, Also I think there are over half a million algae species and I will be testing one.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Wow. Is there a use of the green algae, getting in our rivers as systems here.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. I mean this was the thing because previously the buildings, yeah. If somebody called me up and said, "We've got algae in our building, it was a real problem. It was the services that leaked. It was probably smelled, it was a slip hazard and some, algae can also be deleterious to human health. It completely reversed my previous view of algae.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah. It'd be like like mold on cheese isn't it?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Which is quite tasty.

Veronica Morgan: You don't want to get the mold though.

Sara Wilkinson: That was the other the thing. I was just amazed during the research what an amazing organism algae is. You can use it for fiber, you can use it for fertilizer, you can use it for feed stock and also it is a great source of protein. Historically, we have got our proteins from meat products and cattle farting methane is a very, very dangerous greenhouse gas that takes hundreds of years longer than carbon dioxide to dissipate in the atmosphere. We really need to get over hamburgers and get to algae burgers. You can also put it in beer and in Melbourne you can get blue latte, which is a latte with algae because of the protein.

Chris Bates: Yeah, there you go. I mean all these new technologies haven't really existed. I mean, what's your thoughts on kind of like what's the other technologies like those, some wood buildings kind of going up in Sydney now, which I think people were thinking, "Well, why would you build a building out of wood, wouldn't it burn down?

Sara Wilkinson: The village I come from in Essex, Rochford, one of the buildings there dates from the 1400s. It's a timber frame building. It's been a house, it's been the council offices, it’s been a house, it’s been council offices. Over the years the uses have changed and that building is still there.

Chris Bates: How high is it?

Sara Wilkinson: It's only a two story timber frame house, but ...

Chris Bates: The height of the people inside it, yeah.

Sara Wilkinson: The CLT or the cross laminated timber is great and that's very strong. I mean I think in Hackney in London now they've got a 15 story timber frame building and we've got the one down at Barangaroo. I think there's another one just going up be in Brisbane that you have 14 stories.

Veronica Morgan: It's obviously not just knocking down our old growth forests to build these things. This is interesting cause I was going to ask a question you were talking about. The first books that were written about environmental building, construction and the fundamental premises, is really using local materials. If you think about, in Italy or France for instance, or even England, some of those older buildings, they're all built out of local stone. Well that's a finite resource and obviously a resource that takes millions of years to create, probably billions maybe. A lot of the geologists are just, quiver, like millions? You kidding me?

The point being that you're going to run out and we've got population growth and so we can't sustainably build enough out of local materials, but this is sort of like a re-imagination or I guess of timber, which is a local material or can be a local material depending on where you are. Tell us more about how this has come about.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, well. I think, I mean, timber is great because it has a lovely warm look about it as well.

Veronica Morgan: You have to hide these kind of big concrete walls and steel.

Sara Wilkinson: That's right. Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: I do love a bit of concrete walls and steel just quietly.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Sara Wilkinson: Obviously, what you have is you've got the logging of the timber and the transportation and then the milling and manufacturing into the cross laminated columns and beams. If you're replanting your forests, then obviously you're growing the stock for the next generation of buildings or whatever. In the meantime, of course, you've got habitat for biodiversity, you've got material that is sequestering carbon and giving off oxygen. That sounds good to me.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Chris Bates: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: I'm on board with that. That sounds bloody good. How many buildings would you estimate are built currently using any of this technology?

Sara Wilkinson: Very, very few. It is interesting, I mean, I think we've got 11 years in which to take sufficient action to stop irreversible climate change. We really need to pull our fingers out big time. We got no time to mess around again. Even in a flat out boom with construction, you only add about two to 3% to the total stock of buildings. Even over the last few years where we've had all these cranes everywhere, the bulk of our stock is already here. That's why I've always focused on retro fitting and adaptation because the bulk of what we've got is here. If you look at the chance for temperature increase, increasingly what we've got is no longer going to be comfortable. We're going to have to use more energy to be comfortable in our homes. That's going to accelerate carbon emissions. We've got this sort of a nasty, I suppose, I don't know, conundrum to try and sort out. We need to retrofit our existing buildings so that they don't use so much energy to be comfortable.

When you look at retrofit, you've got sort of low hanging through, so things you can do quite easily. Painting buildings like colors to reflect heat rather than absorb heat. Putting shading over window openings so that you don't get that heat penetration through the glazing, which is a weak spot. They're fairly simple things. Then doing things like upgrading the envelope so it's thermally more efficient. That's obviously more tricky because if you do it internally then you're losing some of your flow space. Which people don't like to do. If you do it externally then it involves planning permission and all those sorts of things. Possibly we're going to have to look at maybe combination of measures, perhaps some incentive programs, perhaps some relaxation of planning and to encourage people to do these things.

