Designing homes that star

By - , Build 159

Designer Bob Burnett of Bob Burnett Architecture is a leading advocate for homes built to higher standards than the basic requirements of the Building Code. The designer of New Zealand’s first 10-star Homestar house, he calls on government to back the uptake of more energy-efficient housing for New Zealanders.

Bob Burnett
Bob Burnett

Q. What attracted you to a career in architecture and design?

It was that I could do something both creative and technical while enhancing people’s lives by creating a better place to live and/or work.

Q. When did you become interested in architecture?

Pretty much from the get go, and certainly everything done since starting my own practice 18 years ago has been energy and spatially efficient and sustainable. It just makes sense.

Q. Are people increasingly aware of what they get with an energy-efficient home?

The Superhome movement and Homestar rating tool are creating more awareness, but many don’t yet understand the options and benefits and that it is also financially positive.

Q. Is a growing understanding resulting in more energy-efficient homes?

A groundswell is definitely starting. Everyone we meet just gets it. But it is a tight niche as over 95% of homes are still built to the minimum Building Code.

Q. What are the hindrances?

There is a misconception that improving how we build will make it too expensive. The Building Code is used as a target for most builds, and the public doesn’t understand that this is a very low standard (3 stars) that in some cases is not fit for purpose. Airtightness has been one of the things absent from the New Zealand Building Code.

Q. Should government do more to promote sustainable, healthy building?

The government needs to improve minimum requirements set out in Acceptable Solutions to the Building Code. This basically describes the worst possible building that you are legally allowed to build and this is the predetermined target for almost all builds. Local government supports better building standards.

Government could offer tax incentives and councils could reduce development contributions and make the compliance process quicker, easier and cheaper for sustainable builds. Local councils already support the Superhome movement, but it would be great if the government and others got on board too.

Q. What is trending in sustainable design?

Solar is a big trend worldwide but to a lesser extent in New Zealand. Over the last year, solar installations increased by 95% in the US.

The critical trends are better thermal envelopes, specifically better windows and airtightness. These are things starting to appear on people’s radar.

Q. What are the big issues the New Zealand building industry is facing?

We are playing catch-up with the rest of the world, so we need to be able to adapt to change faster. The industry is drowning in information but still thirsty for the right knowledge. Training, productivity, taking on change and learning to adapt more quickly will be crucial.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities?

Challenges include poor awareness by the public and access to the right information to trigger behavioural change in decision making about how to build better. There are opportunities to increase understanding of the tangible benefits for improved health and wellbeing and the positive financial return through reduced ongoing costs.

Q. Anything else you would like to add?

Resilience is the new sustainability, and we need to build for the future to cope better in natural disasters and to adapt to our changing climate. A Superhome, for example, is better by design and currently design is undervalued and not well understood.

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Bob Burnett
Bob Burnett