Chance to build back smarter

This Issue This is a part of the Tale of two cities feature

By - , Build 139

The Canterbury earthquakes have created a one-off opportunity to improve the local housing stock. A new service to support housing upgrades during earthquake repair is being rolled out across Canterbury.

Wall insulation retrofitted when earthquake-damaged cladding is replaced.
Wall insulation retrofitted when earthquake-damaged cladding is replaced.

THE BUILD BACK SMARTER PILOT PROJECT , led by Beacon Pathway, undertook upgrades in a 10-home pilot project to demonstrate that home performance improvements can and should be included in earthquake repairs.

Beacon’s Home Assessment and Prioritised Plan tool was used to assess each home and develop an individualised upgrade plan to fit with scoped earthquake repairs. A Beacon project manager provided case management and coordinated the upgrade work with the homeowners and project management office contractors on site.

Although progress on pilot homes was hampered by the same delays impeding earthquake repairs across Canterbury, four completed upgrades and four upgrades under way contributed to an understanding of the issues and barriers. These learnings underpin the roll out of the new service.

Pilot showed owners need support

Recruitment into the pilot project proved difficult, largely because buy-in from participating project management offices was limited to a handful of key staff.

Active support and promotion of a Build Back Smarter service by all project management offices is very important, as homeowners need to understand the opportunities to improve the performance of their homes while they can influence the scope of repairs. A funding package, particularly for lower-income homeowners, to subsidise upgrades is an important part of any Build Back Smarter service.

Post-upgrade interviews with the homeowners showed that they valued the independent home assessment and upgrade recommendations. Alongside these, though, needs to sit an active advocate, or case manager, to help homeowners through the process. This has been valuable in helping homeowners understand the opportunities and making the process smooth and timely.

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Some measures should be prioritised

The pilot project made it clear that there are some upgrades that need to be done at the time of repair or the opportunity will be lost for the foreseeable future.

Opportunities for wall insulation retrofit, in particular, can be greater than initially scoped, as the builder is likely to employ the quickest and most practical methods, often relining rather than repairing plasterboard.

Priorities during earthquake repairs are:

  • ceiling insulation retrofit to skillion and low-pitched roofs where roofing or ceiling linings are being repaired
  • underfloor insulation and ground vapour barrier installation under normally inaccessible suspended floors during foundation repairs
  • wall insulation retrofit where cladding or wall linings are being replaced
  • increasing specification of windows being repaired or replaced – double glazing, advanced glazing such as low-emissivity and argon-filled, thermally broken aluminium frames
  • cutting hatches to access hard-to-insulate places – roof extensions and popped tops
  • installing externally vented extract ventilation systems in kitchens and bathrooms
  • installing heat transfer systems where ceilings are being repaired
  • replacing downlights with surface-mounted fittings
  • relocating or replacing poorly located, sized or performing heating systems – these have been common in pilot houses.

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Some measures best left for later

Massive price escalations and the very high builders’ margins being charged for subcontracted services mean that energy efficiency and sustainability measures that don’t need to coincide with repairs would best be left until after earthquake recovery.

Surprisingly, despite the substantial water supply and wastewater disposal problems following the earthquakes, there is little appetite for water efficiency in Christchurch, even when offered for free.

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An opportunity not to be missed

Although upgrading could provide substantial societal benefits – reduced health costs, reduced days off work and school and improved community wellbeing – the capacity of Canterbury residents to take advantage of the opportunity is unlikely to be high for either owner-occupiers or rental property owners.

There is a strong rationale for government agencies to play a role in facilitating homeowners to be able to build back smarter.

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New service being established

The pilot project has formed a platform for the Canterbury Sustainable Homes Working Party to explore a wider Build Back Smarter Service for Canterbury homeowners.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has contracted Beacon Pathway to establish the Build Back Smarter Service, with MBIE, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency, Christchurch City Council, Canterbury District Health Board, Environment Canterbury and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency all providing funding.

The service will target the upgrade of 9,500 houses over a period of 3 years.

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For more

Visit Beacon Pathway at

Download the PDF

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

Wall insulation retrofitted when earthquake-damaged cladding is replaced.
Wall insulation retrofitted when earthquake-damaged cladding is replaced.