Chris Bates: You made a really good point there about, I was thinking of, "Well, let's just build all this new property." Right? "Let's kind of build, that's all the future properties will be like. This great technology, et cetera, but we're not going to forget about the existing stock. You said about roughly 3% of the property that gets added on the market is new. I think for our listeners, it's something for us to think about. It's one of the reasons why when we're talking about property investment, a lot of people think, "oh I'll buy new." Really you're thinking about such a small part of the market. You forgetting about the rest of the market, which is the established market. I think people don't even realize that's how few new apartments and buildings we create every year. It's actually very, very small. I guess around sustainable design, exactly what you shouldn't really be thinking about the 3%, you should be thinking about the 100% and what you can do. Do you think it's a bit of a chicken and egg though? Why would you, if you own a commercial building, unless you look at it as an investment for most people, why would you go down a retro-fitting way if it's going to cost you a lot more money but you're not going to get a lot more rent. I guess that's probably, who's at fault here. Is it the ...?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, that's a really good question. I mean, I guess depending on how you approach it, and as I say, there's various levels of retrofit from a light retrofit to a deep retrofit. With commercial buildings, if you're talking about sort of large office buildings, then what you can sometimes do is retrofit with the tenants in situ. You maybe have a couple of floors that are vacant you do your retrofitting to those floors, then you move tenants up, and then you do the floors they've vacated. That enables you to maintain an income while still doing your retrofit. I think most tenants, and I think this will increase as times go by, will be very keen to be associated with, an environmentally good performing building rather than something that's doing damage to the environment. You may find that your retention is better and you may find that you get less vacancy periods because tenants will want to come and rent in your building.

Chris Bates: Yeah, Alatian is probably the biggest one in Australia. They come out recently and they said, "Look, we want to be a hundred percent renewables across our whole organization." Starting comes from the building, everything you can possibly imagine the way that they power their computers everything. I don't know, I kind of feel like it's the corporations that say we want green buildings. We want only retrofitted, except for me, that gets demand's there then the investors will say, "Hang on a second, we could actually get more rent. We can actually create, actually a high yield and that'll increase our asset value."

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, it is interesting. I mean when again, looking at this building technology and when I was looking it, I also found that you can use algae to bio or mediate gray water. Potentially you can have the panels on the outside of the building. You got great big tank underneath the building. In terms of energy and water, you might not be totally off grid, but you're less reliant on the grid.

If you think of our infrastructure for water and power, it's pretty much at capacity. It tends to be laid in big pipes under our roads. If we want to increase capacity, we've got to block the road off, dig out the pipes to put a bigger pipe down. Having buildings that are partially off grid is going to extend the life of our infrastructure, which is going to be less disruptive to people.

Veronica Morgan: There's a big development across road from UTS central park.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Which is fantastic.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, it's interesting because I know that there's a big CoGen plant in there. That was a requirement of council, I believe and the building itself boasts the tallest vertical green wall in the world, I think.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, certainly I think. Yeah, it's certainly an in Australia, I mean ...

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, well some way. A very bloody tall green wall. I mean, do you look at that and you said, that's great. Tell me what is great about that complex.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, well again, sort of green roofs was something I came across and sort of when I sort of sat down and read about it, I just thought, "What a great roofing system." You got thermal another thermal layers so it makes your building more energy efficient. You don't get heat loss.

Chris Bates: Is actually the soil.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, because of the soil.

Veronica Morgan: You got to make sure you get really good waterproofing up there.

Sara Wilkinson: Well, this is the other thing. I mean, because once you got your green roof system on, you've actually protected your waterproof layer from solar degradation. What tends to make our roofing systems fail is exposure to the sun, so because they no longer exposed to the sun, they will last.

Veronica Morgan: It's like a super thick tile.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Again, you've got the plants will give off oxygen, so it improves your air quality. You've got biodiversity habitat for the bugs and the birds and other things. The urban heat island, city centers can be up to five degrees hotter than the peri urban areas.

Chris Bates: Just not in Sydney though.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. Well, yeah, that's right.

Veronica Morgan: Was it because of our harbor?

Sara Wilkinson: Well I think it was the harbor and the parks, but out west, I think it just gets hotter and dried.

