Frequently Asked Questions - ESD

FAQ_logo_Planning_1This page aims to help you with specific information you may be seeking about Environmentally Sustainable Design in the planning process.


If you have not already read this overview page, you might find it helpful to do so before reading the below.


Questions and Answers

Who do I speak to if I need further information?


What do the abbreviations stand for?

ESD – Environmentally Sustainable Design
BCA – Building Code of Australia
GBCA – Green Building Council of Australia
IEQ – Indoor Environment Quality
NABERS - National Australian Built Environment Rating System
NatHERS - Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme
SDA – Sustainable Design Assessment
SDAPP – Sustainable Design Assessment in the Planning Process
SMP – Sustainable Management Plan
STEPS - Sustainable Tools for Environmental Performance Strategy
SDS – Sustainable Design Scorecard


What are the benefits of considering ESD at the planning stage?

  • Optimising your building design as early as possible - when it comes at the lowest cost
  • Obtaining planning certainty in relation to ESD by addressing Building Code of Australia (BCA) energy efficiency requirements as early as possible
  • Factors such as a building’s orientation, external shading, re-use of water or the materials used can make a lasting difference to the environment and provide improved indoor comfort
  • Building to best practice standards today not only future-proofs occupants against the rising costs of power and water but commonly commands higher property returns in the future
  • Preparing for the Mandatory Disclosure Scheme which will soon be introduced to the residential market and extended in the commercial market.

What is the difference between FirstRate, STEPS, SDS and Green Star?

Buildings can be designed to various efficiency and amenity standards. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) outlines minimum necessary standards to meet relevant health, safety, amenity and energy efficiency objectives.


Meeting BCA energy efficiency standards through a 5-Star FirstRate rating does not reflect best practice standard.


The planning tools STEPS and SDS specify benchmarks in different environmental categories. Meeting these benchmarks confirms best practice standard for small to medium scale buildings.


Large scale buildings commonly demonstrate best practice standard by obtaining a Green Star rating (4, 5 or 6 Stars) through the Green Building Council Australia (GBCA).


The below graph outlines sustainable building outcomes and the relevant standards:


Improved building efficiency chart


What ESD considerations are part of the building permit process?

Some of the 10 Key Sustainable Building Categories will also have to be considered at the building permit stage. A building permit is obtained by complying with Building Code of Australia (BCA) requirements and meeting the conditions of a planning permit.  


For example, Energy Efficiency is reflected in the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS), which determines a dwelling’s expected energy demand for cooling and heating. On a scale of 10 stars, zero stars means the building shell does practically nothing to reduce the discomfort of hot or cold weather. A 5 star rating indicates good, but not outstanding, thermal performance. Occupants of a 10 star home are unlikely to need any artificial cooling or heating. In Victoria, an average 5-Star rating will currently achieve minimum compliance but is not considered to be of best practice standard.


Other categories, such as Indoor Environment Quality, Water Resources or Building Materials, are not really covered in the Building Code of Australia. In order to cover not only energy efficiency but all 10 Key Sustainable Building Categories, planning applicants in Yarra are now encouraged to address these matters in their planning application.


Does the SDAPP program add to the time of my planning permit approval?

ESD information is treated in the same way as other planning matters, such as assessments of heritage or traffic matters. Assuming applicants follow Yarra’s ESD Best Practice Guidelines and provide information outlined in the SDAPP program, demonstrating good ESD principles can support (and maybe even expedite) your application.


How long will it take me to prepare an SDA?

A Sustainable Design Assessment (SDA) can be prepared by the applicant and commonly does not need expert advice. Assuming that you have considered all applicable Key Sustainable Building Categories during your design phase and you have agreed on a minimum ESD standard, the preparation of an SDA can take as little as an hour. We highly recommend using the free online tools STEPS (residential) and SDS (non-residential) and submitting the printout report with your application.


What information will I need in order to prepare an SDA?

An SDA can be prepared by either using the free online tools STEPS (residential) or SDS (non residential), using the template report on our website or preparing your own report. In addition to your architectural drawings, you will generally require the following information:


For all developments (residential and non-residential):
  • STORM rating, a free online tool that measures your application’s storm water management qualities
  • Anticipated minimum energy efficiency rating of major appliances for heating, cooling and hot water (energy labeling)
  • Anticipated minimum water efficiency rating of taps and fittings (WELS ratings)
  • Anticipated light fittings (e.g. incandescent, compact fluorescent of LED?)
  • On-site renewable energy devices (if applicable)
  • Major construction materials

Residential-only developments will also need to :
Non-residential-only developments will also need to:
  • BCA Section J assessment or anticipated minimum standard
  • Expected NABERS rating

When preparing an SDA, do I really have to know what appliances I will install?

As part of an SDA submission, Council does not expect you to know what appliance models you will be installing in the future. However, we recommend committing to an energy efficiency standard, for example through declaring the lowest expected Star rating for different appliances (commonly heating, cooling and hot water).  


How do I address all 10 Key Sustainable Design Categories when using the STEPS tool?

The STEPS tool initially covered only some of the 10 Key Sustainable Building Categories: Energy, Peak Demand, Water, Stormwater and Materials. A new feature in the tool, the Sustainable Design Statement, now also allows you to address the remaining categories by the provision of a new written section (mission statements), outlining project goals.


Can I use the STEPS tool without having completed a NatHERS (e.g. FirstRate) assessment?

An energy rating under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) will have to be completed for most new dwellings and some extensions at the building permit stage at the latest. However, as the building’s orientation, glazing proportions and construction materials largely impact the rating, it is strongly recommended to conduct a preliminary assessment before lodging your drawings for a planning permit. Furthermore, feedback from applicants shows that many designers nowadays use energy rating tools as design tools rather than as compliance tools. Please also bear in mind, should a later energy rating show that you have to amend the building design to meet minimum BCA standards, you might have to apply for an amendment of your planning permit.


However, if you are confident that your building design will meet a certain minimum standard, you can use the following values for the STEPS assessment:


Climate Zone 21 Melbourne:


5 Stars - 149 MJ/m2
5.5 Stars - 131 MJ/m2
6 Stars - 114 MJ/m2
6.5 Stars - 98 MJ/m2
7 Stars - 83 MJ/m2
7.5 Stars - 68 MJ/m2
8 Stars - 57 MJ/m2
8.5 Stars - 39 MJ/m2
9 Stars - 25 MJ/m2
9.5 Stars - 13 MJ/m2
10 Stars - 2 MJ/m2


The above values can be used as an 80% heating and 20% cooling split.


When using the STEPS tool, do I use the ‘Energy’ or ‘Area Corrected Energy’ values of my energy rating?

The STEPS tool works with the ‘Area Corrected Energy’ values.


Who do I speak to if I need further information?

Lots of information about Yarra’s SDAPP program and detailed ESD guidelines is provided on Yarra’s website. If you would like to discuss your submission in more detail or obtain free expert ESD advice, you can contact your planning case officer, the Statutory Planning counter (9205 5373 or at Richmond Town Hall, 333 Bridge Road, Richmond) or Council's ESD Advisor using the below contact details.



Further Information
Euan Williamson (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
Environmentally Sustainable Design Advisors
9205 5366



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