Sustainable Building In New Zealand

We’ve all heard about building more eco-friendly energy efficient homes, but what is building sustainably all about? Read on to discover exactly what a sustainable house is, what materials are used and why sustainable building is so important here in New Zealand.

What Are Sustainable Houses?

The key to the definition of a sustainable house is it takes into account not only the construction, but the lifespan and eventual demolition and disposal of the building. Essentially a sustainable building is a house that addresses its impact on the environment and the need to fulfill the economic and social requirements of both present and future generations.

More specifically, here 7 things to think about when building a sustainable house.

  1. Sustainable Design. Including things like the placement and features of the building and how this affects the ongoing use of the building – effectively designing the building to do the work for you.

  2. Energy Usage. This includes during the build, the lifespan of the building and its demise and also during the manufacture of building materials. 

  3. Materials Used. Making sure to use ‘greener’ or recycled materials for construction and the ongoing operation of the building is an integral part to building sustainably.

  4. Alternative Energy. The use of alternative energy resources such as solar and wind is also one of the more important aspects to building sustainably.

  5. Ongoing Impact On The Environment. Taking into consideration the ongoing environmental implications of the building’s existence and operational by-products, this includes things like water usage, recycling and disposal, and household waste.

  6. Lifespan. The overall expected lifespan of the building. How long you expect it to last is used to calculate various aspects of sustainable design.

  7. Demolition. The resources and environmental cost required to demolish the building and the disposal of its remains – whether they can be re-purposed, recycled or must be declared as waste.

Why Is Sustainable Building Important?

Sustainable building is all about using the available resources in smarter, more efficient ways so we can build homes that are affordable, warmer healthier, and cheaper to run and better for the environment and future generations.

Preserving natural resources, reducing waste and lessening our detrimental impact on the environment are all vital to the survival of New Zealanders, and our planet.

The 4 Top Benefits Of Sustainable Buildings

In order to ensure the success of future home building in New Zealand we are reliant on moving forward with more sustainable building practices and products. Here are 4 of the top benefits of building sustainably.

  1. Warmer Homes. Well insulated homes with good use of natural light and free warmth from the sun are easier to heat and more comfortable year round.

  2. Healthier Homes. Warmer, drier homes are less likely to encounter mould and mildew which can contribute to health problems and repertory diseases.

  3. Cheaper Operational Costs.  When following the concepts of sustainable building practices, choosing economic heating options, energy and water-efficient appliances makes homes cheaper to operate over their lifespan saving you money.

  4. Better For The Environment. Efficient use of key resources such as water, materials, land and energy mean the total environmental impact of the build is minimised, preserving resources and the planet for future generations.

Sustainable Building Materials

Regardless of how well a product contributes to your home’s efficiency, every raw material used in the construction process has its own environmental cost. Even materials drawn from nature like wood are transported, processed and manufactured into products suitable for use in building your new home.

In order for a build to move towards sustainability, it is important to start by looking at the materials used. While it is impossible to build without any cost to the environment or use of energy there are many ways you can minimise the impact. This can include looking at recycled or renewable materials or using materials which will help in the overall energy consumption in the long run.

What Materials Are Used In Sustainable Building In NZ?

In the construction industry in NZ, environmentally-friendly materials (also known as green building materials) are those with relatively low environmental impacts during their production, transportation and ongoing maintenance.

These materials need to be natural, durable (not spoilt by changes in temperature or humidity), reusable or recyclable, and preferably be composed (at least in part) of recycled materials, while also having been sourced from local resources in New Zealand. Some examples of sustainable building materials in NZ are.

  • Brick – preferably recycled brick

  • Wood – preferably reclaimed or recycled wood

  • Recycled Steel – or re-purposed steel

  • Wool – recycled or from NZ sheep

  • Bamboo – if sourced from New Zealand

  • Straw – used in straw bales for insulation and construction

  • Sawdust – used in the creation of other products

  • Concrete – or concrete type products like Timbercrete

  • Soil – Adobe, Cob or Rammed Earth style building products – see here for more information on alternative natural building techniques in New Zealand.

5 Steps To Make Your House More Sustainable

There is no better time to incorporate sustainability into your project then when building a new home. Careful design and choice of materials will future proof your build providing a durable long lasting healthy home. Here are our 5 top tips on making your new build more sustainable.

  1. Insulation Insulation Insulation. Ensuring adequate insulation is used, and sometimes adding additional insulation to places like attached garages or using extra in ceilings is a good idea. The more insulation you use in the walls, floor and ceiling the more efficiently it will retain heat. Consider using alternative products like wool based insulation products that are made from recycled NZ sheep’s wool.

  2. Make The Most Of The Sun. From the purchase of your section and throughout the design phase this one should be top of your list, if you had to choose one thing towards sustainable building then this is it! Making the best use of natural light and free warmth from the sun is the very best way to reduce ongoing energy usage in your home and make it warmer and healthier – working towards more passive home heating.

  3. Choose Non-Toxic and Sustainable Materials. Look out for the Environmental Choice tick of approval (ECNZ) in everything from paint and building materials through to carpets and cement. Choosing sustainable building materials helps to lower the impact of your new build and allows for greater recycling and less waste on demolition.

  4. Source Materials Locally Where Possible. This is a big one in New Zealand as we have a habit of importing a lot of our heavily manufactured products. Sourcing locally reduces the environmental impact particularly around transportation and storage – better for the environment and better for NZ!

  5. Choose Energy Efficient Appliances. Selecting appliances with high energy-efficiency ratings will save on energy and money over the lifetime of the product. This can also include thinking about renewable options such as off the grid sewerage systems and rainwater collection systems.

NZ Sustainable Home Ratings

The demand for greener buildings the drive for sustainable construction in New Zealand has brought about a couple of industry regulated rating systems as a way of measuring the sustainable features and environmental impact over the life-cycle of a building. These are the ‘Green Star’ and ‘Homestar’ rating systems created by the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC).

The Green Star Rating

Designed to be used as a tool in the design, construction and operation of sustainable building projects, the Green Star Rating addresses nine broad categories and gives an overall rating from 1 to 6, with 6 being the best. The categories covered under the Green Star Rating system are:

  • Water

  • Energy

  • Materials

  • Transport

  • Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

  • Management

  • Emissions

  • Land use and ecology

  • Innovation

The Homestar Rating

This system is similar to the Green Star Rating but was designed specifically for New Zealand and takes into account both the design and build stages of the new home construction process. The ratings given are from 6 to 10, with a 6 indicating the home is better than the average NZ home and current building codes and 10 indicating the home is at the top of the scale. The categories covered under the Homestar Rating system are:

  • Energy

  • Health and comfort

  • Water

  • Waste

  • Materials

  • Site

  • Home management

  • Optional innovation category

Planning on building or renovating and want to build more sustainably? No matter what your budget or what your needs are the practice of using sustainable materials, processes and designs is going to benefit you! Get in touch with the professional team at Build 7 for help with your design and build or renovation of a sustainable home.