Chris Bates: You put the weather hat on.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: I remember once driving out waste and opening the car door and nearly melting and I looked at the temperature gauge in the car and is 10 degrees hotter than it was in Balmain where I had left from and it was only a 45 minute drive.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. I mean it is, but as I say, a lot of studies are showing that if we put green infrastructure, green walls, green roofs, we can dampen that urban heat island effect. Another project I worked on about three years ago was it was called the urban ecology renewal investigation project. That looked at species and species extinction. I think we've had something like 60% of species have gone extinct in the last short period.

Veronica Morgan: God.

Sara Wilkinson: Which is ...

Veronica Morgan: Horrific.

Sara Wilkinson: Phenomenal.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Sara Wilkinson: Basically, if we've just got vast areas of concrete and tarmac, then there's no where for these animals to have a pathway to somewhere else that might be more amenable to their continued existence. We're accelerating extinction by not providing habitat for these species. That was the other thing that when I moved up to Sydney from Melbourne and the city of Sydney LGA covers about 25 square kilometers. I read that there's only, and I have to get this right, 4% left of indigenous flora and fauna that existed when the Europeans arrived, which is another damning indictment on what we've done here, which is one square kilometer. Potentially with green walls and green roofs, we can reintroduce indigenous species. There's no reason why we couldn't actually be 25 square kilometers plus. If you look at Singapore ...

Veronica Morgan: I was just about to mention Singapore because I was only there very recently and I was looking and reading up on it and apparently it's 47% green space there and I have to say I love Hong Kong but the air in Singapore is so much cleaner, noticeably cleaner but also they utilize their roof tops a lot in order to achieve that. The vision of the benevolent dictator is that he wants the city to be in a garden. I thought what an amazing vision.

Sara Wilkinson: Another project I did couple of years ago was looking at whether a mandatory or voluntary approach to green roofs and green walls would work best and we did case studies of Toronto, Singapore, London, Rotterdam, Stockholm and had a look at what they'd done. Singapore by far had had the best uptaking green roofs and green walls and we came across this garden city concept and basically very wise person realized that nobody would come and live and do business in Singapore if it was a concrete jungle with air quality problems. Theirs is a voluntary system, but voluntary in Singapore is de facto mandatory.

Veronica Morgan: You are loving autocracy? I really do. When you got a good autocratic place, who has actually got vision and ...

Sara Wilkinson: Well that's right. Stuff gets done.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Chris Bates: Humans are naturally quite lazy, quite greedy unfortunately and unless we're forced to do things, and unfortunately with the environment and with quite disposable world that we live in and unless we force people to stop using plastic bags, unless we force people to stop buying gas guzzling cars or, there's certain things I think you need to force people to actually make good behavioral change and to, they don't know what's good for them at first, and then after they start changing habits, then they start understanding and educating themselves. Then you start to create change. I think that at first people are like, "I've got so many other priorities going on and it just pushes down the list."

Sara Wilkinson: I'm doing a project at the moment with KTH in Stockholm and we're looking at the human behavior stuff. We came across a paper that has classified seven dragons behavior and basically they've classified into different sort of groups. How we justify to ourselves not to act, basically. Sometimes it's genuine ignorance, sometimes it's sort of a fear of being different. If you're the first person in your street to have the algae building panels and people laughing at you and saying that you've got slime all over your house, are you kidding? Gradually things do change and the plastic bags is a good one. I think within the last sort of 18 months. I think we've actually got to the stage now where you see people carrying stuff out of the supermarkets in their hands rather than purchase a bag.

Maybe it's the cost that you have to pay 15cents, yeah. Maybe it's that kind of oh, no.

Veronica Morgan: I don't need a bag. Well, I mean, maybe it's that. I often I carry one of these little bags the little carry bags in every bag I've got. There's many times that like, I don't actually need a bag, but before we didn't even question, we just took a bag.

Sara Wilkinson: Well, that's right. That's right. The big question is if we can change our behavior in time, that's the thing. I think it's really interesting at the moment seeing that Greta Thunburg, the Swedish girl that she's sort of going around talking to governments in Europe. She's sort of encouraging the school strikes and I think these kids, they're absolutely right because by the time they grow to your age or my age is absolutely a wreck.

Chris Bates: Pretty sad though, right? The kids are the ones who are creating change in a world where, they should be going to school and learning and, instead they're trying to force adults to take action on climate change. It's-

Sara Wilkinson: I just seriously saw a tweet today, I don't spend a lot of time in Twitter, but I just happened to just open and there's this tweet, somebody I actually do know and he's a very successful businessman, very right wing. He's like, "Oh my God, this is ridiculous. My daughter has sent me a message saying that her geography teacher told her, told the class that by 2050, a third of them would starve to death." I mean it sounds shocking, but that's another area we're looking at, is food security. We're quite fortunate here in that supply chains are maybe less vulnerable than perhaps other places, but certainly European countries. These urban farms are coming up and that's another kind of area, I've also been listening ...

