This month sees the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) present the Sustainable Housing Summit — in Auckland and Christchurch — to shine a light on how improving sustainability practices in the residential building sector will yield a wealth of social and economic benefits. “Embracing sustainability in housing is about more than just building more efficient homes,” says Alex Cutler, CEO of NZGBC. “It also involves rethinking how neighbourhoods are designed to make better use of resources and create vibrant communities.”
NZGBC is a non-profit industry organisation whose vision is for Kiwis to “live, work and play in healthy, efficient and productive buildings in a sustainable built environment”. Established in 2005, a year later NZGBC became a member of the World Green Building Council, a similar non-profit setup, but on a global scale. “In New Zealand’s commercial sector, green building is increasingly moving towards the mainstream,” says Alex. “Now it’s less likely to be perceived as something achievable only for the prestigious corporate addresses.” There is an ever-growing awareness too, she adds, that green principles are no longer necessarily the most costly ones, so long as they’re “integrated at the project’s outset”.
As both an aid and encouragement to greater sustainability, NZGBC runs rating tools that certify building sustainability: Green Star for commercial buildings, which operates on a scale of 4-6; NABERSNZ which rates the energy performance of office buildings on a scale of 1-6; and Homestar for residential, which uses 1-10. “In the residential market, unfortunately, a large proportion of New Zealand’s existing housing stock is substandard and poorly insulated,” says Alex. “Consumer awareness is slowly improving as people begin to understand what makes a warm and sustainable home, but many homes require substantial work.”
The year 2015 was a great one for Homestar milestones. In May, a house in Papamoa achieved the first 10 Homestar Design rating thanks to features such as solar heated water, a state-of-the-art system that controls when appliances switch on, and a smart piping system under the driveway that captures passive heat and returns it inside. In August, the doors opened to the nation’s first home to be awarded a 10 Homestar Built rating, at 11 Church Square, Christchurch.
“When you step inside a high-performing home, you can feel the difference,” Alex says. “Good orientation for sun and high levels of insulation mean it’s warmer and drier — and that’s just the beginning. The conversation about healthy, affordable housing needs to focus on the long term operational savings of green building as well as construction costs.”
In 2013, Parnell’s Geyser Building became the first Kiwi construction awarded a 6 Green Star rating thanks, in part, to its revolutionary naturally ventilated double-skin façade. Over in Mt Wellington, in February, the Ceres Organics warehouse became the first food distribution building to gain a Green Star Industrial rating due to some super-smart sustainable practices like a solar hot water system, rainwater collection and a fully automated building management system which monitors lighting, carbon dioxide levels and water and energy use. “They’ve shown real leadership by using Green Star to ensure and endorse the environmental standards of their building,” says Alex. “It’s particularly exciting to see that they’re tracking energy use and carbon, which gives a very clear picture of real-life performance.”
New Zealand’s green building is being recognised internationally, too. “In 2014, Te Mirumiru in Kawakawa — our first commercial earth-bank building and first 6 Green Star Education building — won the World GBC’s Asia/Pacific award for sustainable design, among other awards,” says Alex. “This unique childcare centre embodies social and environmental sustainability.” The building was designed to be integrated into the landscape, with respectful nods to Ngati Hine’s customs and history, while also incorporating the likes of innovative insulation and waterproofing which traps heat in winter, yet remains cool come the hotter months.
Green Star isn’t the only game in town — the Tuhoe tribe’s Te Uru Taumatua was the country’s first building designed to the Living Building Challenge, and it’s a remarkable example of sustainable construction in Te Urewera National Park.
Alex says the Sustainable Housing Summit will be a chance for industry to hear innovative ideas for creating resilient, liveable homes and communities. “We’re just thrilled that there’s a growing appetite for change, and are delighted to give our knowledgeable speakers a platform to inspire others in the residential building communities.”
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Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces