For Melbourne architect Chris Shields, designing a new home provides the opportunity to work with individual clients and understanding how they think and what their expectations are. Increasingly, clients who use Shield's services are serious about achieving an environmentally responsible lifestyle. With mainstream society realising they have an active role to play in minimising the effects of climate change, Shields believes clients are more mentally prepared for compromise.

"For example, from a macro perspective one of the first decisions is a willingness to limit the home to 30 squares. This is a size that is sufficient to house a family of five comfortably, yet doesn't require that excessive use materials to build or maintain," says Shields. "With increasing prices for resources, the economics of environmentally efficient homes are pushing people in the right direction."

Shields says it's important to set client expectations about what sustainability really means. For those pursuing an environmentally friendly solution, a willingness to compromise is vital.

"When that means no second study, three bathrooms and not four, that commitment is tested," says Shields. "We have a long way to go, but as economics increasingly drive the environmental agenda, the clients who will save the most money are the ones who are willing to make those compromises sooner rather than later. The fascinating part is that once a family adjusts to their new living arrangement, they quickly learn to enjoy the lifestyle and appreciate the efficiencies, low maintenance and minimal upkeep required."

It is for this reason that Shields believes the five-star energy rating is a flawed concept.

"The government strategy of insisting on a five star energy rating is failing because all it does is require that the house itself needs to be more efficient, but is not encouraging smaller houses which would be far more environmentally responsible," says Shields. "It's the same dilemma the government has with SUVs - governments could reduce the number of SUVs on the road by doubling import tariffs and increasing registration fees...but they won't because it's politically difficult. It's the same with the energy ratings, the political will is not there yet for reducing housing size."

For more information, contact Chris Shields at 03 9470 3665 or 0411 246 353

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