Veronica Morgan: well this is is interesting because Sydney has been building into its food bowl now for decades.

Sara Wilkinson: Well, again, sort of looking to the future and sort of thinking, "Okay, a lot of the big box retail and the department stores are really struggling with online buying. They tend to have a huge sort of floor to ceiling heights, big spaces in shopping centers. Once they've gone, maybe the other retailers will struggle and that sort of thing and car parking as well. Where if we look at possibly driverless vehicles and car sharing models becoming more the norm. A lot of our car parking areas are below offices and below high density residential. So, what are we going to do with them? I mean, if they're underground, you can't convert them for habitable habitation. I think there are potentially great spaces for high tech urban farms and you reduce your carbon food miles and your transportation and vitally you increase your food security.

Chris Bates: I'm not ewise, has done one of those in Sydney, underneath their building they've created a green farm as a bit of a, kind of test case. Exactly like, if you don't have to ship this the tomatoes in from South Australia or that's get on a truck and then the truck has to get here and let's go to the supermarket. Yeah, I think there is ...

Sara Wilkinson: You got solar panels on your roof to power the, what do you need? Ultraviolet light? What the sort of light that need?

Sara Wilkinson The UV light.

Veronica Morgan: UV Light. Does the fact that they don't have regular sunlight, does that change anything in a plant?

Chris Bates: Well it can't get any worse than kind of pesticides.

Veronica Morgan: Oh, they do say hydroponic marijuana is better not that I've partaken in it.

Sara Wilkinson: LED lighting kind of has the UV kind of thing and they're aerofarms, if you look at aerofarms in New York and you'll see stacks probably 10, 15 stacks of plants growing probably in 500, 600 mil centers. If you think about the floor area of that compared to an open paddock you have-

Chris Bates: And perfect sunlight every day.

Veronica Morgan: All those solar panels are going to be out there taking up the paddock space.

Sara Wilkinson: That's right. I mean basically plants only grow at the speed they grow out in nature because the sun goes down every day but if you got 24 hour sunshine and whatever-

Chris Bates: And perfect watering everyday.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah, optimum-

Veronica Morgan: There's no seasonal produce then. It's like Singapore all year round.

Sara Wilkinson: Exactly.

Veronica Morgan: ... in the basement.

Sara Wilkinson: It will get very high tech. You'll have sensors monitoring optimum moisture kind of thing etc and then possibly even robots picking them.

Chris Bates: Yeah. Well I mean, there is already that. Robotic farming's pretty, robots are probably one of the biggest things that are taking over is agriculture and being able to 3D map farm and see where the weeds are and one of their drone will go over and put a bit of pesticide on it and things like that, which a human would never be able to do and then be able to do that on scale because you don't need hours and things like that. I think farming's got a huge future head. I mean green roofs, I haven't really seen any in Sydney.

Sara Wilkinson: Oh, we've got quite a few.

Chris Bates: It's been residential?

Sara Wilkinson: Yes. I think there's one just up here actually.

Veronica Morgan: What'd you say? Grid roofs?

Chris Bates: Green roofs.

Veronica Morgan: Oh, green roofs.

Chris Bates: It's just not something that you, we've really taken-

Veronica Morgan: Oh, there's quite a few around.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. The city of Sydney used to have a website which would tell you where the green roofs were in this area and so UTS, our alumni green space behind that beautiful brutal concrete tower

Veronica Morgan: The bunker

Sara Wilkinson: That's right. That is actually a green roof over a book depository. Yeah, there's different types of green roof. You can have a green roof just for sort of thermal performance or even storm water attenuation, and that's another big benefit here because we're predicted to have less frequent rainfall but more intense rainfall. That could lead to flash flooding and overwhelming of the drainage systems, et cetera. Whereas your green roofs and your parks and your pathways will absorb that and slow that run off down. Another type of green roof you can have is forced social interaction and etc. A number of medium density places, and there is one just up the top here in Redfern.

Veronica Morgan: There’s one in Surry Hills

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. where go up on the roof and-

Veronica Morgan: Chalmers Street, you thinking about in Redfern.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. There's the one actually, the aboriginal center I think in Redfern has got a rooftop garden on it.

Chris Bates: Yeah,  I mean there's lots of rooftop gardens. I haven't really seen the walking through, like I was thinking more like suburbs and you're coming along and it's like a house house house and bang, there's a house with a green roof on it. I feel like on the actual suburb level, we haven't really thought about it.

Sara Wilkinson: It was interesting about five years ago somebody who's living in Merrickville was trying to put a green roof on an extension on their house and they were really having a struggle with the planners at that time, trying to get things through the system to get all the permissions and approvals and because it was something they hadn't really had a lot of experience of and there were some concerns and so ...

Veronica Morgan: Well they'd have to think.

Sara Wilkinson: yes.

Veronica Morgan: They go outside all the checklists.

Sara Wilkinson: Well they got, you can't do that tick and flick. I think that is the thing is you have to go outside your comfort zone and embrace something that's new to you or whatever.

Veronica Morgan: You're going to need to fight for it too. I mean, in that situation you've got to be so passionately-

Sara Wilkinson: Persistent.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Sara Wilkinson: To actually,  to get through.

Veronica Morgan: Not cave.

Sara Wilkinson: That's right.

Chris Bates: What happened in that case out of curiosity? Five years ago someone was trying to get it through and then they probably just gave up in the end.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. I don't know, actually, I'd have to follow him up and find out but I know-

Veronica Morgan: There was an episode on grand designs, some music of a house in Glebe and the whole part of it was very much about having this roof space and green space up there and yeah, I mean-

Sara Wilkinson: I looked at Melbourne about 10 years ago and something like 29% of all horizontal spaces in CBDs are roof spaces. Sort of looking at what you could retrofit. And I did a survey of about 550 odd buildings and was very, very conservative and said that 17% of them could be done, could be retrofitted. That was looking at plant system on the roof and all that sort of business. Paul Osmond, the UNSW, he did a very similar thing here for city of Sydney and he came up with 20%. We were both pretty close and we both felt that we've been very, very conservative. There's lots of scope out there and ...

Veronica Morgan: Have you come across the organization Rooftop Honey?

Sara Wilkinson: No. Oh yes, I think, the house with the beehives.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah. It's Melbourne based. I don't know a lot about it, but I think that they've sort of ventured into Sydney as well. It's a way of once again, we've got a bee shortage or bees are endangered and ...

Sara Wilkinson: Ekkon did a report two years ago on green infrastructure and they found then that property with good green infrastructure, residential property with green, good green infrastructure in Sydney was 17% higher values.

Veronica Morgan: It's interesting you say that because I was just about to mention an episode we did, Episode 62 with Cecile Weldon. She's from the-

Sara Wilkinson: Oh yeah, I know Cecil.

Veronica Morgan: ... Center of Livability, so you know Cecile. We were having this debate about, it's a bit chicken and the egg too about, well does that create the value or does the demand for that create the value? Then at which point does it take over because the demands obviously has got to to be there, but then at some point the actual existence of these features will create the demand.

Sara Wilkinson: I think as human beings we had this relationship with nature, biophilia effect. When we come across a space that is very natural, we like it. We don't necessarily say, "I like this." Because of that tree or that bush.

Veronica Morgan: It's cellular.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. We just say, "Oh, this is really nice. I like this." And we don't deconstruct it. If you did, you'd find out that it was actually ...

Chris Bates: It's the trees that make you feel happy rather than the, yeah.

Sara Wilkinson: The flowers, the lawns, the view, that sort of thing.

Chris Bates: You said there's a dictator in Singapore?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah.

Chris Bates: You said he's got, the futuristic view that he had some time ago that he wanted to create a garden. What's your kind of utopia view, if you were going to design Sydney for the future, what would be some of the key elements that you would bring into the Sydney kind of housing market, I guess? And Commercial market?

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. That again is very interesting because there is a competition open at the moment in the City of Sydney for alternate housing. It's looking at ideas generation on alternative housing and we're-

Chris Bates: I'm sure a kid will probably win that one.

Sara Wilkinson: If it's a good idea, that's great. Doesn't matter how old they are.

Chris Bates: Seven year olds.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. We've actually put in a pitch, a colleague of mine at UTS, Alan Morris, he's in the Institute of Public Policy Guidance. He comes from policy and social sciences and what you have is if you count up all of the bedrooms in the city of Sydney or in Sydney, there's so many empty bedrooms in properties, there should be no homeless people at all because we've got, we've already got space. What happens with a lot of elderly people is they stay in the family home, they want to age in place and that's often the best for them mentally and physically. Yet they'd probably got two, three spare rooms in the house. They probably don't drive the car anymore, so the garage isn't being used either. So you've got a lot of under occupied properties. Now you've also got a lot of people that need affordable housing.

Now, a lot of elderly people, they can't maintain the garden anymore. They might need help with their shopping or taken to doctors or hospital appointments, that sort of thing. Or even just some social interaction, someone to sit down and have a cup of tea with them. Now could we develop a model that enables the younger person or the other person to have an affordable rent, an agreement between the elder person, "Well, I would like 10 hours of your time, so that's $30 or $40 an hour that works out so many hours a week, we'll discount your rent to something that is affordable."

Also is maybe looking at whether at the same time we can do some adaptation of the property to make it more resilient to climate change and the increase in heat that we going to have and that potentially could help with, I mean, energy poverty, again, a lot of older people don't have a high disposable income and if your home doesn't have any insulation in it, he's got an old fashion heating cooling system that burns energy. Energy prices I think have gone up something like a 60% in the last eight years or something like that. They would really struggle on a fixed income. We got something that potentially can alleviate energy poverty perhaps, mitigate some social isolation which is again meant to be one of the issues we're going to be facing. Provide affordable accommodation to others that need it and enable us to do some housing adaptation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

Veronica Morgan: That's killing so many birds with one stone. I love it.

Chris Bates: Well, these are things that will come out.

Veronica Morgan: Kids will get in the way.

Chris Bates: AirBnB didn't exist now it's so common. Thing like this will come out. People will start converting their garages because I don't need a car to a studio apartment too. I think, the future of housing, we'll have to take on things like this because if you want to keep growing our population, unless you keep building you ...

Sara Wilkinson: Exactly, and I also think integration is vital because if young people never see old people, if rich people never see poor people, you end up isolated with a mono culture and you don't have empathy and understanding of how people can struggle. I was in the supermarket the other day and a young person in front of me had got four or five items, everything was discounted and it came to $9 and 81 cents and he couldn't pay for it. He put his card on and it got declined and he tried it again, it got declined. He was absolutely devastated and he was going to put it all back. I paid for it. He was probably the same age as my kids and I just thought, "That is devastating." You've got quite a lot of food there for under $10 and you can't pay for it. This is an affluent society.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah.

Chris Bates: Well, I mean secure parking. I love what they're doing. They're basically, because their car parks are busy during the day but between likes, 6:00 PM and 7:00 AM the car parks are empty. They're opening the doors to the homeless, they are setting up banners saying, "Well, if you want somewhere that's warm and that's sheltered, like when a Sydney kind of storm coming through.

Veronica Morgan: Windy, rainy and all that.

Chris Bates: I mean like, just things like this is, people that will come with opportunities that people if they put their heads on and think, "Well actually I'm not gonna make money out of this, but it is actually going to help people.

Veronica Morgan: It's creating a better society and yeah.

Chris Bates: Then dates, KIA also them having more of a better brand out there that people want to support and there'll be be money come here. I guess it's when they put their focus the right way, things come down the line.

Sara Wilkinson: I was to say I can't imagine what it would be like to have all of your possessions in a bag and never know where you're going to sleep one night to the next.

Chris Bates: It's called a nomad nowadays. A digital nomad does that.

Veronica Morgan: It's a choice though. I mean we also interviewed Michelle Adair who's the CEO of, wish I could remember the organization, the Housing Trust, I think it is and that's been so for those who want to go back it. Ooh, I think that's episode 66. Yeah, she talked about how easy, it is so much easy to become homeless. For some people they're really in a fragile state and a couple of misfortunes and then they could find themselves in that situation.

Sara Wilkinson: That's right. It's very easy to unravel.

Veronica Morgan: I think what you said is interesting. About we need to keep that diversity in society so we don't forget, it's a bit like, we don't want to have a physical manifestation of the echo chamber of social media where we only get to see our own feed. It is important.

Sara Wilkinson: Yes. I think that social media and all of the internet stuff, the searches and now everything, I mean, to me that is really beginning to concern me because I think, like you say, is an echo chamber. We don't realize it and in many ways we're sort of sleepwalking to who knows what, really.

Veronica Morgan: The whole premise of this podcast is the The Elephant In The Room. The elephant being the metaphor for the subconscious mind and all those behavioral biases that we all operate with them. Our very first episode, if you want to go back listeners is with Simon Russell, who's a behavioral scientist and he went to an auction and saw those things in play. The confirmation bias is a massive one and it's so we all suffer it. Absolutely, we all suffer it. In fact, I've met this woman yesterday who's a massive fan of the Jacksons. Massive.

Sara Wilkinson: What? The band?

Veronica Morgan: I said to her, "So how do you reconcile yourself with sort of what Michael was getting up to?" "I don't believe it's true." I went, "Oh, okay of course. Tell me why you don't believe it's true." "Well, I just don't read any of that stuff, I do not believe it. I cannot imagine it. I just will not, just will not accept it." And you just think, "Well, there you go. There's an absolute clear manifestation of what confirmation bias does." I have willingly chosen not to look at, listen to, watch, read, talk to anybody who or anything who is going to tell me anything other than what I want to believe. That is what a lot of us do whether we are aware of it or not. Like you said, we are sleep walking.

Chris Bates: Every week we hear incredible stories of the dumb things property buyers do. Dumb things that end up costing a whole lot of money and or creating a whole lot of stress. Mistakes that can be avoided. Please Sara, can you give us an example of a property dumbo? We can all learn what not to do from these stories.

Sara Wilkinson: Well, I guess the property dumbo would be that the standards in a building codes are really not going to deliver the extent of mitigation adaptation that we need in the next 11 years. We really need to up our game and we need to call that out, really.

Chris Bates: Who would we follow? I think it's, if no one in the world's doing, it would need a leader.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah. I mean if you look at, I mean, again, sort of the energy efficiency was introduced in a lot of European in the 80s and it was the oil crisis preempted that. I was really surprised that we didn't start to mandate energy efficiency in Australia until 2005, 2006 for residential and commercial buildings. We're really behind the eight ball. We've been very fortunate that we've had cheap energy. We've had a very nice climate, so we haven't really needed to do it, but for the climate we have to. The era of cheap energy is over and we really need to sort of get out of fossil fuels, although that is going to be politically, economically very challenging.

Veronica Morgan: Well that is an interesting dumbo because at the end of the day were buying property. Then that's been, I guess, built following some pretty dumb controls. We don't really thinking of the future when we're building nor when we're buying.

Chris Bates: Things that probably won't be valuable in the future. Right? We're buying things that won't compete with the better stock that comes out. When the buildings come out in the future, they're going to be better than what have currently been built. If you own something like that, that means that, not only is there more supply, but it's actually better than yours, and that's a big worry for people who own these buildings because they just can't compete in the new world. Well, like having an electric car or had a petrol car when electric cars are out here.

Veronica Morgan: Yeah, good dinosaur. Well, it's like a beta, videos-

Chris Bates: Without selling it. Yeah, a fair amount of good point around electric cars the other day was like, "Oh, well now why doesn't, we're just chatting around it and I thought, "Well, the labor's policy around changing and ...

Veronica Morgan: You need eight minutes to recharge. Or was it six minutes?

Chris Bates: Well, I mean, in reality it's going to get quicker because there's that, we talked about this.

Veronica Morgan: It was bit of a joke about the fact that, so Labor have come up with so many policies and a lot of them are extraordinarily admirable. Details are a little lacking.

Chris Bates: Yeah, I mean with labor on this, I'm like, part of that overall policies.

Veronica Morgan: I don't disagree with the idea of it. It does scare me that there's all these great ideas. It's like a think tank. It's actually not like a well thought out policy. Anyway, keep going.

Chris Bates: At least it's in the right direction of climate change. I mean it's Liberal don't want to talk about it, so-

Veronica Morgan: Oh God, I'm not advocating for Liberal here at all.

Chris Bates: I think the, but I mean it's real conundrum for the government because, if we start going down this direction, it's just one other tax they're not going to get, it's like the amount of tax they get on fuel is ridiculous. I guess the problem with Australia is we just, unless we're forced to do it, we don't make a change in life. All the other countries around the world are leading in these things and we're just like, "Oh, we don't have to do it, do we? We can still get another three years of government. I think it's getting a bit ridiculous really on a lot of action around this stuff because there's no one in power that really cares about it.

Sara Wilkinson: No. Those that do they are trying to actually get something done is just so hard.

Veronica Morgan: Too many competing policies. We need an autocrat.

Sara Wilkinson: Yes. Many years ago I came across this thing by written by a guy called Charles Handy and it was a management book and it was again about sort of behavior. He had this analogy. He said, "If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it jumps out immediately and it lives. If you put a frog into a pot of cold water, put it on the stove and heat it up, it will die. It will boil to death.

Veronica Morgan: Happily.

Sara Wilkinson: Yeah.

Veronica Morgan: Winging probably. Actually not happily but- it won’t jump out...

Sara Wilkinson: I think, we're the frogs in the pot and we really need to jump out and do something else. Getting us to do that, is going to be challenging.

Chris Bates: Well, the problem is humans won't die first, unfortunately. The humans are just keep growing as the population we’re slowly dying. We're not growing as fast as we are, but it'll be all the other things that die first and humans at the top of the tree. So ...

Sara Wilkinson: Once the sea level rises, you will get population migration on a level that we have never ever experienced before. If you look at north of our border, is Indonesia and there's 250, 300 million Indonesians living on very low lying land and they will need to go somewhere else. If you look at what's happened in Europe with the Syrian refugees and migration and the political drama that has issued an arguments within countries about who accepts people and how many you accept and where they go and how those people have been treated. Once we get climate change migration that's gonna be really, really scary.

Chris Bates: We were full aren’t we in Australia, we've put a cap on our refugees. We can't have any more of them arrive.

Sara Wilkinson: 103,000 or something.

Chris Bates: Yeah, that's, yeah. You're right there because if they've got to leave, if they can't let them, we can't let them drown, right? They've got to leave, so who's going to take them and then wars starts and things like that start. It's a huge issue that maybe we'll think about.

Veronica Morgan: I think we've got two topics for further interviews. We love to get you back in another stage because there's two topics here that we want to talk more about and then is where are the controls or building controls are letting us down really? Where there's all those missed opportunities but also on population growth. If we're going to have climate change, oh, we do have climate change, but if the sea levels rise and we're going to have massive migration, we're going to have another demand on our housing.

Sara Wilkinson: We are we'll need to build quickly.

Veronica Morgan: Thank you very much for joining us.

Sara Wilkinson: Well, thank you for asking me.

Chris Bates: Thank you. We want to make you a better elephant rider. And this week's elephant rider training is …

Veronica Morgan: One of the things that Sara talked about was the fact that we instinctively like and appreciate being in a nice environment, but we don't often deconstruct what those elements are. And I think that deconstructing them is really important for property buyers because that's when you can start to really identify the sorts of characteristics a property will have that will add value. I mean, Sara did mention about the fact that that studies have shown that properties with all of these environmentally sustainable features that add to comfort does translate into increased value. That's obviously something very important for property buyers to understand. Deconstructing those elements is important. A lot of them, they seem like no brainers and that  shading on the external windows. Once again, go back to episode 62 with the Cecil Weldon, for lots of tips on this but adequate insulation, ceiling fans in bedrooms, the proper awnings to ensure that the sun doesn't directly hit the glass in summer, thermal mass, the foliage outside and actually having some soft surfaces and trees and greenery to look at, but also to increase comfort in the area. We look at in our business, we actually, we score every property that we evaluate on what we call a capital growth predictive indicator score.

A lot of these features are, there's about 30 features that we would score every individual property on, a lot of these features are very prominent in this list and they are all the things that add to comfort. I would say the Northern orientation, all of those sorts of things, the start actually thinking more constructively when you walked through our home as to what is it that I like about this property. If you just feel that you like it, let's start looking around and being much more critical and much more I guess forensic in your evaluation of every individual property that you look at.

Join us for our next episode when we get one of our favorites back for a second interview, Kent Lardner, a data specialist, he absolutely understands property data. What I love about Ken is that he also understands the problems with data and we have a very, very robust chat about all things to do with AVMs and median prices and suburb chats and top 50s and top fives and top tens and all of that sort of stuff. All the things that we're tempted to look into when we're buying property. We attempted to be swayed by some of this information and how we need to be able to look up a little bit deeper to understand what's going on so that we know what information we can rely on when we're making our decisions. Another cracker episode, please join us.

Chris Bates: Don't forget, we're on all the social channels. We're on Facebook, we're on LinkedIn, we're on Twitter.

Veronica Morgan: Or you can connect with us on theelephantintheroom.com.au The links are all there for you.

Chris Bates: Please connect and send us a message. We'd love to hear from you.

Veronica Morgan: The Elephant In The Room Property podcast is recorded at the Sydney Sound Brewery. This week's podcast was recorded by John Risk. Editorial by Gordy Fletcher.

Chris Bates: Until next week, don't be done by.

Veronica Morgan: Now remember, everything we talked about on this podcast is general in nature and should never be considered to be personal financial advice. If you're looking to get advice, please seek the help of a licensed financial advisor or buyer's agent who will tailor and document their advice to your personal circumstances with a statement of advice.

Veronica Morgan